Monday, November 29, 2010

100th Edition of COG - There's One in Every Family - The Baby Daddy Ancestor Who Skipped Town!

Submitted for the 100th Edition of Carnival of Genealogy - Topic "There's One in Every Family

Grandpa Sherman, you sure have led me on a merry chase!  When I first caught the genealogy bug in 1993, I asked my maternal grandmother about her family.  She told me a story about her mother’s father, Sherman Banks that had my eyes rolling.  It seems that Sherman had courted her grandmother, Sarah Eva Talley in Wabash County, Illinois in the early 1890’s, they married (maybe), had a daughter (her mother Charlotta Ruth Banks) and due to hard times he left for California to earn his fortune.  He was supposed to send for them once he was settled and making money.  According to Grandma, Sherman did quite well, became rich and even became the mayor of Los Angeles!  Now I am quite a skeptic (I get that from my father’s side of the family), but I loved my grandmother dearly and didn’t want to hurt her feelings so went along with the story.  Evidently unknown things happened and they were never able to join him and all contact with him was lost.  He and Sarah Eva divorced and she went on to marry Frank Bruce and have four more daughters in southern Illinois.  Sherman was never heard from again.

This was pre-Internet days when I first heard this story, but I was able to track Sherman to Los Angeles using census records.  His beautiful daughter Charlotta was born in 1895 and I don’t know when or why he left Illinois, but I suspect it was to escape the binds of marriage and fatherhood. 
Charlotta Ruth Banks Age 9

I found Sherman in Los Angeles living in a hotel in 1900 at age 29 working as a motorman.  In 1910 he was living with his wife Katherine and her family, and listed his occupation as policeman.  His marriage was listed as his first marriage which I was beginning to believe was true.  His former love interest Sarah Eva who had married (remarried?) Frank Bruce listed her marital status on the 1910 Randolph County, Illinois census as her second marriage.  I have never been able to find a marriage record in southern Illinois for Sherman and Sarah Eva.  Additionally, when I requested Charlotta’s birth record it listed her father’s name as Banks and her mother’s name as Talley, not her married name.  All the other entries on the page listed the mothers’ married names, then their maiden names.  My grandmother was a very proper woman who was always concerned about what other people would think and she would be mortified with me for telling this story; she would also vehemently deny every word of it.  When I discovered this information I was not about to break the news to her that her mother was born on the wrong side of the blanket!

Charlotta Ruth Banks Birth Record
Sherman was also found in the 1920 and 1930 census in Los Angeles still working in the humble, but noble profession of policeman – a far cry from mayor of Los Angeles!  In recent years I have found him in numerous Los Angeles City Directories listed as a Republican.  Just this year I was finally able to find his death date (12 Apr 1947) and ordered his death certificate.  I now know where he was buried (Forest Lawn Memorial Park Glendale, CA) and have requested a picture of his headstone through Find-A-Grave.  It appears that he and his wife never had any children.  How sad that he left his only child thousands of miles away in Illinois and never knew her and that she never knew him or what happened to him.  In 2005 my grandmother died and I flew home for her funeral.  I helped my mother and aunt clean out her apartment and among the many mementos she had saved, carefully stored in a small envelope, I was so excited to find this yellowed, torn and frayed note from Sherman to Sarah Eva which says:

                Mt. Carmel, Ill.  Sep. 12, 1891.  Miss Eva Talley, Kind friend I am coming up tonight and I will let you know so that you will look for me.  Yours respectfully, Sherman.

This broke my heart…. this note was the only thing my great-grandmother ever had of her father, no pictures, no mementos, no letters from him, only this short note to her mother and it had been kept all these years, first by her mother, then by her, and finally by her daughter.  Now it is in my hands.  Does this prove without a doubt that he was her father…  Do I believe without a doubt he was her father….yes.  Oh, Grandpa Sherman, what you missed out on!


  1. What a great story! I love figuring out some of these "were they married or not?" mysteries. If people in those days had only known how much their descendants would be able to learn about their lives!

  2. What an interesting story Greta. How wonderful you found this information on Sherman. My Ball ancestors have been looking for the father of Joesph Ball Sr. b. 1783. So far All I have to go on is, German naming customs, and a tax record from that area. Which mentions two male Balls living in the area.
    Tammy Renee
    PS love your ancestor slide show. =)

  3. Thanks, Greta and Tammy. And thanks for the compliment on my slide show. I had to fiddle a long time to get that to work right - I was really proud of myself that I was able to figure it out! My son who designs web sites told me to give up!

  4. Well done! I especially loved the information and picture of the note. What is interesting to us from a safe distance of a couple generations was life changing and heartbreaking to those involved. I don't always remember that. Thanks so much for this and the reminder.

  5. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I think sometimes when we get wrapped up in the hunt it is easy to forget that these were real people with real lives.

  6. It's so sad when a child never knows their father. It's cool that you found the letter though.

    My hubby never knew his father. Speakin' of hubby, he had a 3rd great-grandmother who never had a husband (that we know about) and she had 6 kids! Sure would like to know that story!

  7. Great (but sad) story, and well told.


  8. Yes, Leslie, it is sad. And I am very happy to have the letter. I can only hope one of my boys will want it one day but I doubt it so I'm glad I was able to tell the story.


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