Posts Tagged With: National Guard

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

Categories: Foutz, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Did Oscar Foutz Outlive His Father?


Foutz Sherman S

Sherman S. Foutz, oldest brother to Colt’s great-grandfather, Vance Foutz.

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.

Sherman Foutz obit

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….

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.

Categories: Foutz, General Genealogy, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: