Consider this post a needed one. A few nights ago, still stuck on the disappearance of George and Margaret Nelson, I started digging into one of George's brothers, Alton Roberts Nelson. Extraordinary isn't the word to explain Alton's life, maybe more like commitmentphobic? I am at the point where I need to write his story down before I can move on...
Alton Roberts Nelson was born in Maine, likely in Lewiston, around 1872. It is not uncommon among our ancestors but I'm not sure my second great granduncle Alton liked telling the truth about his age. As we travel his footsteps, even when he is not in direct contact with a document his age is like an old wooden roller coaster, bumping about whichever way it pleases. His parents were Eugene Frank Nelson (b. 1836, Maine) and Mary E. Pollard (b. 1846, Maine). So far his only two siblings were Frank Eugene Nelson (b.1862, Maine) and my second great grandfather, George Scott Nelson (b. 1868, Waterville, Maine).
Alton first makes his documented appearance in the 1880 US census, Winslow, Maine and at first glance everything looks as it should. Being an 8 year old boy, you would think to find Alton at school. Closer inspection shows that Alton was idiotic and maimed, crippled, bed ridden, or otherwise disabled. This is were I as a genealogist made a mistake. Alton, being the first of my ancestors that I've researched to have such problems...I didn't even notice until preparing for this post. Practically a slap in the face, the post had a much different title. Another lesson learned. The rest of our travels with Alton with need to be viewed within such afflictions in mind.
13th of February, 1891, Alton married Marion Garland, also of Maine. Having only recovered a transcribed version of their marriage record, the only other bit of information was the location, Lewiston, Maine. It is hard to say what kind of shape Alton is in at this point in his life. He wasn't put into an asylum and has gotten married. More information that points to his ability to be a productive citizen, the 10th of April, 1893 his daughter Inez Myrtle Nelson was born in Biddeford, Maine. From that record we can now see that he has become a shoemaker. Shoemaker as an occupation for the Nelson family, or anyone living in Lewiston at that time, was very common.
There is a chance Marion passed during childbirth with Alton's life taking its first unexplained turn. The family of three doesn't show up again until the 1900 US census and not together. Marion is dead, forgotten or ran away. She is a ghost now. Inez is living with her Uncle and Aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Chester Davis of Biddeford, Maine. One door down from Inez is her maternal grandparents, Franklin and Olive Garland (Inez was transcribed as Greg Enlson AND as Chester Davis's sister-in-law in this census). Uncle Alton you ask? Well our ancestor is now living in St. Louis, Missouri. A little early for the 1904 Olympics I think. He has been married to Emma Janson since 1894 (10 years his younger). They have a son Oscar Walter Nelson (b. 1895, St. Louis). This family of three is living with Emma's mother at time of the 1900 census. This will be Alton's longest marriage. I'm guessing that Alton was still around for the 1904 Olympics but I have not proved it yet. (Side note- Alton could read and write at this time)
The 1910 US census does not come with as many surprises but surprises still. Inez Nelson is now living with her Grandparents mentioned before. Emma and Oscar are still with Grandma Emilia Janson, in St. Louis. Alton, as you probably guessed, in 1910 is in the Queen City, Cincinnati, Ohio, shoe-making. The one detail that concerns me here, Emma is now divorced, Alton is married? The factors of Alton's disability and his track record. Is he lying and divorced? Or married to someone new, as is his habit.
1913 is the last time we see Alton in Cincinnati, it hard to say how long he stayed. 1913 is also the year Inez Myrtle Nelson marries John Powers of Massachusetts. It then gets even more thin as far as information goes. I'm fairly certain Emma Janson is dead by 1920, have lost track of Oscar Walter Nelson. Inez and John Powers have three sons. Alton doesn't show again until 1923, in Canada.
Ontario, Canada, the 13th of March, 1923. Alton is at least 50, although claiming to be 46 on this marriage record. The record that gave me what I wanted. Alton's mother's maiden name confirmation, Mary Pollard. I could have stopped there. You don't do genealogy and leave such a trail without at least some answers. Especially when Alton's bride that day was Dorothy (Dora) Beatrice Mumford of New York, age 18. 46 to 18 is bad enough but as I researched it got worse. Following Dora's family from New York, then to Canada (her father having passed), the more I saw the more the wedding appeared to make sense. Dora wasn't 18 in 1923. At best she was 16. I have found her in 4 different census records, US, New York and Canada. The earliest birth year is 1907, most say 1908. Their daughter, Alice will be born in 1923 sometime there after. Much like Marion Garland, I don't think Dora survived the pregnancy, as the shreds of what I can find point to her dying about the same time as Alice's birth, which happened in Illinois? No answer for that as of yet.
1930 census is where my time Alton goes cold. He is living in Randolph, Massachusetts with his daughter Alice, and his most recent mother-in-law, Clara Mumford and her son Norman. The last I have on any of Alton or his family is Alice's marriage record to Joseph Serlenga in New Hampshire 1945. It's recorded that Alton is dead, at 52, in 1945. Off his original birth year, that would be 1924. But he made it at least until 1930, where with his org. birth year he would be 58. If Alice was to go off of his marriage record (1877, instead of 1872) that would mean he would be 52 in 1929...almost 1930. Dizzy yet? I can best assume that he passed shortly after the April 1930 census. There is a chance Alice is still with us today although unlikely that she knows anymore about Alton than I do.
Alton is one of my first relatives to truly show so much through so few records. And it may be not a lot of specifics, but if you follow his path and think as any human would, you will find that his path was a hard one. The context here is what hurts. What was pushing him travel and marry like none of my ancestors I've researched before? How real and tragicwas his disabilities? Was a good guy? Was he ever a parent to the 3 children he had during his time here? I don't have all the answers and some are unfair to even ask. Alton wasn't my second great grandfather's only brother. Who knows where Frank Eugene Nelson may take me?
UPDATE - It did not take long to get some answers to Uncle Alton's travels. The first response came from a member of Ancestry who I messaged regarding their tree. It was one of those trees so large that you are unsure of where it starts and where it ends. In this case, George's relation to Alton was thin. George's sister-in-law's grandmother was Inez (Nelson) Powers. He did not have more information than that, and what I had already surpassed in my own research. There was a family mystery though, Grandma Swan, an unknown to the family.
The second response I received was even better. I added the post to Mainegenealogy.net, in hopes of getting more insight into my always troublesome Nelsons. That I did not get. But a user named Chris had found Marion after I lost her, after Alton left her. She remarried in 1904 and was in Boston in 1920. Thanks Chris!
Oh, the marriage? Marion (Garland) Nelson married a Mr. Charles F. Swan. Thus solving the mystery of Grandma Swan, at least to some extent. It hasn't solved any of my direct family questions yet but that was nearly as satisfying.