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.


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 Need to Know and Share

I don’t think I have found a subject I am not interested in learning more about. History is my favorite subject to investigate and dive into and it’s hard to find something without a history. I don’t even need to be directly connected to the event, person or topic for it to interest me. I’ve followed the trail of an old marriage certificate, a letter, a newspaper story, a WWII missing crew report, a song, as well as my own genealogy and that of others.

One thing will often lead to another and before you know it I’m so deep into the rabbit hole that I find it hard to get back out. Most of the time I never get to the absolute end of the path I’m led down but I learn a lot along the way and a lot of it is worth sharing.

Everyone has a story and so often the only ones that get told are those that had the family with the means to record them and share them. For every story we hear there are countless others that never get told. I am mostly interested in these stories. They should be told.