Saturday, October 19, 2013

The 8th Son

Louis, ca. 1890; taken in Ft. Wayne, Ind.
In a nutshell, Louis Napoleon Metzner was    the 8th and last son of William and Barbara Metzner.  He was born 26 May 1872 in St. Louisville, Licking County, Ohio and died in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan on 4 March 1930.  His only son, Albert, was my grandfather.

I remember as a young girl the first time I heard Grandpa Al say his father’s name – he included the middle name of “Napoleon” and I thought that was so funny!  I also remember at that moment everyone kept shushing Grandpa for having revealed it -- or shushing me for thinking it was funny – it’s not really clear anymore.  But all that shushing made me think there was something forbidden about Great-Grandpa Louis’s middle name. Silly! Nevertheless, I don’t recall we talked about Louis Napoleon too much after that.  He died when Grandpa Al was 28 – my dad, Gordon, was just 5 weeks old.  Makes me wonder what he was like, and since I don’t remember anyone talking about him, all we can go by is records we can find.  This is what we know…

Of the eight Metzner boys, Louis and an older brother Jasper were the only brothers that worked for the railroad for any length of time – Jasper for 22 years before going into the laundry business -- Eagle Laundry in Fort Wayne.  But Louis was a railroad man all the way – 39 years total.  He began working for the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad out of Fort Wayne in 1891, starting as a fireman. By 1902 he was an engineer. 

Probably the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, ca. 1920. Louis is pictured in the top row, 3rd from the left, 
and his brother Jasper is in the 2nd row, far right. 

According to “America on the Move” from the National Museum of American History, the fireman and engineer operated a steam locomotive as a team. The fireman managed the output of steam. His boiler had to respond to frequent changes in demand for power as the train sped up, climbed hills, changed speeds, and stopped at stations. A skilled fireman anticipated changing demand as he fed coal to the firebox and water to the boiler. At the same time, the fireman was the “copilot” of the train who knew the signals, curves, and grade changes as well as the engineer. The engineer, in short, was in charge of driving the train, and that's the role Louis had for most of his career.  

Louis got some press occasionally for his work on the railroad -- these railroad men seemed to be big news! The saddest event was reported in two Fort Wayne newspapers on January 8 and 10, 1906. The headline from January 8 and excerpted text from January 10 are presented here:

He even got news coverage for ordinary events in his life.

Fort Wayne News, Dec. 21, 1894

Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio), Feb 24, 1900

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Nov 14, 1907

In the end, these articles don’t give us a clear picture of his life. Except for the dangers associated with working on the railroad, Louis’ life was probably rather ordinary.  In 1911 he moved his family (wife and two children) to Grand Rapids, Michigan, continuing his railroad work from that location.  If you’ve read earlier posts in this blog you’ll recall that Louis may have been a bit of a dreamer – telling family tales of connections to Jesse James and Buffalo Bill.  Maybe the few photos we have of Louis speak for themselves – what do you think they say about the man?

These souvenir postcards were popular from about 1905 to 1920.  There is nothing written on the back of them so we have no idea where they were taken.  I think they speak a little to Louis' sense of humor. I wonder if he was a fun guy? 

The search to discover more about Louis and his life is high on my list of genealogical pursuits. Keep your fingers crossed for me. 

Read more about Louis in the posts from July 11 and July 21, 2012.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Metzner Boys

I am happy to report that John, who I wrote about in the last blog post, is the only child in William and Barbara Metzner’s family that we know met a tragic end.  The brothers of that  generation – there were eight sons in all – were rather ordinary fellas.  A few of them may have tried to find a more exciting path in life but that never really happened.  Two, and perhaps three, of the boys essentially disappeared—more on that later. 

So who are the other boys?

William and Barbara’s first son, William Henry, was born on June 9, 1848 in St. Louisville, Licking County, Ohio.  His parents and siblings relocated to Jay County, Indiana for a period of time, but when the family returned to Ohio, William Henry stayed in Indiana.  He worked there as a day laborer and a farmer – very ordinary stuff – and eventually married a local girl, Angeline Meed. They had two children. William Henry died in Oct. 21, 1921 at age 73 and is buried in Green Park Cemetery in Portland, Indiana.

The 1880 Census for Jay County, Indiana lists Agaline[sic] Metzner and her two children, Sarah and John L., living with Angeline's mother, Nancy Meed.  It is interesting to note that Angeline's husband, William Henry Metzner, is not living with them.  Where was he?  An exhaustive search reveals nothing of his whereabouts.  It is a puzzle, but by the 1900 census he is again living with Angeline. What happened in the 20 years between the two censuses is unknown.  Their son John L. died in 1898 at the age of 20.  I have not yet found out when, where, or how he died.

James was son No. 2.  He also led a rather uneventful life.  He lived at home with his parents until he was 30, but by 1900 he was living on his own and working as a “common laborer.”  James never married.  He was born on Dec. 16, 1849 and died July 7, 1905, age 55, from tuberculosis. His obituary very succinctly describes him:

The Newark Advocate, July 7, 1905
Son No. 3 – Washington – is one of the mystery brothers.  He just dropped out of sight.  Washington was born around 1852, probably in Licking County, Ohio.  At the age of 18 (in 1870) he was living at home with his parents and working as a “common laborer.” That’s the last we hear of him.  When his father William died in 1882, the will stated that Washington’s address was unknown. Then, after Washington’s mother died in 1908, her probate records identify Washington’s death date as March 27, 1909. It doesn’t say where, and so far no death record has been found for him through on-line research. Perhaps, in order to close the estate, the family had to have Washington declared legally dead.  

I am sure there are records out there for Washington but finding them has proven very difficult.  He may have used another name or changed the spelling of his last name.  I've looked for George Washington Metzner -- even looked for Metzler, Metzger, and all variety of other spellings, with absolutely no luck.  So Washington will remain a mystery for the time being.    

John (1854-1878) – the one from the last blog post, who died due to injuries in the railroad accident, was son No. 4.

Jasper Metzner, ca. 1910
Next was Jasper -- No. 5.  I’ve written quite a bit about him in posts on 7/11/2012 and 7/21/2012.  He and his brother Louis (my great-grandfather) were probably quite close even though 16 years apart. Both were railroad men working the Grand Rapids route out of Ft. Wayne. We know that Jasper (1856-1938) tried to branch out beyond his small-town life in St. Louisville, Ohio – he traveled and tried to experience life to its fullest.  But when all was said and done, he ended up staying pretty close to home, eventually owning and operating the Eagle Laundry in Ft. Wayne. 

Railroad men were mentioned frequently in the Fort Wayne newspapers.  Several articles were found for Jasper.  One of the most interesting misidentified him, calling him Joseph instead of Jasper.  Here it is:

Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 6, 1894

Jasper died in Franklin, Indiana at the Masonic Home on Feb. 24, 1938 at the very respectable age of 81. Good for him!

Lafayette was son No. 6.  He has fascinated me for years – first because of his name and second because he too seemed to drop out of sight, just like his brother Washington.  In his mother’s probate records of 1908 his residence was listed as unknown and the family stated they believe he had died in 1900.  We will never know why he lost touch with his family but it's interesting that that happened with two of the boys.  Were they escaping a troublesome family?  Or did they have the same far away dreams of Jasper?  We don’t know.  But I can tell you I was thrilled in the course of my research when Lafayette finally popped up!!! And he actually hadn’t gone very far. 

Lafayette lived with his parents until 1880 where he was listed in the census for that year in Licking County.  A year after his father’s 1882 death, Laf was in Fort Wayne, Indiana with his brother Jasper.  He, like his brother John before him, worked as a brakeman for the Grand Rapids and Indiana line.  A year later, in 1884, Laf moved to Grand Rapids, and continued his work on the railroad from that town for at least three more years.

1887 Grand Rapids City Directory

Grand Rapids as Lafayette would have seen it between 1884 and 1887. 

Then around 1887 he married a woman named Viola and they began moving around the country. Perhaps he was looking for a better job, not wanting the danger of working on the railroad – or perhaps he just had the wanderlust and wanted to see what else life had to offer.

He and Viola made their way out to Denver by 1896 but for some reason ended up back in Chicago in 1900. There, Laf was employed as a stove moulder and Viola worked as a “medium” – telling peoples’ fortunes.  The following year they headed west once again, this time landing at Salt Lake City. Finally, in 1907, they settled in Los Angeles and remained there for the next 40 years.  Laf was gainfully employed through those years as a custodian for the Los Angeles school system.

I doubt that their life in Los Angeles was extraordinary.  He worked, she kept house, they had no children.  Viola died sometime in the 1930s but Laf lived on until September 10, 1947.  He was 84 years old.

The 7th son of William and Barbara Metzner was another William, at least as far as the 1870 census is concerned.  The census recorded him as 4 months old, and that’s the last we hear of him.  There are no records of his death and he is not found in the 1880 census when he would have been 10 years old.  So where was he?  He was not listed in his father’s 1882 will so it’s presumed that young William died between 1870 and 1880.

And finally, the 8th son was Louis Napoleon, my great-grandfather (left).  He has his own story to tell so I’ll save that for another blog.

And of course we can’t forget about the girls – William and Barbara had three – I’ll save them for another post, too.

Happy Reading!