My grandfather, Joseph Markway, came to central Missouri on an “orphan train” and was adopted by the Fred Markway family. Joseph’s surname at birth was Auer (or possibly Aner–it shows up both ways in available records).
I have tested through Ancestry.com, 23andMe, and Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), and have spent many hours poring through DNA connections and public records. I have narrowed down his birth father to being one of two men. Today, I’ll tell the story of one of them, George Van Sten.
Genealogy can involve lots of tedious work, finding minor details, but occasionally I find something quite interesting. George Van Sten was involved in a lawsuit that must have been quite the talk of Rochester, New York. Rather than trying to explain it, I’ll let the Rochester Post-Express from December 1915 tell the story:
SISTER WROTE BILLETS DOUX
NEW YORKER WINS SUIT TO GET BACK PRESENTS
WOMAN SAYS “FIANCE STALLED”
Declares in Defense That She Made Gifts, Too—He “Postponed Marriage”
A jury in Municipal court decided that when a woman breaks an engagement to marry, it is up to her to return the presents given to her by her fiancé if he wants them back. In the suit of George Van Sten of New York against Mrs. Maude Waddell of this city to recover engagement presents valued at $450 (over $11,000 value in today’s dollars), the jury, after listening to the testimony found for the plaintiff and if the defendant is unable to restore the gifts the plaintiff may recover $415. Judge Delbert G. Habbard presided at the trial.
Mrs. Waddell and Van Sten had been engaged for five years. The engagement was broken early in September, this year, and on September 23d, the defendant was married to Eugene P. Waddell. Van Sten asked that his presents be returned. She is said to have refused and he brought suit, in reply in the suit in his action s he set up a counterclaim for $2,000. Eugene Van Voorhis appeared for Van Sten and Mrs. Waddell is represented by William Baker.
Van Sten testified that he had set the date for their marriage to take place “sometime after the holidays” to which the present Mrs. Waddell had agreed. Under examination he said he had received a letter from Mrs. Waddell dated September 25, 1915 stating she had married Eugene P. Waddell Thursday, September 23d.
In explaining the events preceding his receipt of this letter, Mr. Van Sten said that when in Boston last summer, Miss Spencer told him her father objected to her marrying him for various reasons; that he wanted her to marry some one else. He also testified that at one time last spring, he had received no letter from her for three weeks. This he said was unusual.
Woman Takes Stand
At this point, Mrs. Waddell took the stand. She testified that Mr. Van Sten had set the date of their marriage several times, but that each time he postponed the event, giving “business reasons” as his excuse. She said he was “stalling her for time.”
She also said she gave him gifts equal in value to those which the plaintiff gave her. She says she gave him a diamond stickpin, an Elks ring, a gold fob and chain and a silver cigar case.
Sister Wrote Letters
Asked to present letters to support her testimony, Mrs. Waddell she said she destroyed all the letters shortly after receiving them. Mr. Van Voorhis brought out the fact that all the letters Miss Spencer was supposed to have written to Van Sten were written by no one else than her sister, Grace Spencer, who was authorized to do so by Mrs. Waddell.
She testified she gave up her position early in September to go to New York to marry Van Sten, upon arriving there, she said, Mr. Van Sten postponed the marriage again. Growing impatient, she returned to Rochester and finding herself without a position, she decided to get married to someone. She had known Mr. Waddell four years and married him September 23d.
Loves Husband, She Says
“Not very much love there?” inquired Mr. Van Voorhis of Mrs. Waddell. Flushing and looking at Mr. Waddell, who sat next to her mother, Mrs. Madeline Spencer, she replied, “I love him.”
She testified, however, that she had objected to the postponements.
Mrs. Spencer, and Miss Grace Spencer, Mrs. Waddell’s sister corroborated her statements.
The newspaper leaves out important details, though…What presents did George give the defendant? Was it just a beautiful ring and a few small items? Or did he give her a number of expensive presents? Why had the engagement lasted five years? At the very least, he had some commitment issues.
I researched the fiance and found that she was about 20 years younger than George. I imagine her father DID want her to marry someone else, particularly after such a long engagement. With her, it seems suspicious that she suddenly grew tired of waiting and married someone else just a few days after leaving George. It certainly seems that some romance must have been brewing there…
I have found other information about George…
George was born in November of 1868, most likely in Brooklyn. The 1870 United States Census lists George’s father as an “agent” for Knickerbocker Ice Company, and his mother as “keeping house.” George had two older siblings at the time, a 10-year old sister, Catherine (or “Cassie”), and a nine-year-old brother, James.
Just three years later, George loses his mother (Mary) when she dies at age 32. I have not yet found any record of what happened. George’s father finds a housekeeper, Annie McCaffrey, to help with the children. George’s father dies in 1888 when George is twenty. His father, Richard, was 54.
George disappears from the records for several years, but in 1905 he shows up in the City Directory of Atlantic City, New Jersey, as the manager of a creamery. In 1907, the local newspaper in Elmira, New York, reported George spent Thanksgiving with friends there. (Elmira is in south-central New York on the Pennsylvania border).
Throughout his life, George was involved in social activities. In 1891, at the age of 23, he was elected Chair of the Dramatic Committee of the Booth Dramatic Society in Brooklyn. In 1901, he was playing Euchre at the Flatbush (Brooklyn) Knights of Columbus and he won a prize. In 1918, he attended a Knights of Columbus dance in Brooklyn.
George apparently recovered from his contentious romance in time. Records show that he took a trip to Barbados and Tobago in 1921.
George died in Philadelphia, of chronic bronchitis) in 1934. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Brooklyn.
After reading the newspaper story, I’m considering a new career…maybe I should write romance novels based on old newspaper stories…