28 June 2010
Where’s Waldo? The Case of My Missing Grandfather
I was stunned! Stunned to discover from my grand aunt Mary Martin that my paternal grandfather had disappeared. What? Why would he disappear? Where did he go? This was bewildering. Her sister Josephine Martin had married Francis W. Adams in Detroit. They then moved to Chicago where my father was born the following year. A few weeks after his birth, Dad’s mother died. Frank Adams took the sterling silverware set they received as a wedding gift and walked away. Disgusted with Frank Adams, Mary Martin destroyed all photos of him, so not one remains. What happened to my grandfather? This started a challenging and prolonged search for my missing grandfather.
In the early 1970s before “Roots” hit the television screen, before the internet and online databases, before how-to research books, and before I knew about the Family History Library, I started looking for pertinent records about my grandfather. The marriage certificate from St. Catherine Church in Detroit stated that Frank’s parents were Francis Adams and Elizabeth Williams, and Josephine’s were Anton Martin and Margaret Miller. Fr. John M. Brokaw presided, and [Nicholas] John Martin and Genevieve Shabnaw were the witnesses.1 The Affidavit for License to Marry from Wayne County told me that Frank was 28 and was born in Pennsylvania, and Josephine was 24 and was also born in Pennsylvania. The document noted that Frank had served in the “war against Germany” from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and he signed the Affidavit.2 The Archives of the Archdiocese of Detroit found a record for a dispensation for my grandparents because it was a “mixed marriage,” thus verifying that Frank was not Catholic.3
Young and inexperienced, but also enthusiastic and determined, I wrote to Lehigh County for a birth record. Nothing found! Then I wrote to the surrounding counties. Nothing found! Not to be thwarted, I wrote to all the remaining counties in Pennsylvania – a total of 67. Nothing found! Once again, without all the resources available today, I was not aware until years later that Pennsylvania did not require birth records by law until 1906, although some scattered counties had kept records earlier. But Frank was born in 1893. What should I do next?
My request to the Illinois Vital Records Office brought Josephine’s death certificate. She died at Cook County Hospital on 9 March 1922 from chronic bronchitis, which she had for fifteen years, complicated by empyema and acute endocarditis. She and Frank were living at 3030 W. Madison, and she was 25 years old. Her brother Nicholas Martin was the informant, and following an autopsy she was to be buried in Detroit.4 While I was delighted with this document, it did not move forward my search for my grandfather. Since he disappeared in Chicago, I decided to look for other records in the city.
The Cook County Clerk’s Office sent a copy of my Dad’s birth record from February 1922, which showed he was born at Cook County Hospital. Interestingly, there was no name written on the line, “Full name of child.” Frank was 29 years old, and Josephine was 25. This time Frank’s place of birth was recorded as Scotland,5 not an encouraging bit of information for a novice researcher. A couple of years later a Chicago researcher located a Supplemental Report of Birth for my Dad with his name, Joseph William Adams. The record stated that his mother was deceased, and his father’s whereabouts was unknown. It was signed by Mrs. John A. Raab, née Kathryn Martin, sister of my grandmother.6 The Martin family did not know where Frank was.
Another family story from my grand aunts, Mary Martin and her sister Theresa (née Martin) Barron, was that Frank Adams was a member of the Masons. The Catholic Church condemned Masonry back then, but might the Masons have records that could identify his place and date of birth? In the 1980s I wrote to lodges in Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania to request available records. I contacted the York Rite, Free and Accepted, Scottish Right, and Knights Templar, and I searched the Masons listed in the 1919-1920 and 1920-1921 Detroit city directories and the 1923 Chicago city directory. I wrote to the Grand Secretaries for the Free and Accepted Masons in all three states and also to the 32nd Degree Masons. While I turned up a few Frank Adamses in these searches, no one had information about my grandfather.
By this time the 1920 U.S. census became available. Again, in the years before online indexes with scanned images, I paid a researcher to check the Soundex for Frank Adams in Detroit. Remember Soundex? Dorothy Thompson in Chicago visited the National Archives branch and located his card and then mailed a copy of the census page. Remember mail? Francis Adams was a lodger at 46 Sylvester in Detroit, living with the family of Stanley and Margaret Moore, their four children, plus five other lodgers. He was 26 years old and was born in Pennsylvania, and his parents were both born in England. Frank was a machinist at an auto factory, and he was the only one in the house born in Pennsylvania.7 This seemed to confirm his place of birth since he likely gave the information.
Next I decided to locate his World War I military record. Using the microfilms at the Allen County Public Library for World War I draft cards, I searched Lehigh County without success. Then I checked Berks, Carbon, Bucks, Northampton and Crawford counties. Nothing found. I searched the Detroit draft records without success. The National Personnel Records Office in St. Louis located fifty-five Francis Adamses, but none matched my grandfather. Genealogist Alfreda Davidson checked the Pennsylvania State Archives for the World War I Veterans’ Military Service Discharge Papers, the World War I Muster Rolls for the Pennsylvania Reserve Militia, and the World War I Veterans’ Service and Compensation File. She did not locate any record for my Frank Adams. In July 1917 the Allentown Morning Call in Lehigh County listed hundreds of men whose names were drawn for the draft.8 My grandfather was not among them.
By then Ancestry.com published the World War I Draft Registration Cards on its web site. I headed to the local library for a search that should be easy. But Lehigh County did not have a record for him, nor did the surrounding counties. Much to my chagrin, he did not appear in the entire state of Pennsylvania, nor in Michigan, nor any place in the country. He must be one of the few men who did not register for the draft; or perhaps he enlisted, which would explain why he had no draft card. In 1999 I searched the World War II draft cards at the Chicago National Archives, and in 2000 Gary Toms in Kansas City and Dorothy Clark in Philadelphia checked for the same record in those NARA branches. No record for my grandfather was found.
Next I located a teacher of handwriting analysis. I was most curious what she would say about Frank from his signature on the Affidavit for Marriage. Her analysis indicated that he was a good talker and related well to other people. He was open emotionally but inwardly reserved. His writing demonstrated a tendency to boasting and dishonesty. Frank was probably too open to his own unconscious parts, and he led a tough life. He appears to have been troubled with guilt and was unhappy with or distant from the Adams family. He might have been “clawing” his way along in order to move ahead in life.9 The troubling part was his tendency to boasting and dishonesty. Did he tell the truth on his marriage record? Did he lie to the census taker? Could this explain why it has been so difficult to locate records for him? Was his name really Francis W. Adams?
In short, Frank probably took off because he had a dead wife, a newborn son, no job, and no money to pay to raise his son, to pay hospital expenses, or to pay for Josephine’s funeral. Anton Martin, Josephine’s father, and Theresa Martin, her sister, traveled from Detroit to Chicago to accompany her body back to Detroit and to pick up my Dad from a neighbor lady who was caring for him. In 1923 with no sign of Frank, Anton Martin petitioned the Probate Court of Wayne County Michigan “in the matter of the adoption and change of name of Joseph William Adams, a minor.” The Court approved the adoption and change of name to Joseph William Martin.10 My father’s copy of his adoption papers does not mention Frank Adams at all. Anton Martin (my Dad’s grandfather) and his daughters Theresa and Mary (my Dad’s aunts) raised him and paid for his education. Today at eighty-eight Dad says, “I am my own Grandpa.”
In the years of searching for my missing Grandpa, I approached the task by focusing on the areas where I knew Frank lived – Detroit and Chicago – and looked at city directories, church documents, and census records. I looked for every available record, and in the process I found valuable documentation for other family members, including World War I draft cards for several other men in the Martin family and some marriage records from Lutheran churches. While writing to the Masons for information, I learned much about Freemasonry, its history, and the types of lodges it maintains, while at the same time I investigated what the Catholic Church required in 1921 for a dispensation for marriage. In addition, Cook County Hospital where my Dad was born, I located the reference card for my grandmother Josephine, which noted that she arrived at the hospital in a Checker Cab! Finally, I found it most rewarding to deal with other family historians who were quite generous with their time in assisting me and in responding to my questions about other resources I could explore to find my grandfather.
After forty years of research I have not found my grandfather. I have found records for over 100 men with the same name! He does not appear in death records in Detroit or Chicago, nor in Michigan or Illinois records. I have not found his parents in Pennsylvania, England, Wales, or Scotland. The 1920 census is the only enumeration where he appeared. From dates and ages on available records, I conclude that he was born between January 1st and February 10th in 1893, but even the Social Security Death Index does not identify him.
Five years ago my nephew Michael Martin gave me a unique Christmas gift. He purchased the book Where’s Waldo? With some clever lettering and taping he changed the title in several places to "Where’s Frank?" Frank is in the picture somewhere, but I have just not found him yet.
1 Adams-Martin marriage, 12 July 1921, St. Catherine Church, Detroit, Michigan, certificate supplied 28 June 1976 by Fr. Jerome Griffith citing no book or page number; held in 2010 by Joseph F. Martin.
2 Affidavit for License to Marry, License no. 215921, Wayne County Clerk’s Office, Detroit, Michigan.
3 Marriage Dispensation, 10 July 1921, Chancery Register, Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, held in 2010 by Joseph F. Martin.
4 Josephine Adams, death certificate no. 6481 (1922), Bureau of Vital Statistics, Cook County, Chicago, Illinois.
5 Birth certificate, no. 6811 (1922), Bureau of Vital Statistics, Cook County, Chicago, Illinois.
6 Supplemental Report of Birth, Report of Name of Child, Joseph William Adams, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Cook County, Illinois, no. 6811, 31 August 1938.
7 Stanley Moore household, 1920 U.S. census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, E.D. 391, S.D. 145, sheet 14B, dwelling 199, family 283; National Archives micropublication T625, roll 811.
8 “Here Are the Men Who Will Be First to Be Summoned by the Draft, The Allentown Morning Call, 21 July 1917, p. 1+.
9 Francis Adams, handwriting analysis, 9 March 2000, Joliet, Illinois. The name of the analyst is private.
10 Probate Court for the County of Wayne, Juvenile Division, record no. 99552, 28 March 1923, Henry S. Hulbert,Judge of Probate.
Joseph F. Martin is a De La Salle Christian Brother and Assistant to the President at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois. Author, educator and lecturer, he is a native of Detroit, a member of the National Genealogical Society, and an alumnus of the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University. His published articles have appeared in NGS Magazine, Rodziny, Heritage Quest, Polish Eaglet, and the Quarterly of the Illinois State Genealogical Society.