|John Armstrong and Clara Moore c.1921, Seattle|
I already had the 1860 Federal Census of the family, where John appears as a one year old with his parents, grandmother and paternal aunt in Kalamo, Eaton, Michigan. Then, in 1870, the growing family appears intact in Columbia, Tuscola, Michigan. In 1878, John's mother Mary died, so when the family appears on the 1880 Federal Census farming in Akron, Tuscola, Michigan, it is without her. Unfortunately, I can't be sure what John was doing in most of his early adulthood because we don't have the 1890 Federal Census and I haven't found him in any state censuses yet. However, the 1900 Federal Census does give me an approximate marriage date for John and his wife Clara McDowell of 1885. Since, I found Clara working as a schoolteacher (perhaps teaching John's younger siblings) and living near John's family in the 1880 Census, this probably means that he stayed in Tuscola until, at least, 1885 when they married. By 1900, John and Clara are found farming all the way in Surry, Virginia. None of their family members appear to have moved with them, so I will probably never know what motivated that move. This census does list a birth month/year for John of Oct 1858. Since, I have not found a birth record for him yet and it seems to fit with the 1860 Census, I will go with that until I have additional information. Going on to the 1910 Federal Census, I find John and Clara all the way on the other side of the country in San Francisco! John is working as a carpenter and Clara is listed as the mother of 0 children. Then, in 1920 John and Clara have moved to Seattle. John is still a carpenter and Clara is working as a "special nurse". I found Clara's death certificate on Family Search, which lists her as having died on October 16, 1923 in Seattle. Next, John is found in 1930 as a widower working as a farm laborer in McKee, Marion, Oregon. I was unable to find a death record for him.
By integrating the family stories that have been passed down with the records above, I am able to make sense of some of this information.
John and Clara sure moved a lot! This could possibly be explained by John's father's remarriage. After Mary's death, Calvin married a neighbor, whom none of the children liked. This caused the family to split. In fact, my great grandfather left home at fifteen for this reason, traveling all over the country. In 1900, he is found in Cascade, Montana. A letter from my grandfather Fred Moore explained that Willard was following his much older brother John when he left home. From this, I could surmise that John may also have spent some time in Montana during the "lost" years of 1885-1900 on his way east to Virginia. I don't imagine they had any money to buy property, so there may not be many records to document their whereabouts, unless they happened to be recorded on censuses. The commonness of John's name and his state-hopping also makes it difficult to track him. The letter goes on to say that Willard later spent time in the San Francisco area, attending business school. Perhaps, he and John met up out in San Francisco sometime between 1900 and 1906 when Willard was married in Washington. It is clear that both men were forced to make their own way since circa 1900 their father Calvin, fed up with his second wife, left Michigan and all of his possessions, including the family farm, to her and her son. Willard settled in Seattle and was able to forge a very successful career as a businessman, but it seems that John may have struggled. He often appears as a boarder on the censuses and, judging from his frequent moves, was never completely settled anywhere. I was happy to see that he was in Seattle in 1920 near his brother Willard. Hopefully, my great grandfather was able to help him during his time there. The photo is labeled as 1921-22, so they were clearly in touch with each other. However, the next part of John's story gives me pause and tugs at my heart a bit. I can't help but wonder why John, a 72 year old widower, was living in Oregon alone, working as a farm laborer in 1930. Why wouldn't he have stayed close to his successful little brother in Seattle after his wife's 1923 death? Willard died suddenly in 1933, but that doesn't explain John moving away, by himself, before 1930. Could they have had a falling-out? I sure hope not!
With the resources immediately available to me, I was able to piece together much of John's life on the surface, but many questions remain. I plan on continuing to look for some of the missing records at a state level - any record of his birth and marriage in Michigan and his death record in Oregon. I checked both Seeking Michigan and the Michigan marriage collections on Family Search, as well as the Oregon State death records on Ancestry.com and Family Search, with no luck. More is coming online every day and, as I have so often learned in genealogy research, patience and persistence pays off. Although I may never get the answers to some of my questions, you never know what will pop up on the Internet tomorrow!