There once was a precious little girl named Violet who died at age 2. More than one hundred years later, it is she who helped me unravel a compelling mystery.
The mystery surrounds my mother’s uncle Russell Thomas Stewart. He was the younger brother of my grandfather, John Galbreath Stewart. Russell was born September 16, 1889 to John Galbreath Stewart, Sr., and Mary (McKee) Stewart in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. In another post, I describe how he died bravely on November 2, 1918 at the battle of the Meuse-Argonne during World War I.
Russell T. Stewart, Probably at Camp Lee, Virginia
circa early 19181
A telegram announcing he was killed in action was sent to his mother Mary, presumably his next-of-kin. Also, Russell’s draft registration from 1917 indicates he was unmarried. However, there is an obscure reference that indicates Russell was married and in fact had two children. Was he indeed married?
Violet is Mentioned
It so happens that Russell Stewart’s uncle, Joshua Thompson Stewart, was a prominent educator and public servant in Indiana County. He published a two-volume history of Indiana County in 1913.2 In this work he details the history of the county and the genealogy of hundreds of its families, including his own Stewart family. Russell is mentioned on page 704.
This implies Russell was married and had had two children. One child named Violet died, and another was just born. By itself, the reference to Russell’s children is not sufficient proof that he was married or had children. Although he is Russell’s uncle, Joshua Stewart listed an apparently incorrect birth date of December 24 and also miss-named him “Thomas Russell.” However, Russell is listed in the 1900 Census as “Thomas R.” So it is possible he went by his middle name, Thomas.
There is indeed a marriage record for a Russell Stewart and a Grace Davis, both 21.3 This was perhaps a fib for two 20 year-olds who wanted to be married without parental consent. The groom was from Turtle Creek and the bride from nearby Camden. They were married December 24, 1909 in Wellsburg, West Virginia just across the state line, and coincidentally, where my grandparents were also married less than a year later. It is possible that Joshua Stewart mistook the wedding date, December 24, as Russell’s birth date.
By itself, this record is not proof it is our Russell Stewart who was married. It does not list the parents of the bride or groom. It does however indicate he was about the right age, and he lived in the right place. Although he was not born in Allegheny County, he did live there.
The 1910 Federal Census would further corroborate the newlywed’s household. However I am unable to find Russell and Grace as a couple, or Russell or Grace individually, in that census.
Did Russell marry Grace Davis?
Violet Says “Yes”
I found a death certificate for a little girl named Violet Mary Stewart. She died March 10, 1913. She was born December 4, 1910 in Monongahela, which is in Washington County just south of Pittsburgh. Her middle name happens to be that of Russell’s mother, Mary.
She was treated for pneumonia and discharged. Sadly, one week later she died from a relapse of pneumonia. Here we learn her father was Russell Stewart and her mother was Grace Davis.
So, a Russell Stewart married a Grace Davis December 24, 1909. A child named Violet Stewart was born nearly one year later on December 4, 1910. Her parents were a Russell Stewart and a Grace Davis. Violet died March 10, 1913. Also in 1913 Joshua Stewart published his book and he already knew our Russell T. Stewart, age 23, had a daughter named Violet, who had died.
Violet’s death created a public record that just happens to corroborate Joshua Stewart’s obscure statement, which in turn corroborates the West Virginia marriage record. I therefore conclude that Russell did marry Grace Davis and they had a daughter named Violet.
We also learn that Violet was buried in Roscoe, Pennsylvania, which leads to another clue in the 1900 Federal Census.4 It seems this was the same town where her mother Grace Davis grew up. Grace was born in November 1889, and was just two months younger than Russell. It seems plausible Grace would bury her daughter, who died suddenly, in a familiar area like her home town of Roscoe.
The Mystery Deepens
Russell reported he was single when he registered for the draft in June 1917. What happened to his wife and family? And, why was that telegram of his death sent to his mother rather than his wife? I could find no death record for Grace before 1918. Perhaps they divorced.
One tantalizing, yet unsubstantiated possibility is that Russell abandoned his wife. On October 18, 1913, a Mrs. Grace Stewart, about age 25, tried to commit suicide by leaping from a Pittsburgh bridge. The event was witnessed by “thousands.” She struggled with someone on the Smithfield Street Bridge who tried unsuccessfully to stop her. After she fell sixty feet into the Monongahela River, she was rescued against her will by boat. At the hospital, she said her husband had abandoned her and that she had been ill.
Her name, age and location are consistent with Russell’s wife Grace, but there is no direct proof it was her. There were other Grace Stewarts living in Pennsylvania, but not near Pittsburgh.5 Below are accounts from three different newspapers from October 19, 1913, just seven months after Violet died. These accounts differ in precise details. Mrs. Stewart was apparently homeless, or she lived in the vicinity of Carson Street. She also held on tightly to a roll of money.
The Pittsburgh Press reported Mrs. Stewart’s dress buoyed her on the water’s surface until two men rowed to rescue her.6 She struggled with them and subsequently became unconscious while being rowed to shore.
The Pittsburgh Gazette Times reported more about the boatman who rescued Mrs. Stewart.7 He heard the splash and rowed out to her. He grabbed her as she surfaced. She was conscious and struggled with him.
The Pittsburgh Sunday Post reported a more spectacular story.8 It indicated there were thousands of witnesses. Her dress acted as a parachute, slowing her descent. She was then brought unconscious to the surface with a grappling hook and she regained consciousness once on shore.
Grace’s Troubled Life
Further circumstantial evidence suggests the Mrs. Grace Stewart who jumped from the bridge in 1913 was mentally ill. A Mrs. Grace Stewart, age 56, died September 19, 1945 at the Weston State Hospital in Weston, West Virginia.9 Her death certificate indicates she had psychosis for 32 years, meaning since 1913. Her age and the duration of her illness are consistent with the woman who jumped from the bridge and with Grace (Davis) Stewart.
Her last residence was apparently Follansbee, Brooke County, West Virginia. No record of her birth date, her husband or her parents was known by the hospital, although her birth place is listed as Minnesota. Given what little they knew about her, Minnesota is not necessarily correct. The Federal Census corroborates her stay at the hospital. She is listed as a patient there in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 Census, but not in the 1910 Census.
Therefore Russell was probably forced to abandon his wife about 1913 due to her psychosis. He considered himself single by 1917 and listed his mother as next-of-kin on the draft registration.
Anna Is Discovered
The final mystery is Russell’s second child, who Joshua Stewart identified only as an infant in 1913. There is a Social Security application for an Anna Mae Sliman, who was born January 6, 1913 in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania.10 She listed her parents as Russell T. Stewart and Grace A. Davis.
She would have been an infant in early 1913 and was very possibly Russell’s daughter. The dates, names and place corroborate this hypothesis. The fact that she used the name Stewart and knew the names of her parents when she submitted her Social Security application about 1942 implies she was not adopted. It is doubtful Russell raised her until he was drafted in 1917. He likely would have been granted an exemption as a single father. Perhaps she was raised by relatives, but I found no listing of her in any household in the 1920 or 1930 Federal Census. Perhaps she was placed in an orphanage as a ward of the state.
In any event, she married her first husband, Eugene Harris, on April 28, 1934 in West Virginia.11
They settled in Canton, Ohio near Cambridge where Eugene was born. The family appeared in the 1940 Federal Census.12 They had at least one son, Al Gene Harris.
At some point Anna attended two years of college and became a registered nurse.13 According to a Canton city directory, she worked at the Aultman Hospital as a nurse in 1952.14 Although Anna is listed at 1309 Piedmont Avenue, NE along with her son Al, her husband Eugene is not listed at the same address. There were two other entries for a Eugene Harris. Anna re-married sometime before March 1960. That is when her name in her Social Security record was revised to Anna Mae Sliman. She probably had married Ernest J. Sliman (1908-1981).
After Ernest died in 1981 Anna lived another 14 years. She died February 15, 1995 in Canton, Ohio at age 82.
A Violet Blooms in Heaven
Violet was blue to tell such a sad story. She herself died so young. Her mother Grace (Davis) Stewart struggled courageously with mental illness. Her father Russell T. Stewart died courageously in France during World War I. Her little sister Anna was effectively orphaned by age 5 and perhaps as early as age 1. But I think Violet would be happy to know Anna persevered and thrived.
Anna’s son Al Gene “Bud” Harris (1935-2007) went on to serve in the United States Navy as a Machinery Repairman (MR2) aboard the USS Vulcan (1956-1960).15 On August 6, 1960 he married Alice Mae Shirley (1937-2007) and they had at least three children, who in turn also had children.16 They are the great-grandchildren of Russell and Grace Stewart.
All this is known because of a little girl named Violet. She was mentioned in an obscure passage from a two-volume book published in 1913. She would otherwise be a child lost to history.Footnotes
- Dennis Stewart, MyHeritage.com, Robert M. Stewart Family (https://www.myheritage.com/site-148784861/robert-m-stewart-family : Downloaded 23 June 2016), Thomas Russell Stewart.
- Joshua Thompson Stewart, Indiana County, Pennsylvania: Her People, Past and Present, 2 Volumes (Chicago, Illinois: J. H. Beers, 1913), Volume I, Pages 704-705; digital images, The Internet Archive, Text Archive (http://www.archive.org/details/indianacountypen01stew : downloaded 9 December 2009.
- West Virginia, Vital Research Records Project, Page 149, Line 10, Stewart, Russell and Davis, Grace, 24 December 1909; Digital images, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, West Virginia Archives and History (http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/ : downloaded 30 May 2016); West Virginia State Archives and the Genealogical Society of Utah.
- MyHeritage, “Census Records,” database, MyHeritage, WorldVitalRecords (http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/: downloaded 19 July 2016), Davis, David F. and Davis, Mamie and Davis, Grace, Roscoe, Washington, Pennsylvania.
- See for example: (1) Grace Stewart, born 1897 in Pennsylvania, spouse of Russell Stewart, resided in Bradford, McKean County, Pennsylvania in 1920. (2) Grace Stewart, born 1889 in New York, spouse of Lewis Stewart, resided in Lawrence, Tioga County, Pennsylvania in 1910. (3) Grace G. Stewart, born 1889 in Pennsylvania, spouse of Frank W. Stewart, resided in Oil City, Venango County, Pennsylvania in 1910.
- The Pittsburgh Press, October 19, 1913, Page 1, Column 4.
- The Pittsburgh Gazette Times, October 19, 1913, Page 4, Column 2.
- The Pittsburgh Sunday Post, October 19, 1913, Page 1, Column 3.
- West Virginia, Vital Research Records Project, Record 10504; Dist. No. 210; Serial No. 241, Grace Stewart, 19 September 1945; Digital images, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, West Virginia Archives and History (http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/ : Downloaded 12 July 2016); West Virginia State Archives and the Genealogical Society of Utah.
- Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original Data: Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007.
- West Virginia, Vital Research Records Project, Page 356, Eugene Harris, Cambridge, Ohio and Anna Mae Stewart, Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania, 28 April 1934; Digital images, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, West Virginia Archives and History (http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/ : downloaded 19 July 2016); West Virginia State Archives and the Genealogical Society of Utah.
- MyHeritage, “Census Records,” database, MyHeritage, WorldVitalRecords (http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/: downloaded 19 July 2016), Harris, Eugene, Canton, Stark, Ohio.
- Ancestry.com and Ohio Department of Health. Ohio, Deaths, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, & 1958-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Original Data: Ohio. Division of Vital Statistics. Death Certificates and Index, December 20, 1908-December 31, 1953. State Archives Series 3094. Ohio Historical Society, Ohio. Ohio Department of Health. Index to Annual Deaths, 1958-2002. Ohio Department of Health, State Vital Statistics Unit, Columbus, OH, USA.
- “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” database, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com: downloaded 22 July 2016), Canton, Stark, Ohio, 1952, Mrs. Anna M. Harris, 1309 Piedmont Ave., NE, Page 702.
- Jim Tipton, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com/ : downloaded 19 July 2016), Al G. Harris (1935-2007), Memorial 99909057.
- Reed Funeral Home, Canton, Ohio, Reed Funeral Home (http://www.reedfuneralhome.com : downloaded 19 July 2016), Al G. “Bud” Harris Obituary, March 31, 2007.