His name was Valentine, and he was the younger brother of my great-great grandmother Eliza. Well, happy Valentine’s day to me because his death solved one of the weirdest mysteries in our family tree and ultimately found a missing loved one. Ok, so it took me 2 years to figure it out, but my gut knew it all along, I was just slow in following thru.
Let’s back up. My gg grandfather Henry was born in the small town of Grombach, Baden, Germany in 1841. I am fascinated by Henry. He immigrated with his entire family and has been fairly easy to trace. I have a picture of him and will say he looks like a cocky, I mean confident, gg grandpa. I guess you had to be confident when you are the type of person that would travel by wagon to the state of Nebraska in 1875, without a home, set up camp in a cave, and eventually become a wealthy farmer with hundreds of land acres at the time of his death in 1919.
But Henry had 2 wives. It wasn’t until I uncovered a tattered letter from 1942, packed away in a box at my mother’s house, that I discovered my gg grandmother Eliza was actually Henry’s first wife who died at the young age of 24 in 1872. My line wasn’t 2nd wife Margaret after all. First wife Eliza was the mother of my great grandfather Fred. In the letter, it told us where she was buried, along with a baby daughter that nobody knew about. I reached out to the cemetery caretaker and he helped me locate the headstone, which my sister visited and photographed last year.
It turns out the cemetery is in this dinkly little Illinois town of maybe 400 people today, so probably 20 people 142 years ago. Mystery solved, sort of. I had Eliza down, now I began work on her mother Martha. Crap, instant brick wall.
For almost 2 years, I searched for GGG Grandma Martha. She was born in Missouri and lived most of her life there until I found her living as a widow with Eliza and Henry in the 1870 census, near the town of Eliza’s burial location in Illinois. But I never found Martha again - ever. I searched the 1880 census so many times it was almost ridiculous. No death record on file at the archives dept for the state of Illinois. I assumed she went back to the state of Missouri and where her 2 sons were living, but nothing. So I started chasing everything I could think of including her son Valentine and another son George. I also searched for their children, their children’s children, etc. I chased what I think (but I’m not sure) are a few brothers, a probable father, and a couple sisters, but no luck. I even called the caretaker of the Illinois cemetery back to ask if he had a record of Martha’s burial. Nope.
Eventually, I obtained the death certificate for Martha’s youngest son Valentine in 1918. Here’s where it gets weird. Valentine died 47 years later in the same dinky little Illinois town that his sister is buried at, even though he lived all of his life in Missouri. His death certificate said he had only been in town for 3 days, a coroner’s inquest was performed, and they could not determine cause of death.
What’s that about? I will secretly admit I feared maybe he suffered from dementia, went to the grave of his sister and took his life. But I desperately hoped that maybe his mother Martha was actually buried there after all, and he was there to pay his respects.
Here’s another fun fact - Valentine died on my birthday. Maybe the universe was sending me a sign? Keep digging, Ellen.
It finally dawned on me that even though Valentine wasn’t from this dinky town where he died, the suspicious nature of his death might lead to a newspaper article about the circumstances.
Ding Ding. His death made 2 newspapers in the area. It turns out he really was visiting his mother’s grave. While trying to fix her broken headstone, he had what was most likely a stroke and fell over onto a pile of rocks. His body wasn’t found for 24 hours.
I’m sorry Uncle Valentine, but I will be forever grateful to your stroke. Hallelujah, GGG Grandma Martha has been found. Now if I could only figure out where Martha’s parents are. The hunt truly never ends.