Cora (Anderson) Craig, the “Missing” Cora: Mystery Monday

To the Craig family, Mrs. Cora Craig (1881-1971) was beloved wife, mother, and grandmother.

CRAIG Cora Anderson photo courtesy Leeann Fuller CROP

But to some more distant relations researching the Anderson family of Saginaw, Missouri, on, she was the “Missing Cora.”

When Amasa Augustus Anderson (1844-1920) applied for his Civil War pension in 1898, one of the questions on the application was, “Have you any children living? If so, please state their names and the dates of their birth.”  The handwritten list he submitted contained eight names, including “Cora M. Oct. 6th 1881.”  Another document in Amasa “Gus” Anderson’s pension file, this one dated 2 April 1915, asks, “State the names and dates of birth of all your children, living or dead.”  On this form he fills in the names of all ten of his children.  Beside the name of Cora, he writes, “Living.”

ANDERSON Amasa Pension app 2 Apr 1915 crop

A dozen or more family trees on give Cora Anderson’s date of birth as her date of death as well.  Evidently, no other trace of Cora had ever been found by these Anderson family historians.  But the documents in Gus Anderson’s pension file showed that Cora was still living as late as 1915.

So, what happened to Cora Anderson?  She was born in 1881, so of course she isn’t listed with the Anderson family in the 1880 census.  The twenty-year gap in the census record (most of the 1890 census was accidentally destroyed by fire) means that by the time the 1900 census came around, Cora could have been deceased.

Or, she could have been married and listed in the census under her husband’s last name.

Database searches of marriage records for “Cora Anderson” in Newton County, Missouri, and surrounding counties in Missouri and Kansas turned up no hits.

It was the Joplin Globe, 9 October 1928, obituary for Cora’s mother, Mary Catherine (Moser) Anderson (1849-1928), that provided the missing surname: the list of survivors included “Mrs. James Craig, 1714 Ohio Avenue.”  All of the other Anderson daughters’ married names were known.  Was Mrs. James Craig our missing Cora?

ANDERSON Mary Catherine obit Joplin Globe 9 Oct 1928 p2

A search for James Craig in the 1930 Joplin census found him living at 1714 Ohio Avenue with his wife, Cora M. Craig.  Bingo!  Mrs. James Craig’s first name was Cora.  But it would be great if we could find some documentation showing Cora Craig’s maiden name.  I checked the Missouri Digital Heritage database for her death certificate – nothing came up.

Although James H. Craig (1876-1941) is listed on at the Saginaw Cemetery, there is no (as of today) photograph of his headstone.  The volunteer who created his memorial page did note that his wife was Cora Anderson Craig but did not create a separate memorial page for her.  Notably, this is the very cemetery where the parents of the mystery Cora Anderson and many of her siblings are buried.

Excellent circumstantial evidence that this is “our” Cora Anderson.  But wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a marriage record for Mr. and Mrs. James Craig, showing Cora’s maiden name?

Another search for marriages, this time giving the names of both parties, uncovered a record for a marriage between Cora Anderson and James H. Craig, taking place on 6 February 1898 in Newton County, Missouri.  The bride’s father, “A. A. Anderson,” is noted as having given his consent to the marriage as the bride was under the age of 18.

CRAIG James m Cora Anderson 6 Feb 1898 Newton Co MO CROP

At last, everything lines up.  The marriage record shows not only that Cora Craig’s maiden name was Anderson, but that “A. A. Anderson” was her father.

Why had we found no death certificate for Cora Craig?  That one’s easy.  According to the Social Security Death Index, Cora Craig died 15 April 1971.  I hadn’t found a death certificate online because Missouri death certificates for 1971 are not available online – the Missouri Digital Heritage site currently contains death certificates 1910-1962 (as well as some earlier death and still birth records).  Her obituary in the 20 April 1971 Joplin Globe confirms that this is, indeed, our Cora, widow of James Craig who had preceded her by thirty years.

Why did searching for a marriage record for Cora Anderson (without a spouse’s name) on produce no results?  That’s a harder question to answer.  Even limiting the search to “Missouri” and a range of years from 1885-1900 didn’t get a hit for our Cora.

The lesson: If woman born in the early 1880s isn’t found in the 1900 census with her family of origin, and a marriage record cannot be found, don’t assume she died.  She could be alive and well, living with her husband (and under her husband’s name), perhaps right where you’d expect to find her.  Cora lived her entire adult life in the Saginaw area, close to her loved ones.  She’s even buried in the same cemetery as her parents and many of her siblings, right there in Saginaw.  Her mother’s obituary, with its list of surviving children, gave us the clue we needed in order to find Cora – her married surname.

Sorting Saturday: Separating Truth from Tradition in Family History

My grandmother and her cousin told the story of their French immigrant grandfather, Victor Meslin (1843-1932), as it had been told to them by Victor’s daughters.  The story was that Victor had run away from home at the age of eleven, stowed away in a ship, and arrived all alone in America.  He somehow ended up in Missouri, where he served the United States in the Civil War and earned his U.S. citizenship.  Family tradition holds that when he married Louise Johnson he was 30 years old, she only thirteen.  Louise’s father, a medical doctor, thereupon disowned Louise – not because she’d eloped at such a tender age, nor because she’d married a foreigner.  The reason her family shunned her, as my grandmother understood it, was because Victor was a Yankee.

Victor Meslin-2 small V Meslin

Family tradition has it that Victor’s ancestral surname was neither Mesborn, the name that appears on his military records and gravestone, nor Meslin, the name he used after the Civil War.  But none of the Meslin grandchildren remembered his “real” name.  My grandmother believed that Victor’s surname was incorrect on his military records, that numerous letters were sent to the government to correct the mistake, but that the letters were ignored and the error was inscribed on his gravestone.

“He Stowed Away on a Ship, His Name Was Changed When He Arrived”

Victor’s Civil War pension file provided plenty of details about my ancestor’s military service, as well as his life after the war.  There are, indeed, letters from Victor in the file claiming that his last name was Meslin, not Mesborn.  A note in the file written by an employee of the Pension Bureau mentions a handwritten birth record that Victor submitted (the actual birth record is not in the file; evidently it was returned to Victor).  This note states that the request to change the name on Victor’s records from Mesborn to Meslin should not be allowed because the surnames of the children on the birth record were neither Mesborn nor Meslin – but the note does not state what that surname actually was.

MESLIN Victor & Louise Golden Anniversary Joplin Globe 29 Oct 1932Victor

The story of Victor coming to America as a stowaway is not reported in the pension file.  However, another pension file was found for one “Enriette Barbier,” mother of deceased soldier Francis Meslin who enlisted at Perry County, Missouri.  Census research did not reveal a connection between Victor Mesborn and Francis Meslin, nor between Victor and the Barbier family of Perry County (“Enrietta Cola” married Claude H. N. Barbier, in Perry County, on 19 August 1855).  However, one document in Mrs. Barbier’s file was a letter from her son Francis Meslin, written in French, in which he mentions the name “Victor.”  That letter spurred me to continue looking for a connection between my ancestor, Victor, and this Francis Meslin.

FrancisMeslin11Sept1862_p01 crop_Victorquote

In his pension application, Victor stated his place of birth was Salins-les-Bains, Department Jura, France.  Through the LDS Family History Library, I obtained and searched microfilmed birth records from Salins-les-Bains and located a birth record for Victor MEZALAINE, born 30 January 1843.  His mother was Jeanne Henriette Colin (French pronunciation would sound something like “Co-lah”), wife of Michel Louis Mezalaine.  Further research into the birth registry of Salins-les-Bains revealed that Jeanne Henriette was the mother of nine children, eight of whom (including one Francois Xavier “Francis” Mezalaine/Meslin) would later emigrate to the United States.  She was the same “Enrietta” who married Claude Barbier in 1855.  (Catholic baptism, marriage and burial records maintained by Saint Mary’s of the Barrens Church in Perryville, Missouri, which were later translated and published by the Perry County Historical Society, provided crucial details about this group of Nineteenth-Century French immigrants).

So although Victor does not appear with the family of his mother in the 1860 or 1870 census, it is clear that his mother and many of his siblings emigrated from France around the same time that he did.  But could he have traveled separately, as a stowaway?

MESLIN Old England

The family tradition of Victor stowing away in a ship was finally refuted when we found a passenger list, showing “Jeanne Melin” and her children crossing on the ship Old England from Le Havre, France, arriving in New Orleans on 21 October 1852.  There is a “Victor,” age eleven, on this list.  Several of Victor’s siblings are also named on the list, including his sister Marie Camille, who would later marry fellow Old England passenger Jean Claude “Red” Meunier/Moonier.

“She was Disowned for Eloping with a Yankee, at the Age of Thirteen”

The tradition that Louise was only thirteen years old when she married Victor appears to be valid.  Her death certificate gives 26 August 1859 as her date of birth, and census research identified her as one year old in the 1860 census, making her just two months past her thirteenth birthday on the date of her marriage in 1872.

But her father, Elijah Johnson, could not have “disowned” her for marrying Victor, as her father had died in 1864 (his estate was probated in Cape Girardeau County).  What happened to Louise’s mother and two young sisters after her father’s death?  A marriage record for Mary Angeline Johnson to Ransom Warren, on 13 Mar 1867, was recorded in Stoddard County, Missouri.  In the 1870 census of Johnson County, Illinois, “Leweza” Johnson, age 12, along with her sisters Caroline Johnson, age 10, and Jane Johnson, age 9, are found in the household of Ransom and Mary Warren.  After locating the Warren family in the 1880 and 1900 censuses, and connecting up with descendants of Louise’s sisters, I confirmed that this Mary Warren was Louise’s mother.

It was perhaps Louise’s step-father, Ransom Warren, then, who “disowned” or at least reproached Louise for marrying a Yankee.  Confederate service records show that a man named Ransom Warren had served in Jeffers’ Regiment of the Missouri Cavalry, a Confederate organization.  Warren’s obituary stated that he was a member of “R. E. Lee camp 158, U.C.V.”, a Confederate Veterans’ organization.  (Fort Worth Star Telegram, 4 May 1908).

It would seem that family stories and traditions, passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, are seldom entirely trustworthy.  Yet they may contain nuggets of truth, clues worth investigating, leads worth following.  The statement that Victor stowed away on a ship, and had come to the United States completely on his own, was shown to be false.  But other details of the Meslin family tradition – even surprising ones, like Louise’s age at her marriage – were supported through research.  Studying this family has taught me to question everything, to assume nothing, and to never stop documenting.

Military Monday: Researching a Civil War Veteran Using the 1890 Census

My Civil War-era ancestor, John Henry Wilson (1823-1905), was one big brick wall. Back in the mid-1980s my great-grandma Winnie (Wilson) Mesplay had given us his photograph, with some handwritten names penciled on the back, and told us he had been a teacher and Justice of the Peace in Jasper County, Missouri. She thought he may have been a soldier during the Civil War, but she didn’t know where he came from or anything about his military service. He died in 1905, five years before the state of Missouri started making death certificates.

John Wilson - Teacher & Justice of the PeaceWILSON J H @ Carterville Cem crop

I already knew how to research Civil War pension files for Union veterans, but we didn’t even know what side John Henry Wilson fought on. And with a name like “John Henry Wilson,” how would I ever identify the right person in the records? I tried searching for “John Wilson” in The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database – there were over 800 Confederate soldiers with that name, and over 2,000 Union soldiers!

If I could find out what unit he served in, that would help me narrow in and see if he had a pension, or other military service-related records that might help me get to know this man a little better.

Many veterans’ gravestones will list their unit. We knew he was buried in Carterville Cemetery, and my dad had taken a picture of the headstone during his last visit. Unfortunately, nothing about John Henry Wilson’s military service is carved on his stone.

I called the reference desk at the Carterville Library and gave them John Henry Wilson’s date of death. The librarian there got back to me with two different death notices from different local newspapers, and she suggested I contact the Joplin Public Library as well. The reference librarian in Joplin emailed me a third death notice.

Wilson J H obit Joplin News Herald 17 Sep 1905 crop

Interestingly, one of the three newspapers referred to him as “Judge Wilson.” But none of the death notices stated anything about where John Henry Wilson had come from, what unit he served in, whether he was a member of a veterans’ organization, or on what side he fought – if he had fought at all.

Dead end. Until I found out about the 1890 census Veterans’ Schedules.

You may have heard that the original 1890 federal census pages were destroyed in a fire in 1921 at the Commerce Department building in Washington, DC. Well, it’s true. For many families, the twenty-year gap between the 1880 and 1900 census records creates a serious roadblock in research. But several “fragments” of the 1890 census survived, and one of the most useful sections of the remaining 1890 census are the Veterans’ Schedule pages, which are searchable on both and

Wilson 1900 census

I had already found my third great-grandfather, John Wilson, in the 1900 census. He was listed in the household of his recently widowed daughter-in-law, Ida (Coffer) Wilson, my second great-grandmother, and her five young children (including my great grandma Winnie, who was seven months old). His place of birth is given as “Virginia” – and Virginia is also given as the place of birth of the father of Ida’s children. (He was John Wilson’s son, Henry Plummer “Plum” Wilson, my second great-grandfather).

Henry Plummer Wilson crop revIda with Anna & Linn 3crop

Since John Henry Wilson was in Jasper County in 1900, I decided to look for him in the same place in the 1890 Veterans Schedule. This schedule includes the name of the veteran (or his widow), his rank, company, regiment, dates of enlistment and discharge, and information about any disability.

Wilson 1890 familysearch

The census taker for Carterville, who enumerated 12 pages of veterans, may have been confused about which veterans he was supposed to record. He (or someone) drew lines through several of the names and marked “Conf.” beside those names. Confederates.

So, John H. Wilson was a Confederate veteran. But beside his name, the spaces for his company and regiment are left blank. Still no regiment, but I’m getting warmer. He fought for the South, and he had a son born in Virginia in the 1850s. I’ve narrowed down my search.