James Frederick Chase

52 in 52 Challenge:  Week 5

When I first starting researching my genealogy, I wanted to know everything about my ancestors.  I still do.  I want to know how they felt, and why they did the things they did.  In short, I want them to be real.  I want to know them as people, not just names and dates on a piece of paper.  Unfortunately, genealogy provides more answers of a “Who / When” variety than satisfying the questions of “Why”.  That’s not to say that you can’t discover their motivations for the things they did; it’s just more elusive, requiring more intuition and circumstantial information to fill in the blanks.  The trouble is, unless you have an ancestor’s journal or diary (in my mind, the Holy Grail of genealogy!), you will never be certain that you have correctly interpreted the events in an ancestor’s life.

In the absence of facts, I find myself filling in a person’s narrative.  I get quite attached to some of them (See my post on Dianthe Dawley!).  While others who have clearly had a brush with the law (See my post on Andrew Malcolm), I view with tolerance and make excuses for their behavior.  I referred to Andrew Malcolm as a rogue, but in my head, he’s the rascal or scoundrel kind of rogue rather than something more malicious.  Splitting hairs perhaps, but giving him the benefit of the doubt in the way I look at his situation.

The subject of this week’s blog,  James Frederick Chase, is also a rogue.  He seems erratic and unstable.  While there is no way to know for sure, it appears he left his wife and children and disappeared for a time; however, instead of feeling negatively about him, it’s easy to feel sympathy due to his circumstances.

*For family following along, James is obviously on Elmer Chase’s side of the family.  He is not a direct ancestor, but he is my great-granduncle — that is the brother of my great-grandfather.

James Frederick Chase’s parents were John Henry Chase and Abby Sophronia Martin.  John and Abby were married on 21 July 1866 in North Providence, Rhode Island.  John was 26 and Abby was between 22 and 24 (her date of birth varies).

John and Abby had six children.  James Frederick was the oldest.  He was born 11 December 1867, in Fall River, Massachusetts.  Next came William Samson, born 25 March 1869, and Sarah E. born 23 Aug 1870, both in Mansfield, Massachusetts.  They were followed by George D. born 1874 in Rhode Island, John Morey born 26 November 1875 in Providence, and Mercy Elizabeth born 11 March 1878 in Pawtucket.

Of these six children, only two (James and John) survived to adulthood.  William died at the age of 17.  Sarah and George died as infants, and Mercy died of diptheria at the age of 7.  That’s a lot of loss to deal with.

At the age of 20, James married Minnie Ann Thurber in Pawtucket.  They had four children.  Fred Mowry (born 1888), Leon Everett (born 1891), Annie May (born 1890), and Edith Elizabeth (born 1893).

Using census and vital records to track James, Minnie, and their family provides a sad picture of the life James led.

In 1880, James is 12 years old and living with his parents, his three brothers, and his sister in Pawtucket.  His sister, Sarah had died by 1875.  James (age 12) and William (age 11) are not attending school, and they do not appear to be working as the census taker wrote “at home” rather than “at school” in the “Occupation” column.

In the 1885 Rhode Island state census, James is 17 and living with his parents and his brother, John.  James is working as a farm laborer.

The 1890 Federal Census no longer exists as it was lost in a fire, and the 1895 Rhode Island state census is missing, as well, so the next place to look James is in the Federal Census of 1900.   James and Minnie’s two boys, Fred and Leon, are living with their grandparents, John and Abby.  The two girls, Annie and Edith, are living with their mother, Minnie.  Minnie is listed as widowed, and James is not found anywhere in the 1900 census.  Since James is not listed in the 1910 Federal census, either, the assumption is that he has died; however, he reappears on 7 November 1915 in Lynn, Massachusetts.  A marriage record for James F. Chase, age 47, a carpenter, son of John H and Abby S, a widow, marries 39-year-old Marguerite MacLeod.  It is her first marriage and his second.

Although James claims to be a widow, his first wife, Minnie Thurber Chase, is not dead.  On 21 March 1901 in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, she marries Joseph Francis Devoe.  Despite claiming to be a widow on the 1900 Census, her marriage record lists her as divorced.  She does not die until 1950.

James’ mother, Abby Sophronia Martin Chase, dies on 12 March 1913 of endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart.   She was 68 years old.

James’ son, Leon, served overseas in World War I with the 468th Aero-Squadron.  Returning from duty in 1919, Leon complained frequently about pain in his head, which left him unable to sleep.  Sadly, at 10 p.m. on 31 July 1919, he left the house that he shared with his wife and mother-in-law.  He walked to Magazine Beach in Cambridge, and sometime overnight, he killed himself.  Another tragedy for James to deal with.

James is unaccounted for in 1920, but in 1930, James is living with his housekeeper, Lucy M. Hunt, in Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1931, James would suffer another lost when his son, Fred Mowry Chase, dies of cancer.

After the loss of four of siblings, two of his four children, and two (possibly three) failed relationships, James has reached his breaking point.  On his death certificate issued 27 June 1935, in Charlton, Worcester, Massachusetts, James Frederick Chase, dies of strangulation – a suicide at the age of 67.  He is married at the time of his death to Alice Shelley, although no record of this marriage has been found.

My great-grandfather, John, who was James’ younger brother, died the following year in May of 1936.

There are many times when having empathy is incompatible with being a genealogist.  Researching this family was definitely one of those times.

John (d. 1923) and Abby (d. 1913)  — Their six children

James (d. 1935), William (d. 1886), Sarah (d. by 1875), George (d. by 1875), John (d. 1936), and Mercy (d. 1885).

Three of their six grandchildren

Fred (d. 1931), Leon (d. 1919), and Elmer (d. 1939)

— all of them were gone by 1939.

I clearly remember the day I found out that both James and his son had died by suicide.  I spent a rather melancholy afternoon thinking about them before putting my genealogy away for awhile.  It might seem a strange reaction because genealogy is by definition the search for ancestors, i.e., Dead People, but there was something sad about one family dealing with so much loss.

Eventually, I did take my genealogy out again.  If I don’t continue my research, then they are forever lost.  Only by continuing to research and by telling their story will they live on for generations to come.




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