“Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” – William Ralph Inge
In family history, a blissful and naive notion often occurs when we begin to think we have learned all there is to know about any given ancestor. From records of birth and marriage, to census images and cemetery stones, and even through the occasional “copy and pasted” family tree, how could we not have? It’s tempting to give into the idea that it all the “evidence is in.” Yet despite all of our best research or garnered facts there is still much out there that is only revealed in time.
I experienced this when I looked at what was known about my paternal great-great-great-grandmother Mary Peak Schooley (1820–1898?). I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to Mary Schooley. I’d been to the cemetery at Leanna, Kansas several times, but the research on Mary had been done before – by her great-granddaughter, my cousin Barbara Andruss Irwin.[i] So I have to tell you how surprised I was to find a Kansas marriage record for a “Mrs. Mary Schooley and a Mr. D. H. Bowker” dated 30 October 1892.[ii]
Who could this D.H. Bowker be?[iii] What the heck was he doing with my Grandmother Schooley? (At this point I am filing a “note to self” to re-review Chris Child’s webinar about appropriate DNA testing!)[iv]
No, it was all true. Late in life, my widowed great-great-great-grandmother Mary Peak Schooley had gotten hitched at the ripe old age of 72. Okay, we all know this wasn’t uncommon, and it really shouldn’t be an issue that none of her direct descendants ever mention her second marriage, right? It’s even quite ordinary for Mary to be buried alongside her first husband Reuben Schooley – with her time on earth being chiseled in stone as 1820–1893. This is after all just a normal day at the genealogical bazaar.
However, new questions arose when a previously unseen obituary for Mary surfaced this past week. While her new married name is misspelled in the newspaper as “Bouker,” she is clearly identified as the former “Mrs. Mary Schooley” and as the mother of “Mrs. John H. Record” – my great-great-grandmother.
The problem is the date of the obituary in the Chanute Daily Tribune. The date is 19 March 1894 and reads “Mrs. Bouker who died at Thayer yesterday…” Wait, yesterday? But her headstone reads 1893… Okay, it’s not like we haven’t been to this rodeo before. It just means the stone cutter messed up – and hopefully her new husband Mr. Bowker didn’t pay the man for poor workmanship.[v]
So I went back into “the old tree” and corrected the date for Grandma Schooley to 1894. But not so fast! As I was correcting her date of death to reflect this one year variance, I stumbled upon something more disconcerting – a probate court notice for “Mary Bowker.”
Our friends at The Chanute Daily Times published a notice with regard to Mary Peak Schooley’s estate. Grandma Schooley didn’t have much to leave behind, but there was a piece of land that needed to be disposed of, presumably to support her disabled son. It’s a great “published piece” to find, as it lists her heirs by name. It also contains one really confusing statement about the date of her death…
So now I have three ‘possible’ years of death, one carved in stone and two published in the local newspapers: 1893, 1894, and 1898. If this was Mary’s birth year in question I might have let it go ‘as is,’ but a date of death with three variables leaves too many unanswered questions.
In the end, I may never know Mary Schooley’s true date of death. My best guess is “1894,” as implied by the first newspaper article. However I will say one thing for the old gal. She was nobody’s fool. In reviewing the probate file for “Mary Bowker” I spy what must surely have been her intention. My great-great-great-grandmother, Mrs. Mary Schooley, had her Last Will and Testament written out on 29 October 1892 – one day before she married Mr. D.H. Bowker.
While I can’t be certain, if I read between the lines here I begin to see why Grandma Schooley’s second husband might never have been mentioned at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
[ii] Mary Peak married as her first husband Reuben Schooley (1806–1870) in Martin County, Indiana 22 March 1838; Indiana, Compiled Marriages, 1802-1850, Ancestry.com.
[iii] Daniel H. Bowker (1819–1907) of Erie, Neosho County, Kansas, second husband of Mary Peak Schooley.
[iv] Christopher C. Child, “Choosing a DNA Test for Family History Research,” webinar 15 June 2017 through American Ancestors.org.
[v] Leanna Cemetery Records, Neosho County, Kansas, and Findagrave.com memorial no. 25103907 photo by “Vickie.”
*The title comes from Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems: “Life is for the living, and death is for the dead. Let life be like music and death a note unsaid.”