For all the time I’ve been spending trying to find out who his parents are, I haven’t really spent that much time on James Henry Myers and his life. He’s worth re-visiting for me because what I believed to be true about some of his circumstances turned out to not be true because I had the wrong set of parents and had constructed a narrative that fell apart when I did the DNA research. So I’m going back to the fundamental exercise that I learned from Crista Cowan’s videos: What do you know, and how do you know it?
James H Myers is my great-grandfather. He and my great-grandmother Elisa (Lizzie) Kuck applied for a marriage license in Holt County, Missouri on 12 Dec 1888.1 Kuck is pronounced Cook. I suppose it’s possible to think Elisa is pronounced Louisa. Anyway, I know she was living in Craig, Holt, Missouri, and this lines up with when they started their family, so I feel confident this is the correct record.
The 1910 US Census indicates that she had 7 children, 5 of whom were still alive.2 The five living offspring were all daughters: Marietta, Amarilla, Emma, Louvre and Faye. My uncle told me there had been a little son, Benji (Benjamin) who everyone loved very much, but he died young (choked on a marble I think). The 7th child is unknown to us.
Based on where the daughters were born, they moved around some before they settled down in Missouri again. At one point they lived in Kansas, and in 1891 they lived in LeGrande, Union, Oregon. In 1897 they were living in Unionville, Putnam, Missouri, where my grandmother was born. None of us ever knew why they were living there. Could this have been the one place James thought of as home? He might have been born there since his father lived there for most of his adulthood.
About 1898, ten years after the license was obtained, and presumably the marriage was solemnized, this studio portrait was taken.
By 1900 the family was living in Craig, (Union Twp.) Holt, Missouri again.3 Craig was a natural place for Lizzie to live. Her family immigrated from Germany and ultimately settled there. This census record is now the only census so far where I have found James listed. What do I know now? He was born May 1857 in Missouri. This record shows his father was born in Missouri (not true) and his mother was born in Kentucky (probably true). He was employed as a stone mason and they were renting their home.
I also learned from my uncle that James had a drinking problem. He relayed an interesting story about how one night James came home bruised and battered and drunk (a brawl?), once again, and it got on Lizzie’s last nerve. When he passed out, she sewed him into his bed sheet. She then proceeded to wallop him with either a belt or buggy whip. This was meant to make him stop drinking, which my uncle said worked. I’ve read that women in the early 20th century were expected to keep their men on the straight and narrow; that they were responsible for the moral fiber of the family. Today we’d call this behavior domestic violence. If James had done this same thing to Lizzie, we would be appalled by it, and believe that she would have had had every reason to leave him if circumstances had been reversed. So maybe there really was a reason why James left. I have read the half-page divorce decree that is dated 7 Jan 1905. Alas it doesn’t go into the details of the complaint. It only states that James didn’t respond to the summons and that Lizzie was awarded custody of the children. She was strong enough to bring up the girls as a single mother from the time James left until she remarried in 1909.
I do know that the only person to forgive him for abandoning the family was my grandmother. She is the reason we know anything at all about this man. She reached out to him as an adult and maintained a relationship with him. From her we learned that in the end he said he only had one daughter. This signals to me that he was hurt by being shunned by his other offspring. My grandmother was his only advocate in his later years. She visited him periodically in St. Joseph, Missouri.
If I’ve found the correct death certificate for him, then he was very ill before he died alone and impoverished in 1937 at the age of 79. His occupation was a Cigar Maker, and he was buried in a pauper’s cemetery.4 I suspect the only person who was sad about this was my grandmother. She was the only link to this entire branch of the family. She is the one who knew his mother’s maiden name was Cox (see previous post). Her ability to forgive, and the importance she placed on family history saved that important detail that led to my discovery all these years later.
Now for another update on this mini-saga: James might have been a Myers in name only. Yes, his father was Jacob Myers. I now have found ample DNA evidence to support that claim. Jacob Myers, on the other hand, might have been a Naylor. And THAT might be the connection to the Ancestor Discovery. I’ve got three cousin matches with Jacob Myers as an ancestor through descendants of two of his other wives. However when I was investigating Daniel Myers (named in the history book as the father of Jacob), I found someone who is descended from Daniel Myers through his second wife Sarah, who had taken the DNA test, and who does not match. Through correspondence I learned that Jacob Myers’ tombstone in Putnam County, Missouri, indicates that he was born 9 Dec 1815. Daniel married Elizabeth, widow of John Nailer on 1 Aug 1817.5
One of my Ancestor Discoveries is the daughter of an Elizabeth Naylor (John’s sister, perhaps?). When I track this family through other people’s trees, this Naylor family came from England. The Daniel Myers line might well be German, as our family believed, but if James was really a Naylor…then not German. That also tracks with the ethnicity for me and my uncle, which is heavy on Great Britain, and thin or non-existent from Europe West. I never would have gotten this far without the DNA cousin matches and now, the Ancestor Discoveries, frustrating as they can be.
1 Missouri, Marriage Records, 1805-2002 Ancestry.com
2 1910 US Census, Missouri, Holt, Craig, ED 117, pg 7A, ln 2
3 1900 US Census, Missouri, Holt, Union, ED 94, pg 5B, ln 68
4 Missouri Digital Heritage Death Records, Certificate #19502
5 “West Virginia Marriages, 1780-1970,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FRTM-YJD : accessed 17 May 2015), Daniel Myers and Elizabeth Nailer, 1817; citing Lewis, West Virginia, United States, , county clerks, West Virginia; FHL microfilm 825,112.