Sherman Foutz | A Tragic Life & Mysterious Descendants
Let’s see, where were we? Ah, yes. In October, in the middle of a multi-part series on my grandfather’s high school football stardom, I started another: about my great-great grandfather, Jonathan Foutz – his family and descendants.
The first post ran on Oct. 18. In it, you can read about Jonathan Foutz‘s birth, marriage and first fifty years or so in Harrison County, Ohio. He carried on with the family livelihood, farming, and raised a mess of kids before moving the youngest of them, along with wife Rebecca, to Washington D.C. with his oldest son, Sherman. In 1900, he died. Whether in Washington, or back in Ohio, and of what we don’t know.
The second post ran a day later, Oct. 19, and told of my great-great grandmother Rebecca Caldwell Foutz‘s birth, childhood and the years after her husband died, up until her own death in 1915. She was a resident of Dover, Ohio by then. Which is where my great-grandfather, Vance Cleveland Foutz, and three succeeding generations of his family called home.
But we’ll get to Vance eventually.
For now, we pick up the thread with the oldest child of Jonathan Foutz and Rebecca Caldwell Foutz. The whole lineup, remember, comprised Sherman, Lila, Rachel, Ida, John, Charles and Vance.
A Promising Life, Cut Short
Sherman has received a lot of ink in this blog’s short history.
The very first post detailed Sherman Foutz’s life and death.
A post last summer shared a picture of Sherman, as well as the obituary detailing his death from tuberculosis in 1915.
Gradually, we worked around to Sherman’s widow, Elizabeth (Wilson) Foutz and the mysterious fates of her children, Grace and Oscar, as well as the presence of a grandson and foster daughter.
The story of Sherman Foutz is so captivating because of its early promise, ultimate tragedy, and our severed connections to his descendants, distant in time and geography. Sherman was born, like other Foutzes in his generation, on the farm — probably at his granddad Gideon’s, on Sept. 3, 1867. He married a local girl, Elizabeth Wilson, and married young — he was 19 and she 21 when they were wed Aug. 11, 1887.
But Sherman went on to carve out a life of prominence none of his farming kin could match. He was probably the first of my ancestors to receive college-level training; in his case, the New Hagerstown Academy, in nearby Carroll County. He made a name for himself as a fire insurance salesman, and made important connections through the Knights of the Maccabees and other fraternal organizations.
Sherman rose to prominence with his appointment as a clerk to the U.S. Treasury Department during the second term of President Grover Cleveland. He was barely in his 30s. Following his father’s death in 1900, Sherman moved his wife and two children, Oscar and Grace, to Berks County, Pennsylvania, where he assumed ever greater duties with the Maccabees, rising to supervisor for Pennsylvania’s eastern district, growing its membership from 92 to several thousand.
The family lived at a prominent address blocks from the river in downtown Harrisburg. Daughter Grace was sent to the tony all-girls’ Irving College, in Mechanicsburg. And every visit Sherman made to Ohio in those days was accompanied by news reports of his homecoming. But that prominence was destined to be derailed by tragedy, leaving mysteries in its wake.
Were the Kids All Right?
An enduring question about my Foutz ancestors is why death came for my great-great grandfather Jonathan so young, at 55, when his own father and grandfather — and many others in the family, had lived to 89 and 83, respectively. But Sherman was fated to greet death even younger. He contracted tuberculosis at 47, and even though he had the means to seek a cure at a Denver, Colo. sanitarium, he died that spring.
What happened to Sherman’s family? Son Oscar, born Dec. 17, 1888, was not listed as a survivor. And the 1910 census and at least one news report hint at some trouble for Sherman’s oldest. The September 17, 1910 edition of The Gettysburg Times reported that Oscar W. Foutz, of Harrisburg, after receiving his pay as a soldier in the National Guard, went to Allentown with three other men for a night on the town. While making the rounds, a man named William Croghan crossed their paths, was hit with a club and relieved of his valuables. One of the men in Oscar’s party plead guilty and was sentenced to 2 years. Oscar also confessed and got nine months in prison.
By 1910, according to the federal census, Oscar was also a father. Berks County records his marriage on Jan. 1, 1908 to either Florence Hartman or Annie Schollenberger. But the Sherman and Elizabeth Foutz household shows only Oscar and a grandson, Ralph, born in 1908. Ralph turns up again in a widowed Lizzie’s household in 1920 — but with no father or mother.
What became of Oscar? Did he ever serve his prison sentence? Did he pass away before his father? And how long did his apparently shotgun marriage last? Did it end with divorce? Or abandonment? Or perhaps, the death of Annie or Florence? (And which one was it — Annie or Florence?)
By 1920, Ralph Foutz isn’t the only youngster benefiting from Lizzie Foutz’s care. A foster-daughter, Catherine, is listed in the 1920 and 1930 censuses, which show Sherman’s widow working as a cook for the Elks Home and running a boardinghouse, at two addresses a far remove from their old residence. How did the Sherman Foutz family come to know Catherine? And when did they adopt her?
The 1920 census lists Catherine’s birth year as about 1906; the 1930 census about 1910. Survivors listed in Grace’s 1970 obituary include Catherine as a foster sister, with a married (or maiden?) name of Rutt, as well as several “nieces and nephews”. The obit lists Catherine’s residence as Lititz, Pa., and I’ve found a July 1985 death record for a Catherine Rutt, born Jan. 12, 1906 and living in Reading, Pa. But as for her husband, or any surviving children, I’ve come up empty.
However, we do have clues about what might have become of Sherman’s grandson, Ralph. He appears in several city directories in Harrisburg throughout the 1930s and 1940s. And in a bit of a leap forward, the Sept. 10, 1987 obituary of Virginia Clara (Henson) Foutz, appearing in The Harrisburg Patriot-News, lists her as the widow of Ralph F. Foutz, a former resident of Harrisburg, and a former employee of the L. Wohl Children’s Dress Factory. (In the 1930 census, Ralph’s foster sister, Catherine, is employed as a dress stitcher.) Their children include Agnes, Arthur, Catherine, Charles, Frances, Nicholas and… Grace, as well as 31 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, at the time of Virginia’s death.
Could abandoned Ralph have gone on to produce so many descendants? It’s a happy thought. But unconfirmed happiness, since Pennsylvania enforces a virtual lock-down on vital records available to the public.
As for Grace, she appears to have lived a long, but childless, life not 12 miles from where her father was born. By December of the year Sherman dies, she has eloped in West Virginia with Fred R. Chaney, a man who may be her age or several years her junior, as their marriage certificate and several censuses and even their gravestones in Longview Cemetery (where Sherman and Lizzie are also buried) fail to agree.
According to her 1970 obituary, Grace (born two days after her father’s birthday, Sept. 5, 1890) dies just six months shy of her 80th birthday. She teaches 17 years in the Feed Springs School, belongs to the Berea Nazarene Church, and is a member of many civic and women’s organizations in the Twin Cities (of Uhrichsville and Dennison).
Sadly, aside from letters between my grandma Erma Foutz and her sisters-in-law, which mention a niece of Vance’s from Uhrichsville “visiting often”, memory of those visits has now faded — if it remains in living memory at all. And evidence of Sherman Foutz’s living descendants is uncertain, at best.