Thursday, December 4, 2014

52 Ancestors: #45, Whatever Happened to Chester L. Kirk?

Way back in Part 3 of the Chester F. Kirk saga, I mentioned, in a sidebar titled "What Happened to Nellie and Chester?", that Chester's son Chester L. and his mother Nellie Crosman appeared to have dropped off the face of the earth after she registered his birth. And indeed there were no death or census records to be found, and "no plausible Chester of any surname, born in Maine in 1893 with a mother named Nellie." Well, I wasn't about to let a half-uncle just disappear without a trace.

So I started hunting for any trace of Nellie Crosman, assuming that probably the reason I couldn't find her was that she had married after Chester L.'s 1893 birth and before the 1900 census. But despite the fact that Maine's marriage records are pretty complete starting in 1892, there was no sign of Nellie. So I decided to look further afield – and struck pay dirt just across the border in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where Nellie Crosman, age 36, born Durham, Maine, married William F. Mitchell, a 53-year-old sailmaker born in Thomaston, Maine, both residents of Gloucester, Massachusetts.1 But the date of the marriage was 13 November, 1907, which certainly didn't explain why I couldn't find Nellie in the 1900 census. So I went looking for William F. Mitchell in the 1900 census, to see if I could find any possible connection to Nellie.

Marriage of William F. Mitchell and Nellie Crosman, 13 Nov 1907, Portsmouth, N.H.
I found a connection, all right: Wm F Mitchell, sailmaker, was head of household in Bath, Maine, with wife Nellie M, purportedly married for seven years, with a 5-year-old son Linwood A. Their ages, states of birth, and William's occupation all match up exactly with the William and Nellie who tied the knot in Portsmouth a full seven years later.2

1900 U.S. census, Bath, Sagadahoc, Maine, Wm F Mitchell household
The 1910 census finds William F Mitchel [sic] in Gloucester, Massachusetts,3 still a sailmaker, with his wife (strangely, listed with a given name of "Crosman"), and their now-15-year-old son Linwood A. The Mitchells have now supposedly been married for 17 years.4 At least they were consistent about the fiction that they were married before Linwood's birth!

1910 U.S. census, Gloucester, Essex, Mass., William F Mitchel household
Conspicuously absent from both censuses is any sign of Chester L. Kirk, who should have been 6 in 1900. I was beginning to think perhaps he had died as an infant, after all, and the record was either lost or hopelessly mis-indexed. Granted, in both censuses Nellie stated that she had had only one child, who was living; but I've seen many such census records that ignore children who died in infancy.5 And in point of fact, Nellie had had another out-of-wedlock child, by another father, prior to Chester: Arthur Crosman was born 31 October 1892 in Lewiston and died of cholera in August 1893 in Lisbon Falls.6 Since she definitely failed to mention at least one deceased child to the census enumerators, it would hardly be surprising if she failed to mention a second one.

About this time I realized there should be a birth record for Linwood Mitchell, who, according to the 1900 census, was born in December 1894 in Maine. And indeed I found his birth record in the card index... sort of. There is no contemporaneous birth record. Typed additions to the pre-printed card form make this a "Basis Record of a Birth" (emphasis added) taken "From a Deposition,"  received by the Wiscasset town clerk on 14 November 1936.7 In other words, it is almost certainly a (very) delayed birth registration intended to establish Linwood's age for Social Security purposes, and the deposed date of birth – December 17, 1895 (a year later than indicated in the 1900 census) – is in fact the same as the date reported in the SSDI upon Linwood's death in 1979.

Which begs the question, why wasn't his birth registered at the time? I think it was registered. Let's look at two birth records:7, 8, 9

Linwood Arthur Mitchell birth record7
Place of Birth: Wiscasset
Date of Birth: December 17, 1895
     Chester L. Kirk birth record8
Place of Birth: Newcastle
Date of Birth: Dec. 17, 1893
Now, it's possible that Nellie Crosman gave birth to two sons, each on December 17, two years apart; that the first one died in infancy without leaving an extant record; and that the second one got born without leaving a contemperaneous record. Possible, but how likely, given that Maine's birth, marriage, and death records were standardized in 1892 and are pretty complete from that point on?

But, you may say, Linwood Mitchell's birth record was attested to by the midwife, Mrs. Walter Peverly. Why would she, if it wasn't so? Well, aside from the unlikelihood of locating a midwife who actually remembered the details of a birth some 40 years ago, it turns out that Mrs. Peverly was née Jennie Isabel Crosman – Nellie's older sister. The Peverlys lived in Lisbon Falls, 40 miles from Wiscasset – quite a trip to make in 1895 in the dead of a Maine winter to deliver your sister's baby, especially considering that Jennie had given birth herself just four months previously.

Two more points of reference exist for Linwood Arthur Mitchell:
  • His WWI draft registration (5 Jun 1917) gives his birth as December 12, 1894, in Bath, Maine.10 The month and year correspond to the 1900 census; the date might be a slip of the pen. He was only about 8 or 9 when they left Bath, and he might well have just assumed he was born there.
  • His WWII draft registration (26 Apr 1942), on the other hand, gives his birth date as December 17, 1895, corresponding to the "Basis Record of Birth," but, curiously, says he was born in Damariscotta – just across the river from Newcastle – instead of Wiscasset.11
And finally, it's worth noting that William F. Mitchell, sailmaker, was living in Bath in 1897. Living on the same street was Herbert E. Crosman – Nellie's older brother (he moves to Portland sometime that year, while William remains in Bath until 1902).12

So this is my hypothesis about what happened to Chester L. Kirk:
Sometime soon after Chester's birth, single mother Nellie meets William Mitchell (40-ish, single, and childless), perhaps through her brother Herbert E. Crosman. Nellie moves in with William, who informally "adopts" Chester and renames him Linwood Arthur Mitchell, but they neglect to get married until some ten or more years later, five years after William moves his family to Gloucester, Mass. Nellie has another son, William L., in 1912; then William F. dies from heart disease in Gloucester on 10 September 1914.

Fast forward to 1936. Linwood, now married with two children, needs to apply for a Social Security card and asks his mother for his birth certificate. He may never have known that William Mitchell was not his father! His mother gets her sister, Jennie Peverly, to make a deposition saying she was the midwife at Linwood's birth, and naming William Mitchell as his father. She kept the December 17th date, but for some reason postdated it by yet another year, to 1895 (wonder how Nellie explained that to Linwood, if she'd been claiming 1894 for 40 years?), and selected Wiscasset (about 10 miles from Newcastle) as the place of birth. No one at the Wiscasset town office would be likely to have any reason to doubt the deposition, and certainly wouldn't associate it with a registered birth in Newcastle.
Map showing Wiscasset, Newcastle, and Damariscotta, Maine13
Of course, I can't prove (lacking DNA evidence) that any of this is more than just speculation.

Linwood Arthur Mitchell died in January 1979 in Manchester, Massachusetts, and the SSDI reported his date of birth as 17 December 1895 – just as that 1936 deposition stated.14 His grave marker likewise says he was born in 1895.15

Linwood A Mitchell Sr grave marker, Pleasant Grove Cemetary (Manchester-by-the-Sea, Essex Co., Mass.)

Is this the grave marker of my half-uncle? Was he really Chester L. Kirk, with a new name and an adjusted birth year? And if he was, did he ever know that William Mitchell wasn't his father, or that he had a double-handful of half-brothers and -sisters? Or was it all just a series of coincidences, and Chester was one of two half-brothers that Linwood never knew?

(Note: This post is in response to Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge at No Story Too Small.)

  1. "New Hampshire, Marriage and Divorce Records, 1659-1947," database and digital images, ( : accessed 9 May 2014), William F. Mitchell-Nellie Crosman marriage, 13 Nov 1907.
  2. 1900 U.S. Census, Sagadahoc County, Maine, Bath, ED 209, sheet 8A, dwelling 139, family 183, Wm F Mitchell household; digital images, ( : accessed 9 May 2014).
  3. Evidently they moved to Gloucester around 1902, as William was in the 1902 Bath city directory and in the 1903 Gloucester directory.
  4. 1910 U.S. Census, Essex County, Massachusetts, Gloucester, ED 293, sheet 4B [possibly 9B], dwelling 67, family 92, William F Mitchel [sic] household; digital images, ( : accessed 9 May 2014).
  5. Quite possibly the mothers in such cases felt, with justification, that the question was an insensitive invasion of their privacy.
  6. “Maine Vital Records, 1892-1922,” digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 6 Aug 2014), birth of unnamed child to Chas Libby and "Nellie", 31 Oct [1892], and death of Arthur Crosman, son of Chas Libby and Nellie Crosman, Aug 1993, age 9 months; the birth record has "D93 Arthur" noted on the upper left corner of the card, while the death record has "B 92" in the same location.
  7. “Maine, Birth Records, 1621-1922,” database and digital images, ( : accessed 9 May 2014), "Basis Record of a Birth" for Linwood Arthur Mitchell, 17 Dec 1895 (received by town clerk 14 Nov 1936).
  8. “Maine Vital Records, 1892-1922,” digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 May 2014), birth of Chester L. Kirk, 17 Dec 1893.
  9. In both cases, the place of birth is ostensibly the father's residence. I have found no indication that Chester Kirk ever lived in Newcastle, or that William Mitchell ever lived in Wiscasset (though the latter is at least plausible).
  10. “United States, World War One Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 May 2014), Linwood Arthur Mitchell, No. 10, Order No. 1435, Gloucester, Massachusetts, precinct 1, ward 5, 5 Jun 1917.
  11. “United States, World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942,” digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 May 2014), Linwood Arthur Mitchell, Serial Number U2948, no Order Number, Gloucester, Essex County, Massachusetts, Local Board 71, 26 Apr 1942.
  12. Directory of Bath and Surrounding Towns, 1897, Vol. II (Boston: W.E. Shaw, 1897), p. 124, entry for William F. Mitchell, and p. 85, entry for Herbert E. Crosman; database and digital images, "U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989," ( : accessed 10 May 2014).
  13. Google Maps ( : accessed 30 Nov 2014).
  14. “Social Security Death Index,” database, ( : accessed 9 May 2014), Linwood Mitchell, SSN 011-07-4924.
  15. Find A Grave ( : accessed 9 May 2014), database and digital images, memorial # 88317533 with grave marker photo for Linwood A. Mitchell, Sr (1895-1979), created by "Kate" (10 Apr 2012); citing Pleasant Grove Cemetery (Manchester-by-the-Sea, Essex County, Massachusetts).

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