Friday, August 8, 2014

Car Conversation

William Edgar Yeagle's World War I draft registration card...
after the marriage but before the divorce.
On my way home from the office last week I decided to take a chance, pick up the phone, and follow up on a letter I had sent the previous Monday. It was sent in the hope of finding a few missing pieces on my mom’s side of my family tree. After a few rings a woman picked up the phone clearly not recognizing the number. On the other end of the line was a woman who was a bit surprised by my correspondence but happy to share everything that she knew about my great grandfather, William Edgar Yeagle.

My great grandparents were married in 1914 and soon after had my grandmother. Within a few years they had divorced and not long after that, in about 1920, my great grandfather had remarried and had another daughter, Alma. The woman I spoke with was Alma’s daughter who, as it turns out, was raised by her grandfather and still lives in the same house that he did many years ago. She knew her grandfather well and was raised by him when her father left. She knew that he was married once before but she was told a complete different story as to what happened in the first marriage. As it turns out, after my grandmother refused to have anything to do with him or her half-sister Alma, my grandmother’s name was forgotten. Only the story remained as to what caused the marriage to dissolve.

The facts passed down in my family were rather clear cut… William was an abusive drunk disliked by my great grandmother’s family. Having a child did not change that fact and, in the end, divorce was the only option. After that, my great grandmother took her child and moved in with her father. He would serve as the male figure in my grandmother’s life until his death in 1941 at the age of 92 (more about him in a later post).

It should be no surprise that this was not the same story that was passed down in William Yeagle’s second family. The story that I was told over the phone was that William owned a bakery but was working too many hours for my great grandmother. So that he wouldn’t work so much, she forced him to sell the bakery. Not long after that she left him despite his efforts. Not liked by my great grandmother’s family, he was cut off from his daughter.

So, the only commonality between the stories is that my great grandmother’s family didn’t like him. But let’s take a step back and look at the other facts that we have. While there is a William Yeagle who owned and operated a bakery during that period of time it was not the man that we are discussing in this post. It was his uncle, William Ludwig Yeagle. Furthermore, in every census record and directory listing from 1900-1952 at no point was he ever listed as a baker. Seems like that part of the second story doesn’t really hold up.

What about the version of the story that was passed down in my family? Well, in those same census and directory records, interspersed between various other occupations, we can see that on several occasions William Edgar Yeagle lists his occupation as Bartender (basically be bookended the Prohibition Era with official listings as a bartender). Makes you wonder what he was really selling as a ‘salesman’ during that time of illegality. While that alone is not enough to verify this version of the fact I tend to believe my family’s story. Why? Because of a simple fact that my three times great grandfather was a Philadelphia Police Officer for 54 years and there was probably good reason for him not liking him.

While I look forward to meeting this woman and discussing some of the missing branches in our tree, I do so carefully knowing that many of the initial ‘facts’ already don’t add up. Of course, this is part of the process when researching your family. Sometimes you will have two sets of information completely different from one another and investigate to see which option makes the most sense. It is all part of the process of filling in and pruning the family tree.