George Cramer Teel
I have had George Cramer Teel in the back of my mind ever since the day I discovered him in the Iowa Soldiers Orphans Home in the 1900 census. It stated he was born in August 1887, was 13, attending school. The thing that struck me first was that he was in an orphanage with 790 other “inmates”. I wondered why because I thought his mother was alive at that time.
A little research into the Home told me that it had started out as an orphanage for children orphaned by the Civil War and over the years it had grown to take in not only orphans but those so destitute their parents could not care for them. And in fact, the deprivation of George’s early childhood was born out in his physical frame I learned later. But it was many years before I could piece together even parts of his life.
He was born in Iowa and eventually I found his mother and father in Palo Alto County, Iowa, records. His mother Eliza Cramer was born in Sauk County, Wisconsin, one of the 14 children of Samuel and Mary Ann (Douglass) Cramer. Eliza was the last to marry and leave home. Her husband was George Teel.
George Teel was 25 years older than Eliza. He was born in Pennsylvania, moved to Wisconsin, married Ursula Craig, had four daughters born in Wisconsin and a son born in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa. He served in the Civil War, and did not surface in the records again until 1880 when he was living with a married daughter in Harper, Kansas. Harper, Kansas is where his wife divorced him for Gross Neglect in 1881. He had no occupation. One of his descendants reported that he was injured in the war and was totally deaf as a result. He could have suffered from what we now call PTSD. Regardless, he moved around a lot. He must have gone back to Wisconsin because he married Eliza in Sauk County, WI in 1883. He was 61 and she was 36. He brought her to Iowa and she bore him her only child, George Cramer Teel in 1887.
In the 1895 Iowa State Census, Eliza Teel, 46, and her son George C., age 7, are living in Lake township, Clay County, Iowa. Her husband is not living with her.
Some years later, as I continued to search for clues to what happened to young George, I “found” George C. Teel in the US Navy in the 1920 census: George C. Teel, 32, single, chief electrician, USS Aaron Ward, home address Sage, MT. I tried in vain to find any family connection in Montana for him. I could not find him in the 1930 census.
Then again later, as more information became available online, I found a death record in Florida for a George C. Teel that had the right birthdate and birthplace. I sent for the death certificate. With relief I saw that this was the right George Teel, occupation Electricians Mate, US Navy, mother’s maiden name Cramer. He died in Bradenton. The person who gave information for the death certificate was Harry Stalker, who lived at the same address as that given for George. (Who was Harry Stalker?) Other significant information on the death certificate was that he was widowed and that he had been treated by Dr. Conrad in Bradenton since 1969. Had he come to Florida to live with a relative? What happened to his wife? Did he come to Florida in 1969 because his wife had died. He would have been 82 in 1969. I could make no family connections. He was an only child of his mother but his father had several children by his first marriage, but none of them married to a Stalker that I could find.
Last February on a trip to Florida, I looked up George’s obituary in the Bradenton Herald. He died in 1974; he had come to Bradenton eight and a half years earlier from Palmdale, California. He was a member of the American Legion, the Retired Employees Club of Los Angeles Power & Light and a veteran of World War I and II. Survived by one sister, Mrs. Harry Stalker. A puzzle.
Then I visited his gravesite in Bradenton. He is buried in the Veterans area of Mansion Memorial Park. His gravemarker says George C. Teel/ cem US Navy. The funeral director did not know what “cem” meant. (Chief Electricians Mate, I learned later) There was no wife buried with him which lent credence to my theory.
I looked for a female Teel who died around 1967 in California and found Hattie Teel who died 3 August 1966, Los Angeles. It looked as if when George retired from the Navy, probably after putting in his 20 years, that he lived in Los Angeles. That was born out when I found the 1942 WWII draft registration for his cousin Edgar Crosby, who stated that the person who would always know his address was George Teel, Los Angeles.
When I returned from Florida, the 1940 census was becoming available online for the first time. In 1940 George C. Teel, 52, married to Hattie, 51, worked full time for City Light & Power in San Diego. He had an 8th grade education; she had finished high school. They had a son, Douglas (!!) 11 years old, and living with them was his cousin Edgar Crosby, a construction worker, out of work.
So finally I was beginning to get a picture of George’s life. His obituary had mentioned neither a wife nor a son. After years of wondering if he went through life without any family, if the Navy was the only family he had, I learned that he had contact with cousins and someone he considered a sister married to a Stalker. And he had been married and had a son. What happened to them?
Since he had been a career Navy man, it was time to look at his Military Personnel records. I sent for them and waited weeks. Then they wrote me that because his records were in the Archives, it would cost me $70 to get copies of the file. Ouch! They would not sort the file for pertinent info for me – it was all or nothing at all. So I bit the bullet and sent the check.
Next time I will tell you what I am able to filter out of the 100 plus pages of his file.
If you read my book, Only a Week Away, you probably guessed that I am fascinated with stories about families who lived on the canal boats on the Erie Canal. Laura Jane Clemons, of Redfield, NY, married Wallace Gibbs, one of those canalers and she had several children. However, tracking those children is difficult; many canal boaters just did not get counted during census time. Because they were itinerant, they could be in any port along the canal, and they could be gone on the day the count was made of any particular boat basin.
Jane and Wallace Gibbs’ family included Fannie, Edward, Orley, Alton and Clarissa. Clarissa lived to be 100 years old and died in 1985. She was the youngest child. But it is the oldest, Fannie, that has led me the longest chase. From old newspaper tidbits I had picked up that her married name was Fannie French, but for years, the name of her husband eluded me. Then this past summer, Keith Gerlach, the genealogist at the Utica Public Library, turned up a record in 1910 on Canal St. (how fitting) in Syracuse, NY. His name was Clark French, 46, married once, 19 years, to Fannie, 43. Her age tallied close enough. This must be them but I could not find him in any other census. Nor could I find when he died.
I did find this item and a couple of follow-ups in the Palladium (Oswego, NY) newspaper and it shines a little light on where the canalers turned when they were in trouble.
Nov 1888 – A man calling himself Clark French walked into the Sheriffs offices in Syracuse while looking for the Superintendent of the Poor. He asked for a physician. He was redirected and it was determined he had smallpox. An immediate fumigation of the sheriff’s office was conducted. The man was taken to the poor house.
Follow-up Jan 1889: Syracuse – “Clark French, who was the first case (of smallpox) in the city, was discharged yesterday. He was fumigated, given a new suit of clothes and told to go to his home in North Bay. He notified the papers he wished to thank the doctor and nurse for his good care. Clark French, who was a canaler, congratulated himself on the great luck he has struck this winter. He has been a sort of tramp, bobbing about like a cork on the water. The winters went hard with him, but this year he says he struck it rich. Smallpox attacked him and he was carried off to the Pest House, where he was given snug warm quarters and a liberal allowance of whiskey daily. He recovered and was made a nurse in the house. Out of his earnings he saved a good little sum, and “his heart being true to Poll”(?), though badly pock-marked, he is still in the race, and has, it is said, gone home to see his girl.”
(Of the five the doctor treated in the Pest House, only one died. There were other deaths outside the Pest House) The Health Officer traced all of the contagion to Coppins Hotel, except for Clark French who came from Buffalo. They used quarantine to stop the spread. All of the furniture and bedding from the Pierce Hotel where French had stayed was removed and the room fuimgated. All hotel personnel and those who were known to have come in contact with him were vaccinated. It was not uncommon for there to be a few cases each year and deaths were not uncommon either. Vaccination was encouraged.
Syracuse newspaper: In 1906, Clark French sued Will and Baumer Co. for differences in the bills of lading. Each party had a bill of lading but they did not agree. French thought he was entitled to more demurrage for his canal boat which had brought a load from Buffalo to Liverpool.
I am sure this Clark French was Fannie’s husband, primarily because of the canal boat references. Fannie had come from a canaler’s family. Canalers were a loose knit group that kept to themselves, not always viewed positively by others in society. It was a rough life and they were a rough lot. Clark was in his 20s in 1888. Fannie did not marry until the late 1890s.
In 1920 census Fannie is listed as “widowed”. She was supporting herself by making carpets. I know this is the right Fannie because she had her mother, Laura, living with her. Whether Fannie was actually widowed or just separated from her husband, I have found no more records for Clark French. But at least I have his name.
Lineage: Fannie French-6, Laura Jane Gibbs-5, Candace Clemons-4, Alexander-3, John-2, Alexander-1)