Friday, November 1, 2013


In an earlier post I wrote about my great-grandma Louise.  She has always been the subject of some consternation in my extended genealogical family for several reasons:  She was a second wife, marrying a man twice her age who was widowed and had two smallish sons.  Between the time of his first wife's death and the remarriage, he had placed both boys with other families in the farm community to care for.  The present day family believes that Louise was the one who farmed the kids out.  It still makes them mad.

Another reason is that she WAS very young when she married and this didn't set well with them.  She was born in 1863 and married in 1878, which made her 15, although a few days after she married she turned 16.  Apparently she was not a perfect stepmother and tended to favor the son she had with her husband over her stepchildren ... at least if you believe the remnants of stories the present day family tells.

A third problem grew out of whether or not she wrote a book about Caldwell, Kansas.  Her husband said she did, but the present family believes, in spite of a letter to the contrary from her husband, that he himself wrote it.  This book's writing was slammed beyond belief by a local professor, and I have always wondered why the present day family wants to claim it if it is so horrible -- purple prose, this fellow calls it!

Anyway, given that this condition exists, there is also a strictly genealogical problem that has been around as long as I have been researching this family. From early on, new genealogists are told to prove every fact.  It is easy to think that a death certificate is proof, and often "newbies" use that as their proof.  But as an example, the informants who give the information put on death certificates often are simply wrong about what they put down.  They may believe it with every fiber of their being, but that still doesn't make it so.  My issue with Louise "Lou" Hall has been her birth year.

The earliest year she shows up on a Federal census is in 1870.  At that time she and her family were living in Warrensburg, Missouri.  Here is what the family looked like at that time:

1870 Census – Warrensburg, Johnson, Missouri

John A. Hall       34
Martha Hall        36
Abner Hall         12
Charles Hall       10
John Hall             9
Bessie Hall          7
Lou Hall              5
Roger Hall           1

That census showed that sister Bessie was two years older than Lou, and by deduction, Lou would have been born about 1865.  Since I had no reason to think the informant (probably either her father or mother) would be incorrect, I just assumed this was accurate.  Thus, all the research I did from that point on was predicated on the assumption that Lou was born in November of 1865.
The major problem this presented to me was that she would not have been close to 16 when she was married but rather was close to 14.  


By 1880 Lou was happily married with a new baby - and at least as far as Federal Censuses go, she never again appeared enumerated within the context of her birth family.  And I didn't get around to researching her siblings for a long, long time.

However, for an entirely different reason I decided to see if her family appeared intact on the 1875 Kansas State census.  Although the name Hall did not appear in the index, (making me assume they were not in Kansas) by browsing through the various townships in Sumner County, Kansas, where I knew the family had moved, I was able to find them.  And I got a big surprise:

1875 Kansas State Census

John A. Hall    40
Martha            34
Abner             17
Charles           15
John                13
Lou                 12
Bessie             10
Roger               6

In this census, Lou and Bessie have exchanged positions; Lou appears to be the older of the two girls, making her birth be in 1863 rather than 1865.  That meant that all those other documents where her year of birth is shown as 1863 were correct.  She had NOT knocked a few years off her age like so many women did (and still do!).  Whoever in 1870 gave that bad information to the census taker (and it could have been either mom or dad OR the census taker himself!) was in error.  

I had built up a whole story that would make sense for using 1865 as a birthdate; it never occurred to me to question its veracity.  The story I fabricated made sense, but it was wrong.  Finding this new census information  solved a big problem I had, and made me once again realize how necessary it is to check and double-check what one is using for "truth."  

I do not want wrong information as a legacy of my genealogy!

Thursday, October 31, 2013


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So here is a sad story.  It’s a very interesting story, but still, quite sad.  It took place in Riverside, California in 1908. 

On the morning of April 16 of that year, the Sells-Floto Circus arrived in town via the railroad.  Stopping in an area just northeast of town, the area filled with people watching the circus set up.    The first event of the day was a parade of all the costumed performers, caged and uncaged animals and the circus band at the head of the line.  Into the town it went, and then it circled back to finish setting up.  Between the band and the calliope there was music everywhere, and the townsfolk were excited about this year’s event.

Sells-Floto Circus was lucky enough to have six trained elephants in their menagerie: Old Mom, Trilby, Floto, Snyder, Alice and Frieda.  In the parade they carried banners advertising local businesses. 

While it seemed like the whole city had turned out for the parade, there were still plenty of businessmen who had jobs to tend to and chores to complete.  One of these was a deliveryman who had a tank on his delivery wagon and he needed to fill it with gas.  This wagon was pulled by four horses.  His first stop of the day was at the Standard Oil Company storage yard, which was about a block southwest of the circus grounds. 

Leonidas J. Worsley, a 62 year old Civil War Veteran and resident of Riverside, was refilling his delivery tank with distillate when there was a sudden explosion and fuel shot out all over Worsley and his wagon.  Fire followed and quickly spread to the storage yard.  The blast set the horses running toward the empty lot over by the circus tents and it tossed Worsley on the ground about 20 feet away.  People nearby ran to help Worsley; about all they could do was to roll him in the dirt to put out the flames.  He was alive, but horribly burned.  He was put in a wagon and immediately was taken to County Hospital.  He died of his burns an agonizing three days later.

In the meantime, the horses were caught and separated from the burning wagon.  Some embers set a few small fires around the circus grounds but they were quickly put out.   It would still be an interesting story if this were the end of it. 

But it went on.

After the parade, two of the elephants (Old Mom and Trilby) had been put to work moving the crates and other storage items to a corner of the lot.  The four remaining elephants had been “staked to the ground in a picket line.”  The big animals sensed the danger and one by one the four elephants, “trumpeting, twirling and pulling…pulled their stakes from the ground and fled…” Hoping to find and calm the elephants, the elephant handlers took Old Mom and Trilby with them as they headed out to capture the marauding beasts.  Three of them were fairly easily caught, but Floto was enraged and he led them on a not-so-merry chase.

To make a long story short, he saw a woman alone on a front porch and he headed for her.  She tried to get inside the house, but the door was locked.  Floto lumbered up the stairs, head-butted her, picked her up with his trunk and then threw her down on the ground, after which he stomped on her.  She didn’t die then but by 9 p.m. that evening she was dead.  The elephant proceeded to run amok through the streets of downtown Riverside, trashing everything he could see.  He tore up the barbershop in the Mission Inn, destroyed a camera shop, a music shop, broke a horse’s leg, tore up fences and trees and finally found himself in a stable.  From there he was trapped.  The handlers caught up with him and after more than an hour they were able to calm him enough to lead him back to the circus grounds.

Amazingly, the circus was able to give the evening performance and the town settled back to normalcy.  The circus had an insurance representative with them and he settled all the claims, including burial costs for the lady killed by the elephant to everyone’s satisfaction.  Within a few days, the circus packed up, loaded back onto the train and chugged off to their next booked event.

End of story.

Being a good, snoopy genealogist, I have already learned what more there is to know about poor Leonidas J. Worsley, who he married, his child’s name and his grandson’s name.  I also know that he was buried in a local cemetery, although the death date on the stone is off by one year.  When my life slows down a little bit I’m going to make a trip down to that cemetery and get a snapshot of his stone to add to the Findagrave posting.

I learned about this story from a fine article researched by Aaron Maggs and Allison Maggs and published in the Journal of the Riverside Historical Society.  They did a beautiful job of documenting the tale and as I read their Notes, which is where they show their sources, as late as 1988 the story had been written up in the local newspaper.  Although this is not a “good” story, it IS an interesting one.  I wonder if many Riverside residents know about it now?

You wonder what my interest is in all this?  Aside from it being a very interesting run of events, I had a distant relative, Traber Norman Dobbins, grandson of my great-grandpa James Sellers Dobbins, who played clarinet in the Sells Floto Circus, though many years after this above episode happens.  And learning about all the traveling circuses that criss-crossed the country before the biggies of my own childhood -  Clyde Beatty, Barnum and Bailey and Ringling Brothers - did was a big surprise to me.  These circuses came by train, too, and many times before I was even a teenager I watched the circus train pull in just north of the interesection of Cherry and Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach, California, and unload everything -- just like the Sells-Floto had been doing for years.