Remember that “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” thing that I was trying to do? Well, I guess I’ve turned it into more of a “52 Ancestors in However Long it Takes me to Write About 52 Ancestors (…which is definitely much longer than 52 weeks)” thing. It’s week #40, and I’m on ancestor #5. Fail. But at least I haven’t stopped completely…
Late last week, I received a message from an amateur genealogist in northern Minnesota wondering if the Tony McGuire they had found working as a log driver for Crookston Lumber Company near the Red Lake Indian Reservation was the same Tony (or Anthony) Maguire that I had in my tree. The Tony which they referred to in my tree, was not the Anthony Maguire, my brick wall, the one that’s consumed a large percentage of my genealogy research and presented me with the most mystery. It was his son they inquired about, also named Anthony. Throughout my research, I’ve been trying hard to track down what has happened to all of my 2x great grandfather Anthony’s children, because much can be learned from them, especially through their death certificates and obituaries. But this is one that I haven’t yet tracked down. Tony the lumberjack’s age seems to match up quite well with my Anthony, and his parents were both born in Ireland according to the 1910 census, also true of my Anthony, so – yeah – maybe this is the same dude?
I don’t know much about my Anthony Maguire. I knew that he lived with his parents (Anthony & Bridget) until at least 1880, when he was about 15 years old. By the next Minnesota state census in 1885, he was gone. Not dead-gone, I was never able to find a death record or burial record for him. But, outta here-gone. He left his family. And why shouldn’t he? He was old enough to go off and work on a farm to earn money – which was quite common for that time. I haven’t found him in census records after 1880, but I’ve found one or two possible census records that could be him. I just haven’t been successful in proving that any of them are actually him.
It killed me that I wasn’t able to get to the history center in St. Paul right away to pull the death certificate for lumberjack Tony (which would hopefully tell me his parents’ names and birthplaces), so I tried to find what I could online in the meantime. After checking ancestry.com, and familysearch.org, I like to check Chronicling America, a great online source for digitized newspapers from 1836 through 1922. It was there that I found some crazy things. Things that made me think, “If this is my ancestor, then….holy. crap.”
The first article that I found, on the front page of the Bemidji Daily Pioneer from 27 August, 1910, told the story of my possible ancestor being attacked by a “maniac” with an ax who was trying to kill the mayor of Bemidji, John Parker, after accusing his fellow lumberyard workers of building a gallows from which they were preparing to hang him, and then running off into the woods with his ax, likely to starve to death.
The next article I found, dated two days later, stated that the crazy person had not been found, that the victim was still in serious condition, and that the names of the two men involved had been mixed up in the previous article. So, if this Tony McGuire was my great grand uncle, then, well…I have yet another alcoholic in my family tree, and now add to that: an ax murderer wannabe.
The third article told of McGuire being found dead in the woods by a 12 year old boy who was out hunting, his body decomposed and his throat cut from a razor blade. And then finally, a fourth article telling of the recovery of his victim, William Durkee.
Some crazy stuff, but I still didn’t know if this was actually my great grand uncle. This Tuesday, I was finally able to make it to MNHS after work to grab a copy of his death certificate. I had this strange feeling that I wasn’t going to learn much. My thoughts were that if this were my ancestor, he was far from home, in the woods, with no family around, a melancholy inebriate who probably didn’t have a lot of people in his life. Who up in that logging camp would know or care much about him? It felt unlikely that his fellow coworkers would have known his parents names and where they were born, or even where he was born. So what could his death certificate possibly tell me? Nothing that I couldn’t glean from newspaper articles, it turns out.
Unknown, unknown, unknown, etc…
So now I think that my only chance might be scouring old newspaper articles in smaller papers that aren’t yet digitized on Chronicling America. The tiniest things were “news” back in the late 1800’s / early 1900’s. If someone’s sister came to town to visit, or if someone’s uncle became ill, it made the local paper. Perhaps there might be an old fashioned status update about Anthony leaving his family in Sibley County to go work as a log driver in the northwoods. I’ve got more work to do.