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’.

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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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The Facebook of Their Day

I enjoy searching online newspaper archives. It is interesting to see mentions of family in context with what was going on in those moments in time. Newspapers might have relied on advertising for revenue beyond subscriptions, but they relied on their readers for some of their content, free content, the same way Facebook does. It’s a pretty good business model.

Since I’m all about Putnam County, Missouri these days, I’m especially grateful for the Putnam County Library’s online newspaper archive. It uses optical character recognition for search terms; the accuracy rate is good enough for my purposes.

Anyone who has spent time reading these old newspapers is familiar with how people used the paper to tell their friends and neighbors about their comings and goings, about who came to visit, who was ill or recovering from an illness, even marriages and births. The mini-announcements were usually two or three lines of pertinent details that included names, locations and very often relationships. Joe Smith’s uncle Rudolph Smith came to visit from Oregon yesterday. Jane Doe’s mother Barbara Gold is home recovering from a stroke. That sort of thing. These gossipy items are what would be called ‘click-bait’ today. It’s the relationships that fascinate researchers…they are golden because they appeared while these people were still alive.

I was searching for mentions of Jacob Myers known children from the 1850 Census, as well as mentions of their children. The youngest known daughter from Jacob’s first marriage was Sarah Rebecca Myers. She married James P Delay in Iowa in 1872.1 Their son Fred Delay was born in 1873.2

Searching the archive netted me this:

Nutt with nephew Delay pg 5 - Copy Nutt with nephew Delay pg 9 - Copy

“Mrs. Mollie Nutt and nephew Fred Delay went to Glennwood Saturday” and “Fred Delay and sister Ina and George Nutt drove over to Mystic, Iowa Monday to visit relatives.”

Wait. What? Who is Mollie Nutt?

I was in an interesting frame of mind when I discovered these tidbits. Just the day before I had been staring at the profile page for Jacob Myers on Ancestry and was wondering if there were any more Myers children after the 1850 census was taken. I know Jacob married my Amarilla Cox in 1856. No one knows when his first wife Elizabeth (Minick) died, but it was presumably before he remarried. I was prepared to ask myself if Mollie Nutt was born after the 1850 census and before the second marriage.

Lucky for me the answer to my question was right in front of me. I clicked on the Ancestry Family Tree link I had used to add Fred Delay to my tree. I clicked through to that person’s tree and they had a Mary Jane ‘Mollie’ Myers born in 1851 and an Angeline Myers born in 1855 as sisters for Sarah, but none of the rest of the family. Two questions came to mind. What happened to these girls if their mother died before 1856? Where have I seen the name Angeline before?

In my previous post I mentioned I would write about a discovery I made about the Breedlove children listed in the 1860 census for Linn County, Missouri.

1860 Census Susan Breedlove
1860 Census Breedlove Family3

I wasn’t looking at the older children on the census because I just assumed that they were the children of James Breedlove since they were born before the marriage to Susan, and James was old enough to be their father. Yet there they are: Sarah, Mary JANE, and Angeline! Once again, Myers children appear in the census with the same last name as the male head of household. They are living with their oldest sister Susan and her husband and new little nephew Jacob. I didn’t take this at face value, of course. I verified all of it. All the records support that Mary Jane “Mollie” Myers and Angeline Myers really are daughters of Jacob and his first wife Elizabeth. I’m thrilled to have more Myers children! I’m up to (if I include the possible twins I found) 11 children from four wives. I’ve been in genealogy heaven lately. This so totally makes up for the frustration of other parts of family research. I’m so grateful for all the records that still exist on this fractured family. It has been so much fun putting them back together again.

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1 Iowa, Select Marriages Index, 1809-1992

2 U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

3 1860 US Census, Missouri, Linn, Township 59, Range 18, pg 625, HH# 169