The Mystery of Joseph Auer–Part V

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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…

 

The Mystery of Joseph Auer–Part IV

In my previous posts, I told the story of my paternal grandfather, who spent his early years at the New York Foundling Home, and came to Central Missouri on an “Orphan Train” and was adopted by the Fred Markway family.

My grandfather was known as Joseph Aner while at the Foundling Home. Recently, I was searching online and found a Joseph Auer who was born on April 30, 1896, my grandfather’s birthday. I sent away for his original birth certificate, and unbelievably, only five days later, I received this from the City of New York:

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My grandfather was born Joseph Auer and his mother’s name was Adelaide Auer. He was born at 531 E. 86th Street in New York City. I searched online to see if that building was still standing–no such address showed up. I continued to search and found that Misericordia Hospital used to be on that site, a hospital that was affiliated with the Foundling Home. This hospital primarily served poor women, many of whom were unwed mothers. This fit my family’s long-held hypothesis that Grandpa came from very difficult circumstances–after all, he was left at an orphanage.

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Misericordia Hospital has merged with other hospital systems and changed locations over the years, and currently is in The Bronx, another borough of New York City.

Grandpa’s birth certificate contained other information. First of all, no middle name was listed. My sister, Susan, remembers that Grandpa was bothered by this. At some point, though, he took on (or was given?) the middle name of “John.” The birth certificate also states that he was the first child born to his mother–there is no way to know if this is accurate, but DNA testing and research has revealed no other people that appear related to the mother (at least yet).

In my life, I was born in St. Louis, and my family returned to Jefferson City when I was three years old. I lived there until going to college at St. Louis University. I stayed in St. Louis to attend graduate school at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. In 1995, I returned to Jefferson City with my wife and son. A couple years ago, I returned to St. Louis.

Upon moving to Jefferson City, my wife commented on how many people inquired if we were related to the other Markway families. I told her the answer was always “Yes.” Below is a picture of my grandfather with his adoptive family–it is pretty clear he came from a different gene pool. Given that this Markway family was so large, and that many of them had numerous children, the family grew rapidly.

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Joseph Auer Markway (back row left), Fred Jr., Ben, Al, Herman Gangwisch, Henry, Frank. (Front row): Rose, Lena, William, Fred Sr. (father), Catherine Schnieders Markway, Mary Ann, Crecentia.

You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed my grandfather’s birth father in this post. The birth certificate lists a name, but the name likely is fiction. Through DNA testing and many hours of genealogical work, I have identified the likely father. More on him later…

 

 

The Mystery of Joseph Aner Markway–Part 1

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Joseph Markway (right), in his World War I Army uniform, with his friend, Lawrence Prenger.

My grandfather, Joseph John Markway, came to mid-Missouri at the age of 4 or 5 on an “Orphan Train.” He was born in New York and within a few days of his birth, he was left at the New York Foundling Home.

At that time, New York city was teeming with immigrants, orphans, and “street urchins,” people poor and desperate. The Foundling Home had a basket on its front steps so people could drop off babies that they couldn’t care for.

My grandfather was one of those babies. Many of those ended up on an Orphan Train, sent westward, hopefully to be accepted into loving Catholic families. (Other institutions had Orphan Trains that delivered children to Protestant families.) The train would roll into a town, and families would examine the children as if they were livestock, and then choose one or more. Families often were looking for potential farmhands or household help. Sometimes, families had prearranged to adopt children, and they waited for their child to be delivered. Local parishes, to various degrees, would check out and recommend local families as potential new homes for the “orphans.”

When my grandfather arrived in Taos, Missouri, he wore a name tag that said “Joseph Aner.” That likely was not the surname of his father. The Foundling Home may not have ever known either of his parents. Or, if it did, the Home was known for changing names—perhaps to hide the child’s origins, protect the parents anonymity, or even to give the child a name to hide undesirable ethnic origins

The Orphan Train adoptions did not always turn out well. The orphanages or Orphan Train organization would check up on the children annually, and the children were encouraged to write letters back telling the agency how they were doing. Occasionally, children returned to the sending agency for various reasons. I remember hearing that my grandfather was one of those, but I don’t really know.

The 1900 United States Census shows him as being an “inmate” of the Foundling Home–inmate was the term used at the time to describe anyone that lived in an institution.

The next year, in 1901, he made the trek from New York city to Central Missouri where he was claimed by the Fred Markway family, a family that already had 12 children and another adoptive son.

(My mother, Joseph’s daughter-in-law, once told me that he had gone back to New York as a young man and tracked down his mother. But after finding her, he returned to Missouri and said, “I’m a Markway.” I only heard this story in the last couple years of my mother’s life.)

This story piqued my interest. How in the world did my grandfather find his mother? How was that even possible? Did that mean the Foundling Home had records? What did he find out about her that made him “disown” her?

For some reason, my grandfather’s story has always gnawed at me. When my family moved to Jefferson City when I was there years old, he helped adapt our modest 2 bedroom home to fit my parents and their five kids. My grandfather moved in and shared the converted attic with me and my two brothers. I can’t remember how long he lived with us—I don’t think it was long before he moved in with my dad’s sister’s family.

Grandpa Markway was a fun grandparent. I remember him as being mischievous—I don’t really know what I mean by that exactly. But every time he would leave after a visit, he would say, “See you in the funny papers!”

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Grandpa Markway, as I remember him.

One of my clearest memories is that he would pitch me a wiffle ball, and no matter how far I would hit it, even if it was over the barbed wire fence into the neighboring pasture (yes there was a pasture next to our house within the limits of Jefferson City), he would go get the ball. My older brothers would always make me crawl under the fence, but not Grandpa.

During my first year of playing little league baseball, he came to every single game. I wasn’t necessarily special—he went to all his grandkids’ events—but it meant a lot to me.

I remember the day he died. I overheard my parents talking. He died unexpectedly in the morning after getting out of bed. He was setting the time on his watch. My parents chose not to tell me before I went to school. That day, I did poorly on an Arithmetic test and the teacher asked me why. I know the Irish nun felt horrible after I blurted out, “Probably because my Grandpa died today!”

So, why am I writing this now? Over the years, I have wondered where he came from—probably because that is part of where I came from. I would do a little research online, but what was I really looking for? I signed up with Ancestry.com and I searched for people named Aner before realizing that may not have really been his name. How could I find out anything without having a tangible starting point?

When my son, Jesse, was in middle school, he had to do a family tree for one of his classes. It was easy to trace my mother’s family—they have been in America forever and reproduced prolifically. One ancestor left his entire estate to descendants to the nth degree, meaning that a professional genealogist had to be hired be the probate court to track everybody down. Many people ended up with $10 or so, but there was a tremendous record of family history as a result.

But Grandpa Markway’s family was a mystery.

In the past year, possibilities came up. I had seen the ads on television of the guy learning his family wasn’t really Italian and the woman wearing the traditional Nigerian clothing. I decided to take a DNA test through Ancestry.com.

The DNA testing shows how closely you are connected with other people who have also taken the test. As of today, 583 fourth cousins or closer have been identified. Nearly all can be traced to my mother’s side or my paternal grandmother’s side, but…there are a few that don’t seem to connect to any identified ancestral lines…

In talking with my older brother, “Jack”, whose nickname hides the fact that he was named after our grandfather, I learned that Grandpa Markway would occasionally share tidbits of information. Jack seems to remember that Grandpa once said that his mother was named Abby Doyle…and that she was a “saloon singer.” (It sounds like she lived a different life than the Puritans and Quakers I have found on my mother’s side.)

In checking my known DNA connections on Ancestry (and other sites that allow uploading of my DNA information from Ancestry, I have found a few people named Doyle who are very distant relatives (4 or more generations back to a common ancestor). I found one woman whose grandmother was “Lizzie Doyle” and another woman who had a Lizzie Doyle in her history, with Lizzie being the daughter of Anastasia Doyle. In trying to research this, I learned that “Anastasia” in 1800s Ireland was equivalent to “Jennifer” in 1980s America…

Trying to research Irish genealogy made the desperation of the potato famine hit home for me. The historical record for families literally disappears as individuals leave for America…Australia…and anyplace else that would take them in. A single family might disperse all across the globe just to survive.

So, it makes sense that I have connected with people across the world in the search for my grandfather who grew up around Jefferson City, Missouri.

Where do things stand now? I connected with a woman from Boston (who currently lives in France). I’m genetically connected to her mother…who married INTO a Doyle family and we’re trying to figure out the relationship. We apparently are connected through a McInnis/McKay family in Nova Scotia, but the records in Nova Scotia from that time are poor. I’ve joined an Irish genealogy group online and found that I match genetically with several of its members…and surprisingly, I’ve found that my mother had more Irish ancestry than I ever imagined. I’m in the process of connecting with several other relatives who appear to have possible connections to my grandfather.

I have found an Abby Doyle in New York Census records and she could have been my great grandmother. She died in a state psychiatric hospital. Could this be the woman my grandfather was “ashamed of?”

When I was training to be a psychologist, my father could not understand my career choice. He had little respect for the mental health field. But, one day, he told me that my grandfather had purchased and read books by Sigmund Freud. Was there a genetic reason I had an interest in psychology? Or did I somehow have an interest passed down to me because my grandfather was trying to understand his mother? This is all speculation at this point…

Now back to the question of why am I so curious about my grandfather. As I mentioned earlier, I felt a special connection to him. Today, though, I realized I am part of the last generation that knew him. And, as genetics get diluted with each generation, I may be part of the last generation that will have an identifiable genetic connection to his birth family.

Beyond that, I can’t express the longing to know more of his story. I know the truth, at best, will be complicated. But, for some reason, I just want to know.

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Joseph Markway on his wedding day.