2023 Feb 03 Fri

Another Brickwall Broken

Another Brickwall Broken
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On my dad’s side, a great-grandmother had a brother who left home and eventually ended up in Chicago sometime before 1920. Years turned into decades and eventually a lifetime later. He was never heard from again. Anyone who knew him passed away more than 50 years ago without ever knowing what happened to him. He was their brother and their friend.

I’d been looking for clues to his whereabouts for 5 years. Many (and I mean, MANY) researchers had spent years looking through records for him. Was he lost a sea? Entangled with the mob and disappeared? A random murder in a Chicago alley? There was an air of romance that surrounded the mystery of his disappearance. Any researcher who put a little bit of effort into it simply said that he had gone to Chicago and it was left at that. Even if they were related to him, they did not seem to want to pursue the more difficult fruit, but grab at whatever was easy to find and leave it at that.

I had called Chicago libraries, went through their films, their records, sometimes even what archived information I could get. I looked up buildings and addresses found in a census record and a WWI draft registration from 1917. I made more phone calls, went through newspapers, and even went through what few cold case or unsolved persons files of people who were murdered in Chicago for years. I managed (after a long painstaking effort to discern his employer as of 1917 due to his horrific handwriting) to even look up one of his employers, who happens to still be in business and talked to them about any possible records. I went through ship logs and records of men lost at sea on the Great Lakes. I went through memorials, numerous Great Lake area historical and genealogical societies. Everywhere I looked, it was a dead-end. I tried state death records, but there were too many by his same name (which was a common name combination, like John Jones would be) to really discern which record was the right one. I bought and paid for the ones I thought might be him, but none of them were.

I had run out of ideas. I had run out of steam. I had run out of thoughts and places. I had looked everywhere and in everything possible. I went through far more records than I even mentioned here covering a span more than 30 years looking for any possible trace of his whereabouts. I turned up with nothing at every time.

Last night, through Ancestry and Find-a-grave, I found him to be buried in Illinois in a state hospital cemetery where access is not permissible. He wasn’t in Chicago or even Cook County. The birth date and named matched him, and now I know when and where he died. There was apparently no wife and no children to be found. This is one mystery that’s been solved. Another brickwall broken down. While I’m glad to finally know what happened to him over 90 years after his disappearance, I can’t help but feel sad for knowing he died alone, without family or heirs, in a state hospital (asylum) at age 73 and his family never knew.

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