Confirming Family Lore, Researching Your Family History

Melick Professional Genealogists was hired to provide family ancestry research services for a client who sincerely believed: “My great uncle Joe never did an honest day’s work, had an unremarkable career, abandoned his family, and defrauded the family estate”, while also providing the following information regarding his great uncle Joe:
• In 1894, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin (UW) and was a member of Athena Literary Society.
• In 1899, he resided in Wisconsin practicing law.
• In 1899, his brother Rob wrote a letter claiming he defrauded the family by stating, “the poor woman (mother) told me only a few days before she died, that she was troubled to death by
Joe trying to borrow money from her who she blamed entirely for the loss of her money…”
• In 1910, he resided in Oregon as a teacher.
• In 1920 and 1930, he did not appear in the US Census.

The research goal provided by the client was to determine what happened to his great uncle Joe. With the client provided information we began their family history research to determine if we could prove or disprove the client provided information.

Three 1894 class photos of Joe were discovered at UW that would provide key evidence in determining what happened to Joe.

To confirm and expand Joe’s timeline we researched town directories, newspaper and magazine articles, marriage licenses, town histories, alumni directories, passenger manifests, university archives, US Census records, etc. What we discovered dispelled Rob’s negative claims about Joe and pointed to Rob as the one who defrauded the family estate:
• After in 1894 graduation, he became a high school principal in Wisconsin.
• 1894 and 1898/99, his brother Rob was arrested and convicted for mail fraud and bribery.
• 1895, he was a high school principal in Texas.
• 1896-1897, he was employed by a law firm in Texas and Illinois.
• 1897, he passed the bar exam in Wisconsin
• 1899-1903, he resided in Wisconsin practicing law and purchased land speculating on copper.
• 1903, he resided in Oregon employed as an attorney and then teacher.
• 1904 and 1919, his brother Rob was arrested for mail fraud, jumped bail, and was deported from Canada to stand trial.
• 1907-1910, he resided in Oregon as teacher.
• Before 1910, he ran unsuccessfully for school superintendent in Oregon.
• May 13, 1912, he arrived in New Orleans aboard the United Fruit Company owned ship “S.S. Ellis” from Guatemala.
• 1913, the UW Alumni Directory requested information about him.
• 1913-1955, he did not attend the funerals for his sisters or brother Rob (1939).

We researched the United Fruit Company (UFC) and discovered the UFC developed their own housing and schools for their employees in Guatemala. At the Harvard Baker Library archives we discovered UFC teacher photos that we then successfully matched with Joe’s three photos while at the University of Wisconsin. As it turns Joe had a fulfilling career and after 1912 lived his remaining days in Guatemala as a teacher for the United Fruit Company, and he did not commit fraud on his family.

To determine the validity of evidence, it is important to determine the motivation and any bias of the informant.

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