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Brick Wall

Genealogy is often like pulling the arm of a slot machine. Sometimes you do it just to watch the symbols spin by without any real expectation that you’re going to hit a jackpot. But it’s pretty amazing when you do and 30 years of arm pulling finally pays off. This past week I made an unexpected find in the form of an obituary for Elizabeth E. Ferry. This particular brick wall (not the best way to talk about your great great great grandmother!) stemmed from the fact that none of Elizabeth’s 10 surviving children seemed to know the name of her mother. The line for Mother’s Maiden Name on Elizabeth’s Certificate of Death reads “Don’t Know”. The death certificates of Elizabeth’s children were no more helpful. How could people not know the name of their grandmother? I still don’t have an answer to that, but I do now know her name.

You might be thinking “Why didn’t you look for an obituary earlier?” I did look and often. I’ve spent untold hours combing through old York county and Maryland newspapers. In fact, I have a couple obituaries and newspaper memorials for Elizabeth, but they didn’t give any information not already included on her Certificate of Death. This past Friday however, I stumbled upon an obituary in “The (York) Gazette and Daily” dated 14 Apr 1937. It was longer than the others and packed with names, not surprising for a woman with 12 children. A quick skim revealed no mention of parents. There were however a grouping of unfamiliar names listed after her children. My slot machine jackpot read as follows:

Also surviving are three half-sisters and one half-brother, as follows: Mrs. Amanda Miller, York; Mrs. Hannah Harding, Texas, Md.; Mrs. Sadie Harmon, Cockeysville, Md.; and J. E. Knopp, Rocks, Md.

All I needed were leads and now I had four. Elizabeth’s father was John Ferry; that’s all I know about him. If the people listed in the obituary were half-siblings, that meant Elizabeth’s unnamed mother was married at least twice. It took no time at all to find Joseph E. Knopp, Jr. of Rocks, Maryland (and his wife Amanda and their ten children). Next, I found Hannah J. (née Grafton) Harding of Texas, Maryland (and her husband Ephraim and their five children). Notice the maiden name? Mr. Grafton is Husband #3 for Elizabeth’s mother. Third, I found Amanda (née Grafton) Miller of York, Pennsylvania (and her husband Thomas and their five children). Lastly, I found Sarah (née Grafton) Harmon of Cockeysville, Maryland (and her husband Samuel; still digging-up information on them). So who is the mother?

In 1920, Thomas and Amanda Miller lived at 588 North Water Street in York, Pennsylvania. Thomas was a signal repairman for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Every night he’d come home to his lovely wife, four children, and his mother-in-law — Sarah Grafton. We have a name! Sarah was 79 years old and widowed, probably for the third time. Finding Sarah before 1920 has been difficult, she does however appear in 1860 under the name Sarah Knopp, married to Joseph E. Knopp Sr., with a one year old daughter (who was not living at the time of Elizabeth’s obituary). In that census, Sarah is living with her parents, John and Susanna (née Cramer) Harman.

One breakthrough just gave me two generations and an abundance of family to research. The question is, why didn’t the Channells know who she was? Elizabeth used to visit her sisters in Texas, Maryland (near Cockeysville) from time to time. Whoever wrote the obituary knew every surviving Channell and their whereabouts (including Clarence who was imprisoned in Denver at the time) and the names and locations of Elizabeth’s half-siblings. What happened to Elizabeth’s husbands? Did she have a special mushroom soup recipe that she served when it was time to move on (thanks Tamara!)? There will never be an end to the questions but there was one more thing to do before diving back into the census records, newspaper archives, death certificates, etc. This morning, I threw the kids in the car and we took a trip to Ashland Presbyterian Church in Cockeysville. I didn’t recognize the area by GPS but when we got close I realized that I’d passed that place countless times before. The little stone church sits on a dangerous curve along Paper Mill Road, a route we used every time we went to visit Uncle Albert and Aunt Diane as kids. There, in the second row, plainly visible from the street, stands the stone of Sarah J. (née Harman) Grafton, my great great great grandmother.

Tombstone of Sarah Grafton

Tombstone of Sarah Grafton

Grandma Sarah, pleased to meet you! I promise not to call you a “brick wall” ever again.

Lost and Found

My Uncle Albert started doing genealogy on my maternal lines long before me. When asked, he would bring out a book of names, dates, and photographs and let me look (carefully!) through the pages. There was one picture that always stood out to me, that of a dapper looking young man in a long coat, hat,  gloves, and holding a clarinet. The story behind the photograph was that Clarence (my great granduncle) left Pennsylvania to seek out his fortunes in the West but was never heard from again. This would have been around 1910. Sometime later, I also learned that Clarence had borrowed money from family members before disappearing. Nobody could tell me what happened to him; most of my surviving family didn’t even remember him. Once I started doing my own research, I was determined to learn what happened. As of today, I have finally succeeded! Sadly, everyone that might have cared or been interested, has passed on. Since I can no longer tell my uncle, grandfather, grandaunt, or second cousin 2x removed… I’ll share the mystery of Clarence Channell with you.

Years later, I found Clarence in the 1930 Federal Census, sitting in the Colorado State Penitentiary. There was no data indicating why he was there; his name was accompanied only by the relation “Inmate”. After some searching, I discovered that the  Colorado State Archives has extensive prison records. Indexes of these records are available online. After some quick searches, I found a number of hits: Clarence Channell #9694 (1915), G. C. Channell #11163 (1921), G. C. Channell #15192 (1929), and G. C. Channell #17246 (1932).  I couldn’t be 100% sure that each of these belonged to my great granduncle, but my curiosity was piqued. This year, for Christmas, I decided to give myself a gift of uncovering Clarence’s story. According to the Social Security Death Index, he died in 1966, so it’s not like he would care. I submitted my request online and talked to one of the archivists on the phone about what I wanted. One credit card transaction and a week later, I now have a much better idea what happened to Clarence Channell. There may be court and police records that give more insight into his crimes, but the paperwork I have paint a fairly good picture, Great Granduncle Clarence was a grifter.

George Clarence Channell, 1915

On August 23, 1915, Clarence was convicted for “Forgery” in Boulder County, Colorado. He was sentenced to one to two years. He was paroled on July 24, 1916 and discharged May 14, 1917. On January 20, 1921, Clarence was convicted for “False pretense” in Larimer County, Colorado. He was sentenced to eight to ten years. He was paroled on January 10, 1925 and discharged January 14, 1925. Governor Sweet commuted his sentence from six years to ten years after a violation of parole in May 1926. On July 18, 1929, Clarence was convicted of “Con” in Grand County, Colorado. He was sentenced to three years and discharged on November 12, 1932. Finally, Clarence was convicted for “False Pretenses and Confidence Game” on October 18, 1932 in Denver County, Colorado (possibly while on parole). He was sentenced six to ten years. He was paroled on July 18, 1935, returned for parole violation on January 1, 1936, and finally discharged on May 5, 1937 after Governor Johnson revoked his parole. After 1937, Clarence’s name pops-up at the Denver Superior Court. In November 1960, a Writ of Error, i.e. appeal, was dismissed due to a failure to prosecute.

Somewhere beneath all these dates lay some very interesting stories. I guess the lesson here is not to trust men bearing clarinets.