Consanguinity: (kŏn'săng-gwĭn'ĭtē) , relationship by blood, whether linear or collateral.

Primarily concentrating on my Browning family from Harrison County, Ohio (and their subsequent move to Crawford County, Illinois) but I've got Plymell, Crago, Eagleton, Garrard, McConnell, Nichols, Swan, Nevitt, Huls, Markee, Depperman, Papstein/Popstein and Hamilton in there too. And that's just the beginning......

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Who was Harry B. Roberts?

Hello's been a while.

I gave in a month or so ago and purchased an Ancestry subscription (it was on special).  I've uploaded my tree and have been cleaning it up and looking at all the records, but I'm fairly certain I won't be keeping it any longer than I currently have it.  I'm downloading all the records I find to my personal computer so I won't need to curse myself later if I can't get hold of something I had.    I've also finally did my DNA and I'm looking forward to seeing the results come back in a few months. 

But now....on with the show.

Who WAS Harry B. Roberts?  That's the question I hope this post will go some ways towards answering.  I think I know, but then again I may not.  I may - as John Snow does - know nothing! 

There's a lot of back story here but you'll need it - so bear with me as the story unfolds.

We begin with the family of Genius Edward Browning (yeah, I know, believe me....his parents - Edward Alfred Browning and Mary Elizabeth Gibbons - really did give him that name!) and Estella May Nelson.  Some records say "Milton" but two documents I put more stock in - her marriage record and her maiden name as she lists it as the informant on her daughter's death certificate - say Nelson.   I'm inclined to take her word for it. 

Genius and Stella married in Vigo County, IN on 1 June 1902 but moved back to Illinois before they had two children - a son named Benjamin H. in January 1903 in Effingham County and a daughter named Irene Druzilla in May 1905 in Jasper County.   The family stayed around the Effingham County area for some years before moving back to Vigo County and settling in Terre Haute, where they were living both in 1918 when Genius registered for the draft and at the time of the 1920 census in January.

Now here's where it starts to get tricky.

The first hint of trouble lurks on Genius and Estella's daughter Irene's first-first marriage record.  You see, Irene was married three times throughout her life.  Each time she claimed it was her first marriage, and each time she used her maiden name when she got married. 

Irene, aged 16, marries Herman Erxleben in December 1921 in Terre Haute.  Irene claims she was born in May 1902 (presumably so she can skirt around needing parental consent) and she lives at 411 Eagle St in Terre Haute. Irene lists this same address for her mother, Estella Nelson.  She also lists her father, Genius, but gives his residence as Detroit, MI.

So if Irene is to be believed - and admittedly, she's lied at least once on this marriage certificate already! - then sometime between Jan 1920 and Dec 1921 her parents split up.

Long story short, although I haven't found any documentation for this so far I'm pretty sure they did. I started tracing - or trying to trace - them both in census records.  Odd thing is, throughout their lives both never married again, and both claim they were widowed on their death certificates and in census records. Genius only lists himself as "divorced" in 1940 and Estella never does.  She continued to use the last name Browning throughout her life, her death certificate also lists her last name as Browning, and she is buried near Genius. 

I studied the death certificates of both, and this is where it got interesting. 

The informant on Estella's death certificate (1953) and on that of her ex-husband Genius (1959) is the same: a man named Harry B. Roberts. On both certificates Roberts lists his address as 1344 Liberty St., Racine WI.

Now on Estella's death certificate Harry only gives his address and name.  But there's one other added bit of information on Genius's death certificate:

Son.  How can a man with the last name of Roberts be Genius Edward Browning's son?

There are so many possibilities here, and a few immediately jumped out at me.  Harry could be Estella's son from either a first marriage or one born out of wedlock.  He could be the couple's adopted son, perhaps a relative who was raised by the Browning family or from someone entirely unrelated to them.  He could be another son Genius may have had with a woman whose last name was Roberts and who raised him independently.  Or Estella might've been married again after Genius regardless of what she said on census records - the marriage might've been short-lived? - and Harry retained his father's name.  But if so, why would Harry claim Genius was his father?

Now as far as I know Genius had only ever been married to Estella and Estella had only ever been married to Genius and the two had split up around 30 years before either of them had died.  So I concentrated on Harry and checked through a series of city directories, etc., and learned Harry B. Roberts had lived at the address he gave in Racine for over fifteen years.  On the census records Harry claims his father was born in IL (Genius was) and his mother in IN (Estella was).

I kept trying to find other evidence that might tie Harry B. into the family by another fashion but kept coming up zeros. So - while it's certainly not a sure thing - the preponderance of evidence so far suggests Harry is neither adopted nor is he either party's son by someone else.

But then something occurred to me.  Irene wasn't Genius and Estella's only child.  The couple also had a son, Benjamin.

Benjamin H.

So was it possible it could be Benjamin....Harold?  Or - switched around a bit - Harold Benjamin?   Harry B.?

If so, why was he using Roberts?

I'm unaware of the family dynamics at play here.  If Estella and Genius split acrimoniously who knows how their children felt about the split.  And Estella might not have had a choice regarding her last name, as courts of that time sometimes refused to grant divorced women with children usage of their maiden names to avoid the mother and child/different last name stigma. Who knows - if Estella did remarry for a time perhaps Benjamin decided to use that stepfather's last name. If so, she reverted to Browning consistently.  I looked all over for marriages for a Roberts and a Nelson/Browning to no avail.

There's so much I don't know.  But what I do know is this - whoever Harry B. Roberts is, he's connected enough to both Estella and Genius to use the word "son" on a death certificate.

So I got creative and decided to concentrate on Harry's family. I located the only child of his I found in the 1940 census on Find-A-Grave.  She died in Racine and I got damn lucky because her Find-a-Grave profile included an obituary, where it mentions a sibling who was too young to appear in the 1940 census.  This obituary also lists this child's two children.  Of course that sent me to Facebook.

I got lucky once again - I think - and managed to match the child and their children to profiles in Facebook.  I sent a message to the wife of one of those children, explaining the dilemma of the strange last name and asking if there was a possibility they would have clarification - and that is where it's left now.

I'm hoping someday I hear something.  Wouldn't that be fun?

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