Lately I have been contemplating information that I have gathered and obtained from another “found” cousin concerning my great-great-grandfather George Washington Oakley. George is my grandfather of infamous fame, written about in my series of Dead Ancestor Soap Opera articles. When the two of us put the pieces together, that we both had, an unflattering story began to unfold about George.
My cousin told me that she and others had focused more on the fact that other wives existed and their names without any focus on the people and their actions. I think for the most part we tend to do this, gleaning information on where they lived and worked and the number of children continuing on through the lines. Occasionally we run across information on their accomplishments and training that had been documented. Unless we knew them personally we rarely delve deeply into what life was like for them or their family and the type of human they were.
The hundreds of pages of documentation that were contained in the pension document, instigated by George’s third wife started to give me a view of what life had been like for my great-grandfather George Claire and it made me uncomfortable. When I pieced together what my cousin told me it just verified even clearer what his life had been like at 9 years of age. My cousin knew my great-grandfather’s sister Alice well. She spent a lot of time with her as a child and Alice lived with her before her death. Alice was 18 months old when her mother died and her memories of the facts of events had been slightly altered due to her age and the things she was told. I guess, for my cousin, some of the things didn’t quiet add up.
The pension file cleared a lot of the time line up or at least tended to get it more in line with the truth. I started a timeline for George with dates that I was pretty sure could be substantiated to see what else I could learn of his life. I learned from my cousin that George did a lot of paving work and moved in and out of state to complete various jobs. I am still going to weigh this against what George had been telling the pension people as far as his ability to work and the need for more from his pension. At one point in 1890 the wage he was receiving from the street commission in Olean, New York, about where he lived most of the time, was questioned as being too much and another statement was made that he was making more from being a teamster. At the same time he was asking the government for more money because he wasn’t able to work more than one-third the amount of a normal man. All of this was happening about the time his second wife, in the insane asylum, died and he couldn’t afford the burial. Between the street commissioner’s job and his Civil War pension he was taking in about $72.00 a month when the average person was earning $39.00. Topping all of this off George was being sued for the mortgage that he hadn’t been paying on the house his first wife had purchased.
The seven children that George and Mariah, his first wife, had were farmed off to live with various aunts and uncles after George married Lizzie, three months after the death of his first wife. Even George’s mother, Luanna, who had moved in to help with the children after Mariah’s death from diphtheria, was sent away. Lizzie had problems dealing with the number of children that George had and only some of them remained at the house, along with her own son. When Lizzie was committed, her son Elijah was sent to live with Alfonso Winters and it seems would never again see his mother or step siblings. The children seemed to be a second thought for George; they were neglected and verbally and physically abused. It is amazing that from what mom remembers of great grandpa George Claire, is that he was a gentle soul that just followed along and loved his cocker spaniel.
By the time the third wife, Edith came along the children had been scattered to various places, with only a few remaining at home. By the time the 1900 census was taken, George and Edith lived alone. Edith had moved in with George as a housekeeper in 1890 and because of the scandal their relationship was causing they moved to Nebraska and ran a boarding house. It was there that Edith called herself George’s wife. George married Edith when his second wife, Lizzie, died in 1891. The treatment of the children wasn’t any better with Edith as a stepmother. It seems Edith had a drinking problem.
The interactions of this family have fascinated me. It seems hard to relate, having grown up in a stable family, that this bunch were in any way related. George Claire would marry a woman that ran her family with an iron fist. Sunday meant dinner at Grandma Oakley’s house, no exceptions. This is quite the opposite of the scattered family that he had grown up with.