Part 4: Finding Rose's Family
George Drake, Jr.: Last time on Fifth and Ludlow…
Ruth Reveal: “Oh, there he is!
George Drake, Jr.: My wife Ruth looked through some online records and found Jim in the 1920 census…
Ruth Reveal: “And William is not listed as one of the borders in 1920.”
George Drake, Jr.: We couldn’t find Jim in the 1930 census, and that could be because of this ad Dayton historian Curt Dalton dug up:
Curt Dalton: “'I will not be responsible for any debts contracted by my wife Rose O'Connor.’ That's what you had to do legally when you were going to get a divorce.”
George Drake, Jr.: And, because we didn’t really know how — we took on the help of amateur genealogist Jessi Sievers to find Rose’s living family members…
Jessi Sievers: “And someone — one tree — had all of these people…"
George Drake, Jr.: I’m George Drake, Jr. and this is Fifth and Ludlow. Part 4: Finding Rose’s Family.
From the start, all we really had to work with was the letter from Will to Rose — which isn’t that much. If it wasn’t for the second envelope — the one addressed to Jim — I’m not even sure we would have gotten to this point, because it gave us another name to work off of. Regardless, here we are.
At this point, we’ve figured out a good amount about Rose, Jim, and their family. Basic stuff, really — birth dates, addresses, and the like. We took on the help of Dayton historian Curt Dalton, who helped us establish a little more than what we could find in census records — namely an ad that Jim took out in the Dayton Daily News the month following the delivery of Will’s letter, which insinuated that he and Rose were going through a divorce. A divorce Curt later discovered may not have even gone through.
So, we were kind of stuck. But Jessi Seivers, an amateur genealogist, came to our aid.
Jessi Sievers: "I'm a little nervous. I mean, I've not done something like this before. I've done lots of research, just not had to present it in front of a microphone. So…"
George Drake, Jr.: Jessi already told us about how, on Ancestry.com, people can make their family trees public, and that there was one person who had many of the names we’ve been looking for in their tree — but she hadn’t gotten in touch with them yet.
However, she did find out even more stuff that we didn’t know.
Jessi Sievers: “Well, I kind of, I made a timeline — for myself more than anything — and I really, what I focused on was kind of the cast of characters that you gave. You know, that you’re... That you were looking for. And really what a lot of the stuff, what it came down to kind of focused more on Rose than anything. I mean, as far as being able to find things and pull them, and Rose was kind of the center, I guess, of what I was finding.”
George Drake, Jr.: Before she took on Jim’s last name of “O’Connor,” Rose’s maiden name was either pronounced “Rife” or “Reef.” Again, census records vary from one to the next, depending on who was giving the information and who was transcribing it. So it’s spelled a number of different ways, from “R-E-I-F-F” to “R-I-F-E.” Jessi thinks, either way, it’s of German heritage, which is pretty likely, because in the late 1700s and early 1800s, German immigrants migrated from Pennsylvania to Ohio and established communities across the state.
Rose was born in Hamilton, Ohio, which was one of those communities. It’s about 40 miles south of Dayton — kind of near Cincinnati. She’s from a large family — lots of brothers and sisters — but Jessi didn’t determine where she fell in the birth order.
Jessi Sievers: “In 1895, she marries a guy named Harry Heckroth. This is... And then she has her first child, which is Bertha. So, the birth record for Bertha, who ended up being Bertha Wysong, she was born in 1896 in Hamilton to Rose and Harry.”
George Drake, Jr.: This was news to us. We’d always known that Bertha was older than the other kids in the house but we hadn’t even considered that she was from a previous marriage, because, it seems, later in life she was given — or adopted herself — the last name of “O’Connor.”
In 1903, Rose is listed as the widow of Harry Heckroth. Jessi eventually found a marriage record for him shortly thereafter, so maybe this was just Rose’s way of wiping her hands clean of him.
Over the course of the next ten years, Rose and Jim get married, have a few kids and, eventually, Rose’s oldest daughter Bertha married Harley Wysong.
Jessi Sievers: “So, then, in 1916, they had another son, Norman, and he dies, however, at the age... Within, like, a few months. Actually, he would have been only a few months old. And one of the interesting things for me on that was, the cause of death for him was, like, colitis. So, it was a like, an inflammation... intestinal inflammation. But, also one of the contributing factors to it was malnourishment. I mean, I think they just really… I don't know if they were that poor. I don't, I don't… I don't know.”
George Drake, Jr.: By 1917, the warning signs concerning the divorce issues between Rose and Jim start to arise — at least for Rose.
Jessi Sievers: “So this is from the 16th of May in 1917 in the Dayton Daily News. And, again, this was verified with, because… Okay, clearly, “James O'Connor” is not an uncommon name. There are a lot of Irish in Dayton, but the addresses — that's what I tried to verify, that we're talking about the same people through the addresses, so. ‘After being told that he had run his wife out of the yard with a razor, Judge Budroe fined James O'Connor, 18 Tecumseh Street, $200 and costs, and six months in the workhouse on a charge of assault and battery.’”
George Drake, Jr.: The guys in Rose’s life weren’t great. Not only Jim, but Jessi found that in his marriage after Rose, Harry had been arrested for assaulting his wife and being drunk and disorderly. And, the behavior she dealt with from Jim was also seen in their children. James Jr. had several children later in life — one of which — Ronald — died under what Jessi called “neglectful circumstances” when he was just 5 months old. According to his death certificate, he died of a “concussion” to his “brain.” At the bottom under, “How did the injury occur?” it just says, “book fell on head.”
This is the disturbing reality of digging into someone — anyone’s — family history. You uncover some complicated issues. Even with the information Jessi found in the public record, this kind of stuff ends up coming to the surface.
Unfortunately for Rose, her time with Jim didn’t get much easier after their divorce problems in the early 1920s. They moved from their house at 18 Tecumseh but, by the time that historian Curt Dalton told us that Jim wasn’t living with Rose anymore, Rose was taking legal action against him.
Jessi Sievers: “So this was in October 10th of 1928 in the Dayton Herald: ‘Rose O'Connor, 405 Brown Street, charges James O'Connor of Dayton with willful of absence for three years past.’ So, that would take you back to 1925.”
George Drake, Jr.: After that, Jim vanishes. Jessi says it’s likely that when he first filed for divorce in 1920 — and put that classified ad in the paper — he just left. Which is possible, because he’s not in the 1930 census and Rose says she’s widowed — even though she’s not — because in 1940, Jim pops back up, very much alive, as a border in someone’s house. For that time in history anyway, saying she’s widowed was maybe a more respectable answer than saying she’s divorced — and that’s something she kept up for the rest of her life, all the way to her death certificate in 1949.
Jessi also did some digging into William Hoffrichter, Rose’s border, who we assumed is the one who wrote the letter. We were never 100% certain it was him, because he doesn’t use his last name, and the letter is so vague it’s hard to nail down anything, really. Jessi didn’t provide anything concrete as to who he is, either.
One thing is certain, though: he does have quite the relationship history prior to the letter being written in 1920.
After 6 years of marriage, his first wife died in 1894. And, shortly after, he married again, but filed a divorce from her, claiming infidelity.
Jessi Sievers: “She marries again about a year afterwards. So, it's entirely possible, but then he marries again a year afterwards, also.”
George Drake, Jr.: That would be his third wife. A few years later they split up, too, and eventually he married another woman. So, it could be argued that if you take his past into account, the speculation most people come to — that Rose and Will were having an affair — seems plausible, in a way.
Jessi Sievers: “He had been divorced a couple of times. So I wouldn't put something past him, I guess, but that's probably not fair to make that judgment on his character.”
George Drake, Jr.: A month later, Jessi told me to call her because she had some news concerning Rose’s living family members.
Jessi Sievers: “George!”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Hey Jessi, how are you?”
Jessi Sievers: “I'm all right. How are you?”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “I'm good. I'm good. So I know you have some news for me.”
Jessi Sievers: “I do! I was able to make contact with the owner of the tree that I told you about, the only one that really had all of these people on the tree on Ancestry[.com].”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Right. Right”
Jessi Sievers: “And it turns out that she is actually Rose O'Connor's great granddaughter.”
George Drake, Jr.: I didn’t think we’d ever be able to track down any living relatives at all, and Jessi found one almost by happenstance — and, as an added bonus, she’s interested in her family’s history. Her name is Vicky. She’s Clara and Francis’ granddaughter. Her mom was their second-youngest daughter.
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “And what was her name?”
Jessi Sievers: “Her name, I think, is Eileen, if I remember right from my notes. She is still living.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Wow! What?!”
Jessi Sievers: “Yes!”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “You just got me all sorts of excited. Okay, okay.”
Jessi Sievers: “Yes! So, in the couple of messages that we sent to each other... Well, first of all, she was a little bit, you know, when I contacted her, you know, ‘Why? Why are you researching this family? How are you related?’
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “That’s my family!”
Jessie Sievers: “Yeah, right! And I did explain to her that, you know, it was not for me. It's not part of my family. And it's not part of your family, either. She was more confused by that, too, I think. But I just, I didn't explain any of the details of the letter, but I did tell her why you were looking into this family.”
George Drake, Jr.: During our research, my wife Ruth and I came across a death certificate for James — Rose’s husband — that said he was buried in a veterans cemetery in Indianapolis, and we showed it to Jessi when we first met her. She took one look at it and pointed out all of the reasons why it wasn’t for the James in our story. First of all, he didn’t die in 1927 like this James O’Connor did. As I said earlier, he was still living come the 1940 census. Not only that — he wasn’t a veteran either. However, we weren’t the only ones to come across that death certificate with high hopes.
Jessi Sievers: “Now, I did ask her also if she knew what had happened to James. To Clara's father to roses husband — or ex-husband, as it probably turned out — and she had seen the same death certificate that you had found and she agreed that that was likely not him, because her mother remembers meeting him. And, again, so her mother would have been a small child in the 40s, and so she said it was probably mid-40s, but her mother remembers meeting James.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Okay. So there's still kind of no answer to who Will is at this point.”
Jessi Sievers: “No. And I did try a little bit… But I mean, that's just so, so broad. You know, I mean, how many Wills are Williams or... You know, I can't find any good way to narrow down who he might be.”
George Drake, Jr.: So, Jessi and Vicky had been going back and forth for a few weeks swapping details, records, and other things they’d found out. And once they’d shared everything that needed to be shared, Jessi gave Vicky my email and she got in touch.
She seemed excited to be learning new things about her family and confirming things she’d been suspicious of. She said that weird things had been happening to her — like she and her mom kept getting disconnected on her landline, and she joked that it was her grandmother Clara intervening.
She even said she had an idea of who Will is.
Then things shifted a little. She wondered if we even had the right family to begin with. Again, she didn’t know what the letter was about, so it makes sense that she was apprehensive. She asked if she could have some details about the envelopes and the letter itself, which I gave to her. Then came an ultimatum.
She said she felt she shouldn’t be involved with this project unless she would be able to keep the envelopes and letter when I was done, because she felt they belonged with her family.
Obviously, this was not my decision to make.
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Do you guys have any inkling as to why I’m here?”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Something about the house.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Something about the letter. No.”
George Drake, Jr.: A few days later, I sat down with Kathy and Frank Hollingsworth — the people who found the letter underneath the bathtub — to tell them about the situation.
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “And it turns out that Rose has a living ancestor.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Oh how cool!”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Two of them.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Oh wow! Very cool.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “A woman named Vicky.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Yeah?”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “...and her mother.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Oh, how cool. Very fun.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “So, in the process of getting that all squared away to talk with her. She seemed a little hesitant about stuff. She wasn't sure I had the right family. I explained to her that, you know, all the things that I knew, and she was like, ‘okay that aligns with what I know.’”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Hmm.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “...and she has, I would like to say ‘request,’ but it is actually more of a demand.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Okay.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “She does not want to participate in this at all unless she's able to keep the letters.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Oh wow.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Wow.”
George Drake, Jr.: To see some of the documents Jessi dug up, as well as the envelopes and letter, visit the website, www.fifthandludlowpodcast.com.
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Theme and other music used in Fifth and Ludlow is by Mustafa Shaheen.
Logo and branding is by Peter Diaczenko.
This series is made possible by a generous grant from the Montgomery County Arts & Cultural District with assistance from Culture Works.
Additional funding is from 91.3 WYSO.
Episode editor is Katie Davis. Additional content assistance from Ruth Reveal and Craig Shank.
Special thanks to the Hollingsworth Family and Jessi Sievers for their help with this episode.
I’m George Drake, Jr. Thanks for listening to Fifth and Ludlow.
George Drake, Jr.: Next time on Fifth and Ludlow…
Eileen: “I never knew James at all. I think I saw him once that he came. He was a short man, had dark hair. But after he left, they said, ‘what did he want?’ and my mother said ‘he wanted money.’”
Jessi Sievers: “So, more or less, Emma Downey checked him into the children's home to die. That's, I mean, because she would have known he was sick. There was no other reason for her to have put him there”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Who do you think Will is?”
Vicky: “Pardon me?”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Who do you think Will is?”
Vicky: “Will. Well…”