Daniel Goodwin Durbin’s Tale

I haven’t written very much yet about my husband’s family but this story is pretty interesting for us so I wanted to share.  My husband’s grandmother Barb had heard a very long time that her grandfather had died during World War I but she didn’t know the specific circumstances other than he probably died on the boat over to Europe.  So when I began researching her side of the tree, I kept that in the back of my mind when looking at the life and death of Daniel Goodwin Durbin.

Early on, I found this un-cited clipping from somewhere/someone that told Daniel’s tale.  It was reported in this clipping that Daniel left 24 June 1918 to Camp Lee, Virginia, and the Washington barracks for training.  Then it says that he sailed from Camp Merritt, New Jersey, for overseas duties in late September 1918.  It says that the family received a card announcing his “safe arrival” overseas but nothing had been heard since.  It also talks about the armistice being signed and that news of his being “killed in action” came as a “severe shock.”  The news article also says that he married Edith Curry earlier in the year (who is now with her parents) and is survived by his parents, two brothers, and two sisters.  No mention of his infant daughter, Marguerite. 

This is the results of my research into Daniel’s life and death which serves to disprove several of the statements made in that initial clipping I found.  Daniel was born 31 May 1890 in Greene County, Pennsylvania, to Jefferson Davis Durbin & his wife Luanna “Annie” Supler.  I recently verified through Greene County, PA, that Daniel married Edith Curry (1899-1925) on the 10th of June 1918 in Waynesburg.

The story Grandma Barb was told, was that Daniel only saw his daughter, Marguerite once before he shipped out. But that couldn’t be since Marguerite was born 27 May 1918, they married on the 10th of June (so the baby had already arrived), and he didn’t leave for Camp Lee until the 24th of June.  He shipped out for France on the 25th of September as we’ll see below.  That’s plenty of time for him to see his daughter more than just once.

The news article reports Daniel leaving out of Camp Merritt, New Jersey, to head overseas.  That’s misleading in a way.  Soldiers at Camp Merritt traditionally boarded ferries and went to Hoboken to ship out but for whatever reason, Daniel can be found on an outbound military passenger list on the 25th of September 1918 in New York on the ship Teucer in route to Liverpool with the 605th Engineers, Second Battalion, Company D.  Little did he know that would be the last time he’d see American shores with his own eyes.

In the initial news article above, it says that Daniel had been “killed in action.”  In reality, while in route to England, Daniel contracted influenza and/or pneumonia (depending on what you’re reading) and died in a Liverpool hospital on the 9th of October, a day after their ship made port.  Daniel’s death is also reported in newspapers back home as death from “wounds received” in the war effort on December 5th, 1918.  However, this is corrected on the 24th in the paper as “dying from disease” which is more in line with Grandma Barb’s story and a Pennsylvania WWI Veterans Service and Compensation File card which says pneumonia caused his death.  (Even more fascinating is that there are questions in several modern papers online about the Teucer and other ships used in the military transport system, having been used to carry Chinese workers to France and rumors swirled that the Spanish influenza was brought over on these ships, which is an interesting theory. )

Reading Times, 24 Dec 1918, pg 6

The item I can’t resolve is the card received saying he arrived safely.  He couldn’t have sent it since he died a day after docking.  Was it an automated thing sent by the government to quell worrisome families at home?  Another item of curious note is that the armistice was signed November 11, 1918, which was after his death… so why would the author of that original clipping write that?  

Here’s where it gets more interesting… his granddaughter Barb assumed his body was sent immediately home for burial as he IS interred at the  Jacksonville Cemetery in Wind Ridge, Greene County, Pennsylvania.  But, what she didn’t realize was that he was FIRST buried in the Everton Cemetery along with others who had perished in the hospital at Liverpool.  During World War I, “almost 700 American servicemen died in Liverpool’s military hospitals and most of them were buried in Everton cemetery.”  In 1920, their remains were removed to the Brookwood American Cemetery and Memorial in Surrey.

New York Tribune, 8 Aug 1920, pg 16

One year and 9 months later after his death, Daniel’s name appears on a passenger manifest of “Military Deceased” on the ship Antigone leaving Liverpool on the 26th of July in 1920.  (The notation at the top of this passenger list shows these remains came from the Everton cemetery.)  The Antigone was carrying nearly 1600 bodies home – the largest shipment of soldier’s bodies being returned to America.  It made the papers everywhere when it docked on August 7th in Hoboken, New Jersey.  On August 15th, Daniel’s family was notified that his body was on its way home.

His widow Edith would remarry in November 1920 shortly after his burial.  Sadly, she would die in 1925 from preeclampsia complications during a pregnancy, leaving her and Daniel’s seven-year-old daughter Marguerite to be cared for by her Curry grandparents. 

Daniel Durbin and other Greene County men who died in World War 1 are commemorated on the Rain Day Boys Project and you can read more about them by clicking here.  There will be a memorial dedication to them on November 11th at 11 am in Waynesburg, PA. 

Preserving the Papers of Captain Richard Caldwell, Blooming Grove, NY

Part of the Caldwell papers in the collection of the Moffat Library.

In October 2016, I visited the Moffat Library for part of my genealogy course program to examine historic manuscripts. The Moffat Library had in their vaults a collection of letters from the Caldwell family of Salisbury Mills. Shockingly, these handwritten parchment letters were not properly preserved and were loosely stored in a damaged box. Despite their storage, the letters were in remarkable condition with minimal damage or fading.

I approached my DAR chapter about the state of the papers.  At our March 7, 2017, meeting the Quassaick Chapter, NSDAR, voted in favor of providing the Moffat Library with a grant that would provide for preservation materials and the digitization of the 4 handwritten letters.