Tuesday 11 November 2014

More About August Becker’s First Family

As I indicated in my last post, there are some interesting stories about the family of August Henry Becker that we were able to unearth in a variety of ways and places. Much of the information came serendipitously as I moved from source to source, searching for anything to do with the man and/or the surname.

Eileen (my client) recalled that a man had shown up at her home in Edmonton, possibly in the 1930s or ‘40s, claiming to be her father’s son. The man was rushed off by Eileen’s mother and not a word was ever spoken again about the visit or the individual’s claim of a connection to August. We are pretty sure the individual was Robert Becker, August’s youngest son from his first marriage.

In the process of searching for data, I checked the usual sources for August Becker, primarily on Ancestry. We knew he had been born in Pennsylvania, so that bit of information was useful in finding immigration and settlement documents.

The 1911 Canada census listed both August, Nellie and three children – Joseph, Emily and Thelma – living almost next door to the family of Henry Needham, in the Provost area of Eastern Alberta. Two of August’s brothers had also immigrated to Alberta and lived in the area. The article in Early Furrows, mentioned in my last post, had noted that Nellie and August had come to Canada in 1906 to join Nellie’s parents – Henry and Susan Needham – and brothers in homesteading in Eastern Alberta. It also described a fourth Becker child, Robert. By 1921, August and Nellie were in Edmonton, with August working as a photo engraver, which was his first and main occupation. He apparently was not cut out to be a farmer.

Interestingly, a search of Henderson’s Edmonton Directory on the Peel’s Prairie Provinces website found August working as a photo engraver at McDermid Engraving Company, proprietor Mr. F. G. McDermid. August worked there from at least 1919 through 1922. In 1920 Mary Moller joined the firm as a photo retoucher – and so they met! In 1922, August’s daughter Emily also worked at McDermid’s, as a stenographer. We speculate she was a friend of Mary’s at the time as they were of similar age.

Border-crossing information showed that August, along with Mary Moller, his future second wife, had travelled to the US on January 4, 1923. I also found another border crossing document for Nellie Becker, who went to the US on January 8, 1923. She was going to “visit” her father, Henry Needham, in Ohio. Nellie was accompanied by two of her children, Thelma and Robert. Her parents had previously returned to the US in 1921. The address he gave at the time of his trip to the US in 1923 was the same as the one shown in the directories so things were tying together.

By 1923, as we saw on the border crossing forms, it appears August’s marriage had broken up and he was now in love with Mary Moller. Nellie had indicated on the border crossing document that the last person she had visited or been friends with in Canada before she left was one F. G. McDermott. I did not think the similarity of names was a coincidence and she was actually referring to F. G. McDermid of McDermid Engraving. That seemed to tie the individuals even closer.

The censuses, border crossing forms and community history book gave us names of the four children from August’s first marriage along with their birth dates – the 1911 Canada census shows month as well as year – so I searched for them, mainly to see what had happened after they returned to the US. I found Nellie and the children on the 1930 and 1940 US federal censuses, living in Pensylvania.

On further review I discovered Nellie, Emily and Robert, quite by accident, on a 1945 census from Florida, of all places. That set off a whole new investigation which I will discuss in my next post. The 1945 census showed Robert, was married, with one daughter who had been born in Pennsylvania in 1943. Nellie was living with the family as well. Living in the same house was Emily, also now married and with two sons of her own, also born in Pennsylvania. Joseph and Thelma appear to have remained in Pennsylvania.

On Ancestry, I came across August on a private Family Tree. I wrote to the owner of the tree and found she was related to August through one of his sisters. She had a great deal of information about his siblings and I was able to give her more data on August’s life and second family in Canada. Not only did she have the data on family members, she also had photos of them which she kindly shared with us.
Photo of the family of August John and Amelia (Herchenbach) Becker, taken at their Mt. Carmel home in Pennsylvania
We believe the family picture was taken about 1925, on the occasion of August’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Nearly all of August’s brothers and sisters and their children, including his daughter, Emily were shown in the photograph. Eileen was surprised and delighted by this piece of information. She had previously thought, and had possibly been told, that her father had travelled to Pennsylvania in the 1920s for a funeral of one of his parents. She was even more shocked when I showed her that they were both still alive and well on the 1930 census and then came up with copies of the obituaries notices for both of them – her grandfather’s in 1932 and her grandmother’s in 1936 – again kindly given to us by the Ancestry family tree-owner.

Eileen knew that her paternal grandparents had lived in Pennsylvania after migrating from Germany in 1880. They were part of a very large population of Germans recruited to work in the region’s coal mines. Eileen had found some information in the Mt. Carmel Catholic church records but had never met her grandparents. She had met one aunt who had visited Canada in 1951, but she had never knew much about her father’s other siblings. She thought he might have been cut off from the family following his divorce from Nellie. The family photo demonstrated this was not the case at all.

Eileen was now very curious about her half-brothers and sisters and we set about finding out more about them. In my next post I will detail some of the other surprising things we found out about those half-siblings and cousins.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.