Fred, Who Was Lost

 When Sally and I were first getting seriously interested in genealogy, we came across a family history that Percy Pope Dabney (1866-1935) had prepared in 1932 for his grandsons. It seemed quite good at the time, and after twenty years of our own detailed study of the families covered, we've found few errors or inaccuracies. Percy is said to have dictated it to his daughter just three years before his death at age 70, and with only the knowledge that he had amassed during his lifetime. He was an attorney, and perhaps his lawyer training helped him put his thoughts together in such an orderly and reliable fashion.
   As one might expect, Percy's own Dabney family line got the most coverage, but he had a little to say about almost every family that intersected with his line or the line of his wife, Ethel Linnie Crane (1874-1966). It was his coverage of the Crane line that first caught our attention. As Percy identified each of the children of James Harvey Crane and Sarah Theresa Bradford, he presented what facts he knew about each one. The entry for Child Number 10 was brief and - to someone like me who loves detective stories and other unexplained mysteries - enticing. Percy wrote, "Fred -- who was lost."
   Lost. LOST. Lost, as in..... As in, what? Did he die at birth, or as a baby? Was it disease; did he drown; did he fall off a horse; or was he really, truly lost - like, he walked into the woods one day and was never seen again? Tantalizing as were the questions, Percy's paper gave no clue to the answer.
   Fast forward through our years of Crane research. We found 5-year-old Fred in the 1850 census of Monongalia County, West Virginia, where his family had recently moved from Newark, New Jersey. Fred's father and uncles had built and sold quality furniture in Newark for many years, but a couple of disastrous building fires and the general wanderlust of the times had teamed up to move all three of them along. Two uncles continued as furniture and cabinet makers, one in Mobile and one in Cincinnati. Fred's father, James Crane, had apparently tired of the furniture business, and by 1846 was listing himself in the Newark "yellow pages" as an engine manufacturer. While in West Virginia, he was employed in some sort of "manufacturing;" then, by about 1855, he had moved the family west to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was building a rolling mill for shaping and processing steel. This kept the family in Pittsburgh for about three years, but either lack of work or itchy feet (or a combination) soon had them moving, again. The 1860 census found them in northeastern Missouri, where James had invested in 1,200 acres of farmland. There was Fred - although the census-taker's handwriting looks like Ferdinand, which I'm sure is incorrect - a 13-year old farm boy, and not yet "lost." He was there in Clark County, Missouri, in 1870, also - Frederic, not Ferdinand this time, and no longer just a farm boy, but a member of the U. S. Cavalry.
   And there the story seemed to end. James and most of his family moved again in 1874, this time to California, where they settled in Oakland and James began selling insurance for a living. But Fred was not in the 1880 Oakland census. As far as I could tell, he wasn't in any California census, any Missouri census, or any census from anywhere else. Cemetery records and newspaper obituaries were pretty sparse for Missouri at that time - and not too much better for California - but the records there were did not include any Freds. Thinking that his enlistment in the Cavalry might have had something to do with his disappearance, I looked in military records. Not only were there no deaths, injuries, or pension listings for him, I couldn't come up with any military records that looked to belong to this Fred, Frederick, or even Ferdinand. I still didn't know why he was lost, but it was looking like he went missing in the 1870s.
   Sometime later, I re-read a biographical sketch of James Elbert Crane, one of Fred's older brothers, and saw something I had missed, before. The sketch, published in 1892, and purportedly accurate up to 1891, described his siblings. "Three [actually, four] sisters and one brother are living in California: Eva, wife of Thomas Schoonover, a farmer of Shasta County; Julia Crane; Josephine, now Mrs. Joseph Burpee, of Oakland; Alice, now Mrs. C. M. Fulton, of Oakland; and Frederick, unmarried." Wait a minute: I lost Fred 20 years ago. How can he be living in California?
   So, it was back to the records. California had no Federal or State censuses between 1880 and 1900, but there are very helpful voter registers that contain considerable personal information. No Fred. No Fred, Frederick or Ferdinand in city directories, death records, obituaries, or cemetery databases. A further check of military records, including enrolment at the "old soldiers' home" at Santa Monica, still failed to find Fred Crane. Indeed, if he had been found, he was once again LOST.
   The final entry (for now, anyway) in this case of the missing Fred came when I recently found an obituary for Fred's mother, Sarah Theresa (Bradford) Crane. She died in Oakland in 1899. Her death notice reads, in part: "Mrs. Crane passed away Sunday afternoon at the advanced age of 85 years. She leaves five children: Ex-County Clerk James E. Crane, Julia A. Crane, Mrs. J. S. Burpee, Mrs. T. Schoonover and Mrs. C. M. Fulton." No Fred. Did he die between 1891 and 1899? If so, why can't I find some kind of record? Was he really alive - and in California - in 1891? The book note seems pretty straightforward. So, where did he go?
   Percy Dabney was correct: Fred Crane was lost. He still is.

New and Used History and Genealogy Books


© Sanford Wilbur 2018 - LEAVE A COMMENT