The Blessings and Curses of Census Records: Was Francis Wetherill Still Alive?

In my last post I described how I found my cousin Marie on the 1900 census. Marie was born August 15, 1888, to Francis M. Wetherill, a driver, and Mary Agnes Wilson, in Philadelphia.  Her parents were Philadelphia natives who had married in 1887, and according to Marie’s marriage license for her marriage to my cousin Joe Schlesinger in 1915, her father was deceased by that time.

The 1900 census showed Marie living with her great-grandmother Mary Ann Smith, her grandmother Anne Wilson, her great-uncle Jerry Smith, her mother Mamie Wetherill, and her four siblings: Frank (1883), Florence (1890), Catherine (1893[sic]), and Harry (1897).  (Mary Wilson Wetherill is sometimes listed as Mary, sometimes as Mamie.)

Marie Wetherill and family on 1910 census Year: 1900; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 20, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1461; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 0416; FHL microfilm: 1241461

Marie Wetherill and family on 1900 census
Year: 1900; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 20, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1461; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 0416; FHL microfilm: 1241461

There was one other odd thing about this census record. The child Frank Wetherill was seventeen on this report and born in 1883.  Mamie/Mary Wilson had not married Francis Wetherill until 1887. Was the child Frank really her son?

Then I noticed that although Mamie/Mary reported on the 1900 census that she had only four living children, there were five Wetherill children listed on the census report.  I assume therefore that the seventeen year old Frank Wetherill must not have been Mamie/Mary’s biological son.

I did find a birth record for a Frank Wetherell born April 6, 1883, in Philadelphia to a Frank Wittersall [sic, I assume] and Angelina. I assume this was the same child as the one living with Marie’s family in 1900. Francis Wetherill, Mamie/Mary’s husband, must have been married previously, and the younger Frank must have been his son from that marriage. But why had young Frank stayed with his stepmother Mamie/Mary? Had both his biological parents died by 1900?

Now that I had other family names to use in my search parameters, I was able to locate Marie and her family on the 1910 census.  Again, the census report had some confusing entries. Anna Wilson, Marie’s grandmother, was a head of household, but there was a second head of household listed beneath her: Harry Pearson. He was 44 and worked as a driver for “stove works.”

Marie Wetherill and family on the 1930 census Year: 1910; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 20, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1394; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 0342; FHL microfilm: 1375407

Marie Wetherill and family on the 1930 census
Year: 1910; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 20, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1394; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 0342; FHL microfilm: 1375407

I would have thought that these were two unrelated households, but then I saw the other names in Harry’s household.  His wife was Mary A., a 44 year old woman who had had six children, five of whom were still living. Listed below her was Marie E. Pearson, a twenty-one year old woman born in Pennsylvania.  Although she is listed as a Pearson here, I believe this is my Marie Wetherill.  The age fits, the birth place fits, and her mother’s name was Mary (or sometimes Mamie).  The listing of Anna Wilson, her grandmother, also supports that assumption.

In addition, two other children listed below Marie had the Wetherill surname, and their ages and names match those of Marie’s siblings from the 1900 census: Florence (20) and Catherine (17). Harry (13), who had been listed as a Wetherill in 1900, here is listed as a Pearson.  In addition, there was a new sibling, Annie Pearson, who was only seven years old. My guess is that the enumerator entered Marie’s surname incorrectly; like Florence and Catherine, she should have been listed as Wetherill. In 1910, Marie was working as a saleswoman at Gimbels; her sister Florence was a dressmaker, and her sister Catherine was doing ironing at a laundry.

Occupations listed for Marie and her sisters on the 1930 census

Occupations listed for Marie and her sisters on the 1930 census

There are a few other confusing things about this census report.  The last entry in the household is for Jerrie E. Wilson, a 34 year old man born in Pennsylvania, listed as the son of Harry Pearson. This must be Anna Wilson’s son, not Harry and Mary (Wilson Wetherill) Pearson’s son. (Or maybe it’s really Jerry Smith, Anna’s brother?)

The census record indicates that Mary and Harry Pearson[1] had been married for sixteen years, meaning since 1893 or 1894. That means that Marie was no more than five or six when her mother remarried.  But on the 1900 census Mary had not been living with a husband, and her name was still given as Wetherill at that time. I don’t know why Mary was listed as a Wetherill in 1900 nor do I know why her son Harry was listed as a Wetherill in 1900 when he was clearly the son of Harry Pearson and, in fact, his junior. [2] I assume just another enumerator mistake.

Thus, Marie’s mother Mary aka Mamie Wilson Wetherill had remarried by 1894 and had had two more children, Harry, Jr., and Annie, with her second husband Harry Pearson. Why Mary and her children were living without Harry and with her mother and grandmother in 1900 remains a mystery.

I also remain perplexed as to why the seventeen year old boy named Frank Wetherill was living with Marie and her family in 1900. If he was not the biological son of Mamie/Mary Wilson Wetherill Pearson, why wasn’t he living with his biological parents?  I’ve had no luck finding the “Angelina” named on the birth record. And I had assumed that Francis, Sr., must have died by 1900, but then I found evidence suggesting otherwise.

First, there is a listing for a Francis M. Wetherill, a driver, in the 1895 Philadelphia directory; this had to be the same man: same exact name, same occupation as that listed on Marie’s birth certificate.  But Mary/Mamie had married Harry Pearson before 1895, so Francis was not deceased when she remarried; they must have divorced.

Marie Wetherill birth record

Marie Wetherill birth record

Then I found a marriage record for a Frank Wetherill to a Maggie Schramm in Camden, New Jersey, dated March 18, 1895. Although I could not find them on the 1900 census, the 1910 census for Camden has a listing for a Frank M. Wetherill married to Margaret, aged 31, married for 14 years; this must be the same couple as that on the marriage record. Frank was a hostler in a livery stable on that census.

Frank Wetherill marriage to Maggie Schramm Ancestry.com. New Jersey, Marriage Records, 1670-1965 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.

Frank Wetherill marriage to Maggie Schramm
Ancestry.com. New Jersey, Marriage Records, 1670-1965 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.

There is also a listing for a Frank Wetherill in the 1902 Philadelphia directory working as a hostler.

As of 1910, Frank Wetherill (the elder) and Maggie/Margaret were living in Camden and had seven children, including a daughter named Katherine, aged 4.  How odd that Frank named a daughter Katherine in his second marriage when he already had a daughter Catherine from his first marriage. There was also a daughter named Emma, the same name given to Marie on her birth certificate.

Perhaps this is not the same man who was Marie’s father? Maybe it is just another man with the same name, same age, and also born in Pennsylvania? What do you think? Maybe a cousin? But since I’ve found no death record for any Francis/Frank Wetherill before 1915, I am inclined to think that this was in fact Marie’s father.

frank-wetherill-on-1910-census

Frank Wetherill and family on 1910 census Year: 1910; Census Place: Camden Ward 5, Camden, New Jersey; Roll: T624_873; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0033; FHL microfilm: 1374886

Frank Wetherill and family on 1910 census
Year: 1910; Census Place: Camden Ward 5, Camden, New Jersey; Roll: T624_873; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0033; FHL microfilm: 1374886

This Frank M. Wetherill remained married to Margaret/Maggie and lived with her and their children in Camden until his death in 1942. If he was in fact Marie’s father, it is rather sad that she either believed or at least considered him dead back in 1915 when she married Joe.

There are many unanswered questions remaining about this family, and I could get buried in searching for more about the two men named Frank/Francis M. Wetherill. I cannot find any later record for the younger Frank Wetherill after the 1900 census (although there was another man born in Philadelphia in 1883 named Francis M. Wetherill, but after researching him, I’ve concluded he was from an entirely different family.)  I also remain unsure about whether the Frank Wetherill who married Maggie Schramm was the same Frank Wetherill who had married Mary Wilson and fathered Marie.

But the Wetherills are not my blood relatives, and I’ve unwound enough yarn to get a sense of what Marie Wetherill’s life was like before she married my cousin Joe Schlesinger. So I am making myself stop before I unravel so much yarn that I can’t untie the knots!

Putting together the pieces I now have, it appears that Marie Wetherill Schlesinger did not have an easy childhood.  Before she was six years old, either her father had died or her parents had divorced.  Her mother remarried and had two more children with her second husband, Harry Pearson. Perhaps her mother started calling the child born Emma Virginia Mary/May by the name “Marie” after starting her life over.  One record I found suggests that Francis M. Wetherill’s mother was named Emma; maybe Mary Wilson Wetherill Pearson did not want to carry that name forward.

Marie’s father Francis M. Wetherill may have died, but it seems more likely that he remarried and moved to Camden, where he and his second wife had a large family.  Who knows whether Marie had any contact with him after the divorce. Maybe that’s why she reported that he had died.

When she was 27 in 1915, Marie married my cousin Joe Schlesinger and remained married to him until he died in 1936. Then she lived with her mother-in-law Brendena until she died in 1945. Marie was 57 by then.  Eventually she retired to Bradenton, Florida where her sister Catherine as well as her half-sister Anna Pierson also were living. Marie had thus remained close not only with the family she married into but also with her family of origin.  Despite her interrupted childhood, she is remembered by my father as a loving woman who spent much of her life caring for others.

 

[1] Some records spell Harry’s surname as Pearson; others as Pierson. I don’t know which is correct. I’ve chosen to use Pearson here just for clarity’s sake.

[2] Three records establish that Harry was the child of Mary/Mamie Wilson and Harry Pearson: a Philadelphia birth record indexed on FamilySearch shows Harry Pearson born on May 20, 1897, son of Harry E. and Mame Pearson; a 1903 baptism record for both Harry, Jr. and Anna Pierson lists their parents as Harry Pierson and Mary A. Pierson; and Harry, Jr.’s military record identifies his parents as Harry Pierson and Mary Wilson.

19 thoughts on “The Blessings and Curses of Census Records: Was Francis Wetherill Still Alive?

  1. I have found the UK Census records frustrating too. Searching for my very English ancestors I
    found hundreds of people born who had the same names in the same 5 year period.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh wow, what a tangle indeed! One inconsistency is annoying but when you have few – you start doubting everything. But I think you are right, the evidence does seem to support your theory.

    I’m at the middle of trying to make sense of a 1880 census record too – have who I believe is the same woman listed twice – once married, once single with her parents. Common sense tells me these are two different families, but everything keeps leading back to there being a connection. Frustrating!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. D-I-V-O-R-C-E was something that was not mentioned very often in the 1900 census. It really hit me when I was searching page by page through the 1900 census many years ago. Only a few pages away from the widowed wife I found her husband with his new wife. Like you, I stopped unraveling the yarn. Sometimes it hard to decide when to put the safety pin back into the knitting. You chose a good time to get back to the main story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Cathy. But here she wasn’t listed as widowed, but as married, and she was married—to the second husband (apparently), yet she is listed without his surname and without him and the child she had with him, Harry, Jr., is listed with the first husband’s name! I can’t find Harry Sr anywhere else nor can I find the first husband on the 1900 census. So it is driving me nuts! But yes—I’ve got to let it go. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmmmm, quite a tangle. I have large sections of my tree that are French people in Quebec. Pretty much every girl was Marie (insert middle name or two here). When they would move into the US, often they would use Mary instead of Marie. If they went back to Quebec, they would switch back to Marie. Typically they used their middle name (or one of them) as their name in daily life, but their full name on records. When I was reading your post I kept wondering if there were any French ancestors by way of Quebec in your Marie’s recent past. Super interesting post. I admire your ability to set it aside and work on something else. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. These kinds of tangled mysteries are sent to try us…but they’re also what keep us going 😀 I love when I finally figure it out! Or, like with my great-grandmother and the mystery of who her father was, left never to know unless I do a DNA test and find a relative that way to prove once and for all if her step-father was her father.

    I really do wonder how people can think what we do is boring!! Especially in these crazy times of politics, war, famine etc., retreating into the past and exploring our ancestors lives is a perfect antidote!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree completely. I find that when I am feeling stressed about the world or life, diving into genealogy research is like a form of meditation. It takes my head to a clear and calm place—even when I am frustrated by not finding what I am looking for!

      Liked by 1 person

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