The Click Bait of Its Day

I was recently contacted by the spouse of a cousin asking why I had someone listed as a spouse of E. H. Taft on my tree.  I looked and scratched my head. No earthly idea why I put that woman as his spouse, so she got removed. This was the first time a descendant of my William Watson and Annabelle Gibson had contacted me, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more.

E. H. Taft is actually Charles H Taft. He was married to Rebecca Walker Watson. Rebecca Walker Watson was named for her maternal grandmother Rebecca Walker. Among the information I was given about Mr. Taft was a juicy tidbit about his death being reported on the front page of many newspapers because, it was claimed, he was a second cousin to President William Howard Taft. Intrigued, I scoured Newspapers.com for more information. At first I didn’t get any results, so I turned to the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection. There I had better luck.

taft-charles-h-obit-san-juan-prospector-21-aug-1909-pg-1
San Juan Prospector 21 Jan 1909 page 1

The above piece was picked up by a number of Colorado newspapers. I realized from these that my search on Newspapers.com had the wrong parameters. Armed with a specific date, and dropping the middle initial, I began finding results.

The following piece caught my eye because it put the storm in context.

taft-charles-lead_daily_call_thu__aug_19__1909_-page-001

This one is the clincher, though. The Hearst News Service got their hands on this story and applied some creative license to make the story more sensational. A tactic we recognize today as click bait.

click-bait

Of course no one would have cared about any of this except for the claim that Charles H Taft was the 2nd cousin of President Taft. We know how common it is for these kinds of claims to be made by and about family. I have a biography of an ancestor published in a ‘brag book’ where the claim was made that the subject was related to Leonard Wood, and his wife a full 1st cousin to Samuel Houston. Neither panned out.

To be a full 2nd cousin, both people need to share a set of great-grandparents. I don’t know how well-vetted this is, but if it had glaring errors in it, I’m pretty sure some knowledgeable genealogist would have challenged it. Here’s a Wikipedia entry that outlines the ancestry of President Taft. His father was Alphonso Taft, grandfather was Peter Rawson Taft, and his great-grandfather was Aaron Taft (1743–1808).

Let’s take a peak-see at Charles H Taft. Charles married Rebecca 8 Jun 1904.1  As we see above, he died in 1909. He does not, then, appear in any US census as married to Rebecca. We learn from the 1900 Census that he was born Apr 1874 in Wisconsin to a father born in New York and a mother born in Pennsylvania.2  

1880-census-taft
1880 Census Whitewater, Walworth, Wisconsin, ED 239, pg 265A 3

There he is with his father H.L. Taft (born NY) and mother Mary (born PA), and widowed grandmother E.H. Taft (born CT).

1870-henry-taft
1870 Census, Whitewater, Walworth, Wisconsin, pg 295A 4

Now we learn that H.L. is Henry. Mary’s birth state is given as New York rather than PA.

1860-henry-taft-combined
1860 Census, Albion, Oswego, New York, pg 168-169

Now we find Henry living with Mary in what looks to be his father’s household. Mary is again listed as NY, and Henry’s mother Eliza H (E.H.) was born in CT. On the face of it, Henry’s father, is John L. Taft, born in CT. Oh look…at his age: 49. Born about 1811.

1850-census-john-l-taft
1850 Census, Albion, Oswego, New York, pg 141A 6

This census places John L Taft’s birth year at 1809. His Find-A-Grave Memorial lists his birth year as 1811. I’ve seen it suggested he was actually born in 1810.

I don’t know who is the great-grandfather of Charles H Taft. Given that Aaron Taft, the great-grandfather of President Taft, died in 1808, two to three years before John L Taft was born, it seems unlikely that Aaron Taft is John L’s father.

Were Charles H Taft and President Taft cousins? Entirely possible. Were they 2nd cousins? Highly unlikely. As much fun as it would have been if the newspaper reports were accurate, I’m going to chalk this up to ‘another family lore bites the dust’.

________________________

1 Colorado, County Marriages and State Indexes, 1862-2006

2 1900; Census Place: El Moro, Las Animas, Colorado; Roll: 126; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 0068

3 1880; Census Place: Whitewater, Walworth, Wisconsin; Page: 265A; Enumeration District: 239

4 1870; Census Place: Whitewater, Walworth, Wisconsin, Page: 295A

5 1860; Census Place: Albion, Oswego, New York, Page: 168-169

6 1850; Census Place: Albion, Oswego, New York,Page: 141A

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3 thoughts on “The Click Bait of Its Day

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