Surviving Foutz Son Lost to History
Genealogy — thorough, mystery-revealing genealogy, anyway — never unfolds in a straight chronology.
Our look into the latest revelations of the lives of my great-great uncle Sherman Foutz’s family continues this week with a bit of family history time travel. His elusive son Oscar Foutz is today’s focus.
Like life, in which we age in a progression of days and weeks and years, but bounce back and forth in our memories, the time-travel leaps of an active, living mind, genealogy doesn’t reveal its deeper secrets by merely starting at birth and ticking off milestones until death, burial, fill-in-the-blank on the tree.
You often have to start at the end of a life to understand the relative you’re researching, the places they’ve lived, the things they’ve done, the people they’ve loved. Obituaries are — usually — rich troves of the essentials you need to merely confirm that who you’re trying to get to know is, in fact, the family member you’re looking for: birth date, parents, hometown, occupation, spouse, surviving children and siblings, those who preceded them in death.
Filling in the blanks, and ticking off those necessary confirmations, means flipping back and forward through multiple sources to reveal a life lived long after it has ended: birth certificates, census records, draft cards, marriage certificates, gravestones, newspaper clippings.
Often, if you can’t start at the end of a life, you lose the threads which connect you, through history, to its beginning, not to mention its meaningful middle.
For a long time, I’d assumed Oscar Foutz, nephew of my great-grandfather Vance Foutz, had died even before his father, Sherman, succumbed to tuberculosis in 1915 at a too-young 47.
The main reason? Sherman’s yellowed obituary from that April, which my great-grandfather still possessed when he died some 53 years later, lists only his wife and daughter, Grace, as survivors.
Whereabouts of Wife and Sons Murky
Adding to Oscar’s challenge as genealogical cipher, are the odd notations in censuses — and his eventual, utter absence from these records.
Jump back 5 years from Sherman’s death. The 1910 census spotlights the family in its Harrisburg prominence.
Living at 1908 N. Third St., the household is headed by a 23-years-married Sherman and wife Elizabeth. Oscar, 21, has worked the entire year as a railroad fireman. Grace, 19, is out of school, but not employed.
And there, a bit of the cryptic: A 1-year-old grandson, Ralph, is also among the household. And Oscar is listed as married two years. But his wife is not living with the Sherman Foutz family.
At first, this led me to wonder if Ralph’s mother — Oscar’s wife — may have died young, perhaps in childbirth. Though, if that were the case, why would Oscar be listed as married two years and not widowed?
Over the last few years, I filled in some of the gaps, discovering Oscar’s marriage to Florence Hartman in September 1908 (after applying for marriage Jan. 1 that year — Ralph was born Dec. 19); discovering the birth of a second son, Harry Sherman, in March 1910; Florence’s visiting Oscar at a National Guard camp in July 1911.
But if finding Florence missing from Oscar and Ralph’s home two years into marriage is puzzling in 1910, by 1920 both parents — and Harry Sherman, for that matter — have vanished from the usually helpful census map.
Son Oscar a Solider, then a Ghost
Skipping five years after Sherman’s death, the 1920 census finds 11-year-old Ralph Foutz living in the care of his grandmother, Sherman’s widow, Elizabeth.
A foster daughter, 14-year-old Catherine, is also listed, and Grace is listed, but then crossed out. Further research turned up Grace’s marriage 8 months after Sherman’s death to Fred Chaney, in what looks like a West Virginia elopement since no family is listed. The couple turn up in Uhrichsville, Ohio, near Sherman and Elizabeth’s birthplace, in the 1920 census. So why is Grace mistakenly entered (and first reported) in the Harrisburg household?
More and more curious.
The family by 1920 has changed addresses, living now at 59 North Tenth St., where they host two boarders and Elizabeth works as a cook for the Elks Home. Harry Sherman is not listed; nor is Oscar; nor is Florence.
What happened to Ralph’s family? With Sherman’s death such a tragic, distracting shadow in my research, I wondered if a September 1910 Gettysburg Times articleindicated trouble for the family.
The article 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.
Now, Florence would visit him in National Guard camp the next year, indicating, it seems, Oscar’s reinstatement and the family’s continued unity. Though where was she in 1920? Where was son Harry Sherman? And what became of Oscar Foutz?
Did Oscar succumb to tuberculosis like his father? One of Sherman’s (and my great-grandfather Vance’s) nephews, Karl Coleman, also dies of tuberculosis a month prior to Sherman back in Ohio (in the home of Vance). Did Florence and the baby die of it as well?
Reading tea leaves, 100 years distant, is an imprecise business. Death, an easy explanation, can distract. And incomplete records fail to illuminate, and instead lead astray.
In my research this winter, suddenly, an open door. Oscar lived.
Obituaries are often preceded by shorter death announcements. The same was true of Sherman Foutz’s death, only recently discovered. As reported in the Tuesday, April 6, 1915 edition of the Harrisburg Times, Oscar is not only listed as a survivor, but living, by then in Arizona!
What do we know of Oscar — and the rest of Sherman Foutz’s family and descendants — in the years that follow? More to come….