Monthly Archives: January 2011

Giving historians a bad name….

Press Release
January 24, 2011

National Archives Discovers Date Change on Lincoln Record

Thomas Lowry Confesses to Altering Lincoln Pardon to April 14, 1865

Washington, DC…Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced today that Thomas Lowry, a long-time Lincoln researcher from Woodbridge, VA, confessed on January 12, 2011, to altering an Abraham Lincoln Presidential pardon that is part of the permanent records of the U.S. National Archives. The pardon was for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion.

Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy’s pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865, the day John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. Having changed the year from 1864 to 1865, Lowry was then able to claim that this pardon was of significant historical relevance because it could be considered one of, if not the final official act by President Lincoln before his assassination.

The images and video are in the public domain and not subject to any copyright restrictions.


President Lincoln pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion. Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army) National Archives. ARC Identifier: 1839980


Close up of altered date and Abraham Lincoln “A. Lincoln” signature from a President Lincoln pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army.


Close up of the altered date: Long-time Lincoln researcher Thomas Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy’s pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, from April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865. Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army) National Archives.

In 1998, Lowry was recognized in the national media for his “discovery” of the Murphy pardon, which was placed on exhibit in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Lowry subsequently cited the altered record in his book, Don’t Shoot That Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice, published in 1999.

In making the announcement, the Archivist said, “I am very grateful to Archives staff member Trevor Plante and the Office of the Inspector General for their hard work in uncovering this criminal intention to rewrite history. The Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team has proven once again its importance in contributing to our shared commitment to secure the nation’s historical record.”

National Archives archivist Trevor Plante reported to the National Archives Office of Inspector General that he believed the date on the Murphy pardon had been altered: the “5” looked like a darker shade of ink than the rest of the date and it appeared that there might have been another number under the “5”. Investigative Archivist Mitchell Yockelson of the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team (ART) confirmed Plante’s suspicions.

In an effort to determine who altered the Murphy pardon, the Office of the Inspector General contacted Lowry, a recognized Lincoln subject-matter expert, for assistance. Lowry initially responded, but when he learned the basis for the contact, communication to the Office of Inspector General ceased.

On January 12, 2011, Lowry ultimately agreed to be interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General’s special agent Greg Tremaglio. In the course of the interview, Lowry admitted to altering the Murphy pardon to reflect the date of Lincoln’s assassination in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2071. Against National Archives regulations, Lowry brought a fountain pen into a National Archives research room where, using fadeproof, pigment-based ink, he altered the date of the Murphy pardon in order to change its historical significance.

This matter was referred to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution; however the Department of Justice informed the National Archives that the statute of limitations had expired, and therefore Lowry could not be prosecuted. The National Archives, however, has permanently banned him from all of its facilities and research rooms.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld expressed his tremendous appreciation for the work of Plante and the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team in resolving this matter. Brachfeld added that “the stated mission of ART is ‘archival recovery,’ and while the Murphy pardon was neither lost or stolen, in a very real way our work helped to ‘recover’ the true record of a significant period in our collective history.”

At a later date, National Archives conservators will examine the document to determine whether the original date of 1864 can be restored by removing the “5”.

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For Press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.



A chapter of American history closes forever

Mississippi WinnOn Friday, Jan. 14, 2011 a chapter of American History closed forever.  Ms. Mississippi Winn, 113, believed to have been the oldest African-American, died at Shreveport, La. at Magnolia Manor Nursing Home.

The Gerontology Research Group, which verifies information for Guinness World Records, said Winn was believed to be the oldest living African-American in the U.S. and the seventh-oldest living person in the world.

And although Winn never acknowledged the fact, Winn was one of two known people left in the United States whose parents both were almost certainly born into slavery because documents show they were born before the end of the Civil War.

Winn’s family described her  as “a strong-willed person, a disciplinarian” who believed that elders should be respected.

“She was living on her own until she was 103,” great-niece Mary C. Hollins said, cooking for herself and taking walks. “She just believed she could handle anything.”

Winn, who never married, was a caretaker of children and a cook.

She lived nearly her entire life in Louisiana, though she resided in Seattle, Wash. from 1957 to 1975, Hollins said. She had been a member of Shreveport’s Avenue Baptist Church since 1927 and used to say, “I am gonna stay here as long as he wants me to stay here.”

What a missed opportunity!  Here is a wonderful and spry elder who had lived in three different centuries! I can only imagine the stories she would have been able to tell. The history she would have been able to describe. The lessons she could have taught. I am sorry I was not able to be apart of them.

After reading about Ms. Mississippi Winn, I decided to research her background and see what I could find out about her and her family.

Mississippi was born on March 31, 1897 in Bossier, Louisiana to sharecroppers Mack and Ellen Winn. She was the 13th child born out of 15 in which only eight lived to see adulthood.

1900 US Federal Census listing Mississippi Winn and her family

The 1900 US Federal Census taken in Police Jury Ward 2, Bossier, LA., listed Mississippi living with her father Mack, 56 and mother Ellen, 40 and siblings, Mary 20, Julia Ann 18, twin brothers Isaac and Annanias 14, and younger sisters Cilla 8 and new-born Sarah 6 months. Mack and Ellen Stokes Winn had been married for about 22 years at the time of the census taking, putting their marriage at about 1878. The census reported her parents lived in a rented home and they were sharecroppers, in fact the entire family except for the youngest three children were all farm hands and expected to work the fields to help provide for the family. The census also tells us that Mack had been born in Arkansas, as well as both of his parents. Ellen is listed as having been born in Texas, along with her father but her mother is recorded as being born in Mississippi. Ellen was also recorded as having borne 14 children with only 7 of them living at the time of the taking of the census in 1900. Both parents are listed as able to read and write at the time of the 1900 census, but not 20-year-old Mary, nor the twins. Only 18-year-old Julia Ann is able to read and write out of all the children.

Mississippi and her family were living right next to her maternal grandmother, Julia Ann Lincoln, 61 who was a widowed share cropper who could not read nor write. We know grandma had been married at least twice. Once to Ellen and Frankie’s father, thought to be Warren Stokes (1840-bef. 1870) and then she married Tom Lincoln on Feb. 27, 1874 in Caddo, Louisiana, who apparently has also died before 1900. Living with grandma were daughter Frankie Smith, 39, who was also a widowed and unable to read or write and grandchildren Estelle, Cary and Davilla Lee, 18, 16 and 6 years old respectively, granddaughter Willie Ann 10, grandsons Aurie Lee 2, Dick Gates 11 and Johnnie Gates 17, niece Irma Johnson 12 and cousins Joseph and Mack Henry Pierson ages 4 and 2 years old. Julia is listed as having six children but only two living which means her only children are Frankie, who is living with her and Mississippi’s mother Ellen.

In 1910, we find Ellen Winn living with her daughter Julies, 28 and her husband Denver Hart, 33. Also living with the family is Scilla 18, Mississippi 13, Sarah 10 and now Elnora 8 and Carrie 1. Ellen is listed as widowed, leaving us to assume because of the age of Carrie, Mack is to have died during the past year. Ellen is also listed as being the mother of 15 children with 7 living. That has to be incorrect, as there are two more children listed that were recorded on the 1900 census. I believe she has had at least 16 children. This also means with two more children added and still only counting 7 as living, at least two other children have died. I’m not positive at this point whether it’s Mary or the twins. Also, an interesting note or rather discrepancy, is on the 1910 census, only Mississippi and Scilla are listed as able to read and write, not Ellen or Julia as reported on the 1900 Census. Also The children are listed as having both parents born in Texas and Ellen also lists both her parents as being born in Texas. Julie on the other hand, lists both of her parents as being born in Louisiana.

In 1920, Ellen once again living in her own home in Caddo, Louisiana at 922 Lake Street. She is 64 years old now and is working as a Laundress from her home. Living with her are children Mary 37, Mississippi, 22, Sarah 20, Elenora 17 and grandchildren Carrie Winn 10 and Mackey  Winn 8 and 2 1/2 year-old Kenie May Sanders. On this census since Carrie is now listed as a granddaughter, instead of a daughter, that would put her total number of children borne at 15. Since Mary reappears on the census, it would also mean that one of the twins was the child who died. Mary’s occupation is listed as a cook in a cafe, Mississippi works as a maid for an office and Elnora is working as a private maid. All the children are still listed as both parents being born in Texas once again.

Also in 1920, her brother Ananias was found living in Sunflower, Mississippi. He was 35 and married to Mary 40. They had three children at the time, Mary Bell 17, Birdie Lee 15 and son J.C. 13. Ananias worked as a cotton farmer.

According to the Louisiana State Death Index Mississippi’s mother, Ellen, passed away on May 2, 1927 at the age of 70 in Caddo, Louisiana. Her oldest sister, Mary Winn, also passed away in 1927 on Dec. 10 at the age of 47.

In the 1930 Census, Mississippi is shown living with her sister Alma Wynn at 1520 Murphy Alley in a rented home worth $13. Also living with them is a cousin Della Stromer 35, and nephew Mark Blackson 18 and niece Katie Blackson 12. This census shows their birth and parents birth all being in the state of Louisiana. Alma, Mississippi and Della all work as cooks for private families. Mark is a porter in a barber shop and 12-year-old Katie is in school.

Although, it’s reported that Mississippi never married, she  supposedly did have one child, a little girl named Lulu B. Lew born about 1915. She died Oct. 6, 1917 at the age of two in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Sister Elnora died in May, 1975, brother Ananias died in Lufkin, Texas in March 1981 and sister Sarah Winn Sanders died Mar. 16, 2000 in Louisiana at age 99.

The power of the press

I get so excited when I come across what I call genealogical “hidden gems.” Old newspapers, correspondence and letters from long ago, family pictures with identifying info, receipts, logs and family Bibles all help us to understand the trials and tribulations our forefathers went through so that we can be where we are today. Today, while exploring the Ned R. McWherter Library at the University of Memphis for the first time, I discovered a virtual gold mine – their microfilm library is amazing! Not only do they have federal census records going back to the 1790s, they have films of various newspapers from across the country, Letters and correspondence from the Secretary of the Navy and the War Department during WWI and WWII. There are even Prisoner of War correspondence for the first world war. There are documents on Nazi Germany, letters from U.S. presidents, correspondence and files from the NAACP and CORE organizations. And let’s not forget the FBI files on Martin Luther King, Jr.! This list doesn’t even begin to cover their extensive holdings. One title I was surprised to find was several microfilms on African American newspapers from the 1930s.

The newspaper I found was called the Afro American and it published out of Washington D.C. I’m not sure of when it began but the issue I found listed on its masthead that it was its 41st year. It ended about 1937.

I guess the reason I was so surprised is I never considered the notion that African Americans had newspapers at that point in history which solely catered to African Americans. I know, as a genealogist that’s a pretty lame attitude to have, and perhaps, well okay, definitely a whole lot of naivety on my part.

Since the first newspaper or rather news pamphlet was published in the late 1400s in Germany, the power of the press has been one to reckon with. It was a way for the people to pass information back and forth. Merchants used it to talk about their goods, governments used it to reach the general population, people used it to discuss social customs and items of human interest.

The London Gazette

The London Gazette

One such paper, the London Gazette, began its publication on Nov. 7, 1665 and is reportedly, the world’s oldest, continuously printed newspaper. Today, it is still published daily. Here in American, Boston saw the birth of the first newspaper in 1690. That first publication was called the Publick Occurrences (sic). It was immediately shut down, its publisher arrested and all copies supposedly destroyed because it was published without authority. I guess they didn’t understand freedom of the press back then. Its history remained hidden until the only known surviving copy was discovered in the British Library in 1845. Since that first paper came on scene bringing American into the fourth estate, newspapers have been telling the story of America.

And so it was also with African American run papers.

What I’ve actually learned today is African Americans have had their own newspapers since the mid-1800s. The Elevator out of San Francisco, the Colored American in Washington D.C. and the Freeman in Indianapolis, Ind., and others have all played a part in telling the story of a too often silent or rather, silenced history. Catering to their audience the same as their white counterparts, these trail blazers told the story white Americans did not want to hear. The stories about what was going on in African American neighborhoods – the celebrations of life, the beginnings of entrepreneurship, the recordings of African American history and the injustices suffered.

I hope you enjoy perusing this copy of the Sept. 3, 1932 edition of the Afro American. I’ll be examining a few of the stories a bit more in depth to learn what happened to the lives portrayed so long ago. Look for those stories soon.

If you are interested in learning more about African American newspapers and the role they played in America’s history, check out your local universities and colleges. You might be surprised at what’s hidden there.

Little Mysterious Miss Beautiful

Winifred Florence Francis, June 1919

Whenever I come across antique pictures, the first thing I look for is a name on the back. I really feel bad when I find a picture that isn’t identified and I wonder who they were and if someone is missing them, but I feel even worse when I come across a photograph that is identified and isn’t with family. I wonder how anyone could give up such a family treasure.

I came across this beautiful postcard photograph sometime last year. The back of the card identifies the little miss as Winifred Florence Francis and she was 18 months old when the picture was taken in June 1919. That’s all it says but I want to know more. Did she have siblings? Did she grow up? Did she marry and have children? What did she do with her life.

To start this journey, I enter her name into Since the back of the photograph says she was 18 months old in June 1919, I deduce she was born about January 1918. The photograph is stamped Champaign, Illinois, so that is where I begin my search.

The first thing I find is tragedy has already impacted the life of my young friend. I find Miss Winifred Florence Francis in the 1920 U.S. Federal census living with her widowed father in Scott township in the county of Champaign, Ill. The census was taken on 12 January 1920 and reports young Winifred as 2 0/12, which means she is just 2-years-old and confirms my estimate of her birth being in January 1918. Her father Ben Francis is a 27-year-old farm laborer and raising the toddler by himself.

I wonder who her mother was and how did she die? Was it during little Winifred’s birth? Did she get to hug and kiss her baby girl? Did she pass during the first year of Winifred’s life? Did little Winifred know her mother’s touch and love? How did losing her mother at so young an age impact Winifred throughout her life?

I find Winifred and her father next in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census still living in the county of Champaign, Illinois but living this time in the town of Cunningham. There has been a change in the family’s status. Ben, 38,  is now married to 37-year-old Lessie and there are five children listed, including 12-year-old Winifred. Robert A is 10, Ben P. is eight, Franklin is 7-years-old and the youngest is Ruth at 4-years of age. Ben is listed as having first married at age 24 and Lessie at age 23, which confirms Ben is the proper age to be Winifred’s father but reveals there is a 2-year gap between Lessie being married and the birth of Winifred. This is further proof I believe that Lessie is not the natural mother of Winifred.

This is an interesting development, especially with Robert being 10-years-old. Did Ben and Lessie get married in 1920 and have Robert before the year was out or did Lessie come to the marriage with a child? To find the answers to these questions I’ll also have to research Lessie. It’s time to start at the beginning.

Bennett Porter Francis was born on January 4, 1893 in Monticello, Wayne, Kentucky to Joseph Nelson Francis and Sallie Marshall Rankin, the fourth of their nine sons. In 1900, he is listed on the U.S. Federal census living with his parents in Masonic Hall, Wayne, Kentucky. His father, Joseph, is shown to be 44-years-old, mother Sallie is 32. Older brothers Samuel L, Robert B and Joseph W are 14, 12, and 10 respectively. Younger siblings listed in 1900 include Clarence A., 4-years-old and Ellis C. is two. His parents have been married for 16 years at this point, making their wedding date occurring approximately in 1884. Joseph is a landowner and a farmer. His sons help out on the farm.

In 1910, the family is living in Elk Creek, Wayne, Kentucky. At this time, Joseph is a 54-year-old farmer and Sallie has added to their family. Oldest son Samuel L. has moved away from the home. Still at home are sons, Robert B. 22, Joseph H. 20, Bennett P. 17, Clarence A. 15 and Ellis C. 12. The youngest sons now include, Prince O. 9, Carson G. 4, and Cosby T. is two-months-old, having been born in February 1910.

Bennett Porter Francis WWI registration card

Sometime between 1910 and 1917, Ben moves from his family farm to Seymour, Illinois. A Ben Porter Francis is recorded as registering for the 1917-1918 draft for WWI in Seymour, Ill., during the first wave of registration, which took place on June 5, 1917. On his draft card he reports he is a farm laborer and works for Mr. R. Anderson in Seymour, Ill. He also claims he is married and has a wife to support and asks to be deferred from the draft selection based on that fact. Ben P. Porter is described as medium height, medium build with dark brown hair and eyes.

In 1920, Ben is listed as a widow and his family consists of his daughter, Winifred and himself.

In 1930 is where we find Ben married to Lessie with five children. Because I needed to figure out when they actually got married, I decide to locate Lessie with her family to see if she has been married before.

I have located her name as Lessie Leona Anderson on a family tree located at I use that information as a basis to try and track her family down in the 1920 federal census but I was thinking Anderson was her maiden name so I probably won’t find anything on her. But I did and this is where it gets interesting.

I locate Lessie, her father, Robert and her mother, Sallie on the same 1920 Census that I found Ben and Winifred. In fact, a key point that I previously missed, is they are living in the same household!

On the 1920 US Federal Census, Lessie is living with her parents, 53-year-old Robert M.,  and 45-year-old Alice L. Anderson on the family farm in Scott, Champaign, Ill. Lessie is 26-years-old and is identified also as a widow. But what is telling is she is still identified by her maiden name on the census and not her married name. She is also identified as a daughter and not as a daughter-in-law. Another key point is that Ben is also living in the same household along with 2-year-old Winifred.

Perhaps, Winifred was born out of wedlock. I suppose being thought of as widowed carried a lot less stigma at that time than having an illegitimate child. That also might explain why Robert A. (probably named after Lessie’s father) is 10-years-old on the 1930 census – they were already living together.

I have come across an entry on another family tree showing Ben P. Francis and Lessie Leona Anderson were married on May 31, 1917 in Danville, Vermillion County, Ill. There is something definitely mysterious about this family. If they were in fact married, as Ben reported on the 1917 draft registration card and as the marriage listing confirms, then why lie and be counted as a widow and widower  on the 1920 census?

I have also located in the Campaign County, Ill., post-1900 birth records ( C0unty Clerk vol. 9, Library vol. 38, page 529), an entry for Winifred Florence Francis born December 26, 1917 in Mahomet, Ill. It list her parents as Bennett P. Francis of Kentucky and Lessie Anderson of Virginia. The abstract doesn’t tell me if her parents were married at the time but it does appear that Lessie Anderson is, in fact, Winifred’s biological mother.

Five generations (L-R) Lessie Francis, Kenneth Francis, Sr. holding Kenny Francis, Jr., Ben P. Francis, Jr., and Alice Anderson

Her father, Ben Porter Francis died at age 78 in Wayne, Ky. on Feb. 19, 1971 and is buried at New Charity Baptist Cemetery in Wayne County. Also buried there next to Ben is mother, Lessie Leona Anderson (June 30, 1893-Jan. 20, 1972), uncles Joseph W. (Jun. 1, 1890 – Nov. 12, 1977), Cosby (Jul. 3, 1909 – Dec. 7, 1981) and Robert B. (Jan. 21, 1888 – May 27, 1967) Francis, paternal grandparents Joseph N. Francis (Oct. 3 1855-Dec. 24, 1936) and Sallie Rankin Francis (Jan. 3, 1866-May 26, 1949), maternal grandparents, Alice Luana (b. 1874 d. 1971) and Robert Mitchell Anderson (1867-1933).

Winifred Florence Francis went on to marry Clarence Eugene Moore (Jan. 20, 1902 – Oct. 11, 1960). I am unable to find a marriage record, as I am unsure of where they were married and unfortunately due to privacy, I can’t be ascertain as to how many children, if they did have any, they had. Clarence died in Plainfield, Waushara County, Wisconsin. What is certain, is Winifred Florence Francis Moore, the beautiful little girl in the picture, led a long life and passed away at age 86 on Aug. 21, 2004 in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky.

FRIDAY’S FACES FROM THE PAST: Searching for a lost child

Cabinet death card of a young childI came across this beautiful cabinet card in a local antique shop and was drawn to it. The picture is of a beautiful child who apparently died at a young age and his parents had a mourning card made. I could make out a very faint name written on the back – Robert – and I wondered if this was young Robert with the adorable curl on top of his head. I felt compelled to take him home. He didn’t belong in a cold antique shop among hundreds of  nameless lost ancestors. I wanted to find out more about him.

Upon closer examination, I discovered a very, very faint last name… Horne. The front of the picture has the name Forney and Bedford, Iowa which told me that the photographer of the picture was Forney and the picture was taken in Bedford, Iowa so I started searching for a young Robert Horne who passed at approximately age 4 in Bedford, Iowa but nothing was popping up.Forney_RobertF_Closeup

I decided to try a different tactic and searched instead for the photographer of the picture. I figured if I locate him in Bedford, Iowa, I would have a time frame to help me search for young Robert.

I quickly found a Samuel Forney in Lenox, Iowa through the 1880 US Federal Census. He was 26 years old, single and his occupation was recorded as a photographer. Could this be the correct photographer?

I looked in subsequent censuses to see if his occupation continued to be listed as photographer – it was, which led me to believe I had the correct person. But after looking through various censuses, particularly the 1900 US Federal Census which listed a Samuel Forney and family, including a son named Robert, I developed another hypothesis – what if the name on the back was not Horne but Forney? Could this be a picture of Samuel’s son Robert Forney? Especially, since the picture of the mourning card shows the original cabinet card of the child alive was also taken by Forney.

Now the search was on and I felt sure this had to be Robert Forney. But after locating the family in the 1910 census I was more confused than sure of anything. The 1910 US Federal Census shows the family living in Abilene, Kansas and Robert was recorded as a very much alive 11 year-old and his birthplace was listed as Kansas.

That can’t be right – could it? The little boy in the mourning card picture was definitely not 11-years-old and if it was Robert and he lived to be at least 11, why was the picture of him as a much younger child? Surely with his father being a photographer, he’d have more updated pictures of him. And when did they go back to Iowa?

This was turning out to be a real mystery and felt I needed to start at the beginning to try find the answers!

Samuel Pierce Forney was born Nov 1854 in Ohio to John and Susannah Forney, who were both born in Pennsylvania. In 1860, Samuel was six and living with his parents and siblings, 14-year-old George, 9-year-old Frances and 3-year-old James in Tod, Ohio.

1880 found a single 26-year-old Samuel living and working as a photographer in Lenox, Iowa. In 1881, he married 26-year-old Amanda “Nellie” E. Lewis on July 2 in St. Joseph, Missouri. They started building their family right away with son Walter L. Forney born on March 15, 1882, daughter Bertha L Forney in Nov. 1884 and son Roy S. Forney in August 1885 with all the children being listed as born in Missouri.

There doesn’t seem to be a 1890 census of the family but I located them again in the 1895 Kansas State Census living in Abilene, Dickinson County, Kansas.  At this time, Samuel is listed as a 41-year-old photographer, Amanda 40, Walter 13, Bertha 11 and Roy is 9. All which confirmed I still had the correct family.

In 1900, the Forney family is recorded in the US Federal census still living in Abilene, Kansas  at 664 W. 5th Street but having added to their family, 3-year-old Edith born in Nov. 1896  and toddler Robert F. Forney, born February 21, 1899. Both Edith and Robert is shown to be born in Kansas. Walter is first shown as following in his father’s footsteps and works as a photographer in his father’s studio. An interesting find is that Amanda is listed as having birthed six children but with only five living in 1900.

1900 US Federal Census of Samuel Forney and family

Hummmm… six children but only five living and one of them is Robert. This is getting more and more interesting!

The family is again found in the 1905 Kansas State Census. Still living in Abilene, Kansas but this time without Bertha. In the home are parents Samuel and Amanda, and children Walter, who is now 21 and also a photographer, Roy 18, Edith 7 and Robert 6. Bertha would have been about 19-years-old so I wonder if perhaps she left due to marriage.

In 1910, the Federal Census shows the family still living in Abilene at 509 N. Spruce Street with 56-year-old Samuel, 55-year-old Amanda, 28-year-old Walter, 24-year-old Roy, 13-year-old Edith and 11-year-old Robert. Both Walter and Roy are listed as following in their father’s footsteps in the photography business. An interesting fact revealed on the 1910 census is that Amanda was the mother of six children but now only four were living.

So, perhaps Bertha didn’t leave for marriage but instead it looks like she passed away sometime between 1900 and 1910.

The 1915 Kansas State Census shows the family had moved to Fredonia, Kansas in the neighboring county of Wilson. Surprising, all the children still live at home. Samuel is now 61-years-old, Amanda is listed as 60, Walter is 33-years-old, 29-year-old Roy, 18-year-old Edith and Robert is still living at the age of 16. Although Walter is still helping his father as a photographer, Roy is no longer. His occupation is now recorded as a mechanic. Edith is in college and Robert is in school.

By 1920, the family dynamics have changed. Samuel and Amanda are still recorded as living in Fredonia, KS, but on the 1920 Federal Census, only Robert is left living at home. He is 20-years-old and is working as a mechanic in a garage. Samuel is still taking photographs and Amanda is a homemaker.

Sometime by 1925, Robert leaves the home. The 1925 Kansas State Census shows only Samuel and Amanda living at home in Fredonia with them being 71 and 70-years-old respectively.

The last census currently available to genealogists is the 1930 which reveals Samuel has passed on. Amanda is now listed as the head of household and a widow. Son, Walter, has moved back home at age 48. He apparently has taken over his father’s photography business.

According to Find-A-Grave, Amanda, Samuel, Walter and Robert are all buried in Fredonia City Cemetery, Fredonia, Kansas.  Samuel died in March 1928, Amanda in August 1935, Walter in May 1955 and Robert F. Forney passed away in July 1952.

It is apparent now, Robert is not the young man pictured on the mourning card.

My search on the family has given me a few possible explanations in solving this mystery.

One, and probably the least plausible, is Samuel used a picture of one of his children on a sample mourning card as a form of advertising for his photography business.

A second explanation might explain the large gap in years between the births of Roy and Edith.  It’s possible that Amanda had a little boy born between Roy’s birth in 1885 and Edith’s birth in 1896 and this picture is of that child. On the other hand, Roy was born in Missouri and Edith in Kansas. It doesn’t explain why Bedford, Iowa is listed on the mourning card as a location. But it could be explained if Samuel Forney simply had leftover pre-printed cabinet cards from his time in Bedford, Iowa to which he simply glue photos he had taken on to the front. I feel sure that scenario could be answered if the petals of the bottom white flower on the mourning card were not covering the bottom of the original card, allowing us to see where the original photo was taken.The answer could also lie with the 1890 Federal Census. Unfortunately, the records of Kansas and Iowa did not survive the fire which destroyed the majority of the 1890 Federal census records.

A third possible explanation might lie in the two-year gap between the births of Walter in March 1882 and Bertha in November 1884. Amanda could have borne another son during that time and the picture is of him. Perhaps after the birth of Walter, Samuel moved his family back to Iowa where he started his business and after the child died, they moved again back to Missouri.  But again, the child in the photograph appears to be approximately 4 years of age. If that is the case, they would have been living in Missouri as Bertha and Roy are recorded as being born there. So again, the use of left over pre-printed cabinet cards could be the answer.

My conclusion is the beautiful little boy who is so lovingly portrayed in the mourning picture is the child which Amanda lost. Whether he was born after Walter or Roy is undetermined at this time.

The name of Robert Forney written on the back of the mourning cabinet card is in pencil and unevenly scrawled.  Perhaps young Robert wrote his own name on the back of the card to show ownership of a picture of a brother he never knew but still loved.

Are we really sure we are who we think we are?

Melvin R. Guard

Melvin Richard Guard

I knew my maternal grandfather as, well, grandpa. He was my momma’s daddy and also the janitor at Harrison Elementary School where I spent a few years in Harrison, Ohio.  I remember being young and thinking it was pretty cool that my grandpa worked at the school where I went. I thought of myself as a bit of a rock star because of it. Silly now that I think of it but hey, I was only 8!

But I also knew his name was Melvin Richard Guard. Everyone called him Melvin. Or Dad. Or Grandpa. Only a few said Mr. Guard.

When I started researching my genealogy around 1996, his was one of the first families I started working on. It really came to life when the 1930 census was released in 2002.

1930 US Federal Census listing the Gueard (sic) family

There he was with his family! Granted their family name was spelled wrong but they had his first name correct and he was listed as Melvin, 10-years-old. Right along with his entire family – his father and mother, Thaddeus and Mary, older brother Clifford, older sisters, Helen and Bessie and younger sister, Fern. Every other record I came across also listed him as Melvin Guard or Melvin R. Guard or even Melvin Richard Guard, including his military records from the U.S. Army said his name was Melvin R. Guard.

Original birth certificate

Imagine my surprise and how totally unprepared I was when I finally received a birth certificate with the name of Vernon Guard listed on it. I stared at it. I read it over and over. I saw my great grandparents names, Thadius (sic) Guard and Mary Winter, so I knew this was the right family. The birth number was correct – number 4 and the date of birth was right, Dec 5, 1919.

So, just who the heck was Vernon?

It was probably at least 5 minutes before I realized there was an attachment to the birth certificate. An affidavit correcting the original birth certificate so that the name of the child, Vernon, was corrected to Melvin Richard. 

Well, I thought, that explained the birth certificate.  But upon a closer examination, I was even more confused. You see, the date of the correction was not immediately after the birth as one would expect it to be done, but in 1973 – 54 years after his birth!

The affidavit actually revealed new questions to ponder. If his parents named him Vernon, why  and when was he switched to Melvin Richard? Or if he was supposed to be named Melvin Richard, why on earth was his birth certificated submitted as Vernon Guard? Why did no one catch the mistake until half a century had passed and the biggest question of all… how in the world did he enlist in the military as Melvin R. Guard when his birth certificate listed him as Vernon Guard?

This is what attracts me to genealogy so much… the thrill of the hunt – the discovery and revealing the importance of past lives. In every family there is always a story to tell, a rock to uncover and a skeleton to set free.

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