A hot mess

My great-grandmother with her brother Raymond and his fourth wife in Santa Cruz, California circa 1972.

My great-great-uncle Raymond is a hot mess. At least that’s what kids these days might say about him if they, like me, were trying to unravel the workings of his life. I first “met” Raymond Young – or, rather, I first became better acquainted with him – while researching the family lines of my great-grandmother, his sister Opal (Young) (Porter) Everett, and her family’s Mayflower ties.[1] However, getting to know Raymond hasn’t been easy. He’s proven himself to be an artful character to say the least. Often to find Ray, I’ve sort of had to “look the other way” when it comes to getting to know him. In truth, he has become more like a friend to me than a line in my current research project – a friend with a bunch of old secrets well past the time for telling.

Raymond[2] seemed destined to become nearly an also-ran in his own family tree. Born 2 December 1894 at El Dorado in Butler County, Kansas, he was a toddler when his mother Mary (Neff) Young died.[3] His father, George Alfred Young, widowed and with six children, quickly remarried a Miss Betty Lee Taylor.[4] However, the new Mrs. Young wanted no part in raising George’s youngest boy.

…Raymond Young Neff looks to have been a credit to both of his family names.

Due to his father’s new circumstances, or perhaps because Raymond was indeed a wee bit of a hellion, he was sent to live with the Neffs, his maternal grandparents. His grandparents did treat him quite well, and soon enough Raymond became known as “Raymond Young Neff” – a name that stayed with him throughout his life. The Neffs gave Raymond a good education, even grooming him for a military career. And, as described below in 1913, Raymond Young Neff looks to have been a credit to both of his family names:

“In the person of Raymond Y. Neff of El Dorado, I sent the department a man whom I considered was the most perfect physical specimen that I have ever passed. He is six feet tall in his bare feet; straight and well formed….He has a good education, has attended a military college, and is well qualified morally.”[5]

For the most part, Uncle Raymond’s life looks to have been on the road to prosperity. His military career took off, and he was present at the occupation of Vera Cruz in Mexico after the Tampico Affair of 1914.[6] Largely serving stateside, he did come back to Kansas long enough to marry his hometown sweetheart, Sarah Marcum, in December of 1917.[7] All in all, things are looked pretty good for old Ray. He and Sarah even welcomed a baby boy, Jack, in the fall of 1923 – and then, for unknown reasons, around 1930, Raymond’s life gets, as the kids say, “squirrely.”

I’ll admit it. When it comes to Raymond’s life, I get lost right about here. For whatever reason, Ray seems so far “out there” to me – restlessly leaving Kansas (and his family) for California by 1932. Oddly enough, that’s not all Ray left behind. You see, subsequent vital records show that he seems to have forgotten that he was ever married at all.[8] (So much for that “well qualified morally” part in the old bio, Uncle Ray.)

You see, subsequent vital records show that he seems to have forgotten that he was ever married at all.

Click on images to expand them. Courtesy of FamilySearch.org

In October of 1936 Raymond Young Neff completes a California marriage with (Mrs.?) Marion Augusta (Goodale) Peters stating he has never been married before.[9] He also states that he was born in Texas – in disagreement with his other sworn statements.[10] His new life with Marion sours pretty quickly, and Raymond is once again “at the altar” by May of 1944 (presumably divorced this time) marrying a young widow, Rose Gordon Fik. [11] Raymond must have been in a hurry to marry Mrs. Fik, as he still forgets that she is actually wife “number three,” but he does manage to keep up his wishful thinking about his Texas birth. I have to figure that Uncle Raymond was slightly confused by “all that paperwork” when he states on his application with Mrs. Fik that his parents, the Neffs, were born in “Russia” – the place of birth of Mrs. Fik’s parents. (Me thinks Raymond must have been in too much of a hurry to get to that honeymoon suite?)

Courtesy of FamilySearch.org

In unraveling Raymond’s life, I have to say that I have taken a few shots at him, too – making a few jokes at his posthumous expense. But truth be told, Raymond’s trysts do seem a bit fast. I understand that he maybe “forgot” he might have already been married in 1936, or that he disliked the whole somewhat problematic “thingy” of divulging one’s previous nuptials in 1944, but really Raymond, couldn’t you have settled on a place of birth – anywhere from Kansas to Texas to Russia??? In looking at those three marriages, indeed, how could I really be sure that I had the right Raymond Young Neff? It actually wasn’t until Raymond married his fourth wife in 1971 – and not until his death – that the truth began to come out, and Raymond’s life began to make some sort of sense. [12]

In looking at those three marriages, indeed, how could I really be sure that I had the right Raymond Young Neff?

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Between me and you, I like to think that Raymond got it right the fourth time – around the time he married the widow Hildur (Camb) Coffman. Accounts in The Times Standard of Eureka, California reflect these two were veritable senior love birds.[13] To this I’ve got to say “good job,” Raymond – very cool. Indeed, it is to this last Mrs. Neff that I owe some genealogical gratitude.

You see, in his obituary, the fourth Mrs. Neff summarizes much about Raymond’s life – right down to his not so truthful “Texas” birthplace, and all the while helping Old Ray keep up with a few of those fibs. And while Mrs. Neff may not have had all the facts, she repeats enough of “the story” that Raymond “Tex” Neff[14] told throughout the years that I’ve been able to rewind the hot mess that was “Uncle Raymond,” tying him back to his sister and, yes, even the Mayflower – and pulling together all of the fact and fiction in the life of Raymond Young Neff.

Notes

[1] Opal (Young) (Porter) Everett (1895–1978).

[2] Raymond Young Neff (1894–1974).

[3] Mary Neff (1864–1898) married George Alfred Young 27 March 1884.

[4] Betty Lee Taylor (1870–1952) married George Alfred Young 18 May 1899.

[5] El Dorado Republican, 20 June 1913, p. 2, at Newspapers.com.

[6] Per Wikipedia, the Tampico Affair was a “minor incident involving U.S. sailors and Mexican land forces” loyal to a Mexican dictator at the time. “As a result, the United States invaded the port city of Vera Cruz occupying it for more than six months.”

[7] The Walnut Valley Times, 17 December 1917, p. 1, at Newspapers.com, for his marriage announcement to Sarah E. Marcum.

[8] U.S. Federal Census Records, El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas, 1930 and 1940, show Mrs. Sarah Neff and son Jack living in her parents’ household.

[9] California, County Birth, Marriage, and Death Records, 1849-1980, Ancestry.com. Marion Augusta (Goodale) Peters states in her marriage license application that her first marriage was annulled.

[10] World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, Ancestry.com, where Raymond states his place of birth as “Butler County, KS.”

[11] Rose (Gordon) (Fik) (Neff) Daudistel (1907–1985).

[12] The Times Standard, Eureka, California, 7 July 1974, p. 27, at Newspapers.com for obituary of Raymond Y. Neff.

[13] The Times Standard, 18 November 1971, p. 23, at Newspapers.com for wedding announcement to Hildur Coffman.

[14] The Times Standard, 16 September 1971, p. 13, at Newspapers.com.

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

8 thoughts on “A hot mess

  1. Jeff, you definitely win the “Slipperiest Relative” sweepstakes. My maternal grandmother had a brother and a couple of cousins that held that distinction in my family, but none of them hold a candle to your Uncle Ray! That said, a collateral line on my dad’s side, the Penticos, is full of Neffs and Youngs that were in Kansas for a time on their way to CA, OR and WA, but if there’s a connection to Raymond, it’d be so far back in Pennsylvania to be of no consequence now. Just found it interesting to see those two surnames together again. Great bit of detective work you did here!

  2. Always enjoy reading your posts as your writing is so engaging. You’re a great story-teller. And, I have another way of thinking about my own brick wall – a great grandmother who was an unwed mother and her daughter who went to live with another family eventually assuming their surname.

  3. Jeff,
    What a challenging relative to say the least! I particularly like how you laid out the documentation for this one because many lesser experienced researchers might have been stymied by the contradictions.
    In researching a friend’s Mayflower line, his errant grandfather had four wives. At least one of the marriages was bigamous, and since the fourth wife was 20 years younger, the groom deducted some ten years from his age to meet her halfway. Thus, the age on his death certificate does not match the birth certificate. “Messy documentation.” I think it’s time we push ahead, present the information, which is more than sufficient to establish the link between generation.
    This also gives me the opportunity to tell you how I always appreciate the feedback you give me on my posts. There are many that I want to go back and read again.
    Wishing you a bright new year filled with wonder.
    Michael Dwyer

  4. Sounds like problems I’ve run into. It’s not easy finding divorce records, often in remote locations. Bigamy can be a risky business…

  5. Were there divorce records for the later marriages? Also what is the Mayflower connection? My daughter-in-law descends from John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.

    1. Hi Mary,
      Thank-you for asking! No luck with any divorce records thus far – just his statements on the marriage license applications. He connects to Mayflower passengers John Howland, Richard Warren, and Steven Hopkins.
      Jeff

  6. Thanks for the reply. He relates through Hopkins to Katherine Baughman runner up to Miss America in 1969. she didn’t get it because her parents were divorced. She was in the very first first grade class I taught 63 years ago and we have been in touch all these years. She designs fancy purses which sell for thousands to the Hollywood set. China began making knock offs and she sued and won using a law her Webster ancestor wrote. She was married to James Henderson a prominent Federal attorney who took on the mob in California. he just died this past summer. I am still researching to see if she is related to my daughter-in-law of the Aldens. it is a small world once you work on your genealogy-I now find Mayflower families married into my mother’s family! Excuse any typos but when I go to correct i lose the whole message.

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