Saturday, 14 November 2015

Charles F Edwards (1869-1941) (Week 46) Theme: "Changes"

The suggested theme for this week in Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" is "Changes - Highlight an ancestor that went through many changes or that you had to change your research strategies to find." Either way you look at it, my great grandfather Charles F. Edwards fits the bill.

Charles F Edwards, age 27
Born 22 February 1869 in Keokuk, Iowa, Charles changed both residence and career numerous times over his 72 year life.  We know that he lived in Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Washington, and in Saskatchewan, Canada. Before his marriage license and certificate were issued for his Great Falls, Montana, marriage to Mary Jane Wescott on 01 October 1896, records for his early life in Iowa and Kansas remained elusive.

The details that Charles divulged to his family about his early history included the following:
  • His mother was named Rachel Hoover and she had been married 3 times: once to another Hoover, once to an Edwards and finally to a Payton.
  • He had a half-brother named Sam Hoover and twin sisters named Minnie and Grace Edwards.
  • The family were strict Quakers.
  • His mother was a relative of President Herbert Hoover.
  • He was orphaned young and raised by his sister Grace in Coffeyville, Kansas.
  • He started working on the railroad when he was 17, starting as a call boy and later a brakeman
  • It was while working on the railroad that he met his future wife who was working at a restaurant in Great Falls, Montana.

I spent more than 10 years following up on these clues, searching rolls of microfilm for census records in both Iowa and Kansas, searching microfilm and microfiche Quaker records for logical locations for the family and researching the family history of President Herbert Hoover to see if I could find Charles and his mother Rachel. Online searches were conducted. Letters were written. Nothing. This was a true brick wall yielding few results no matter what was tried.

When the 1880 US Census was available online in a searchable format, I was able to find a family grouping with distinct possibilities located in Howard, Elk County, Kansas:

1880 US Census for Kansas
We had been told that Charles's mother had married a Payton and here was a Payton family grouping with 3 Edwards stepchildren: Martha and Mary (not Minnie and Grace) both 14 and Charles 11, all born in Iowa. But the mother of the household was named "Barbary", not Rachel. Had Charles's mother Rachel died by now and had George Payton already remarried?

Another record yielding new clues was the marriage license for the marriage of Charles and Mary Jane.

Marriage License of 1896 marriage of Charles and Mary-Jane

According to information provided in his license application, the names of Charles's parents were Martha Hoover (not Rachel and not Barbary either) and Louis Edwards. Finally I had some documented parental names to work with!

More years would pass without further significant finds regarding his early years, notwithstanding various ongoing attempts. The years following his marriage to Mary-Jane Wescott are easier to follow.  What we know about their family life:

  • They were living in Great Falls, Montana, when first child, daughter Idella Marguerite Edwards (my maternal grandmother) was born in 1897. 
  • Charles headed North to Alaska in 1898 in search of his fortune in the gold fields, but returned home empty-handed.
  • He resumed working for the Great Northern Railroad.
  • Although records consistently report that birth of second child Everett was in Montana, Everett himself had been told that he was actually born in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada with his birth recorded later when the family returned to Great Falls.
  • He returned to Alaska in 1900 for another attempt at the motherlode, but again returned within a few months with no riches to show for his efforts.
  • For the next dozen or so years, they had a comfortable family life in Great Falls with the addition of three more daughters (Ora, Marion and Grace) and one other son (Merton or "Chuck").
  • Charles made good money and they could afford a nice home, a hired girl, and railroad passes that enabled the family to travel. When he returned home from his work on the railway, his family felt as if it were a holiday. 
  • The family lived right across from the school and Charles built a merry-go-round in the back yard for the entertainment of his own children and all their school friends.
  • Wanting to stay closer to his family, Charles changed careers again, trying his hand at fruit farming near Kalispell, Montana.
  • Because freight rates were so high, Charles couldn't afford to ship his fruit so he changed jobs again - back to working on the railroad.
Charles's womenfolk during their settled life in Kalispell, Montana:
wife Mary-Jane ("Mayme") and daughters Idella, Ora and Grace (with Bobbie the dog)
  • When the Great Northern Railroad went on strike in 1914, he went to Canada to work for the Canadian Pacific Railroad.
  • While in Canada that same year, he decided on another change: he took up a homestead to farm near Lancer, Saskatchewan.
Sandy arid prairie land presently show the former site where Charles homesteaded in Saskatchewan
  • Being late on the homesteading scene, the land he was able to get was sandy arid land, but in 1915 Charles moved his entire family there (except for eldest daughter Idella who remained in Kalispell to complete high school). 

Christmas Day 1921 on the Edwards homestead at Lancer, Saskatchewan
Charles Edwards rear left with his family including son Everett and son-in-law Ingwald Anderson
Daughters Marion, Ora (holding baby Bob Anderson), Idella (Anderson), wife Mary Jane and daughter Grace

  • Disaster struck with poor crops and a fire that burned their home to the ground in 1922 (including some original paintings and sketches by his Great Falls artist friend Charles Russel)
  • Charles lost his land in 1922 and changed back to his railroad career in the northwestern states, making a home for the family at Kelso, Washington.
  • In his 1922 "Declaration of Intention" to renounce allegiance to the British Crown, we learn that he was 6 ft. 1 inch tall, weighed 190 pounds and identified himself as "farmer"
  • His wife Mary died in 1926 after extraction of a number of teeth, leaving him a widower.
  • Charles lost a leg while operating a switch on the railroad - his foot became caught and the train wheels severed his leg (apparently he had also lost a thumb at some point). (His granddaughter Helen recalls her horror at being asked to hit him hard in the leg, and, when she demurred, he did it to himself. She hadn't realized he had a wooden leg!)
  • The accident resulted in a railroad pension, enabling him to buy property at Castle Rock, Washington.
  • In the early 1930's, hearing of plans for the building of Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, Charles sold his Castle Rock property and built a service station near the dam site, one final career change for this man who never seemed to permanently settle throughout his life of many changes.
  • He died at Moses Lake, Washington 04 November 1941 of a heart attack.
  • He was cremated in Portland, Oregon - once again leaving no tombstone or other mark for descendants to find.
But what about his early life? Details remained elusive. Maybe I needed to try something different in my searches, make a change of my own. Not being sure whether the "Keokuk, Iowa" where Charles said he had been born was the town of Keokuk in Lee County or whether it was somewhere in Keokuk County, I decided to join the Iowa Genealogical Society to see if I could learn something through membership in a local organization there. I read through their journals and continued my search. One of the benefits of membership was the ability to post queries in their journals so I sent off my inquiry by regular mail as required. Nothing happened and the supply of journals dried up. I asked their webmaster Alice Veen what had happened and was told that financial troubles were at the root of the society's problems. However, she told me that she was working on her professional genealogist accreditation and needed another project. She thought my mysterious great grandfather might be just the project she needed and asked if she could do the research for me, free of charge? Oh, yes, please, Alice!

Although I am sad to report that it wasn't through my own efforts, this significant change in bringing in a fresh set of "almost professional" eyes finally brought results. Alice would painstakingly piece together some of the mystery of those early years. Charles had not been orphaned. He was born in Iowa 3 years after his mother's Edwards husband had died (from tuberculosis contracted during his service in the American Civil War) and 4 years before she married her Payton husband. We have not yet been able to learn who Charles's father was. However, Alice was able to find a mother for Charles: her name was Barbara Hoover (not Martha nor Rachel but apparently one and the same as the Barbary in the 1880 census record). All the name changes and changed family details were no doubt a cover-up for what Charles must have seen as the shameful reality of his birth. How my heart breaks for him! Other things Alice uncovered about those early years:

  • Barbara Hoover had indeed been married 3 times - to William Hoover by whom she had a son Sam Hoover, to Lewis Edwards by whom she had twin daughters Minnie and Grace (sometimes called Mary and Martha) and finally to George Payton.
  • Being just 3 or so years older than Charles, sister Grace did NOT raise him - his mother was still alive until Charles was an adult.
  • There was no evidence that the family were Quakers.
  • There was no evidence that Barbara's Hoover family were related to the President Herbert Hoover family.
Like his mother who seemed to have gone by various names (Barbara, Barbary, and Margaret to name those on official documents, never mind Rachel and Martha that Charles had called her!), Charles himself played a bit fast and loose with his own middle name. His immediate family thought his middle name was "Francis", but his Declaration of Intention (to renounce his allegiance to the British King) has him signing his name as "Charles Franklin Edwards" and his more reliable sister Grace told her family that the name was Charles Franklin Edwards. (Could this be a clue about his father? Did Charles ever even know who his father was?)

One final matter came to light in the obituaries for mother Barbara. Charles had had yet another career, this time in the hospitality industry. He was called "Clerk of the Caldwell House". A bit of a chameleon, my great grandfather! Always looking for the next break that would improve his lot, he made numerous changes throughout his life. Unfortunately, he often seemed to make the changes too late and miss the tide that would have carried him to his much-sought-after fortune.


  • Cascade County, Montana, Marriage License 1141, Charles Edwards and Mary Wescott
  • Various sources, including census records, marriage records, newspaper records, copies of which were provided to me by Alice Hoyt Veen, CGSM, Prairie Roots Research of Bouton, Iowa, now professionally qualified, whose website can be found at 
  • Obituary for Barbara Payton from "The Morning Reporter" for Independence, Kansas, Sunday 23 November 1890
  • Miller, Marion, "My Memories", self-published memoir, a copy of which is in the possession of the author

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