I’ve been trying to hunt down Louie’s father on Ancestry.com to try and figure out where he disappeared to after the death of his wife, Louie’s mother. He continues to elude me.
Here’s what I know about the man from the records I found on Ancestry. Bert was born in Wells City, Minnesota and was living in Armstrong Grove, Iowa, with his family in 1880 at the age of 9. His father was a farmer.
Later, in the 1920 census, he’s living in Minot, North Dakota with his wife and children. Obviously this census was taken very early in the year or even in the previous year, because Sadie died that year in February. I think the interesting part about this source is that Bert’s occupation is listed as “Farmer” but his industry is listed as “no farm”. I don’t know what that means but it is obvious that something weird was going on.
When visiting my grandmother in Duluth, I came upon a few letters from Sadie to Bert and they further give the indication that the family was facing some sort of problem.
The letters are extremely difficult to read because Sadie’s handwriting is very scrawling and her grammar and punctuation are difficult to read through. I did get a few quotes out of the letters though, and the second letter is particularly frantic sounding. The letters do not have the year on them, only the date of the month.
However, according to the newspaper article about Sadie’s death, they had only moved to Minot in September. Because both letters are identified as being written in Minot, I can conclude that these letters were sent at the end of the year 1919 just before she got sick.
The obituary that I found on Ancestry.com explains that she passed away on Feb. 5, 1920 and had been sick for two weeks and four days. That means she got sick on January 18.
The letter she sent not a month before, on Dec. 24, she relays to Bert how hay had been delivered and that it was very important that they sell it. “Well Bert I am afraid if you don’t sell this car [?] hay we won’t have money to pay freight and expenses on all for I have used some comiting 10.00 I paid for the coat to hold till I can raise the balance.”
It is not evident at all where he is and she doesn’t make any response in her letter to anything he might have said in a previous letter, which makes me wonder if there even was a previous letter from him. Despite giving a few brief mentions of the comings and goings of family and their neighbors (she abruptly throws in, “Mrs. Woodsim [sp?] is dead and burried” in the middle of the letter), she is all business. It is entirely unclear where he is or what he is doing there.
In the second letter she is even more curt with him. In this letter (dated only “Saturday noon” from Minot), Sadie gives him instructions to get money from what I believe is a loan from the bank.
I could do nothing ab the farmers bank and went to Mr. Burk and he signed a one hundred dollar note and you to ship the bill of laden to the first International bank and to Mr. Burk. Send there or you may not get the money and then Tiffcence [?] can’t attach it. Make the checks on the first International Bank of Minot made to Mrs. AW. Lewis by AW. Lewis. Burk requested this and send them the first car bill of laden and send me a letter at the send time.
Don’t overdraw at the farmers. Jack Beckingham and Gracie came last night and are at Brewsters. I will now Bert be sure and make the Bill of Laden to this bank and to Mr. NM. Burk and send to Burk don’t fail and make all checks as I requested…”
As you can see, she’s all business about this money and gives him multiple directives about things he cannot forget to do. I don’t know much about the “bill of laden” but I think it is a bill of lading, which is a “document issued by a carrier which details a shipment of merchandise and gives title of that shipment to a specified party.” They’re used in international trade, according to Wikipedia, so I wonder if Bert was in Canada. That would also explain why I can’t find any trace of him in the census records after 1920.
The obituary and newspaper feature on the flu deaths both agree that regardless of where Bert was, he was present in Minot with the family when she died. He was also at the funeral. However, it is just after the funeral that my grandma tells me he disappeared. I asked her if they ever heard from him again and she said the she did meet him as a child but that he died relatively early on (1940).
What kind of man leaves his entire family upon the death of his wife? One with imminent financial troubles? I wonder if he left them because he knew he couldn’t support them? But why leave them when Sadie dies? Wouldn’t that be one less mouth to feed? I don’t understand it. Who leaves his kids when their mother dies? It seems so soulless.
As for living like Great Grandma, I did a couple things this week. I planted potatoes from old ones that I had in my pantry, which were growing little arms and legs. I’m hoping they will sprout properly and grow me some cute little fingerling potatoes. I also bought seeds that I will get started in an egg crate in the broken shells of the used eggs pretty soon – I’m sticking with permaculture as much as I can, in honor of the struggles GG went through during the Great Depression. I also did a little bit of sewing this week for my Living History Society corset (not really so Great Grandma-esque, although I’m sure at least one of them wore a corset at one time or another) and I baked scones with my own handmade whipped cream (I used an electric mixer though… cheating).
The weather is improving and I’ll be posting a garden feature at some point soon. Last year (which was my first attempt at gardening, ever) my whole crop was devoured by slugs so I can’t imagine it could go any worse. However, as the theme of this post was a dead-beat dad, I determined that there was little I could do to “live like great-grandma” in this context, lest I get sick and die from the flu or become abandoned by my family. So for now, sit tight in rapt anticipation for the gardening feature.