Delayed messages

Minnie Maud (Hickok) Wilcox with her twin sister Mallie Mae (Hickok) Bodwell. Courtesy of Tom Kennedy

Okay. Let’s clear something up straight away. Like the rest of us here, I see dead people.[1] The truth is, though, that “my visions” aren’t always very clear, and truer still, is that I don’t exactly see dead people so much as I hear them. (And no, it’s not time for you to call your local mental health professional on this blogger just yet – but do give it time.) I know it may seem like a big genealogical s t r e t c h, but I have to believe you know just what I mean. They, our dearly departed, “come a calling” to leave one with that feeling of a special message – one intended for you alone. It’s almost like some form of spectral evidence meant to guide us in researching the old family tree. Stretch or not, most of the time my own dearly departed are just like this; that is, showing up with their usual hints of hushed and secretive messages. “Messages” that make me sweat it out for the smallest discovery of their lives, relationships, whereabouts, or demise. (Well, they never promised that it would be easy, right?)

There are times, however, when the messages that show up aren’t the “inaudibly murmured” type that say to “go hither” to this cemetery or that, or even those whispered in the ear to “wake up” and actually look at the vital record – (“…Jeff!!!”).[2] Nope, occasionally they’re those messages from the dearly departed that want to do a veritable tap dance in one’s head, all in an effort at trying to get one to take an interest in, or pay attention to, their unfinished business, or their often imperfectly forgotten lives.

Saratoga (Wyo.) Sun, December 6, 1917. Courtesy of Wyoming Newspapers

Yes, for me, and as I suspect for the rest of us, it has always been this way. Indeed, outside of the usual whisperers, my folks’ mantra carries one step further, often with a cacophony of messages that basically say “Let’s watch him go in circles” while he happily tries to find another Mayflower line. Fortunately enough, once in a while my dearly departed do like to take it easy on me. Once in a great while they like to throw me a great big dance party (and even play a silent picture show or two) on “the floors above” (or in my family’s case, the floors “below”) to get my attention. Anyway, I don’t mean to bore you with such party details, although, in a way, I like to think that’s how I got a message from Minnie.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, I guess, that is, the way I “met,” or got a message from, Minnie (Hickok) Wilcox.[3] Minnie was the first and only wife of my great-great-uncle Horace G. Wilcox, a guy who purported to be some sort of an entertainer or showman.[4] ( I think Uncle Horace definitely way overestimated his ability in this regard.) More commonly known as “Billy Wilcox” (for show business purposes???), Uncle Horace was by all accounts a disagreeable curmudgeon of a man, and from my future vantage point I have to wonder if Aunt Minnie wasn’t (not-so-secretly) an abused wife.

Courtesy of Jan Maupin

The Wilcox branch of my family has always been a raucous bunch, often plagued by alcoholism and an ‘odd-luck’ prosperity. “Uncle Billy,” as a part of that wild and woolly clan, appears to have been no exception. When it comes to Uncle Billy, I like to think that Minnie had no choice but to “tap” really loudly on that dance floor above to get any messages about her life heard amid the other brawling Wilcox ghosts. I think that (as of late) poor Minnie Wilcox has just wanted to finally be noticed, and that she wanted (not surprisingly) some small part of her story told. No doubt she figured she wasn’t getting anywhere using the same old methods of spectral apparitions and whispers – at least not with me. So I think Aunt Minnie must have decided to tap her message one last time on that old dance floor when she had a note sent from my new “cousin-in-law,” a fellow researcher and a really good guy named Tom.

Tom lives (you guessed it) in New England, and I think Minnie must have known that Tom and I were in the same boat. Together, we didn’t know nearly enough about her, about Minnie, and especially the where and the when of her death. We wanted to learn more. Minnie obviously couldn’t get me “to hear” the whispers about her life over the din of the internet (or the old Wilcox ghosts…), so I believe she decided to see if a message from fellow researcher Tom might do the trick for us both. Tom is Minnie’s great-great-nephew, a descendant of Minnie’s twin sister Mallie (Hickok) Bodwell. Seeing as I am the great-great-nephew of Minnie’s (ugh…) husband “Uncle Billy” Wilcox, and seeing as Minnie, Mallie, and I share the same birthday (and that I am also the father of twin daughters) … Minnie must have figured that in Tom and me, she might have a couple of guys who could hear her “messages.”

This memoir also had clues about Minnie’s life after Uncle Billy had passed away.

Tom had more information about Minnie than I did, with clues that her sister Mallie (Hickok) Bodwell, his great-grandmother, had left behind.[5] Mallie (Hickok) Bodwell, an author of some note,[6] along with Mallie’s daughter Dorothy (Bodwell) Kennedy, had left stories about Minnie’s life, and less than flattering memories of Uncle Billy. These were all contained in a memoir of a family visit to Aunt Minnie’s (and the irascible Uncle Billy) in the wilds of early twentieth-century Wyoming.[7] This memoir also had clues about Minnie’s life after Uncle Billy had passed away. This was a time when Aunt Minnie had been compelled out of likely necessity to go live with her son Roy Wilcox and Minnie’s “sharp-tongued daughter-in-law” Clara, a woman who appears to have only made Minnie’s life more miserable.[8] Yet with all of Tom’s anecdotal notes and stories about Minnie (which was far more than my Wilcox clan had ever recorded about the life of crusty old Uncle Billy), her twin sister Mallie’s family still had no clue as to when Minnie had died, or indeed what had become of Minnie Wilcox. Sadly, the date and place of Minnie’s death had faded in recent memory

The only real clue we had about any of this was in Uncle Billy’s obituary. Survived by his wife, Horace Wilcox’s obituary stated only that he had been laid to rest in a “new and beautiful cemetery” in the suburbs of Milwaukee.[9] (Could they be any more vague?) Seeing as Uncle Billy had died in 1930, and that Aunt Minnie was later living with their son, Tom and I began looking through death indexes for every “Minnie Wilcox” under the sun after 1930. Tom also checked out a doppelganger “Minnie Wilcox, widow of Horace G.” in Colorado – but all this seemed to lead nowhere.

Alas, all we had to go on was that “new and beautiful” unnamed cemetery in Milwaukee where Uncle Billy had been laid to rest.

Tom and I reasoned it likely that Minnie had not remarried (she was, after all, 67 years old when Uncle Billy died) and, further, that it was also likely that she was buried with Uncle Billy, or perhaps with her son Roy and her unloveable daughter in-law Clara Wilcox. But where were any of them? Alas, all we had to go on was that “new and beautiful” unnamed cemetery in Milwaukee where Uncle Billy had been laid to rest. However, there was no record of Uncle Billy or Minnie, or of Roy or even Clara on FindAGrave, nor could we find any of them in any cemetery transcriptions or index. (Note to FindAGrave: We need a new search engine for sharp-tongued daughters-in-law…)

We knew that a solution to this might be to order a Wisconsin death certificate for Horace G. Wilcox to possibly locate the name of that cemetery – all of this in hopes that Minnie would be interred near the old grouch. However in this case, ordering a vital record felt like our last choice. Let’s face it: genealogy can be really quite expensive. It’s often a tough choice as to where to spend your hard earned cash, and Wisconsin vital records sure didn’t seem as much fun as renewing my subscription to Mayflower Descendant. I think that there are very few of us that don’t struggle with the cost of genealogy from time to time; say like balancing the need for our Ancestry or NEHGS membership against the annual dues of an ego-gratifying lineage society. I’m not embarrassed to tell you how often I’ve struggled over keeping my research costs down and my membership-access sites current. The thought of ordering up another pricy vital record that might or might not have shown us that cemetery’s name was, well, discouraging at best.

As if she could read my mind, Minnie decided to send Tom and me another message. She must have known that the vital record for Uncle Billy would prove to be an expensive longshot, and one that wouldn’t necessarily tell us anything about where she was or what had happened to her. Well, without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that the mystery of Minnie’s messages was solved through one of those “funky free trial budget friendly” offers.

The Milwaukee Sentinel, February 10, 1942

It was an offer that soon enough turned up the name of that “new and beautiful cemetery,” and indeed allowed my budget for such things to remain intact and “none-the-wiser.” First we found Clara Wilcox’s obituary, and then that of her husband, Minnie’s son Roy. We now had published records for them in a place called “Highland Memorial Park” in the suburbs of Milwaukee. It was there that we found them all, just as they should have been, Uncle Billy along with Aunt Minnie, Roy, and the sharp-tongued Clara. Minnie’s death was now no longer one of those pesky “unknowns.” We could now finally close that chapter of Minnie’s story. The last dance was over. The messages were, at least for now, complete.

Notes

[1] “I see dead people” quote as taken from the movie The Sixth Sense (1999).

[2] Jeff Record, “The genealogist McFly,” Vita Brevis, July 15, 2020.

[3] Minnie Maud (Hickok) Wilcox (1861-1942).

[4] Horace G. “Uncle Billy” Wilcox (1860-1930).

[5] Mallie Mae (Hickok) Bodwell (1861-1949).

[6] M. Bodwell, The Legend of the Old Man of the Mountains (Franconia Notch, N.H.: The Flume Reservation, 1936).

[7] Dorothy (Bodwell) Kennedy, Baked Potatoes In My Pockets (New York: Vantage Press, 1977), 51-56.

[8] Clara (Call) Wilcox (1893-1963) is referred to as “sharp-tongued” in the memories of the Bodwell family.

[9] Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Courier, April 10, 1930, 2.

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.

15 thoughts on “Delayed messages

  1. Jeff, California residents can obtain a Los Angeles County Library card and gain access to their huge online databank. I use it constantly to access newspaperarchive.com.from home.

      1. San Francisco library system also allows any California residents free cards and with them you can access quite a few databases from home.

  2. Jeff,
    Kudos for another fascinating and well written story!
    Curious if you have Wilcox (Wilcocks) relatives connected to Edward Wilcox listed in the Great Migration to Newport, RI or any of the Wilcox’ who migrated to Westerly, RI?
    BTW does anyone know why the spelling of the surname was changed. I have my suspicions!

    1. Hello Dan! Well my friend, “in theory” my Wilcox folks are from Edward of RI, but following the bouncing Wilcox ghosts past Western New York, well let’s just say they have a lot to reveal about themselves for me to be able to truly connect all the dots.
      ~ Dastardly Wilcox ghosts will keep me jumping for years to come I’m afraid. Are you of Wilcox stock?
      I always appreciate your comments Dan!

  3. This is fantastic!!! Having had communication from one who has gone ahead and who knew that I needed the comfort and information, I do know that these blessings happen when we need them. Way to go, Jeff!! :D)

  4. Wonderfully light-hearted and at the same time subtly but deeply moving. We all can benefit from reminders to listen (and why else were we given ears?). You’ve given us a kind of listening accessible, probably, only to “dedicated genealogists/family historians, but it’s also exemplary of the numerous experiences of listening accessible to everyone, if we only will stop…and listen. Many thanks!

  5. Hi Jeff,

    Any chance you’re related to Barnaby Wilcox/Wilcocks who arrived in Philsdelphia from Bristol, England in 1681-82, wife’s name Sarah? He built the first rope walk in Philly.

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