Military Monday – Letters from the front

Over this past weekend, I was spending a little time going through things that I had brought back from my trip up to Dad’s house back in June, and made a fun discovery that has begun to lead me on a genealogical
mystery chase.

Among all of the letters that I scanned while I was at Dad’s were about twelve that were dated back to World War II.  At the time, I thought that all of these letters were from my mother’s uncles.  What I discovered this weekend was that seven of those letters were from someone outside the family.  My mistake was that with the tiny handwriting on the return address, I mistook the last name for Hill.  When I started to look at the scans this weekend, I realized that the last name was actually Wells.  As I read the letters themselves, it became obvious that this soldier definitely wasn’t a family member.

But who was Bob Wells?

The letters held only a few clues.  Based on the content of the letters I can tell:
1) Bob Wells had worked with my grandfather on the Pennsylvania Railroad before the War.
2) He lived in or near Ft. Wayne, Indiana (my grandmother mentions a “Mrs. Wells” stopping by the house)
3) He served in the 710th Tank Battalion in the Pacific theater
4) He saw action in the battle on Peleliu

With those clues, finding Bob Wells should be somewhat easy for a genealogist, right?  Well………unfortunately at this point, I don’t have my accounts with Ancestry or Fold3 active so the only resources I have are those free ones that we all use, and they weren’t providing much help.

I posted a request for help to an Indiana Research group that I am a member of on Facebook, and a wonderful fellow genealogist from Indianapolis has jumped on the case with me.  With Marilyn’s help, I now have a possible obituary for Robert Wells from Leo, Indiana.  All of the details in his obituary fit my clues so far.

I have talked with my brother and sisters and we have decided that without a doubt, these letters belong in the hands of Bob Wells’ children or grandchildren if we can find them.

I have to be honest, I am hoping to find Bob Wells’ family for some selfish reasons too.  Yes, I want to get these letters into their hands because he writes about his own family, how he is feeling about the war, and they are definitely something that I think his family would want to see.  But I also want to know more about the relationship between Mr. Wells and my grandfather.  Were they close friends?  Were they just co-workers?  Was my grandfather perhaps his mentor (being about 20 years older than him)?  Is Bob Wells the mystery man in a picture that we have of my grandfather standing beside one of the locomotives he was an engineer on for the Pennsylvania Railroad?

I wish I could say that I will have a follow up to this post soon, but all I can promise at this point is that I will post the resolution of the mystery when it happens, and if Mr. Wells’ family gives permission, I will add some content from the letters to my blog.

Stay tuned….


Mystery Monday – The Wandering Links

Mystery Monday is a blogging prompt from Geneabloggers that encourages bloggers to write about any mystery records they may have or any unsolved genealogical “mysteries” that they have come across.  After spending the past several weeks going through the electronic copies of Census records that I have, I find myself still faced with a mystery that has plagued me since I started doing my family history research – the wandering Links.

When I first started out on my family history adventure, my mother had suggested that for her father’s family line, I do some searching in Arkansas.  Specifically, a town called Paragould, Arkansas.  She wasn’t able to tell me specifically why I needed to look there, she only knew that growing up, she had heard stories and talk that there were family roots in Arkansas.  It seemed odd to me at the time (and to Mom as well) since to her knowledge, the Link family was from Wyandot County Ohio and had been there for as long as she could remember.  When I did my early research, one of the items in my survey phase was to go walk the cemeteries of Wyandot County and find and document the gravestones of any ancestors buried there.  I was quite successful in that, and found the gravestones for my ancestors back several generations, including the Link family.  What I had in front of me back then was documentation of generations of the family living in the same county plus birth and burial records in that county.  I chalked up the family talk of Arkansas as likely just a trip to Arkansas or perhaps some distant relative who had moved out west.  Then came the Census records and the mystery.

As I traced my 2nd great grandfather, Isaac Link, through Census records, I began to realize that there was probably more to the Arkansas information than I had first thought.  My survey of Census records found Isaac in 1860 and 1870 living with his parents in Eden Township in Wyandot County, Ohio.  The 1880 Census had Isaac married to Anna and still living in Eden Township with the first three of their seven children.  Isaac was working as a farm laborer at the time, and his extended family all still lived in the same area.  Something changed after the 1880 Census, though.  During the 20 year gap in Census records, Isaac, Anna and some of their children began moving around.  (It’s Murphy’s Law of genealogy that something significant like that would involve the period around the missing 1890 Census.)

In 1900, I suddenly find Isaac living in Titus County, Texas with his son, William.  My great grandfather, Newton, is still living in Ohio (with his wife Lola and their daughter), and Isaac’s wife, Anna, is no where to be seen in Texas.  Isaac is listed as the head of the household, and he has his son and 11 boarders living in the household.  Isaac is listed as a “Stave Contractor” and the boarders are all listed as “Stave Makers.”  Based on the research that I have found so far, I am so far working under the hypothesis that these men were working in the barrel making industry at the time.

I went looking for Isaac in the 1910 Census, hoping to find him one last time (he died on December 12, 1910).  Unfortunately, I have yet to find Isaac in that Census year.  Interestingly, I have found his wife Anna living with one of their daughters in Alabama in 1910, but Isaac is not listed as part of the household, and Anna is definitely listed as being married.  Adding to the mystery is that Isaac’s obituaries (I have found two so far) all indicate that he died “at his home” in Dublin, Georgia!  Unfortunately, I have yet to find any death records for Isaac because the state of Georgia did not start officially using death certificates until 1920, so according to the incredibly helpful county recorder in Dublin, an official death certificate was most likely never created for Isaac.

I have found Census records for a few of Isaac’s sons and daughters throughout Alabama and even Louisiana so far, with one son, Orville, even still listed as a “Stave Maker” in 1900, a “Timber man” in 1910 and then “Stave Contractor” in 1920.

So I am faced with several lingering research questions…. Why did Isaac up root his young family and begin traveling west?  Where were Anna and the young children living in 1900 when Isaac was in Texas?  What prompted Isaac to go into the barrel making industry?  Was he successful and that was why the family traveled so much, or was he less than successful and was forced to travel to keep work?  Where was Isaac in 1910 and why was Anna not with him?  I have no doubt that this genealogical mystery is going to provide years of research fun for me and take me to courthouses and libraries across the south, from Texas to Alabama and Georgia and of course, Paragould, Arkansas!