September-October 2009

One Mystery Solved in Menno

Agnes Douglass died in Minneapolis. I could not find an obituary for her. Her death certificate said she was buried in Menno, South Dakota, but that her usual residence had been Mankato, MN. I stopped in Mankato at the library to see if I could figure out how long she had lived there. It appears that she lived there only a couple years and probably moved from Mankato to the Care Home in Minneapolis only a few months before she died. Where she lived between Platteville and Mankato is still unknown.

I hoped that Menno would have an obituary. I had little hope of looking at death records. The state of South Dakota has some very strict laws about giving out vital information. It costs $15 per name just to have them look in their books for a record, whether they find one or not, and if they do and you want a copy, it costs another $15! So different from all the other places I had been. But I had to ask.

I first stopped in Elk Point, SD, where Chester Douglass had established a drug store that later was run by Gerald Douglass, his cousin, and later still by Edward Swanton, husband of Gerald’s sister, Minnie. The Douglass drugstore occupied a place of prominence on a corner in the center of town. Today the building houses an insurance agency. The village has changed so little it is not hard to imagine what it looked like when the drugstore was in business. The Douglass drugstore is an integral part of the history of the town. Across the street from the original site is a small soda fountain and gift shop that has the name Douglass Drugstore on it. The owner had moved a large old marble soda fountain counter from another town to her store and serves ice cream, capitalizing off the Douglass name. I talked with her at length. Elk Point had recently had it’s sesquicentennial celebration and she showed me some books they had printed up for the event. One book had pictures of all the high school graduating classes. I found pictures of Gerald’s daughter, Carolyn, class of 1923 and Carolyn’s daughter Julie, class of 1964. A calendar with photos showing the town as it looked in the late 1880s noted that Chester Douglass and two partners formed the Pioneer Drug Co. in March 1904.

I went on to Hutchinson county seat, Olivet, where the clerk reiterated what I already knew: she could not give me any information. But she suggested, almost in a conspiratorial aside, that I walk down the street one block to a museum and talk to the woman there. The woman had lived in Olivet all her life and had many records and knew lots of local history. The lady at the museum house was very helpful. Though she did not have old newspapers that might have held an obituary for Agnes, she called the library in Menno for me. They did not have the newspapers either. But when I inquired about the cemetery in Menno, she pulled out the cemetery record book and Caroline Douglass was listed! She even had an old map of the Menno cemetery and was able to show me where the graves were. She was truly a fund of information.

I hurried back to Menno again about 4:30, hoping that the city hall office was still open. When I found it, I asked where the cemetery was, got a quick answer and headed out there. It was a small cemetery on the edge of town. Not far from the entrance was a Douglass monument inscribed Wesley Douglass and under that Caroline His Wife/Dec. 12, 1847-Sept 11, 1930. So, finally, the question of when Agnes Douglass’ mother, Caroline, died and where she was buried, is answered. To the left of the monument was a stone for Agnes Douglass and to the right stones for Agnes’ brother, Gerald, the Elk Point pharmacist, and his wife, Annette. Marjorie Douglass Detlie, Gerald’s daughter, said there had been a fracture in the relationship between Agnes and Gerald over medical treatment for their mother. Whatever the difficulty, they were all gathered together at the end of their lives in the prairie town where Wesley Douglass, youngest of Robert and Jane’s sons, had carved out a place for himself and his family back in 1874.

The next day, I visited the huge state archives in Pierre, SD, and while they had many old newspapers on microfilm, they were missing the issues that might have included obituaries for Agnes and Caroline. It seems we will never know if there was one or not. But my time in South Dakota was most satisfactory, considering the constraints upon my research there.

(Lineage: Agnes and Gerald-5, Wesley-4, Robert-3, John-2, Alexander-1)

Re-e-eally Big Bones

One of the biggest treats I gave myself on my long trip was visiting Dinosaur National Monument in Jensen, Utah. Before I went there I stopped in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah to look at their Special Collection of Earl Douglass’ papers. I would have been more disappointed to find only the photos were available (his papers were stored in another location) if I had not received a remarkable communication only days earlier on my trip. Earl Douglass’ granddaughter, Diane, wrote me an email of the centennial celebration she had just attended at Dinosaur National Monument honoring Earl’s discovery of the mammoth dinosaur fossils. Earl’s son, Gawin, had been writing a book about his father’s discovery, which had been edited and now published by his granddaughter! She said the book contained many pictures and that it was available on I was thrilled to know about the book. I had not realized that August 1909 was when Earl made his great discovery so was unaware of the anniversary date. But I was so pleased on stepping off the elevator at the U. of Utah to see large photo displays of Earl at his discovery site, along with a glass case containing samples of his diaries and his poems. Yes, another poet. His poems are written much in the same style as Dr. John Douglass’ are. This simply whetted my anticipation for reading the book.

The Dinosaur National Monument Visitor’s Center also had evocative displays of the work Earl Douglass had done there. I walked to the top of the hill overlooking the area that had been mined for the great bones. Such a rugged area, it is hard to comprehend the tremendous effort it took to dig out the huge fossils and transport them to Pittsburgh or Salt Lake City. I felt like I was treading on hallowed ground. At the store I wanted post cards with Earl’s picture on them but found none. However, they had the book. I couldn’t wait to read it. Created in large part from Earl’s diaries and the memories of his son, Gawin, it is a wonderful testimony to the passion that stayed with Earl all his life. Look for it: “Speak to the Earth and It Will Teach You: The Life and Times of Earl Douglass (1862- 1931)” by G.E. Douglass, and edited by Diane Douglass Iverson. It’s fascinating.

Ida Douglass’ Daughter, Viola

A few months back I wrote about breakthroughs in finding what happened to Earl’s sister, Ida. (There are pictures of Ida, as well as Earl’s whole family in Diane’s book.) Shortly before I left on my trip in August, I found a death date for Ida’s only daughter, Viola Battin Gates, in Tulare County, California. Tulare was off my travel itinerary quite a ways so I wrote to the Genealogical Society there and asked them to look up records for me. I was unprepared for what I received.

According to the newspaper account, Viola had been staying with her daughter, Dorothy, in Terra Bella. Evidently she had been despondent for some time. She committed suicide in 1954 by jumping off the bridge into the Friant-Kern canal. Her obituary mentioned that her husband, William Gates, had died in 1950. The Sequoia Genealogical Society had looked up his obituary and sent that too. He died as a result of an auto accident, the day after Christmas, when they were leaving Terra Bella after visiting Dorothy’s family. His 24 year old son, Harold, had been driving; other members of the family survived. Such a sad, sad story.

(Lineage: Viola-6, Ida Battin-5, Fernando-4, Alexander-3, John-2, Alexander Douglass-1)

Another Mystery Solved

Montana was persuaded to give up one of its secrets, too, this time related to James Heber Douglass. James Heber was the oldest son of William and Polly Douglass. (You may recall me telling you of William, a farmer in Port Elgin, Ontario, who suffered a paralyzing stroke) James Heber, whether he had the option or not, chose to leave the farm. He and his wife, Minnie, emigrated to Chicago in 1889, the same year they married. Wilfred wrote in his “Canadian Genealogy” in 1926 that Minnie had died and James was at that time living in Butte, MT.

I could never find James and Minnie in any census except the 1900 one in Chicago. I never found a death record for Minnie, have no idea where she died. I had very little to go on. Minnie had died and James was in Butte, Montana. When I found his brother William Somerset Douglass’ obituary, however, it did not list James Heber as surviving, so that narrowed the date of his death to 1926-1938. Finally, when Montana put a death index online, I found a record for James Douglass, in Deer Lodge County, MT, that looked promising. Though Butte is in Silver Bow County, not Deer Lodge, I hoped the Butte newspaper might carry an obituary. I checked out the date in the local newspaper and found the following:

The Butte Miner, Sunday Morning , June 3, 1928

Deer Lodge Bureau

James R. Douglas Fatally Stricken

Clothing Salesman Drops Dead on Street of Deer Lodge;
His Relatives Are Notified.

Butte Miner Bureau

Deer Lodge, June 2 – James R. Douglas, aged 63 years, dropped dead on Main street today. He was passing the John Truscott residence when he fell and before Dr. F.L. Unmack could reach him he had passed away. Mr. Douglas was a clothing salesman and came to Deer Lodge about once every month. In the latter part of April he had a similar attack on the street, but Dr. C.S. Powell rushed him to St. Joseph’s hospital, where he recovered. Dr. F.G. Douglas of Chicago, Ill., and W.S. Douglas of Yakima, Wash., have been notified and the funeral arrangements are pending replies from them. The remains are at the Bl\ien and Ross chapel. ###

No further mention of a funeral was found in the paper through June 7. I am assuming that the body was forwarded elsewhere for burial. Chicago? Or perhaps wherever Minnie is buried? At least now we know when and where he died. He was truly a long way from any members of his family when his life ended.

(Lineage: James Heber-5, William-4, Robert-3, John-2, Alexander Douglass-1)

2 thoughts on “September-October 2009

  1. Ethel, i have old letters written by possible family members that were in my A. Edith’s research. I will have to look them up again for the names. There were no Douglass but there had to be a connection somewhere which i have not found yet. I will try to give you access to these letters as i find them.

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