“Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” – William Ralph Inge
In family history, a blissful and naive notion often occurs when we begin to think we have learned all there is to know about any given ancestor. From records of birth and marriage, to census images and cemetery stones, and even through the occasional “copy and pasted” family tree, how could we not have? It’s tempting to give into the idea that it all the “evidence is in.” Yet despite all of our best research or garnered facts there is still much out there that is only revealed in time.
I experienced this when I looked at what was known about my paternal great-great-great-grandmother Mary Peak Schooley (1820–1898?). I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to Mary Schooley. I’d been to the cemetery at Leanna, Kansas several times, but the research on Mary had been done before – by her great-granddaughter, my cousin Barbara Andruss Irwin.[i] So I have to tell you how surprised I was to find a Kansas marriage record for a “Mrs. Mary Schooley and a Mr. D. H. Bowker” dated 30 October 1892.[ii]
Who could this D.H. Bowker be?[iii] What the heck was he doing with my Grandmother Schooley? (At this point I am filing a “note to self” to re-review Chris Child’s webinar about appropriate DNA testing!)[iv]
No, it was all true. Late in life, my widowed great-great-great-grandmother Mary Peak Schooley had gotten hitched at the ripe old age of 72. Okay, we all know this wasn’t uncommon, and it really shouldn’t be an issue that none of her direct descendants ever mention her second marriage, right? It’s even quite ordinary for Mary to be buried alongside her first husband Reuben Schooley – with her time on earth being chiseled in stone as 1820–1893. This is after all just a normal day at the genealogical bazaar.
However, new questions arose when a previously unseen obituary for Mary surfaced this past week. While her new married name is misspelled in the newspaper as “Bouker,” she is clearly identified as the former “Mrs. Mary Schooley” and as the mother of “Mrs. John H. Record” – my great-great-grandmother.
The problem is the date of the obituary in the Chanute Daily Tribune. The date is 19 March 1894 and reads “Mrs. Bouker who died at Thayer yesterday…” Wait, yesterday? But her headstone reads 1893… Okay, it’s not like we haven’t been to this rodeo before. It just means the stone cutter messed up – and hopefully her new husband Mr. Bowker didn’t pay the man for poor workmanship.[v]
So I went back into “the old tree” and corrected the date for Grandma Schooley to 1894. But not so fast! As I was correcting her date of death to reflect this one year variance, I stumbled upon something more disconcerting – a probate court notice for “Mary Bowker.”
Our friends at The Chanute Daily Times published a notice with regard to Mary Peak Schooley’s estate. Grandma Schooley didn’t have much to leave behind, but there was a piece of land that needed to be disposed of, presumably to support her disabled son. It’s a great “published piece” to find, as it lists her heirs by name. It also contains one really confusing statement about the date of her death…
So now I have three ‘possible’ years of death, one carved in stone and two published in the local newspapers: 1893, 1894, and 1898. If this was Mary’s birth year in question I might have let it go ‘as is,’ but a date of death with three variables leaves too many unanswered questions.
In the end, I may never know Mary Schooley’s true date of death. My best guess is “1894,” as implied by the first newspaper article. However I will say one thing for the old gal. She was nobody’s fool. In reviewing the probate file for “Mary Bowker” I spy what must surely have been her intention. My great-great-great-grandmother, Mrs. Mary Schooley, had her Last Will and Testament written out on 29 October 1892 – one day before she married Mr. D.H. Bowker.
While I can’t be certain, if I read between the lines here I begin to see why Grandma Schooley’s second husband might never have been mentioned at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
[i] Jeff Record, “That which we inherit,” Vita Brevis, 23 March 2017, as a reference to Barbara Andruss Irwin.
[ii] Mary Peak married as her first husband Reuben Schooley (1806–1870) in Martin County, Indiana 22 March 1838; Indiana, Compiled Marriages, 1802-1850, Ancestry.com.
[iii] Daniel H. Bowker (1819–1907) of Erie, Neosho County, Kansas, second husband of Mary Peak Schooley.
[iv] Christopher C. Child, “Choosing a DNA Test for Family History Research,” webinar 15 June 2017 through American Ancestors.org.
[v] Leanna Cemetery Records, Neosho County, Kansas, and Findagrave.com memorial no. 25103907 photo by “Vickie.”
*The title comes from Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems: “Life is for the living, and death is for the dead. Let life be like music and death a note unsaid.”
12 thoughts on “‘A note unsaid’”
Great story – I have had an analogous challenge – finally solved – chasing my great-grandmother’s younger sister through five marriages (two late in life), to get finally to her obit in 1962….when she was living apart from husband #5! Thankfully, San Mateo County CA has great newspapers and land records online!
Great story, loved your “genealogical bazaar” description, so true! I enjoy your writing, always with a good bit of humor. My two cents opinion goes for the Chanute paper date.
I meant the one with the 1894 date. There were witnesses who met the train and went to the burial.
Love the story! The challenge of these hard cases is what makes this hobby fun for me, no matter who I’m following. Right now I’m trying to wrap up the life of the wife of a 1st cousin 4 times removed, just because I can’t stand the suspense. Lived in 5 midwestern states (so far), and new husbands keep popping up, I’m finding her mainly through the records of her kids. Not sure where she ended up after her third husband died.
I’m always stunned by the easy assumptions I make, and both mortified and thrilled to discover truths. Mysteries and dead ends that seem to intentionally been left dead ends, and my own bigotry and hubris (“Why… I would never” chisel an ancestry tree on a “cemetery monument, “why, I would never” do this or that… but I DID resist that my Irish Nationalist great grandfather was from Belfast, or that a Limerick “farmer” was actually a landlord). Eventually, the primary records bear and bare the realities. It is a unique pastime we set ourselves. Thanks for the inspiration.
Loved this post, Jeff. Gives me a new avenue to search for my own great grandmother — perhaps she married after she was widowed!
Thanks for sharing this —
The quality of your writinga and your tone present your joy in our avocation and obsession loud and clear. Thank you.
I’ve recently come across an unmentioned marriage for my great grandfather. Since it ended in divorce after 2 years (in 1885) and there were no children, I suppose no one considered it worth speaking of. This may be the case for your ancestors, a short marriage with no children, who cares… except those of us interested in family history!
Jeff, you haven’t yet exhausted the places to look for your ancestress’s death year. The first place to look would be the cemetery where she was buried. A cem’s record of a burial date is often the ONLY accurate record date-wise. Also, a cem rec will often yield other information such as who paid for the plot, number of individual lots in the plot, etc. The second place to look is the undertaker who prepared the body for burial. An undertaker wasn’t necessarily the owner or employee of a funeral home, but they did insist on being paid! The amount and date would be listed in great-granny’s probate papers, as would the payment for a casket.
Quite interesting. I have some ancestors who lived in Thayer KS back in the good old days. None of the names mentioned here though.
It looks like we are 7th cousins once removed on the Schooley line, our common ancestral couple being Samuel Schooley and his wife (possibly the Sarah who was his wife when he wrote his will in 1769.) I have seen many claims and no evidence on both the identity of his wife and that of his parents. Have you worked on this line at all? If so, I would love to collaborate. I have spent a good deal of time poring over the Monthly Meeting records and have my own ideas on the subject, but no firm proof.
Hi Sarah, thanks for reaching out. It’s nice to meet you cousin! We need a road trip to Schooley’s Mountain! – Like you I have been stumped by Samuel, his wife, and his parents. I’ve relied perhaps to heavily on James Schooley’s “Trails of our Fathers” which while helpful seems inconsistent with regard to Samuel’s son John, my direct ancestor and his wife Mary Wright. Please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to compare notes.