Saturday, July 05, 2008

What's age got to do with it?

DearREADERS,Since I've been telling you so much about my Union Civil War ancestor, William Gist FROMAN, lately, I may as well report the mysterious and thought-provoking tidbits I've uncovered about his second marriage. That's the one to my ancestress who was 39 years younger according to the 1900 US federal census enumerations and information about her birth found in both her father and husband's Union Civil War pension files. 

This woman was given to mighty creative fibbing throughout her life including clouding the truth about her hair color, age at marriage, and living with at least two men she claimed were William while he was actually living out his last miserable years in an Old Soldiers' Home.


MYSTERY HAIR COLORHere's a picture of Louisa Mae (Higgins) and William Gist FROMAN with their eldest son Lowell S.FROMAN, as identified by their youngest daughter, Lillian Louise FROMAN, (Lillian's brother, my maternal grandfather.) 

My mother Barbara's recollection of her grandmother Louisa Mae (Higgins) FROMAN was that she had prematurely white hair from her mid to late teens. Now my mother certainly wasn't alive at that time, but she was told about the early onset of white hair by her grandmother Louisa. This picture where Lowell appears to be about 5 years of age does not show Louisa to be prematurely gray.

In fact I have other pictures of Louisa Mae, taken with a subsequent husband, where her hair is dark.

Why would Louisa fib about her hair? Maybe she used henna or some other hair dye for the 
same reasons I did for about 20 years after seeing too many gray hairs in the mirror.

39 or 44/45 YEARS YOUNGER?Louisa also claimed to her granddaughter Barbara that she (Louisa) was more like fourteen or fifteen years of age when she married her first husband, the Civil War soldier William. That would have put her birth at 1882/3. Let's see if the facts bear this out.

Click for larger view.The 30 June 1897 Clinton County Missouri marriage return listed below the license is not helpful. William Gist FROMAN is listed as over age 21 and Louisa Mae HIGGINS as over age 18 according to the preprinted fill-in-the-blank form. Apparently she had no trouble convincing the county clerk that she did not need parental consent. This document from the Missouri Marriages Collection at Ancestry.com does not provide adequate proof of age.
Missouri didn't keep public vital records of birth until 1 Jan 1910 according to the Missouri State Department of Health and Senior Services. Clinton county birth records began to be kept at the same time. Louisa's birth date circa 1877 or 1882/3 predates these record groups.

THE SOLDIER, WILLIAM GIST FROMANClick for larger view.According to his Union Civil War Pension file 8424237 William Gist FROMAN served in Company D Division 3, Provisional Enrolled, Missouri Militia. The file contains a certified copy (not the scanned image shown above) from the Clerk of the Court in Clinton County, Missouri that the marriage of Louise Higgins and William Gist FROMAN took place on 30 June 1897 in Clinton County, Missouri. There are also references to the soldier's first 1st marriage to Mary SHERRARD, and a list of the children of that union which ended in divorce. Further information indicates the soldier was born 26 March 1839. A review of US federal census records follows through from 1850 until his death in 1917 indicate this year of birth is probably accurate. (Source list available from the author.)

The soldier's daughter Lillian said William had trouble with pain and turned to alcohol. His hands in the family portrait at the top of this blog certainly look gnarled and full of arthritis. William spent the last years of his life at that “Old Soldiers' Home” in Leavenworth, Kansas, on the south side of town, where a newer VA Hospital is now located. He is buried in the Leavenworth National Cemetery adjacent to the hospital grounds, Section 32 Row 4 Site 21. This picture was taken by a friend as I knelt behind William's tombstone on the 19th of May 2008.

In 1989, during our visit to the National Archives in Washington, D. C. it took three of us a little over 90 minutes to photocopy every scrap of paper in William's pension file, co-mingled with Louisa's Widows' application. We were no slouches -- there were just that many pages in the file. Most were sworn affidavits from individuals including Louisa's brother and the two men in question stating they knew that while William was in the Old Soldiers' Home, Louisa was living in town with first one and then another man, "as man and wife". Louisa's requests for widow's benefits were denied and the paternity of her youngest was in question. Oh, it was a mess. My oldest daughter Tammy, then a senior in high school, remarked "I'm glad we descended through the first child." 

2nd WIFE LOUISA MAE HIGGINSLouisa's son Lowell, my grandfather, says that his mother's birth took place on 21 Oct 1877 in Harrison County, Missouri. Louisa's daughter Lillian provided like testimony as this was common knowledge among her children. William's CW pension file, and Louisa's widows' applicationa claim the same birth date. From all indications, except her personal testimony to her granddaughter late in life, Louisa's birthday was 21 Oct 1877. She would have been 19 at the time of the nuptials in June 1897, just a few months shy of her 20th birthday, and certainly not 14-15 as she reported. These are a few of the documents I've collected that seem to prove this point.
Click for larger view.The 1880 US federal census scanned image for Salem Township, Daviess County, Missouri (Family History Library Film 1254684 NA Film Number T9-0684 Page Number 13, Enumeration District 244 from Ancestry.com) lists Louisa, indexed as Lura, as the youngest child in household 95, line 14.

  • Tolbert HIGGINS Self M Male White, 38, born MO, Farmer, father born KY, mother born KY
  • Pamelia HIGGINS Wife M Female White, 28 born MO, Keeping House, father born --, mother born --
  • Clarra HIGGINS Dau S Female White 12, born MO,father born MO, mother born MO
  • Herbert HIGGINS Son S Male White 8, born MO, father born MO, mother born MO
  • Narcisa HIGGINS Dau S Female White 6, born MO, father born MO, mother born MO
  • Lura HIGGINS Dau S Female White 3, born MO, father born MO, mother born MO

Is it a fair assumption that this 3-year old Lura Higgins is the same person as my great-grandmother, Louisa Mae? It would dovetail with her known 1877 birth date. Could that handwriting be deciphered as Luisa not Lura? I think so. Also, among other research efforts, there is no other Higgins family household enumerated in the 1880 census with this known combination of given names for family members.

A check of the 1890 US federal census would have been helpful to determine if another daughter was born of this family, but it has not survived. 

We have yet to locate Talbert Higgins' probate file.

Talbert Higgins' Civil War Pension file includes application #599-029 listing among other children Louisa Mae and no younger daughters. During the pension application process each soldier is required to list the names and birth dates (death dates as necessary) of all spouses and children. Talbert clearly lists his daughter Louisa Mae born 21 Oct 1877. Incidentally, certificate #549-430 was granted based on Talbert HIGGINS' service in Company F, 2 Missouri Cavalry (known as Merrill's Horse) from 4 April 1862 to 4 April 1865. 

The 1900 US federal census indicates a 39-year difference in age between the spouses in Hardin Township, Clinton, Missouri Enumeration District 34, Page A99 sheet 1. William G. at age 61, Louise M. at age 22 and their son, my grandfather, Lowell S. at 7/12 years of age. Note Louise M.'s stated birth month and year Oct 1877 is consistent with family records, previous census and her husband and father's CW pension files mentioned above. Handwriting for Louisa's age on the 1910 enumeration are too difficult to decipher. The 1920 finds Louise listed as 42 and married to William L. Burbank, implying a birth year of about 1878. The 1930 finds Louise M. listed as 53, still married to William L. Burbank, implying a birth year of about 1878. An unusual question on this census asks for age at first marriage, and 18 is listed for Louise M. 

HERE'S WHAT I THINK
Women fib about their age to get married and to appear younger. But why would a woman many years and three other marriages after the event purposefully misstate her true age to have been 14-15 when she clearly married the soldier at age 19? Was it to illicit sympathy? To excuse away the difficulties of the marriage? To cloud the issue if one should discover the problem of her interest in other men while her elderly alcoholic husband was yet living?

I believe the family story of 21 Oct 1877 birth date for Louisa Mae HIGGINS, daughter of Talbert & Amelia (Warren) Higgins. This is backed up listings of her name and birth date in both her father and husband's Union Civil War Pension files and enumerations in the federal census for 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930.

CONCLUSIONSince William was born 26 Mar 1839, and Louisa was born 21 Oct 1877. He was 58 when they married and she was 19, meaning Louisa was 39 years not 44 years younger than her first husband, William Gist FROMAN. We could quibble over months, but I think this should suffice.

What's age got to do with it? Apparently there were many younger women who married older Civil War vets. I don't know if it was for the reliability of a pension income, or that there just weren't that many young men left after the scourge of the War Between the States. Why Louisa fibbed about the age difference with her husband, making it appear more extreme than it was, I'll never know.
Besides, I don't think 58 is all that old. That's how many candles will be on my next birthday cake!

Happy family tree climbing!Myrt :)DearMYRTLE,Your friend in genealogy.Myrt@DearMYRTLE.com


© 2008 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved. Myrt welcomes queries and research challenges, but regrets she is unable to answer each personally.



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