The Stewarts have been chock full of roadblocks in what feels like forever. They are the bane of my genealogy work. Recently, I was able to finally break through one of my Stewart family brick walls and discovered the ending to my 4th great aunt’s story.
On the back of my great-uncle Dale’s World War II draft card was a complete hidden gem that I had completely overlooked. I had assumed it was just a plain old WW2 draft card where the goodies are all on the front – their address, employer, person who knows your address, etc., so I never really paid much attention to the back of Dale’s card. Last night, I think my eye balls about popped out of my head when I read the reverse of Dale’s card.
Let me back up a sec for new readers. My great-uncle Dale has been notoriously hard to document. I have always assumed it was because he was a merchant marine and just missed being enumerated, had no land records to his name with transient employment, and he was single with no dependents. He’s been a real humdinger to trace. But awhile back I got lucky and found him in 1930 in Montana, arrested for armed robbery. I even got the bonus mug shot from those records and an accompanying news article to describe his crime in detail. So, in searching for Dale, I thought I had pretty much ground to a halt…. and then …
I flipped over his card and saw this …
“Known to this institution
Apparently, in Santa Monica during early February 1939, Dale (aka Daniel Shea), was drunk off his rocker, swaggers up to the post office clerk, did the whole “finger-as-a-gun” trick and told the clerk to “Pass over the business or I’ll fill you full of lead.” The clerk, not believing he is in any real danger, simply ducks down behind the counter and the other post office workers call the cops. Dale/Daniel flees the post office and then a few minutes later, attempts to rob a motorist who just simply drove off, unconvinced by his finger gun. WHAT?! When the cops apprehended him, he was, of course, unarmed and they booked him on “suspicion of intoxication and attempted robbery.” Robbing a post office is a federal crime so it’s no wonder that Dale was in the U.S. Penitentiary! Apparently, he didn’t learn a thing from his 1930 arrest in Montana for armed robbery.
However, I am baffled by his draft card a bit. The back says the date of registration was 18 October 1940 in Lewisburg, PA, but the stamp for the local board says Los Angeles, CA, 1 November 1940, which is where he was reportedly living/working at the time of the 1939 robbery. So did he get out and his card was sent back to LA with him? I’m just confused a bit on the logistics of where he was and when. It’s such fresh, new information though that I haven’t had time to really dig into this alias of his yet.
Eventually, armed with this new information, I’ll be returning to Dale Stewart sometime in the near future when I have more time. Right now, I’m “on the clock” for my certification and that’s my first priority. Dale will have to wait a bit longer but golly, I’m sure fascinated by him and his life.
However, it did remind me of a powerful lesson today – CHECK BOTH SIDES! You never know what information is hidden in plain sight. Remember in September when I searched the whole cemetery for my grandmother’s headstone in dismay because I couldn’t find it but was delighted to find her brother’s? My grandparents were on the BACK of his stone. I was literally standing right there and didn’t look on the back and missed them completely. Duh. AND, on my mother-in-law’s maternal grandfather’s draft card we learned, he was missing a finger from a work accident. You never know what gems are lurking on the back of draft cards, headstones, contracts, etc. so just flip it. FLIP IT.
When I first started documenting my Stewart grandparents, I didn’t realize how much of their story would occupy a space in my brain. Some people might have found a murder/suicide in their family, noted its tragedy, and moved on but for me, for whatever reason, I have been particularly haunted and captivated by the murder of my grandmother Esther and the subsequent suicide of my grandfather William. (Seriously, I know you’re all probably tired of reading about them already.) There is just something in me that wants to understand why things escalated to that extreme that fateful day in January 1914. So I’ve kept looking and searching…
Now, I have searched every variation of Stewart and William H Stewart to find any scrap of information in the newspapers online, even searching his known alias of “Thomas” (which I’ve never found the reasoning behind that name choice). I’ve searched in every town they lived in, in every county they or their parents lived in, and even searching in adjacent counties in the off-chance they spent time there as well in-between census dates and city directory entries. But as you know, they’re constantly updating newspapers online and adding more all the time and so when I returned to my Stewart research, I found this tiny snippet from August 25, 1904, in The Times Recorder newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.
While it might not seem staggering news for some, for me, it gave me a HUGE glimpse into their marriage ten years before their murder/suicide. Noting that this was the “third occasion” since their 1902 marriage (that was known), what more happened that wasn’t documented? I also find it boggling that she assaulted him first but yet he was the one charged and fined. It sounds like she got the worst of it as she still had marks, but weren’t women culpable of assault too?
Also, their first child, Frances, was still alive and while she is not named outright, she is still mentioned in the article. She would sadly die the following month in September of cholera infantum. (Which is an interesting disease to read about if you haven’t – it differs from cholera that we know of in that the mother can actually over-feed and be a cause of the child’s demise. It’s fascinating to read.)
In a news article following their deaths, her brother Asbury gives an example of how Esther and William fought all the time about the silliest, smallest things including an argument over the placement of a knife in the kitchen to where they didn’t speak for two weeks following. Another article eluded to how they fought quite a bit and always made up quickly afterward. Asbury admitted his sister (and William, too) had a hot temper, and this article just confirms everything Asbury stated and more. They seemed to be ready to fight over every little thing.
So while this would just seem a boring article to some, to me, it’s like cracking the door open just a bit wider into their marriage seeing just how volatile it really must have been from the very beginning. When I first visited William’s grave a couple years ago, I stood there for the longest time feeling very sour towards him for the way he affected so many people that day. His bullets in 1914 would ripple down and cause damage in his family through his sons’ suicides in 1943 and 1958 and truthfully, even beyond that in the way their son Glenn would treat his wife/children by being so aloof and uncaring before his 1958 death. (My mom just recently told me that her father had positively NO good memories of his father Glenn at all and was bitter towards him, even long past his death.)
With this article now though, I somehow have shifted some of the blame towards Esther, too. I had always felt she was just a victim, but it looks now like she was an instigator and perpetrator, as well. While she doesn’t have a stone currently, I know where she’s buried, and I wonder how I will feel when I go back. Will I feel sympathy again, or perhaps something different knowing she was part of the mayhem and destruction that followed? Funny how your family’s narrative can change with just a newspaper snippet.
I don’t know what makes me return to certain relatives time and again even when I think their stories are “done.” My 2nd great uncle Dale Stewart’s story was pretty cut and dry, I thought. I’ve written about discovering his mug shot from his 1930 arrest in Montana and I fairly thought his story was finished. So why did I go looking for him again the other night randomly?
I can’t really say for sure other than it bothers me a bit that I know his sad start in life being raised in the children’s home system after his parent’s murder/suicide and his horrible, painful death by eating ant paste in a sanitarium in 1943 in LA. But his “middle” has always eluded me, and I had assumed that since he was a merchant marine, his story was probably out at sea and there likely wasn’t much to find for him. He never married, had no children that we knew of … so what was left to really find? Likely nothing, but I returned to Dale like a moth to a flame, just drawn in by the look on his face.
I have always felt like he and his older brother, my 2nd great-grandfather Glenn, had a really rotten deal in life. (They could truly be case studies in how your parents’ cruddy choices affect you all through your life.) So anyway, I went looking for Dale again and stumbled upon a news article about his actual arrest.
Dale and this Bert Stevens fellow he was arrested with somehow met in San Francisco while working on ships. Dale was a porter on the steamer “Yale” and Burt was in the kitchen on the steamer “Nome City” according to their arrest sheets. However, both were out of work by May 1, 1930, when they came to Hardin, Montana. Bert seems to have had multiple run-ins with the law in Montana in 1928-1929 so I wonder if he didn’t convince Dale to come along to familiar stomping grounds.
In any event, Dale and Bert robbed a mercantile company’s offices on May 10th, just 9 days after arriving, making off with just $15 and a gun. That’s only equivalent to $229 today so that’s a pretty sad haul considering he traded a year of his life for it in the state penitentiary. They were caught on the 11th being that they were”suspicious characters” and the cops found through fingerprints that they had priors. (I’ve seen Bert’s extensive record but I can’t find anything prior for Dale.) They plead guilty in court on the 15th, arrived at the penitentiary on the 20th, and their paperwork was processed on the 21st.
As a weird side note, Bert was re-arrested on narcotic charges the very day they were released in April 1931. Just bonkers! I lose track of Dale again until his death in LA in 1943. I know that’s not much more information on Dale but it just makes me crave to know even more about his life. Now that I know he had a prior arrest somewhere, I want to find it. I plan on using Bert’s arrest record as a way to eliminate places Dale might have been because I just don’t know how long they were associated. They could have been traveling together for a while!
I just thought this bit was interesting and wanted to share. /shrug/
I have been working on our Stewart/Steward family line for eons… truly …and I cannot break through this brick wall that ends with John Steward and his wife Minerva. You can see my pedigree over there to the right.
Now I’m not a DNA pro by any means but I get the basics. I have had my DNA (my mom’s and that of my children) floating around on Ancestry, 23andMe, and GEDMatch with positively ZERO hits on our Stewart line. Three years plus and no hits anywhere, no DNA circles, not even the generic email from a possible relative with a match looking for info… just NOTHING. So, recently, I decided to go through our DNA circles again to take a closer look. I have 101 circles with NO Stewart matches and my mom has 25 circles with NO Stewart matches either. (My circles are much larger because my dad’s KY line is huge.) Puzzled… I began to dig deeper into our tree.