Saturday, May 08, 2010

My Brickwall: John's Mysterious Disappearance

After 1880, John Platts completely disappears from anything I can find. Without definite proof, there are several things that could have happened, but first, it is clear that the family moved Lockport, NY in 1882. However, I have not been able to track where they went. My theories on what happened to John:

(a) John was actually living with the family but not working from 1888 to 1893 when only Sarah is listed as head of household. While this is possible, it is not probable. The thinking of the time was to list all adults over 16 in the household, and that even if sick and unable to work, John was still head of household. It is rare that a woman would take this position if her husband was still alive.

(b) very shortly after the family moved, John dies. This would be someone's first assumption, but there is evidence to the contrary. Mainly the Lockport directories, which list Sarah Platts but not as a widow until 1893. Typically, if a woman was a widow, it is listed as such and there were many examples of this throughout the directories (so it was directory protocol to list widows when they knew).

(c) John was separated from the family while looking for work. This is a typical pattern for families during hard times: the head of the family goes out looking for work in a place where he has heard they are hiring, he gets a job and establishes himself and sends for his family. In this scenario, John would be looking for work from at least 1887 (when the directory took information for the 1888 directory where Sarah is first listed alone), until his death sometime in 1892 (when the directory took information for the 1893 directory when Sarah is first listed as a widow).

(d) John abandoned his family. There is a family rumor that this happened, although my father-in-law heard it was about his grandfather, Albert Platts. Albert is John and Sarah's son, and my research shows (and I'll be posting in future blogs) he was living with his family right up until his death. So the rumor was probably not about Albert, but may have been about John. Given that he was not finding consistent work, he had 8 children and a wife to care for, the economics of the time were hard and his expertise was being replaced by newer technology, and the possibility of drink, it is not hard to imagine that someone might be overwhelmed and walk away. It happened more times than we would like to think, and was easier than it would be today. There were no social security numbers or computer tracking; one could easily change their name or just walk off. I am currently looking for advertisements in Niagara County or Ontario papers regarding John Platts to see if this was the case. The wife or husband (women ran away too!) would have to advertise a missing person to see if any information could be found. If none was forth-coming, after a certain number of years (varied depending on the laws where you lived), abandonment could be claimed and a divorce granted. I am looking for that paperwork too. Rather than state "divorced," which was scandalous, many claimed to be widowed.
     Obviously a death certificate or news article could give us a lot of information, and I will continue to look for it, and will certainly post it when I find it!

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Hi, my name is Sandy and I am a direct descendant of Charles and Phillipina Scheel. My gr grandmother was Phillipina (1855-1938)she was married to Frederick Gammel (1855-1932). Was thrilled to see all the information you had on them.