Saturday, June 28, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #26 Because The "Joe Kerr" Was His Cousin

Young William from Crawford in Pennsy,
Was clever with words very crazy.
He moved on to New York
And made writing his work.
Now "Joe Kerr" is pushing up daisies.
It's a good thing I'm not trying to make a living as a poet! However, one family member did so. My great-grandfather Clark's first cousin was a mystery when researching the Kerr branch of the family. How did the son of a Pennsylvania cabinet maker meet and marry a member of a wealthy New England family?

Through the power of the internet, I connected with distant cousins and his history was revealed. That history even explained the mystery of  the magazine Clark was shown reading in the 1930s -- he was looking for his cousin Joe's work.

Born William Melville Kerr, he took the pen name "Joe Kerr" when he began his writing career. Many of his poems and books today would be considered politically incorrect or even offensive. He used ethnic stereotypes as the basis for some of the pieces. He also wrote political humor and was published in political humor magazines such as Judge, which Clark was reading.

Quick drop page from Sorrento digital kit, Club Scrap

William Melville Kerr was born on August 13, 1859, the first child of Johnston Williams Kerr and Sarah Jane Watson. His birth year varies in records, but he was shown as 10/12 years of age in the 1860 census of Southwest Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania, setting his birth year as 1859. The Oil City Derrick listed his birthplace as Enterprise, in a biographical sketch published on March 27, 1893.

The family moved by 1870 to Conneautville in Crawford County, where Melville attended school and became a bookkeeper by 1880. He must have worked on his writing while working at other jobs. By 1888, Joe Kerr was being mentioned in the press, with coast-to-coast mentions by 1892.

On December 2, 1893, the VENANGO COUNTY NEWS HERALD informed us that:
Mel KERR, well-known humorist in New York is here on a visit to his parents. 
He married Mary Adeline Puffer in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 1, 1894. By 1900, the couple was living in Westchester County, New York and had one son, Joseph Derry Kerr. Daughter Anita was born shortly after the census.

The books Mel authored include: Joe Kerr's Jests, Jingles and Jottings; The World Over; The Cheery Book; and Mr. Sharptooth (a children's book). His political writings appeared in Puck, Judge and The Yellow Kid. His poetry, often doggerel, appeared in newspapers all over the world, including The New York Times. He also wrote jingles for advertising.

In his later years he was an entrepreneur in New York and lived briefly in England, where the family appeared in Middlesex on the 1911 census. By 1920 he was an orange grower in California and had become a real estate broker by 1930. He died on February 7, 1941, in Los Angeles County, California. My cousin who helped unravel Mel's story believes that he was buried in Oil City, Pennsylvania, near other members of the Kerr family.

Several years ago, before her death, Joseph Derry Kerr's daughter graciously allowed me to look through Joe Kerr's fascinating scrapbook of press clippings. She also shared with me a few of her family photos and allowed me to scan them and she granted me permission to use one of Joe's poems in my writings. This poem captures for me the journey we all must travel.

LET us linger here on the mountain lee
And gaze on the Stream of Life,
As it flows from the cradle of Infancy,
Thro' the magical meadows of Youth and strife,
O'er the rocks of Misfortune, with roughness rife,
Till it enters the Old Age sea!

How it murmurs along, as a babe new-born,
This beautiful stream – care free!
How it merrily glides thro' childhood's bourne,
With never a thought of the morrow's morn,
Laughing the sorrowful world to scorn
And singing a ringing glee!

How it surges and pours thro' the shoals of Youth,
This turbulent Human Stream!
How it reaches the Manhood stage, forsooth,
How it broadens and grows, in its search for truth,
And awakes to the horrible fact, uncouth,
That life is no heavenborn dream!

How it rants and raves! How it twists and curves
This marvelous stream, sublime!
How it sullenly swings and sways and swerves,
How its good behavior it ill preserves
'Neath the hand of the Masterful One it serves
On its way to the Ocean of Time!

Serene at last – to the Land of Nod
The River of Life flows on.
Subdued by the chastening Hand of God—
Purified, clear and deep and broad
It peacefully flows 'neath the magic rod
That opens the Gates of Dawn.
 - Joe Kerr, The Cheery Book (New York: G.W. Dillingham Co., 1898), 175-6

Sunday, June 22, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #25 Why Did Clark Earl Crispen Read Humor Magazines?

My great-grandfather had adolescent reading preferences, according to my grandmother. She said Clark Earl Crispen always read comic books. As I researched the family, I learned that the Judge magazine he's reading in a photo from the 1930's is neither a comic book nor targeted to adolescents.

The answer to why he read Judge and similar political-humor magazines is found in family relationships. I'll answer the question next week, so stay tuned.

Quick drop page from Gratitude digital kit, Club Scrap

Clark Earl Crispen is an ancestor that I wish I had known. His love for family, others and pets came before money or security. He was always willing to try new experiences. My grandmother adored her beloved father.

Clark, born March 5, 1863, was the third child of Nerinda Margaret Kerr Crispen [Tookey] and Jacob Crispen. He was born in or near Oil City, Pennsylvania, in the era of big oil in that area. Jacob was a torpedo shooter, a man who fired oil wells using nitroglycerine. For some reason, possibly the job, Jacob and Nerinda separated and later divorced.

Nerinda took the children and apprenticed Clark to a blacksmith. Where Clark spent those years is a mystery. By 1885, Clark was living in Chicago and helping to build that city. The construction of the 1893 Columbian Exposition was one of the projects he claimed to have worked on.

Though he was no farmer, he decided that he would run for a homestead in the last Oklahoma land run: the opening of the Cherokee Strip in September, 1893. Clark made his way to southern Kansas to start the run. He claims that he overslept and wasn't ready when the starter gun sounded at noon. Even with a late start, he tried to find land, but was not successful. As he started back to Kansas, he stopped and shared the evening meal with a family. The man told Clark that he would tell him where to find some land if Clark would pay.

Having nothing to lose, Clark fell for the con. He soon found the land and he staked his claim. But when he went to the land office to file for the claim, he discovered it was a piece of military bounty land and wasn't open for homesteading. Clark refused to give up. He corresponded with the owner, who lived in another state. They were able to work out a deal and Clark paid for the land, which was hilly and hard to farm, due to runoff from adjacent farms.

Living a mile or so down the road was the young and beautiful Daisy Myrtle Maddox. Clark was fair complected with red hair and blue eyes. He was enthralled with Daisy's olive complexion, black hair and dark eyes: the marks of her Native American heritage. The 32-year-old Clark wooed the 17-year-old and married her on October 2, 1895, in Enid, Oklahoma Territory.

Daisy was a farm girl and soon found herself tending the home, working the farm and teaching her city-slicker husband the many things he didn't know about farming. Clark and Daisy had two daughters born on the farm, near Meno: Effie and Esstella. Eventually, Clark decided that farming was not what he wanted to do.

He leased his farm to his brother-in-law, Archie Maddox, and joined his mother in the Lake Michigan resort area near Benton Harbor, Michigan. He went to work at one of the many manufacturing facilities in the area. A third daughter, Leona, was born to Daisy and Clark in Van Buren County, Michigan.

Daisy grew tired of Clark's tendency to put people ahead of financial security for the family. She divorced him in 1921, after the two older girls were married. Clark never remarried, but dedicated the rest of his life to being a good father and grandfather. He inherited his sister Mary's healthy stock portfolio in 1927, but the stock was soon made worthless by the crash of 1929.

Clark was bed-ridden at the end of his life. His daughters took turns caring for him until his passing on February 7, 1940. Clark was buried in Crystal Springs Cemetery in Benton Harbor. His daughters sold his Oklahoma farm outside the family, though for many years they received small checks from the mineral rights they retained.

Monday, June 16, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #24 Bessie Douglas Cushnie Ekstrom

My father speaks with great fondness of his stepmother, Bessie Douglas Cushnie. He feels that he and his siblings didn't give her a fair chance to be their new mother. Dad says that she was loving and kind and would have been a wonderful mother, had they opened their hearts to her.

Bessie married Oliver Ernest Ekstrom on October 11, 1932, in Guatemala. They were both missionaries with the Central American Mission. Oliver was a widower with five young children, but courageous Bessie married him anyway and added two more children to the family. The last child, a daughter, was born after Oliver's untimely passing in 1935.

Bessie wrote this in one of her letters home in 1934:
"It will be three years next Sunday since I left the dear old U.S.A. It seems like 10. I guess because so much has happened. Had my appendix out, fell in love, got married & had a baby. I know I haven’t done as much for the Lord as I should have."

Quick drop page from Lock and Key, ClubScrap

Bessie Douglas Cushnie was born on June 19, 1903, in Castle Shannon, Pennsylvania, the third of six children of Charles Christey Cushnie and Sarah Ann Wyllie. Bessie trained as a nurse before going to the mission field.

There are varying accounts of how she and Oliver met and fell in love. One legend was "love at first sight" in Guatemala. Another story is that they met at Moody Bible Institute, but had their relationship disrupted, only to continue it in Guatemala. Regardless, their love story was brief.

After Oliver's death, Bessie worked with the extended families to take care of the five orphaned children. Her youngest child died at six years old, and Bessie herself died on May 08, 1947, leaving her oldest child also orphaned.

Bessie was buried, along with her daughter and her parents, in Oak Spring Cemetery in Canonsburg, Washington County, Pennsylvania.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #23 Sarah A Mooney Cole

As I study the image of my great-great-grandmother, I look for resemblances, but see none. I wonder who this woman was who appears so worn down by life before her 70th year.

Quick drop page, Sugar and Spice, Digital Scrapper, April 2010

Sarah A Mooney was the second of five children born to William C Mooney and Permina Alexander Mooney of Henry County, Tennessee. Born in September of 1847, Sarah was a young teen at the outbreak of the Civil War. She saw the young men of the area march off to war. Was she affected by the skirmishes in the area? Did she despair of finding a husband?

On March 02, 1865, young Sarah married Joseph M Cole, a farmer and doctor who was about 13 years her senior. She bore two children: William and Julia.

The 1900 census finds the widowed Sarah living with Julia Cole Carter and Robert Alphonso Carter in Clay County, Arkansas. By 1910, Sarah had moved to the Clay County home of her son, William. It seems that her daughter had also predeceased her.

William Cole and his family posed for a group photo with Sarah about 1914. There is no known record of Sarah Mooney Cole after that photo, so it is likely that she died in Arkansas between 1914 and 1920.

Monday, June 2, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #22 William J Cole

William J Cole was one of only two children born to Sarah A Mooney and Joseph Cole, who lived in Henry County, Tennessee. Joseph was a farmer and a doctor. My great-grandfather William followed only in his farming footsteps.

Quick drop page from Bookshelves kit, ClubScrap

On December 6, 1891, the 26-year-old William married Mollydine Alexander in neighboring Weakley County, Tennessee. The couple had four sons and also cared for William's aged mother near the end of her life. The family moved to Clay County, Arkansas, in the late 1800s.

The couple apparently had marital problems. In the 1930 census, "widowed" Molly and son Seborn were living in Michigan, near sons Noble and Clifford, while "widowed" William was living in Arkansas with son Carlos.

William J Cole died in Arkansas in 1937, and was buried in New Hope Cemetery in Pollard, Arkansas. He was buried in a different cemetery and even a different town from his wife.