Andrew J. Lester of Springfield Illinois

Andrew J. Lester of Springfield Illinois

Andrew J. Lester is a distant cousin who was born shortly before the Civil War and died at the beginning of World War I. His family moved from Washington County Virginia in the 1840’s to settle in Sangamon County Illinois. I recently ran across numerous newspaper articles about Andrew and wrote a lengthy research paper about him. Here are a few excerpts.

Highlights in Andrew J. Lester’s Life

  • 1859 Born in Williamsville, Sangamon, Illinois
  • 1880/1881 Graduation and Teaching
  • 1885 Admitted to the Sangamon County Bar
  • 1886 Joined first Law Firm
  • 1884-1902 Republican Political Activities
  • 1888 Elected to Illinois House of Representatives, 36th General Assembly for 39th District
  • 1889/1890 U.S. Government Job, Special Immigrant Agent for the Treasury Department
  • 1890 Marriage in September
  • 1892 Birth of Daughter in November
  • 1901 Death of Father in May
  • 1905/1906 Jobs with brother in law in St. Louis 1905, NY in 1906
  • 1910 Back to business on his own, Attorney and Manufacturer of Storage Batteries
  • 1917 Marriage of Daughter
  • 1917 Death in Salt Lake City, Utah

Andrew Jackson Lester, also commonly known as A. J. Lester was the middle child of twelve, six boys and six girls. He was born on September 27, 1859 in Williamsville, Sangamon County, Illinois. Due to his political and society activities in Springfield Illinois there are quite a few mentions of him in newspapers and as a result quite a bit of information. 

In a book published in 1891 containing portraits and biographical information of renowned men in Sangamon County Illinois, there is an entry for Andrew as the Honorable Andrew J. Lester. At that time he was a representative in the state government and held a federal office. The biographical sketch gives us the birth date, September 27, 1860. He was 10 months old on the 1860 census so his birth year was actually 1859. It goes on to tell us that he attended the common schools during his youth and eventually attended Central Normal College in Danville Indiana, studying under Professor Adams and graduating in 1881. I have found the “Fourth Annual Catalogue of the Central Normal College and Commercial Institute, 1880-1881” and his name does not appear in any of the lists of graduates going back to 1878.

His occupation was school teacher on the June 1880 census where he was living with his parents and siblings in Williams Township, Sangamon County, Illinois and I do believe because he was teaching he would have at least gotten his teaching certificate. According to the book he continued teaching in county schools and also became the principle of Williamsville Schools. It appears he had a different calling because while he was doing this he was also studying law and clerking in the offices of Palmer, Robinson and Schutt while on his vacations. He was admitted to the bar in “1885” and by 1886 had become associated with Hon. James C. Conkling. In 1886 he was also nominated to be a Representative in the Illinois State Legislature but lost. He did subsequently win in 1888 and was still a member when the book was published. At around the same time he became a Special Agent in the U.S. Treasury Department while continuing to practice law with John C. Mathis in the firm named Lester & Mathis. The dates in the sketch must be questioned as by September 1884 he was known as Honorable A. J. Lester of Springfield in the first of many newspaper articles I have found about him. In this article he is noted to be an orator at a Republican Rally in Illiopolis Illinois.

He was well known in Springfield politics and state Republican politics. While a Representative he chaired the Committee on Judicial Department and Practice. During a special session of the legislature that was called to discuss matters related to the World’s Fair as he presided over a joint committee tasked with handling bills related to the Great Columbian Exposition. During the first organizing of the Republican League of the United States in New York in 1887 he was one of the three representatives from Illinois. Along with the man who would eventually become his brother in law, W. W. Tracy, they organized the state league in Illinois and were instrumental in organizing four hundred more across the state. His activities within this organization is the subject of the majority of the newspaper articles I found about him.

In addition to his political activities he was also an Elk and a member of the Knights of the Pythias and the Sangamo Club. His church was noted to be the First Congregational Church in Springfield, which is the church his in-laws were charter members of. As this biographical sketch was published in 1891 it ends with the details of his marriage to the society belle Louise “Lucy” Tracy whose father F. W. Tracy was a prominent banker and member of Springfield Society. Andrew’s brother James Newton Lester officiated the marriage rites.

In the next post I will include a sampling of the various news stories I found about him. It appears that Andrew was talented and ambitious and became quite involved with his in-laws and their business ventures. Not long before his death he seems to have retired from politics and gone back to working on his own as a lawyer and businessman. This was also after the legal and financial troubles of his brother in law. I imagine that politics during turn of the century Chicago and New York were quite difficult to navigate for very long.



TVA Case Files – Dr. Sage

I have recently been enthralled reading the records of the TVA that were recently made available on Ancestry. Genealogical research can be so dry sometimes. Names, dates, places and no color. The case files of the TVA are anything but dry and colorless.

If you had family in the areas affected by the programs of the TVA, these files provide a glimpse into their lives at that time. It’s useful even if your family is not among those reported on or directly impacted. The case workers documented information about an area of our country that would have been ignored and forgotten if not for their efforts. They took photos of buildings that would soon be gone and told of the homes and situations of the poor and not so poor farmers and sharecroppers in those areas. If you had family in the mountains and valleys of southwest Virginia you know how secretive they were and what little they left behind.

A fascinating example was the case file on a country doctor, John W. Sage, who practiced in the Harr Community of Sullivan County Tennessee. He was visited in May of 1942. The file describes his office on the second floor of a  two-story building, “..dilapidated, two-story, boxed structure, very unattractive, poorly arranged and crowded”. The photo in the file makes you wonder how any patient dared climb the steps to get there.  The case worker goes on to describe the office, “..inadequate furnishings, consisting mainly of : a squeaky cot or operating table, scattered obstetrical instruments of the oldest type, an old typewriter sitting on a table long enough for a desk in front of which is a swivel chair and several shelves full of dirty bottles containing chemicals used in general practice. An abundance of prophylactic medicines and the old type of syphilitic treatment are included.”

The case worker tells us that on each occasion he was visited he was wearing the same dark suit and tie and had the odor of alcohol on his breath. It was noted that he liked to talk about the families he treated in a profane manner. The details he leaves to our imagination. He goes on to say that for several months the doctor wore a piece of adhesive tape from his lower eyelid down to his cheek, explaining how it was allowing circulation to relieve inflammation. Obstetrics was his prized topic of conversation, “Some of the happenings he describes and the ancient manner he practices in caring for the confinement cases of the prolific mothers of the community makes one wonder how he keeps from losing a large percentage of his cases.”

It is then reported that the doctor is well-known in the community for answering every call no matter what time of day or the patient’s ability to pay. In looking at his books it showed only a third of his charges were collectible. The doctor was revisited in July 1942 and we learn, “In his typical profane manner, Dr. Sage reported that he was cooperating with the citizens of the community in criticizing the OPA (Office of Price Administration) in regard to the rationing of gasoline and food products.”  In December 1943 it is reported that Dr. Sage moved his practice to Ruthton, a community southeast of Bristol. Later records tell us that the Doctor died in 1948 and his wife went to live with her children.

All of this made me highly suspicious of the country doctor so I checked census records. In 1940 he was 61 years old and reported to be a medical doctor. However, in 1930 he was a mechanic on a railroad and in 1920 a travelling salesman of tobacco. Previous to that he was a farm laborer. I am curious as to where and when he obtained his medical degree. I would bet that he never did which would explain his archaic practices. My heart goes out to the poor women who trusted him at such a vulnerable time.


Finding Your Roots on PBS

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. does an excellent job of telling the stories behind some interesting people in his show, “Finding Your Roots”. Check out the first season videos on before the start of the second season in September 2014. He does a really good job of delving into important periods in history and how events affected our ancestors lives and our future. He does the show with people in the public eye but we all have stories like these waiting to be uncovered.

You can see the trailer for the new season and read more about the show here.


The Letter

Our local paper published a story about a woman who had found a WWII era letter in a book she purchased at a used book sale. She was asking if anyone had lost the letter or could help her locate the owner of the letter so she could return it. Since I love looking into this sort of thing I contacted her and asked her for any information she had from the letter.

I did a search with the information she provided which was the writer’s name, the location the letter was mailed to and the date it was mailed. I found the soldier, John D. O’Reilly, by his burial record in the cemetery at the US Military Academy.  Census records showed me that he grew up in the area where he had sent the letter, in NY state. Being fairly certain that his wife, to whom he wrote the letter, would also be dead, I needed to find a living relative.

When I found his obituary it named two children, a boy and a girl. I always start with the son if possible since their surname does not change. Unfortunately I discovered his son was deceased and emails to family members remained unanswered. I had no choice but to start looking for information on their daughter. After a lot of searching I finally found a document that revealed John’s wife remarried that gave me her new surname. From that I found her obituary and it named her now married daughter. My copy was blurry and hard to read but thankfully she had an unusual married name and it wasn’t Smith or Jones.

Another search yielded a wedding announcement that gave me her husband’s first name and from that I was finally able to track the couple back to an address in our local area. When I gave the name and address to the woman who had the letter she was surprised to learn that the daughter lived in her housing development and that they had actually gone out together with mutual friends. She contacted her and learned that after pulling out all her old letters to give to another family member she used one as a bookmark. Forgetting it was in the book she donated it to the library for the book sale. The letter had now made its way back to the original owner.

This search is a perfect example of the problems caused when a woman gives up her original surname and adopts her husband’s name. If not for the two name changes by females in this family my search would have taken half the time.

Lost and Found

Last week I brought one of my longest searches to a close. Before I met my husband I don’t remember knowing anyone who had been adopted. I didn’t have any pre-conceived notions of what it might be like to grow up with a family that did not share my genetics. But being a genealogist and always searching for those connections has made this issue a frequent subject of conversation in our home.

Many of us have family members who are not genetically connected to us but it’s not a big issue because we also have family members who are. When you have biological family members you see yourself when you look at them. There are shared genetic ailments and temperaments, talents and feelings. These things are passed down in your genes and in the stories you hear growing up and the way you were raised by these people who share this biological bond with you. It’s very different when you are completely separated from this genetic family. Despite having a happy, normal childhood and a loving family you also love, you will still have the desire to know your biological “tribe”.

When you are separated from your tribe in infancy this desire is lifelong and sometimes not even recognized for what it is. You are expected to accept things as they are and not need the biological family that gave you up. For many years this was the way people thought but this has changed. Closed adoptions like the one my husband was involved in are no longer the norm. I am very glad this practice is being abandoned. Adopted people for the most part want to connect with their birth mother and families and research has shown that the overwhelming majority of birth mothers also suffer from the separation and also want a connection. I highly recommend this website for in depth information on this subject.

In my research I have found family members and information for numerous other people. I connected my father’s cousin to half brothers he and they did not know existed. The state he lived in would not release his original birth certificate to him despite the death of both parents. I think this is outrageous. My husband was lucky enough to have a copy of his adoption file. The names of his birth parents had been redacted with a Sharpie marker but, because of the glossy photocopy paper it was printed on he was able to use alcohol to remove the redacted marks and uncover the names. Later he was able to obtain his original birth certificate.

Doing this type of research has made me a big proponent of women keeping their birth surname when they are married and children keeping their birth surnames when adopted. I understand the symbolic and often emotional reasons for the custom of changing them but I believe it is best to add the new name to the old. At least allow children to make this decision for themselves when they are adults. I can’t tell you how many people cannot trace their genealogy or find living family for this very reason. I’ve been contacted by quite a few. I believe it is our right to at least know our birth family and be known by them. The name is often our only connection and I believe this is important.

I did not go into how I found my husband’s birth family because it’s not the real story. The discovery of his birth family is a story in progress and the end of the search is really a new beginning for him. I hope knowing will help everyone involved and close a painful chapter in their lives.

Genealogists not only bring the dead back to life but connect their living descendants and keep the tribe or clan together. At least that’s what I tell myself to justify the amount of time I spend on this type of research.

The Report Card

My aunt and I share a love of history and the stories hidden there. She has shared a lot of her knowledge with me over the years. Working in an antique mall she comes across a lot of interesting artifacts. Like me she hates to see the personal mementos of people there and if possible wants to reunite them with family. One day she brought me a simple child’s report card and asked if I could find a family member to return it to.

Jacob Funk Report Card-Buchanan Elementary School, Franklin County PA

Jacob Funk Report Card-Buchanan Elementary School, Franklin County PA

The report card belonged to a little boy named Jacob Funk and in 1933-34 he was a fourth grader at Buchanan Elementary in Chambersburg and appeared to be a good student. Along with it was a small slip from a dentist announcing perfect teeth and a reading list that included of all things “Little Black Sambo” by Helen Bannerman.


Franklin County PA Pupil Reading Circle Report Card

Franklin County PA Pupil Reading Circle Report Card

Census and other records revealed Jacob was the son of Paul M. and Hazel Funk and they lived on East Queen Street in Chambersburg. He had an older brother named David and they both eventually attended Chambersburg Senior High School. Jacob was in the class of 1943 and school yearbooks show him in the Visual Education Club, the Science Club, and Senior Hi-Y (a religious club). He was also in the chorus of the Operetta – “Love Goes South”. The 1942 yearbook I found on Ancestry actually has a note written by him on the Visual Ed Club page next to where he was listed as the Chief Technician. “To a friend and good student that has as many headaches as I. Jake 43′”. 

Navy Construction Battalion Recruiting Poster

Navy Construction Battalion Recruiting Poster

Jacob joined the Navy right after high school in June 1943 and remained in the service until April 1946. As a member of the 107th Naval Construction Battalion or Seabees he had the rank of EM3 (an electrician). He served overseas with the 107th from March 1944 to November 1945. Jake would have spent his 20th birthday just days after arriving on Ebeye Island where the Seabees were tasked with clearing the destruction and Japanese dead the American assault forces left behind. This was their introduction to the work they would be doing for the duration of the war. Clearing the old and building the new. By May the group had built on Ebeye the first American seaplane base in the Marshall Islands. As a member of Company B he then went to Bigej Island and finally Tinian Island where he would remain until the end of the war. He was listed as a member of the second section of the Electrical Shop. The battalion’s entire story can be found in the Log Book of the 107th.

Jacob was back in the states in late November 1945 and left the service April 8, 1946. He returned to his parent’s home where he worked in the family electrical business with his father and older brother. Jacob eventually worked for 30 years at the Scotland School for Veteran’s Children before he retired. He was active in local military service and veteran groups and the 107th Seabees reunions as well as Fireman’s relief and Junior Hose and Truck Company 2 in Chambersburg. He died in 2002 and is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Chambersburg. Jacob’s obituary did not mention a wife or children and his now deceased brother was the only named relative.

John Wayne brought the story of the Seabees to the silver screen in the classic war movie “The Fighting Seabees”. Jacob Funk, the boy from the high school Visual Education Club, was the star of his own movie with the Seabees. One that I’m sure played in his head many times over the years after the war.

The Marriage Certificate

Photo of framed George McKeldin Mary Wells marriage certificate

My mom lived in a historic home in Maryland and liked to use period appropriate furniture and decorations. In one of her antique forays she happened upon a framed marriage certificate. It caught her eye because the couple married in the year her house was built. She purchased the frame and it hung on a wall in her home until she recently moved to a much smaller home. Without enough wall space she offered it to me saying I could remove the certificate and use the frame.

That was my intent when I got it. I thought that if I was going to remove it from its frame I could possibly locate a family member to give it to. Things like this should remain in families. Unlike the old photos you come across in flea markets and antique malls that don’t have names, the certificate did.

The certificate reads: This is to Certify that George E. McKeldin of Baltimore in the State of Maryland and Mary C. Wells of Baltimore in the State of Maryland were by me joined together in Holy Matrimony on the ninth day of August in the year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Five. Robert S. Lowe, Minister.

In my research I learned that Mary was the second daughter of fisherman, John W. Wells, who was born in Virginia. He was listed in a Baltimore directory dated 1860 but I have not found him before that. His wife Mary, was also from Virginia. In 1880 John and Mary along with their two youngest sons are living with their son in law George McKeldin. By that time George and Mary had a 2 year old daughter named Ada. George was a glass blower. His father in law a laborer.

George E. McKeldin was the son of Edward H. McKeldin and Sophia (possibly Wolf). He was most likely the grandson of Joseph McKeldin who arrived in Baltimore in 1810 from Ireland and was naturalized in 1823. Joseph was a grocer in Baltimore with addresses on Eutaw Street at the corner of Whisky Alley and Pratt Street and Eutaw. He left the grocery to his son William when he died in 1834. His wife Mary died in about 1842. 

At some point George’s father, Edward McKeldin, went to Cecil County Maryland where he was employed as a stone-cutter. He and wife Sophia were reportedly married by an itinerant preacher in December 1845 though no record exists. In 1850 they are both in Port Deposit, Cecil County Maryland, although they do not live together. He was living with a group of men and she and their four year old son David live elsewhere probably boarding. In 1851 a Baltimore city directory lists Edward as a stone-cutter living at 127 Columbia and in 1864 at 236 Columbia. Columbia is now Washington Blvd. and is in southwest Baltimore. According to the 1860 census for the 18th Ward they then had six children and George was seven years old. The youngest son James was 4 months old. They would have one more daughter, Mary, born in 1862. No shortage of Marys to keep track of.

Edward McKeldin enlisted and re-enlisted several times during the Civil War. There are quite a few cards for him in his service file on Fold3. He enlisted as a 3rd Sgt. in Co. B of the Baltimore Light Infantry Maryland Volunteers for a period of three years and mustered in on November 21, 1861. He mustered out on May 28, 1862 at age 38 as 4th Sgt. with what appeared to be an injury to his finger. His second enlistment was in June of 1863 as a private in Co. A 2nd Maryland Cavalry for six months. He mustered out on January 26, 1864. According to his file Edward was ill and confined to the US Army Field Hospital at Camden Station in Baltimore for some time in October 1863. He was reported as a deserter and arrested and confined at Ft. McHenry for reportedly leaving the hospital without a pass. His file tells a somewhat different story with the help of his wife’s statement.

The army reported that he left the hospital without a pass on November 4, 1863. Per his wife he was arrested at his home on November 10th, election day. Putting together the pages of his file it appears that his Captain requested a furlough for Edward on October 1, 1863 saying that he had been ill for four weeks and that he also needed to take care of some trouble with the house he recently purchased. Edward had purchased the home of a deceased person and there was some trouble being made about it in his absence. His Captain vouched for him saying he was a good soldier. A statement attributed to Edward after his arrest details that he left the Company at Annapolis on October 5th for a five day furlough and had been in the city drunk and disorderly ever since. He had sold his army issue overcoat and was wearing a civilian coat when arrested and also resisted arrest. The detective arresting him collected a $30 reward.

There is a statement in his file dated February 10, 1864 by his wife Sophia; “My Husband, Edward McKeldin, a private in Captain Bragg’s Co. Six months Cavalry, came up from Annapolis on furlough about six weeks ago. Before his furlough ended he was taken sick and went to Camden St. Military Hospital. He had a pass from the hospital to remain at home but requiring him to report daily at the hospital. He failed to report to the hospital on Election Day. The next morning five persons came to the house, one of whom was a detective, and arrested him and took him to the Fort where he remained until last week when the company was disbanded. The detective who made the arrest was a man by the name of Lafflin.”

This brings us to February 1864 when Edward was reportedly released from Fort McHenry. He must not have held a grudge since surprisingly he once again re-enlists on June 13, 1864 for 100 days as a Private in Co. I, 11th Regiment Maryland Infantry. He is now 40 years old and still a stone-cutter. He was mustered in on June 16th. Sadly Edward died in the battle of Monacacy on July 9, 1864. One card mentions that he lost his accouterments and arms in battle. His wife’s pension application says he died of sunstroke at or near New Market although I did not read this in the cards I found. Edward was buried at Antietam Cemetery in 1867 after his body was removed from it’s original burial location in Frederick Maryland.

Sophia collected a widow’s pension for herself and her minor children and in 1870 she has a Variety Store and lives in the 18th Ward in Baltimore with her five youngest children. George, orphaned at 10 is now 16 years old and a laborer. The eldest son David is a stone-cutter and is now married and lives next door to his mother. In city directories Edward was last seen in 1864 at 236 Columbia (now Washington Blvd.). However I need to note here that Sophia’s address was 236 Austen in her pension file. In 1865/66 Sophia is listed at 360 Ostend which was south of Columbia near the railroad tracks. In 1868/69 she is at the same address and so is son David. By 1875 Sophia, a grocer, lives at 391 S Eutaw Street as does sons George, David and Lewis. In 1878 the address is 415 Eutaw Street where she remains listed until 1886. At that point she may have given up the store and gone to live with family until her death in 1891. She is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery along with several of her children and their families.

This takes us back to George McKeldin and the marriage certificate. He married Mary C. Wells in 1875 and in 1880 we found him living with his in-laws and employed as a glassblower. Sadly George died August 10, 1899 at his home at 1640 S. Charles Street. The next census is in 1900 and Mary is now alone and a widow. She told the census taker she was the mother of six children and three were still living. They were the three sons living with her, William, George R. and Robert H. McKeldin. In 1900 William is a druggists’ apprentice but the other two are in school. She is taking in boarders at the home they lived in when George died, 1640 S. Charles Street. At the same address is her widowed sister Alice Eberhard and children with their mother Mary Wells.

In 1910 they are at the same address but her sons are now working and there are no more roomers. William is a polisher at a gun factory and the other two sons work for the railroad. Her mother Mary is now living with her and her sister is still there with her children.

In 1920 Mary is living with her sister at 1640 and enumerated by her middle name as Catherine McKeldin. Her son William, still single, also lives there. I found a passenger list with his name for a ship from Liverpool arriving in New York in December 1917. He may have been working on the ship or returning from War.

In 1930 Mary is living at 1638 Charles Street, the house next to her sister. She is rooming with another family along with her now divorced son Robert, a steamboat engineer and married son William a polisher at a furniture store but no other family members. William indicates that he has been married four years. I’m not sure where the wife is. William died in 1932.

In 1940 she is renting at 1415 S. Charles Street and living with her son Robert still a Steamboat Engineer. Mary died on July 6, 1941 and her son Robert died on April 21, 1942.

Mary and George McKeldin’s son George Ralph McKeldin married Helen Hoffman on September 7, 1910, had two sons and lived beyond 1942.

I began my trip down this particular rabbit hole with nothing more than a curiosity about the marriage certificate in the frame. I had no idea that the family name and location in Baltimore could lead me to anything but an ordinary family. I thought I might find a relative I could give the certificate to but did not. I did however find out that George McKeldin had a nephew who became the Governor of Maryland. He was the youngest son of his youngest brother James A. McKeldin and wife Dora. His name was Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin.

Theodore R. McKeldin served as the 53rd Governor of Maryland from 1951-1959. He was Governor when my mother moved to Baltimore. He also served twice as Mayor of Baltimore. He came from a family of simple blue collar laborers and remained close to his roots. If you visit the memorial page for Edward H. McKeldin on Find a Grave you will see a photo of the Governor kneeling by his grandfather’s headstone in Antietam Cemetery.

This brings to a close some of the story of a working class Baltimore family that was hidden in a framed marriage certificate.  It still sits in the frame and I’ve decided to leave it there for now. This small fragment of one couple’s life that survived the passage of time deserves to be preserved that way.