Posts Tagged With: Harrisburg

Sherman Foutz: Contrasting Obits Still Yield Clues


Sherman S. Foutz

Second Great-Uncle Sherman S. Foutz

More than One Way to Relate Life and Death

When my wife and I encounter the inevitable errors in daily newspapers — or, beginning our career as reporters, lapse into them ourselves — we often trot out my teasing twist on a saying (from somewhere): “History went and got itself up in a great… big… damn… hur… ray.”

To put it more coarsely, in the course of reporting a story and turning it around on a daily news cycle: shit happens.

Bad enough when this is part of the fluid daily record, working up dispatches on city council meetings and business transactions and arrest warrants and base hits. Somehow, pathetically, worse still when publishing those items submitted by the public for posterity, for the milestone sections of births, graduations, weddings, funerals.

In my first gig as entertainment and features writer for the Sandusky Register, I also manned the Saturday obit desk. And it was impressed upon me — right away — to follow a template, type it up slowly and triple-check my work.

Oh, and when gathering the info yourself, never to trust a single-only, no matter how well-meant, source. “If your mother says she loves you, CHECK IT OUT.” In other words, verify all info.

Well, leave it to life to allow shit to keep happenin’.

And we encounter these maxims time and again in genealogy, too. The yeoman volunteers who pore over countless census pages of centuries-old script, deciphering names that do not belong to their family tree, and doing so… erratically. Over-zealous neophyte researchers who, in their breathless haste, mistakenly prune a branch here, graft an alien trunk there, yielding cascading crops of ill-gotten family fruit. Or those who trot out a sweet, but still quite often dead wrong reasoning: because grandma said.

Remember? “If your mother says she loves you, CHECK IT OUT.”

Newspapers are wonderful troves of info. And certainly, they have been indispensable in helping to decipher what it is our case study on genealogy in my family: untangling the life, death and descendants of my great-grandfather Vance Cleveland Foutz’s oldest brother, Sherman Foutz.

When I first looked into Sherman’s story, starting in 2008 and documenting for the first time in 2010 in this blog, we had far more questions than answers. Slowly, painstakingly, we made the necessary connections, in the public record and in person with distant relatives, to fill in many missing pieces. By last year, and a series of posts tracing the family’s life in Pennsylvania through several newspaper articles, we’d put the wraps on many a mystery.

One useful tool: not just settling for one clipping of a newspaper article, but combing through related editions in the dozens of active newspapers in the early part of the 20th century. Just like in the maxim for checking out what your darling, single source says, relying on multiple versions of a milestone event can assemble a full, richer composite of the life and times you’re researching. Once, of course, you weed out the red herrings.

On Sherman Foutz’s life, I started with the yellowed clipping reporting his death that my great-grandfather had kept for nearly 55 years before his own passing. Due to the hands which cut into the newspaper, there was no month, day or year, no attributed publication. That data was to be gained from other sources — the gravestone, the death record from Denver, Colo. Curiously, though, one mystery was brought about by a simple omission — this first obituary, which I later identified as from the Harrisburg Telegraph, listed his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Grace, but no mention of his son, Oscar; daughter-in-law, Florence; or local grandsons.

A few years and a paid subscription to newspapers.com later, I dug up a death announcement, published the day after Sherman’s death, also in the Telegraph, which yields additional clues: age at death, address in Harrisburg, a sketch of his career with the Knights of the Maccabees and recent job change, and — voila! — mention of Oscar and his son’s address… in Arizona!

The other day, not looking for any info on Sherman, but still trying to trace more on Oscar, who doesn’t pop up again for us until his mother’s death in 1945, I found a curious third obituary. This one published in the Harrisburg Daily Independent, also on the day after Sherman died. From that Tuesday, April 6, 1915 edition:

William (sic) S. Foutz Prominent Maccabee Succumbs From Long Illness

Word was received here of the death of William (sic) S. Foutz, 135 North Summit street, who died near Denver, Col., yesterday where he had been ill for some time. He was 47 years of age. For seventeen years he was deputy and organizer of the Maccabees of the World.

For the past year Mr. Foutz was unable to attend to any business and on January 1 he left for Colorado. He is survived by his wife and daughter, Grace, of this city, and a son, Oscar, of Arizona. No arrangements for the funeral have been made, but interment will be made at Bowerstown (sic), Ohio.

So, some significant errors in the printed record here, most notably Sherman’s renaming and the misspelling of his hometown of Bowerston. But had I stumbled upon this article first, perhaps through some creative searching of the archives, I would have still gotten the tid bit on Oscar’s western location, and some additional details on how his work had suffered from his illness. No update on his change in career — for all we know, he still could have been working for the Maccabees, according to this record — and thus, I view with skepticism the specific “seventeen years” summation of his duties. But between the sources, we get a richer picture, provided we’ve done a bit more gathering of wool and smoothing out the rough parts.

“If your mother says she loves you, CHECK IT OUT.”

Sherman Foutz obit

April 1915 obituary for Sherman Foutz lists only his wife and daughter as survivors. From the Harrisburg Telegraph.

Foutz Sherman S death announce Harrisburg Telegraph April 1915

Son Oscar Foutz is listed as a survivor — and living in Arizona — in Sherman Foutz’s 1915 death announcement.

 

 

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Wrap-up: Sherman Foutz Family Questions Answered


Sherman S. Foutz

Second Great-Uncle Sherman S. Foutz

Sherman Foutz Family: Latest Blogs Recap

It’s been a revealing two weeks as we took a closer look at the lives of great-great uncle Sherman Foutz and his descendants.

We’ve answered a few long-standing questions, and uncovered aspects we didn’t even know to wonder about.

Here, a quick recap of the revelations revealed in the latest newsletter series, mainly through new research on newspapers.com, verified and deepened with ancestry.com digging.

  1. We revealed the job opportunities that brought Sherman, wife Lizzie, and children Oscar and Grace from Reading to Harrisburg, Pa.
  2. We uncovered the death announcement that preceded Sherman Foutz’s 1915 obituary, our first inkling that Oscar Foutz outlived his father — and spent time in faraway Arizona.
  3. A 1969 newspaper feature on daughter Grace (Foutz) Chaney, a year before she died, chronicled her teaching career and revealed new details about how she met husband Fred, and that Oscar may have lived until 1945, 30 years after father Sherman’s death.
  4. The circumstances of Grace and Fred’s meeting, as well as her fishy habit of lying about her birth year to the point of it being erroneously carved in her gravestone, led to additional research, and new evidence about why she remained childless: she and Fred may have been related — first cousins once removed.
  5. We traced what we could of Lizzie Foutz’s long and apparently lonely life without Sherman, to the point where she vanishes in the 1940 census some five years before her death. She is not found in the homes of her surviving children or grandchildren.
  6. We followed Oscar Foutz’s wayward path further than ever before, discovering his athletic pursuits and continued service in the National Guard, noting his divorce from wife Florence in 1917, and her remarriage, new motherhood and possible residence in the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital, as well as her 1938 death and Oscar’s possible surviving past his mother’s death in 1945, when he may have resided in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  7. Finally, we learned more about the fates of Oscar and Florence’s sons, Ralph and Sherman, as they made the local papers in Harrisburg, Reading and Hagerstown, Maryland for a series of youthful indiscretions that ran the gamut from petty theft to armed stickups to robbing the homes of their grandparents and aunt — and serving time for it.
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Ralph & Sherman Foutz’s Raucous Youth


Glen Mills Schools Delaware Pa

Getting sent to Glen Mills Schools for troubled youth, outside of Philadelphia in Delaware County, was a constant threat for Sherman Foutz’s rough-and-tumble grandsons Ralph and Harry Sherman as they grew up in 1920s and 1930s Harrisburg.

Rough & Tumble Times for Ralph & Sherman Foutz

Research in the last month has shed new light on the mysteries surrounding the family and descendants of my great-great uncle Sherman Foutz.

As intriguing as new leads in genealogy are, though, they only manage to stitch together the roughest weave of a life.

There are still plenty of gaps you can poke fingers through.

But that’s the kind of discourse we’re left with as we examine lives of 70, 80… 100 and more years ago. Absent an audience with our actual ancestors, we collect clues, consider them. And end up, perhaps, with a closer understanding of who they were, and what life was like.

We can see, for instance, well enough to realize that by the time of his father Sherman’s death, Oscar Foutz was living far away from his family, and divorce in 1917 only seemed to cement that.

We can see that Oscar certainly doesn’t show up with family members, or even in and around Harrisburg, from 1920 on. And that widowed mom, Lizzie, though she has the care, for a time, of grandson Ralph and foster daughter Catherine, seems occupied enough with continued existence in Harrisburg, albeit an increasingly solitary one.

What happened to grandsons Ralph and (Harry) Sherman Foutz? Newspaper accounts from their boyhood through their 20s reveal repeated run-ins with local and state authorities. They are listed as “homeless,” “old offenders.” They’re responsible for robberies, thefts, the odd assault.

We know that life eventually settles down for Ralph. He meets and marries Virginia Henson. Finds steadier work as a truck driver. Has seven kids — and countless more grandkids, through which his story lives on, and new ones among his descendants are written.

I’d like to know more about the Virginia and Ralph Foutz who became “gram” and “pap” to my distant Foutz cousins. And of his younger brother who shared their grandfather Sherman’s name.

Their youth, and what became of Oscar and Florence and Lizzie, is only part of the story. The way my own Grandpa Ley’s losing his mother as an infant, and half-brother as a young teenager, shaped his early life, but he wrote his own story the rest of his 70+ years. Or how my Grandma Erma Johnson Foutz lost three brothers within three years to separate water-related accidents. Tragic at the time. And certainly echoed through stories I heard growing up. But the next 61 years for her were filled with family — six other siblings and countless memories.

So, a youth with a rap sheet doesn’t define the shape of the mature man.

But it can underline and even explain much of what we’ve discovered about life after Sherman’s death in 1915.

Foutz Rapsheet: 1920s

I thought it might be useful to view the newspaper accounts I’ve collected in decade-long snapshots.

The beginning of the 1920s find 11-year-old Ralph in the care of grandmother Lizzie Foutz and 14-year-old (adopted) aunt Catherine. This is about the time Lizzie works as a cook for the Elks Home.

Eight-year-old brother Sherman, on the other hand, is probably living in Harrisburg with mother Florence, stepfather William Frank Orner, and half-brother Raymond Carroll Orner.

If Lizzie’s life didn’t seem clearly hard-scrabble when considering the census record (and Oscar’s and Grace’s absence), consider that 11-year-old Sherman is already “on parole” and considered “an old offender” by the courts, and that when the brothers reunite for a theft in 1922 they are identified as “two homeless children.”

  • October 15, 1920: Ralph Foutz, “an old offender”, already on parole (at 11), admitted to running away from home and is sent to Mont Alto hospital for treatment in lieu of being sent to Glen Mills school for troubled youth, according to the Harrisburg Evening News.
  • Jan. 6, 1922: Ralph and Sherman Foutz, “two homeless children,” are sent to Glen Mills troubled juveniles school after “figuring” in a bicycle theft, according to the Harrisburg Telegraph.

Foutz Rap Sheet: 1930s

As Ralph and Sherman reach their 20s, their involvement in thefts continues, and their estrangement from family seems complete.

Youthful, but no longer considered children, their crimes no longer land them in hospitals for treatment or schools for troubled youths. The major crime both are involved in at the beginning of the decade puts them in county prison for more than a year.

Their victims? When not random, they include family. Ralph and Sherman break into and rob the farmhouses of their grandpa Francis Hartman and Aunt Hannah Gable, Florence’s father and sister. Ralph faces additional time for stealing a necklace and cash from a girlfriend’s house in Harrisburg.

Some context: according to my latest research, Florence’s second marriage didn’t last long. In a genealogy boards discussion from 2006, a daughter of Raymond Carroll Orner reported that William Frank Orner moved away and remarried, and that her father was told as a boy that his mother had died (in reality, she wouldn’t die until 1938, when “Carroll” was 20). By 1930, there is a Florence Orner listed in the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Asylum in Harrisburg. I haven’t cemented the connections yet, but if this holds together, it would seem the fracturing of Oscar and Florence Foutz’s family was complete.

  • Dec. 28, 1931: Ralph, 23, is charged with felonious entry and larceny for entering a Harrisburg home and stealing $2.62 and a necklace, according to the Harrisburg Telegraph.
  • Nov. 27. 1933: Transported back to Harrisburg after serving 22 months in Berks County prison for breaking into his relatives’ farmhouses, Ralph, now 25, is made to answer for the stolen cash and necklace from 1931. He pleads guilty, but asks for leniency, telling the judge, “I’ve learned my lesson. All I ask is a chance to prove it.” The judge sentences Ralph to a reduced 60 days in Dauphin County prison, but tells Ralph if he is arrested again, he’ll serve three years, according to the Harrisburg Telegraph.
  • April 1936: Sherman, 26, is sentenced to 60 days in Washington County (Maryland) jail for stealing instruments from a parked car in Hagerstown and likely selling them to a second-hand store, according to the Daily Mail.

 

Foutz Ralph Virginia

Virginia (Henson) Foutz and Ralph Francis Foutz, in an undated photo.

Foutz Rap Sheet: 1940s

Although I haven’t tried to assemble an exhaustive account of the Foutz brothers’ run-ins with the law, by their late 20s and 30s, life appears to settle down for Ralph and Sherman.

Ralph successfully pleads for leniency in the early 1930s, and stays out of trouble before getting involved in a hold-up and robbery. He is granted parole, however, returns to his wife, Virginia, and young son.

  • Feb. 8, 1938: Ralph, 29, is held on $2,000 bail after he and three 18-year-old youths attempt to hold up and rob residents of a Harrisburg house. He pleads guilty to assault with intent to rob, unlawfully carrying firearms and a statutory offense, and is sentenced to 9 to 18 month in Dauphin County prison. Five months later, a judge grants Ralph’s plea for parole, which cites his wife and 2-year-old son being on relief, according to the Telegraph.

During the course of the 1940s, Ralph finds steady work as a truck driver, and celebrates the births of Charles Harry, in 1939, and Catherine in 1941. Like his father, Ralph appears to enjoy boxing, as articles in local papers in the late 1930s indicate.

Foutz Ralph more boxing Lebanon Daily News 17 July 1934Foutz Ralph amateur boxer Evening Sun Hanover 1 Sep 1937

A truck accident in 1944 is the final off-kilter news item for Ralph and family in the 1940s.

Brother Sherman, meanwhile, faces serious time in 1946 after being involved in stealing from a refrigerator car. Although I’ve found a couple traces of him marrying (a woman named Mary) and moving back and forth between Harrisburg and Hagerstown in the 1930s and 1940s, that’s where the story of Oscar’s younger son goes dark for me.

Just as these articles have helped shine a little more light on Sherman Foutz’s descendants in the early part of the 20th century, I’m hoping getting to know Ralph and Oscar through their family will illuminate what happened next.

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The Wayward Path of Oscar W. Foutz


514 buttonwood st reading pa

The street where Sherman Foutz and family closed out their Reading, Pa. days in 1909 bears no trace of their former home. Now, down the street on the right, there’s a parking lot.

 

Wandering Oscar Foutz Leaves Few Traces

It’s easy to paint great-great uncle Sherman Foutz’s son, Oscar, as the black sheep.

The historical record suggests so, with some mishaps, and maybe a bad marriage, the clear absences. But there are holes. There’s a lot we don’t know. And too much that censuses and official records and newspaper articles fail to reveal.

We can’t know, for instance, the personalities behind the official print. The balance of harmony that makes up a household, of love that sparks a relationship, ambition that fuels a career. We can’t clearly discern, 100 years later, the circumstances and darker impulses that move the players on and off the stage.

In the case of Oscar Foutz, then, I’ve assembled the most complete chronology I can. With the barest trace of analysis. With some lingering questions. Certainly without judgment.

Here’s what we know so far.

Born Dec. 17, 1888 to parents Sherman and Elizabeth Foutz, Oscar lived out his early boyhood in the old Foutz stomping grounds of Harrison County.

Sherman’s appointment, in the mid- to late-1890s, to the U.S. Treasury took the family to Washington D.C., where grandparents Jonathan and Rebecca Foutz would join them about 1899-1900. Their youngest children, John, Charles and Vance (Colt’s great-grandfather), all born within 5-10 years of Oscar and sister Grace, likely were more playmates in the new and strange city than proper uncles.

In 1902, Sherman accepted leadership of the Knights of the Maccabees of eastern Pennsylvania. The family moved to Reading, Pa., where Sherman set about growing the membership from just over 90 to more than 3,500 over the subsequent decade, and grew his fire insurance business as well.

Foutzes Well-Educated, Well-Heeled in Reading

Far from the farming life in eastern Ohio, Oscar and sister Grace enjoyed the privileges of a well-known, well-to-do family.

We know Grace attended private schools, and even college at 15; we assume Oscar was granted the same privilege. Both appear occasionally in social columns in Washington, Reading and Harrisburg, having played host or a part in Maccabees’ youth gatherings. Or, in the case of this 1903 Reading Times item, when Oscar was about 15, acting in a local production, “The Readingites.”

In October 1906, the Reading Times spotlighted 17-year-old Oscar Foutz for his role in alerting firemen to a blaze that broke out after 10 p.m. in a tailor’s business at 15 N. Sixth Street, just a few addresses down from father Sherman Foutz’s fire insurance business at 40 N. Sixth.

Foutz Oscar fire hero Reading Times 5 Oct 1906

By 1909, 20-year-old Oscar is employed as a clerk, according to the Reading city directory. The family moves to Harrisburg that year, and according to the census, Oscar finds work there as a fireman for the railroad.

In contrast to Grace’s intellectual pursuits, Oscar Foutz attracts newspaper ink for various sporting exploits, and his active role in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

An April 1909 article in the Reading Times reports Oscar’s second-prize finish in a pool contest at Penn Parlors.

An August 1910 piece in the Reading Eagle tells of a “a lively and amusing” boxing match between Oscar and another National Guard private to settle a “small dispute.” Oscar won.

In Harrisburg, an October 1911 Telegraph item lists Oscar among the members of the Hassler Athletic Club baseball team, which promised to have a stronger squad the next season.

It’s important to note that these are all the exploits of a newly-married man. Before the Foutzes leave Reading, Oscar marries Florence Hartman.

There may be nothing curious about the timing of their marriage license application, filed Jan. 1 1908 in Berks County. But by the time the two are married nearly 10 months later, Florence is far-along pregnant with their first son, Ralph. The wedding is reported in the Sept. 29, 1908 edition of the Reading Times.

Foutz Oscar marriage Reading Times Sep 29 1908

Son Ralph’s birth less than three months later, on Dec. 19, 1908, is recorded by Alsace Lutheran Church.

Sons Ralph, Harry & a Foutz House Divided

Oscar’s troubles seem to begin not long after second son, Harry Sherman, is born March 28, 1910.

The young family appears to live a divided existence. The 1910 census, taken that April in Harrisburg, finds Oscar, listed as married 2 years, and eldest son Ralph in the home of Sherman and Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, 60 miles to the east in Reading, Florence appears in the household of parents Francis and Kate, along with brother Lloyd and sister Hannah. She is listed as single. There is no trace of brand new infant Harry Sherman, though the census taker visited on April 21.

The names of Florence’s parents — and their address — match their wedding announcement of two years prior. And match names listed in Florence’s death announcement (many years later, which we’ll get to). So this is undoubtedly the family. Maybe there’s some fudging going on. Or three-weeks-old Harry Sherman is still in the hospital (though he’s scheduled for his christening the next day).

Curiously, a family of Wunders — Florence’s mother’s maiden name — boards with the Hartmans, and another Wunder family lives next door. In Milton’s house, the youngest child is named Harry (though listed as 4 months old — could they mean weeks?). In Daniel’s, the youngest is named Ralph, age 3 (older by one year than Florence’s son Ralph who is reportedly living in Harrisburg with his father’s parents). Both Milton and Daniel match names listed in Florence’s grandfather William Wunder’s 1902 obituary.

Not yet definitive evidence that the Hartmans passed off 19-year-old Florence as single and passed on her children to siblings. But interesting.

Back to Oscar. Later that year, in August 1910, Oscar would be arrested, tried and sentenced to nine months in prison for his part in clubbing and robbing a man while on leave with three other guardsmen from Reading’s fourth regiment. From the Reading Times, Sept. 16, 1910:

Foutz Oscar Convicted Robbery Reading Times 16 Sep 1910

Death of Sherman & Oscar a Gone Daddy

Oscar appears to later gain reinstatement to the National Guard and continue his family life.

A July 1911 article in the Reading Eagle reports a Florence Foutz visiting the guard camp at Mt. Gretna.

A July 1914 report in the Reading News-Times again lists Oscar as getting ready for that year’s camp at Mt. Gretna.

But by father Sherman Foutz’s death in April 1915, Oscar, not listed as a survivor in Sherman’s obituary, but included in the death announcement, reportedly lives in Arizona. Perhaps Oscar is there with the Guard?

The public record next finds Oscar Foutz in 1917, when a series of legal notices early that year summon him to Reading to face divorce from Florence, which is finalized May 19, 1917, according to the Harrisburg Evening News:

Foutz Oscar divorce final Harrisburg Evening News 19 May 1917

Over the next three decades, Oscar drops from sight. I’ve not found him on the censuses of 1920, 1930 or 1940, or in any vital documents. His mother Elizabeth Foutz’s December 1945 obituary mentions him as surviving, and living in Charlotte, N.C. Whereas, a 1969 Times-Reporter article on Grace Foutz’s “wonderful life” contends Oscar died in 1945. The piece probably meant Grace’s mother. But her obituary the following year definitely mentions a brother who “also preceded her in death.”

Census records and numerous newspaper articles indicate the absence of Oscar from the lives of sons Ralph and Harry. More on them in the next installment.

Meanwhile, mother Florence Hartman remarries, to a William F. Orner. Has another child, Raymond Carroll Orner, born Feb. 17, 1918 and baptized where her older sons were, Alsace Lutheran Church in Reading.

The record gets murky from here. The 1920 census shows, curiously, a Florence M. and Frank Orner living in Harrisburg, Dauphin County. In their household is a nearly two-year-old “Carrol L. Orner” — and also an 8-year-old Sherman (who, if it’s Harry Sherman Foutz, should be 10). We know that Ralph is listed in grandmother Lizzie Foutz’s household, so this may explain the whereabouts of both brothers (if not father Oscar).

The 1930 census lists a married Florence M. Orner, age 39 (the right age), living in Dauphin County and in the company of a 68-year-old Adaline Orner, albeit in the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital. Hmmmmmm….

Florence’s obituary appears in the March 12, 1938 edition of the Reading Times, spelled “Oner.” Sherman, Ralph and Carrol are all listed as survivors, as well as “Catherine,” wife of Roy Rutt. Now, I have not found the origins of the adopted Catherine Foutz, later Mrs. John Roy Rutt, but I have also not detected Catherine in the home of Francis and Katie (Wunder) Hartman prior to her living with Elizabeth Foutz in 1920. So I think this is just a nod from Florence to her former sister-in-law. But… I’ll keep following the trail.

Florence is buried in the same Epler’s Church Cemetery as her parents and several siblings. Incidentally, she dies at the same age as Oscar’s father.

Hartman Florence obit Reading Times 3.12.1938

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Lizzie Foutz’s Lonely Life


135 N Summit St Harrisburg Pa

The home where Sherman Foutz lived out his last years, at 135 N. Summit St. in Harrisburg, Pa. His widow, Elizabeth, would relocate through a succession of residences in her final 30 years without Sherman.

Sherman Foutz Widow Stays in Harrisburg

The life of my great-great aunt Lizzie Foutz is one I’ve puzzled over for some time, and probably more than that of her well-known husband, Sherman Foutz.

Great-great Uncle Sherman’s life — and early death — after all, is more easily navigable for its documented rise and development and the decisive, tragic final chapter.

But the family left in the wake of Sherman’s losing fight with tuberculosis, at just 47, is harder to trace and understand. Cast out of the spotlight trained upon Sherman for his U.S. Treasury Department appointment, then leadership of the Knights of the Maccabees, then prominent fire insurance business in first Reading then Harrisburg, Pa., the family splits up in the decade after his death.

Earlier posts in this series, gathering new insights from a recent research binge on newspapers.com, have shed light on a few longstanding mysteries about Sherman’s descendants, including:

  • the business circumstances that brought Sherman Foutz from Reading to Harrisburg, Pa. about 1909, even after his family had acquired history-book status in Berks County
  • the omission in Sherman’s 1915 obituary and other circumstantial evidence that seemed to indicate his oldest child, Oscar, preceded him in death, when in fact, as revealed by Sherman’s death announcement (and other documentation we’ll get to), Oscar survived him, though he lived in faraway Arizona as one of his two sons — what happened to the other, and to Oscar’s wife? — lived for a time in Lizzie’s care.
  • the most complete tracing of what happened to Sherman’s family following his death can be found in the 1970 obituary of daughter Grace Foutz Chaney, and a 1969 feature on her life and teaching career in Ohio, though some of the facts are wrong, and mysteries still surround Grace’s childlessness, her choice to live 300 miles from her widowed mother and nieces and nephews, her sporadic but forgotten visits to my great-grandfather Vance (her uncle just 3 years her senior), and her habit of fudging her age, which ended up etched into her tombstone’s incorrect birthdate.

But it is the fate of Sherman’s widow, Elizabeth Wilson Foutz — Lizzie in census records and on personal possessions — that holds even greater intrigue than what we’ve picked through so far.

From Harrison County to Harrisburg, Pa.

According to a history of Berks County published in the first decade of the 1900s, Elizabeth Wilson was the daughter of John Wilson and grew up, like Sherman Foutz, in Harrison County, Ohio.

Born in October 1866, according to census records, Elizabeth Wilson grew up in a family of a dozen or so children. Unlike eldest child Sherman, born in September 1867 on a nearby farm to Jonathan and Rebecca Foutz, Elizabeth was second-youngest of that big brood.

Her parents, John and Mary, were Irish immigrants. They were married in Pittsburgh, Pa. about 1839, and their first children were born in Pennsylvania. By the time Jane “Jennie” Wilson was born in 1843, they were living and farming in Harrison County, Ohio.

The 1880 census is the last to catch Elizabeth Wilson and Sherman Foutz before their marriage, kids and move to Washington D.C. (The 1890 federal census was almost entirely destroyed in a fire.) At the time, Elizabeth is 16 and attending school; Sherman, at 13, also goes to school and his household includes sisters Lila, Rachel and Ida, and younger brother John. The family spells their name Pfoutz.

After graduating from the Harrison County public schools, Sherman attends New Hagerstown Academy in nearby Carroll County, an unprecedented level of education not only for the farming Foutzes as a clan, but for Sherman’s younger siblings as well.

On August 11, 1887, Sherman and Elizabeth are married. He is 19; she is two months shy of 21. Son Oscar will be born 15 months later in December 1888. Daughter Grace follows on Sept. 5, 1890, her birthday two days after her father’s. The family makes their home in Bowerston, where Sherman works in the fire insurance business. Sometime in the 1890s, he is appointed to a clerkship with the U.S. Treasury, during the second presidency of Grover Cleveland.

The 1900 census finds Sherman and Elizabeth and family sharing a house at 732 Flint St. in Washington D.C. with Jonathan, Rebecca and their youngest sons Charles and (Colt’s great-grandfather) Vance. The census catches them in June, just months before Jonathan and Rebecca would return home to Harrison County, where Jonathan would die of Bright’s Disease, a kidney ailment, in September at age 55.

According to the Berks County history, in April 1902 Sherman accepts a role as supervising deputy for the Knights of the Maccabees’ eastern Pennsylvania district. The family moves to Reading, where Sherman succeeds in growing the membership base from 92 to more than 3,500 over the course of the decade.

Property sales records show the Foutzes selling their Reading home in 1909 and moving 60-some miles west to the capital city of Harrisburg, where Sherman continues his Maccabees leadership for a few more years before taking charge of the Protective Home Circle, an insurance collective, in 1913.

About that time, the family moves into a brand new house at 135 N. Summit St. in Harrisburg. Not far from Sherman’s insurance offices on 2nd Street, the red brick home abuts North Terrace Park and boasts 4 bedrooms and 1,900 square feet, according to Trulia stats. A pretty piece of real estate at the time, the family would not stay there long during a tumultuous conclusion to the 1910s.

Foutz Lizzie Glass 1910

A ruby glass uncovered in 2013 at an Ohio auction bears the name of Great-Great Aunt Lizzie Foutz and seems to date from a Modern Woodmen of America benefit in 1910.

Rare Foutz Find: Glass an Artifact of Happier Times

In the years I’ve researched Sherman Foutz’s family and descendants, I’ve turned up numerous photos of Sherman, in portraits and official Maccabees invitations, even newspaper caricatures. Thanks to the Morelands (family of sister Ida), we’ve got a four generations portrait of Grace and her father about 1910 with grandma Rebecca Foutz and great-grandma Rachel Caldwell.

No portrait or picture of mom Lizzie B. (Wilson) Foutz exists, that I’ve found. Same for son Oscar.

We’ve got obituaries to bracket the lives and lend order to the stories of Sherman and Grace. But Oscar comes up missing ink. And until recently, Lizzie did, too. The only clues were census records, and even those were incomplete.

We know that, following Sherman’s death in 1915, Lizzie turns up in 1920 and 1930 still living in Harrisburg.

In 1920, grandson Ralph, 11, is the only carryover from her 1910 household. Sherman, Grace and Oscar are gone. A new addition is 14-year-old foster daughter Catherine, whose birthplace is listed as Pennsylvania and whose parents are listed as born in the United States. Not listed in their house in 1910, and not mentioned in Sherman’s death announcement or obituary, interestingly, Catherine was probably adopted after Lizzie was widowed, when she was as old as 9 or 10.

Never having been listed as employed before, through her 20s and 30s, Lizzie, at 45, now works as a cook in the Elks home. She also hosts two roomers at the family’s rented house at 59 N. Tenth St. — 44-year-old widow Lydia Farber, a cook at a factory restaurant, and her 14-year-old daughter Helen Farber.

By 1930, Lizzie and Catherine Foutz are the sole members of their household, renting an apartment with dozens of other families (in the building, I’m presuming) at 412 Briggs St., about where the State Museum of Pennsylvania stands today, though their address is also listed in a 1930 city directory as 910 N. Third, right around the corner. Their ages are reported, erroneously, as 52 and 20. They should be 55 and 24.

Elizabeth doesn’t work according to the 1930 census, while Catherine is employed as a stitcher in a shoe factory. (The city directory says she is a folder.)

We know from the 1940 census that Catherine is living in Lititz, Pa., about halfway between Harrisburg and Reading. She is married to John Roy Rutt, a cutter in an asbestos factory. Catherine is not employed.

Lizzie vanishes from the public record at this point. Though I have scoured census records in Harrisburg, going neighborhood by neighborhood, I can’t find her. She doesn’t live with Grace in Ohio or Catherine in Lititz, or grandson Ralph in Harrisburg; nor does she show up in the residences of her two surviving siblings. And aside from knowing her death year — 1945 — for a time, I had no inkling of where she was after 1930.

But there, in the newspaper archives of the Harrisburg Telegraph, was her obituary. I try not to take such sudden revelations as a personal judgment on all the hours I’d sunk in prior to that moment. I’ll take it as a stroke of luck instead.

From Dec. 13, 1945:

Foutz Lizzie death Harrisburg Telegraph Dec 1945

From this snippet, we learn that Lizzie was still living in Harrisburg up until her hospitalization in Lancaster (down the river from Harrisburg and south of Lititz). The place is a grassy lot today.

We learn that Oscar may be still alive — and living in Charlotte, N.C. Her obit also confirms just two grandsons  (from Oscar and Florence) — and that Ralph and Sherman are still living. The five great-grandchildren are probably all from Ralph and wife Virginia (Henson) Foutz: Nicholas, Charles, Catherine, Arthur and newborn Grace, not yet a month old when her great-grandmother Elizabeth died.

Lizzie’s body would be returned to Bowerston for burial. She is laid to rest in Longview Cemetery, across from Sherman.

And that’s her story, as much as we can piece together. Still, there are sudden connections that surprise.

Late last spring, around the time of my son Caleb’s birth (a busy time, and part of the reason for the delay in sharing), I was emailed by Nancy Dionne. She was hunting auctions in Zanesville, Ohio and came across a ruby shot glass with a crystal bottom, inscribed “Lizzie Foutz” and “M.W. of A.” with the date 1910.

The glass was thrown in as an “add-on” to a piece of pottery Nancy wanted. Curious about its origins, though, Nancy and fellow treasure hunters chatting in collectors weekly’s forums searched online and found this blog. M.W. of A, Nancy and company found out, was likely Modern Woodmen of America (one of Sherman Foutz’s many affiliations), and the 1910 event may have been a function at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1910.

Nancy was kind enough to mail the glass to me. Now this relic of my great-great aunt Lizzie Foutz’s mysterious life sits atop a bookshelf on the right side of our fireplace and mantle full of family photographs. Here’s hoping that continued piecing together of our family’s past, and sharing in this space, can lead to even more illuminating connections.

Foutz Lizzie Glass 2

Another view of the Lizzie Foutz glass uncovered by Nancy Dionne in a Zanesville, Ohio auction. M.W. of A. likely stands for Modern Woodmen of America, one of Sherman Foutz’s many affiliations.

Categories: Foutz, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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