[Insert opening line about how I’m finally updating this blog after almost three years, blah blah blah…]
So in the 7+ years since I first posted about my great-grandfather, Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell, on this VERY sporadically-updated blog, I still haven’t managed to track down his parents.
I DID find out awhile back that he died the day after Christmas, 1922 in Portland, Oregon. I’m not sure what he was doing in Portland, but presumably he’d been there for at least a few months; my grandmother was born in Portland in July of that same year. She wasn’t even half a year old yet when her father died, and he was only 25. Which is sad on both counts.
It also explains, though, why none of his descendants seem to know very much about him. Given his young age when he died, I highly doubt that he has any other descendants aside from my grandmother, my dad and his brothers and sister (only one of whom, my Uncle Steven, is still living), my four siblings, and my eight paternal first cousins. Of all of us, I think I’m the only one to really delve into genealogy — and very likely the first to make any sort of effort to find out just who Thomas V.V. Cornwell was and where he came from (with the possible exception of my Grandma Tilly; I’m sure she must have been curious about her father. She died in 2000, and if only I’d started researching my family at a younger age; she could have helped me solve this mystery!).
Well, thanks to a kind soul who recently gifted me the 23andMe DNA test, I’ve finally (after literally years of trying) come close to solving it myself. At the very least, I think I’ve found the names of his grandparents — and possibly even the name of his mother.
For those unfamiliar with 23andMe, included among your test results is a list of other 23andMe users who share at least a small percentage of your DNA. Depending on which of your family members have signed up, this could mean a parent, grandparent, sibling, or cousin (anywhere from a first to a fifth or sixth cousin) might show up on your list.
In my case, the list includes my Uncle Steven (the same uncle who happens to be Thomas Cornwell’s grandson), two of his children (aka my first cousins), a few second or second-once-removed cousins, a small handful of third cousins, and the rest are more distant (most of them look to be fourth cousins from glancing at their profiles).
Needless to say, while I might come across a shared ancestor surname here and there, I don’t personally know or even recognize the full names of the majority of my more distant cousins. However, I do recognize the second cousins and (from my research over the years) even the names of most of my third cousins.
But there are two people on my list who show as “predicted third cousins” whose names I didn’t initially recognize, and their profiles immediately intrigued me. On our “mutual relatives” lists, both of their profiles indicate that my uncle is also a fairly close relative; one says that, like me, he’s a third cousin (so perhaps I’m more accurately this person’s third cousin once removed), and the other has my uncle showing as a second cousin — meaning that he and my uncle would have the same great-great grandparents.
I know that these two people are not Tillinghasts. For one thing, three of my Tillinghast second cousins who’ve signed up for 23andMe don’t show as their “mutual relatives”, whereas my Uncle Steven’s kids (my first cousins, whose great-grandfather also happens to be Thomas V.V. Cornwell) do. Plus, thanks to the help of Todd Lawrence, who sent me a huge file quite awhile back, I’m familiar with almost all of the descendants of Isaac Fred and Edith (Brundage) Tillinghast (my paternal 2nd great-grandparents) and the two third cousins in question are not in that file. I’d never encountered their names before 23andMe.
They’re definitely from my dad’s side of the family, and yet they’re definitely not Tillinghasts. I don’t believe that they’re Hamptons, either (my grandmother’s mother was Hazel Hampton, and there’s a decent amount of information out there on her family — who were from California, but based mostly in Shasta and Trinity Counties).
So that means that they have to be connected to me through… Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell.
Well, as soon as I came across their profiles, of course I immediately contacted both of them. One of them (whose profile says that he has grandparents from Alameda County; Thomas Cornwell was born in Oakland) responded right away. He doesn’t know much about his family history, but he was able to give me some surnames: Foley, Klenck, Innd, Jagoe, and a few others.
The other person hasn’t responded yet, but his profile shows his birth year as 1936. Given that and his name, I was able to trace him via Ancestry records to a Mary G. Dorman or Dornom (whom I believe was his grandmother). According to the 1880 United States Federal Census, her mother was ‘Cecelia Jagoe‘… noted in brackets as ‘Cecelia Innd‘ (well, the Census actually spells these names J-a-g-o and I-u-n-d but misspellings on Censuses are common, and most other sources that I’ve seen with these names show the spellings that I used).
At this point, I’m a little confused by how everyone fits into the Innd/Jagoe families (for example, there are at least three Cecelias; Cecelia Innd Jagoe’s mother’s name on the 1880 Census also shows as Cecelia Innd, and the younger Cecelia also had a daughter named Cecelia! Plus, there’s a Robert Henry Jagoe, Sr. and Robert Henry Jagoe, Jr., both of whom appear to have married women named Elizabeth. A random person’s Ancestry tree suggested that one of these Elizabeths — sister to Cecelia Innd Jagoe — was actually the mother to Mary Dorman/Dornom, although I’m inclined to trust a Census more than an Ancestry Family Tree).
Despite the confusion over who’s who — given that both of my “predicted third cousins” (per 23andMe) are also each other‘s third cousins, and that both of them descend from the Innd and Jagoe families, I think it’s safe to say that I’m also an Innd and/or Jagoe.
And given that the Innds and Jagoes were both in the San Francisco/Alameda County region in the 1890’s, when Thomas Cornwell was born — and that their names don’t fit anywhere else on my tree — I think it’s also safe to say that he, too, was an Innd and/or Jagoe.
So how and where does “Cornwell” (or “Van Voltenberg Cornwell”, although I think Van Voltenberg might just have been an unusual middle name) fit in? That, I still don’t know.
But I haven’t found a record in any Census whatsoever of a Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell, or a Thomas Van Voltenberg, or a Thomas Cornwell (at least not one born in Oakland in 1897), or even a George Thomas Van Voltenberg or Cornwell (the name I was first given for him by my uncle was George Thomas Van Batenburg; however, the few sources I’ve found with his name — none of which are Censuses — all suggest that he went by Thomas). I’ve long suspected that he might have been born with a different name, or at least a different surname.
Now, after discovering the Innd and Jagoe families, I have a theory about his mother (and about why his last name might have changed). Which is nothing more than a guess, but I think it’s as good a guess as any!
Cecelia Innd Jagoe (whom, I learned in my searching, was the daughter of a Thomas Innd — perhaps another clue?), the same Cecelia listed in the 1880 Census as the married mother of Mary Dorman/Dornom, later turns up in the 1900 Census again as ‘Celia Jagoe’, but this time divorced.
Mary isn’t in the later Census (it’s possible that she was married by that time) but five others, all male, show as sons of Celia Jagoe. Two of them share her last name (including a “Robert H.” — Robert Henry, the Third?). The other three boys have the surname Litredge; at least, that’s how it’s spelled on the Census, although when I found Cecelia’s 1910 obituary, it suggested that their last name was actually Leaderich.
The youngest Leaderich/Litredge on the 1900 Census is a Thomas, and I think it’s certainly possible that he’s my great-grandfather. The family lived in Oakland at the time; again, my great-grandfather was born there just three years earlier.
More tellingly, this Thomas shows a birth year of 1897 — the same year as my great-grandfather’s. The month is different, so that could mean that they’re not the same person, after all (Thomas Leaderich/Litredge’s says February, and my great-grandfather’s was in April, according to his World War I Draft Registration Card). However, this also could have been a simple mistake on the census-taker’s part (especially considering that there’s no day attached to the February, just the month. And that after I looked at the actual Census and not just Ancestry’s transcription, it appears that his brother — listed a line above him — did have an April birthday. So perhaps the census-taker just mixed the two brothers up).
It’s also possible that Thomas V.V. Cornwell might not have known his true birthday, because…
My theory is that Cecelia H. Innd (aka Cecelia Jagoe) was my 2nd great-grandmother, and that her son Thomas Leaderich/Litredge was adopted or taken in at a young age by the Cornwell family. She died in 1910, when he would’ve been 13 years old; so this could have happened then, or it could have happened earlier (curiously, her obituary specifically mentions the two Leaderich/Litredge’s who show on the 1900 Census with Thomas, but does NOT mention Thomas. Maybe he was already adopted or fostered out by the time she died; maybe because he was the youngest?).
Since Cecelia was divorced (and I can’t find any record of her actually being married to a Leaderich or Litredge), and listed as the head of her household in the 1900 Census, Thomas might never have even met his father.
I also can’t find any later record of a Thomas Leaderich or Litredge — just that 1900 Census — possibly because he went on to be known as Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell?
OR it could just be that there really was a Thomas Leaderich/Litredge born in February of 1897 that lived in Alameda County, and my great-grandfather was a separate person born Thomas Cornwell two months later in Oakland. And Thomas L. just wasn’t named in Cecelia’s obituary (and doesn’t show up in any other records that can be found online) because he died young, or something.
Again, these are all just guesses. However, there’s some proof in my very own … er, saliva (for the uninitiated, although anyone reading a genealogy blog likely already knows this, that’s how companies like 23andMe test your DNA), which for-sure links me to two different (not-immediately-related) people who descended from the Innd and Jagoe families; and by process of elimination it appears that Thomas V.V. Cornwell must be connected to these families in some way or another, as well.
Cecelia Innd Jagoe might not be his mother — but the location and the son named Thomas born the same year as my great-grandfather Thomas both fit.
The brick wall appears to (finally) be crumbling!
Anyhow, I’ll update again (hopefully, not three years from now) if and when I find out more. And I’ll leave you with a photo of Thomas V.V.’s Cornwell’s grave at Lincoln Memorial Park & Funeral Home in Happy Valley, OR (which I was able to visit for the first time earlier this year).
Maybe the next time I visit, I’ll be able to tell him that I’ve solved the mystery of his background!
It’s not very nice to call my own great grandfather a brick wall. But in genealogy terms, that’s exactly what he is: a man of mystery, whose branch on the family tree remains inaccessible, hidden beyond a cryptic ancestral barricade…
I have his name (sort of). I have a photo. And — provided the name is correct — I have a World War I Draft Registration Card. (He’s also referenced, along with my great grandmother, in a newspaper article that I found archived at Ancestry Dot Com.)
Aside from that… nothing. You’d think that with a name, birthdate and location (courtesy of the World War I Draft Registration Card) I’d be able to dig deeper, and find out where the heck my great granddad came from! But so far, no such luck.
So let me tell you more about him, and perhaps somebody reading this can give me some ideas on where to look further. Who knows — maybe one day, one of his other descendants (i.e., a long-lost 2nd cousin or cousin-once-removed) who just happens to have a treasure trove of information (or any information) will stumble across this and share!
The great grandfather in question is my paternal grandma’s father. I’ve actually written about him before on this blog, and even shared his picture. Here it is again:
Handsome, wasn’t he?
As far as his name goes, my Uncle Steven filled me in on that last year; George Thomas Van Batenburg was the name my uncle gave me. Upon searching for that very name, I found… zilch. I tried different spellings. I tried searching without the “Thomas”, then without the “George.” I was able to trace the surname “Van Batenburg” back to the Netherlands, but otherwise, my efforts proved fruitless.
However, for reasons I’m still not certain of, my grandmother’s maiden name was not Van Batenburg, but Cornwell. I’ve heard vague statements from family members that she “made up” the Cornwell, but none of them ever elaborated as to why. (She was raised by her grandparents, so one might think the “Cornwell” came from them, but no; her grandfather — actually a “step”-grandfather — was named Grafton Baber, and her grandmother was born Clara Halcumb. Her biological grandfather wasn’t the one who raised her, but for the record was named Herbert Hampton. No Cornwell anywhere in their line.)
So I tried searching “George Thomas Van Batenburg” along with “Cornwell”, and voila! I eventually found that World War I Draft Registration Card — actually for a Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell. Despite the slight variation in the name, I definitely believe there’s a connection:
1.) According to the card, Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell was born April 24, 1897 in Oakland, California (he still lived in Alameda County at the time he filled out the card). This birthdate would place him at 4 years older than my great grandmother (born Hazel C. Hampton in Shasta, California in 1901) so that seems appropriate. It also fits with my grandmother’s age (she was born in 1922); the card indicates that he would’ve been 25 when she was born.
2.) More tellingly, the card is consistent with the newspaper article I mentioned several paragraphs ago. What article? If I was more blog-savvy, I’d link to it; someday, I hope to transcribe it, because it’s an interesting (albeit short) story. Basically, in 1920, one of the Oakland newspapers published a front-page blurb about a custody battle involving a baby girl named “Faith Elizabeth” — who happened to be my grandma’s half-sister. (I’m positive of this based on family anecdotes, pictures, and other resources.) According to the news blurb, the baby was born Faith Elizabeth Ruble; her biological father, Mr. Ruble, was fighting for custody against the baby’s mother and her then-husband… aka, Thomas and Hazel Cornwell.
There’s no question that the “Thomas and Hazel Cornwell” mentioned in the story were, in fact, my great grandparents. (Meanwhile, if you’re wondering about the custody battle, I’m not sure what happened there; Faith, like my grandma, eventually spent at least a portion of her childhood raised by her grandparents, Grafton and Clara Baber.) Again, though, the details on that World War I Draft Registration Card fit with the details presented in the news story — including that my great grandfather went by “Thomas.”
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find anything else on him. No family trees, no birth records, no death records… nothing!
On the other hand, I’ve found out quite a bit more about my grandma’s mother, Hazel (for a long time, she was almost as mysterious as my great grandpa; however, it turns out that my father even remembers her. Specifically, he remembers her as “fat and crabby” and that she used to bring him books every time she visited. The “fat and crabby” part might not sound very flattering — but if you know my dad, you know that anybody who made a point to bring him books couldn’t have been too bad a person!)
At some point, Hazel married a man named Peter Richtschied; for the rest of her life, she was Hazel Richtschied. I’m honestly not for sure if she and my great grandfather were ever actually married. If they were, it doesn’t seem that they stayed married for very long. Of course, I can’t find any marriage records to confirm one way or the other!
As for “Cornwell”, if my great grandfather truly is the man on the World War I Draft Registration Card (which I’m fairly confident is the case), that indicates that my grandmother wasn’t the one who made up “Cornwell”; it goes back at least as far as her father. That said, searches for “George/Thomas Cornwell”, without the Van Batenburg or Van Voltenberg, sadly haven’t turned up anything, either.
The only other possibly-relevant bit of information: Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell listed an “Annie Cornwell” (a sister-in-law) on the draft registration card as his “closest living relative” (this card was, of course, filled out several years before my grandma or her sister came along; I’m guessing he hadn’t met my great grandmother yet, who wasn’t even a teenager at the time!).
If anybody has any suggestions on cracking this mystery, I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, according to my clock, Tuesday’s just a couple of minutes away… I’d better hurry and push ‘post’ before Mystery Monday is over!