Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Young Louis Henry Wagner

Louis Henry Wagner began a diary, really a set of what turned out to be four leather-bound diaries, when he was 15 years old. The diaries document some of the milestones, good and bad, that occurred in his life. The diaries are important records of the events in the Wagner and Breithaupt families during the latter half of the 19th century as well as providing an interesting perspective on the life of a young man living in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, Canada during that pre-cable television, pre-video game era.

Louis began his diaries on December 15, 1872. His accounts of life at that time are filled with church services that were clearly at the centre of the family's life, completing a range of chores and errands like "fetching" hides for the Breithaupt's Eagle Tannery or loads of hen dung for use as fertilizer, and fishing with his cousins. Christmas 1872 is described as a time of for church services in the morning and the evening. In between, the family "had a splendid turkey for dinner." Louis received a 'cravat' from his mother Margaret (Hailer) Bean (previously Wagner) and her sister "Aunt [Catherine (nee Hailer)] Breithaupt (pictured above right in 1907)." In addition, he received 25 cents from "Grandmother Breithaupt" [Barbara Catharina Goetze].

Louis was born in Grove, New York, USA in 1857. When he was only one year old, his father Jacob died, just a couple of months after moving the family to Berlin, Ontario. Louis' mother, Margaret re-married in 1862, shortly after Louis' fifth birthday. Interestingly, among all of his recording of the family member visits to his home and trips being taken by family members to neighbouring towns and villages to visit relatives, Louis always refers to his mother's second husband, Daniel Bean, as "Mr. Bean" and never references him as his step-father. While I can't assume that there were any problems between Louis and Daniel Bean, the references don't suggest to me a close relationship.

By the time Louis had begun his diaries he was living with the Breithaupt family, his Uncle Louis Breithaupt and Aunt Catherine along with their children, Louis' cousins. It is clear from many of Louis' early diary entries that he felt a particular affection for his Aunt Breithaupt. In early December 1872, Aunt Breithaupt gave birth to her ninth child, Catherina Louise 'Katie' Breithaupt. Aunt Breithaupt, as Louis consistently referred to her as, experienced a tough time recovering from the childbirth. As Louis described in his January 2, 1873 entry, "I had to go along to Preston with the teams to fetch hides today. Aunt Breithaupt was very weak this evening. Johnny [cousin John Christian Breithaupt] and I had to go and fetch Doctor Bowlby. We brought Aunt Brehler [referring to Harriet Brehler (nee Hailer)] along out. When we came home Aunt Breithaupt had given them all a farewell in this world, she thought she had to die, but she got better again."

In addition to describing the gradual recovery to good health of Aunt Breithaupt, Louis left behind a record of weather reports for his southern Ontario town and a unique glimpse into teenage life during a time long past.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds) - Her Words and Summary

This is the final post in a series of five that summarizes the trial of my third great grandmother Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds). Roseannah had been charged with multiple counts of theft by housebreaking in 1877 Glasgow, Scotland. This final post in the series is my transcription of the essential components of Roseannah's statements to the court. The original public court records are housed in the National Archives of Scotland from which I have obtained copies for a fee.

October 3, 1877 Statement

"My name is Roseann Dowds or Mitchell. I am a native of Ireland, 36 years of age, a hawker, and I reside at 77 Havannah Street, Glasgow.

I deny the charges preferred against me viz (1) of breaking into a house in Malvern Place on or about 24th August last, and stealing therefrom a cloth coat and various other articles of clothing; (2) of breaking into a house on or about 17th September last in Bernard Street Bridgeton and stealing therefrom a lustre dress, and various other articles of clothing; and (3) of breaking into a house in Naburn Street Gorbals, on or about 25th also and stealing therefrom a sateen petticoat and other articles of clothing.

A woman of the name of Joann Walker called upon me on Thursday last. She had a knitted shawl with her and a thing with bugles on it, and two pieces of silk.

She laid these articles on the top of my chest lid and afterwards they were put into my chest. I did not give Mrs. Prentice a suit of black clothes to pawn.

I can't say if I was in Bernard Street, Bridgeton, on 17th September, for I am hawking about from street to street.

I did not on 26th September pawn with Jack in Burrell's lane, Glasgow a Thibet petticoat, but a lad named Patrick Blession was sent with a petticoat and a tartan napkin by Joann Walker to pawn. I gave a boy, Robert Smith my own petticoat to pawn. He also got a bundle of clothes to pawn which I got fro Joann Walker.

All which I declare to be truth, and that I cannot write."

October 24, 1877 Statement

"The declaration emitted by me on 3rd current, which has now been read over to me and is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto is all correct with this exception that I should have said that Joann Walker called on me on Wednesday last, and not on "Thursday last" as I stated in the Declaration. I wish to say, with reference to the first of the acts of Housebreaking preferred against me as and to which I emitted the Declaration read over, that I fell down the outside stair of my house, and was confined to the house for eight days. I was attended to by the Dispensary doctor at the Hannah whose name I don't know. I also want to add that a day or two after I got up Joann Walker gave me a black silk dress, a jacket, and another article I don't remember what it was, and asked me to sell them. I did so to a Mrs. Hanlon in the Bazaar and got £2.3/. Walker gave me the odd 3/ for my trouble. Three weeks after this again, I sold for Walker another dress, but I can't tell the material. I sold it to the same Mrs. Hanlon, and got 15/ for it which I gave to Walker with the exception of 1/ which she gave me for my trouble. The dress now shown to me with a sealed Label attached, and which is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto is the dress I sold for 15/.

I deny the charge of having on the 21st September last broken into a house in Victoria Street, Govan, and occupied by Patrick Malley, by means of a false key, and stealing therefrom a pair of trousers, a silk tunic, two merino dresses and a brown skirt. I also deny the alternative charge of resetting these articles or any of them between 20th and 30th September last, in my house in Havannah, or in Bazaar, or elsewhere.

It being now explained by the Sheriff Substitute that the merino dress which the Declarant stated she had sold for 15/ for Walker was one of the articles which she was accused of stealing from Malley's house by means of Housebreaking on the 21st September last, Declares I repeat my statement that the merino dress now shown to me, and docquetted and subscribed with reference to this Declaration is the merino dress I sold for Walker. The pair of trousers now shown to me with a sealed Label attached, which is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto is a pair of trousers which I bought some time about the beginning of July last from a tailor's shop at the head of New Wynd. I bought them for a lodger of the name of Neil McKenzie. I paid 14/6 for them, which McKenzie paid me. He left me owing money, and telling me to get them cleaned, and as McKenzie didn't come back. I got Joann Walker to pawn them for me. The silk tunic now shown to me with a sealed Label which is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto, was brought to my house by Joann Walker, and was found by the detectives when they came. I wish to add that I knew Joann Walker was a dealer in the clothes market, and so thought the articles that she had in her possession were honestly come by. I can't explain why, being a dealer, she asked me to sell certain of the articles. I can't write."

November 15, 1877 Statement

"I wish ... to say that I was not aware that any of the articles which were in my possession, or which I referred to as being in my possession on 3rd October last were stolen. All of which I declare to be truth, and I cannot write."


I am amazed that convictions were obtained for each of the charges brought against Roseannah. Upon being convicted for stealing the clothing, Roseannah was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

I recognize that mine may not be seen as the most objective of opinions due to my direct relationship with her but it seems clear that nothing directly tied Roseannah to actually stealing the clothing articles. In a worse case scenario, there could be a possibility that Roseannah could be seen as being in possession of property obtained by crime however she was never charged with that offence. And what of the mysterious Joanna Walker, a woman arrested at the same time and in connection to the thefts but then released as police felt she was a prostitute not a thief. At best it adds up to reasonable doubt.

Perhaps I am applying 21st century thinking to a 19th century circumstance and reading the statements of all the participants is not unlike reading a Dickens novel and while Fagin's manipulation of Oliver pre-dates Roseannah's run in with law, it seems that the same societal culture may have survived.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Town of Berlin Becomes Kitchener

Today, August 23rd, marks the ninety-fourth anniversary of the Ontario cabinet's 'order-in-council' that officially changed the name of the town of Berlin to Kitchener. The name change became effective as of September 1, 1917. In recognition of this historic and then controversial decision, I am re-sharing a post from the past about the views and involvement of some of my wife Ellen's family's involvement in the controversy.

When the Wagners and their cousins, the Breithaupts, settled in what was originally Canada West, now the province of Ontario, Canada, they chose to live, naturally enough, in the predominantly German settlement of Waterloo County, specifically in the town of Berlin. Jacob Wagner and Louis Breithaupt married Mary and Catherine Hailer, respectively, who were the daughters of the first German settler in the region, Jacob John Hailer. The area also featured a large Mennonite community that had immigrated from Pennsylvania.

With the outbreak of World War 1, however, things changed quickly as the German heritage became the focus a growing enmity lead by non-German residents. A bust of Kaiser Wilhelm II went missing twice from Victoria Park in the centre of the town and then disappeared for good. Recruitment for the local battalion was seen as being too slow, perceived as a symptom of an unpatriotic community heritage.

In 1916, a movement began to rename the town and although it did not have popular support, names were put forward to be decided upon through a referendum. Those in favour of the name change argued that maintaining the name of Berlin was unpatriotic and bad for business. Those in favour of keeping the name pointed to the bustling manufacturing sector unharmed by the town name and argued that the time was not right to be spending time on a name change debate when raising recruits and funds for the war effort should be the focus of attention.

The opinion of the Breithaupt family, as prominent citizens of the town, was considered to be of importance. The Breithaupts opposed the name change and suffered attempts at intimidation as a result. On May 12, 1916, about a week before the scheduled referendum, W. H. Breithaupt (pictured above right), then president of the Berlin and Northern Railway, had his home vandalised by "men in uniform" who cut his telephone line and rang his front door bell repeatedly before slipping a threatening note under in front door "stating what would happen if he did not support the change of name bylaw."

On May 19th, 1916 only 892 citizens out of about 15,000 cast their votes. W. H. Breithaupt the following day lamented in a letter, "We had a citizens vote yesterday on the question of changing the name of our city, a name it has had for nearly a hundred years, and I regret to say that those who want to change won by a small majority. No new name is as yet selected." The name was subsequently changed to Kitchener in honour of Lord Kitchener, Britain's Minister of War who died when his ship hit a mine and sank off the Orkney Islands.

The Breithaupts remained a family of prominence in the newly named city and today a city park and neighbourhood bears their name.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 4

Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds) is my one of my paternal third great grandmothers. Around the beginning of May 2011, I discovered that Roseannah had been charged and convicted in 1877 with several counts of theft by housebreaking. This post, along with the three previous posts, summarize the statements and evidence that was used against Roseannah during the trial held in Glasgow. The original records from the trial are housed in the National Archives of Scotland and, for a fee, I obtained a copy of the records (the NAS provided high quality copies and appear to have been very thorough in ensuring I received everything requested).

Fourth Charge

Mary Ann Malley was a shopwoman who resided at 17 Victoria Street in Govan, near Glasgow, where she lived with her father Patrick, a boot and shoemaker. Mary Ann described their flat (or apartment) as a room and a kitchen, located up one flight of stairs in the building.

According to Mary Ann, on Friday, September 21, 1877, she and her mother left the flat at about noon and locked the flat door. They returned at about 3:00 p.m. and found the door locked just as they had left it. Mary Ann subsequently noticed a little while later that a tunic and dress belonging to her, a dress belonging to her mother, as well as a skirt belonging to her sister were missing. These items, according to Mary Ann's testimony, had been hanging either in the flat entry or in the one room of the flat. Patrick Malley later reported the theft to the police. In early October 1877, Mary Ann stated she went to the police station and identified some of the missing items that the police had recovered.

Mary Ann's testimony was corroborated by her mother Bridget Malley (nee Welsh). Mary Ann's father, Patrick later also identified a pair of trousers belonging to him that Mary Ann had not mentioned in her statement.

Anne Brierton (nee Hanlon) lived at 65 Drygate in Glasgow with her husband Charles, an engineer. Anne worked at her father's fruit and vegetable stand in the Bazaar at Cowlings in Glasgow. According to Anne's testimony, sometime near the end of August 1877, Roseannah Mitchell showed her a black silk dress, a jacket and a tunic, asking Anne if she would buy them, a common practise of hawkers at the bazaar. Anne purchased all three items for £2, four shillings and six pence. Anne saw Roseannah on a couple of other subsequent occasions at the bazaar but didn't purchase anything. Finally, Anne stated that she went to the police station where she again saw Roseannah and the basket Roseannah used to carry her articles for sale but she was unable to positively identify any of the clothing articles.

Anne's sister, Mary Hanlon lived at 18 North Albion Street in Glasgow and knew Roseannah from seeing her at the bazaar. Mary stated she never purchased anything from Roseannah but had seen both her sister Anne and mother Ann Hanlon buy articles from her in the past. Mary testified that she identified a dress bought from Roseannah and later recovered by the police but added that she had never seen Roseannah with the dress.

Anne and Mary's mother, Ann Hanlon (nee Brannon) also knew Roseannah from the bazaar. Ann stated that her daughter, Anne purchased a dress, jacket and tunic, for which she had loaned her daughter £2. Later, according to Ann, Roseannah came to their house where Mary Hanlon tried on a dress, found that it fit fine and so it was purchased. Ann did not obtain a receipt for the purchase stating that this was not unusual in dealing with hawkers.

The Police

William Booth was a criminal officer (Detective) with the East District of the Glasgow Police. William was assigned to investigate the thefts from the Cullen and Smith homes. He subsequently arrested Roseannah on September 29, 1877 in High Street, Glasgow. Booth stated he took Roseannah to her Havannah Street home that he then searched. During the search, Booth found a cape and a napkin that Roseannah stated belonged to her. Booth also stated that during the search, he found a key that when tried "easily" opened all the doors to the flats where thefts had occurred.

Booth further testified that he arrested Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) whom he stated denied involvement in the thefts but that when shown the recovered articles, stated that Roseannah had sent her to the pawn shops with the clothing items.

Agnes Grant was a police search woman who stated that she searched Roseannah who was wearing a red flannel petticoat when processed at the police station.

John Anderson was a criminal officer with the Govan Burgh Police. John stated that he saw the recovered clothing articles in the Glasgow police station that "resembled" the articles stolen from the Malley residence. According to Anderson, he took the key found by William Booth and found that it easily unlocked the door to the Malley's flat.

The Co-Accused

Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) was a widow living at 1 Muse Lane, off Duke Street in Glasgow. Margaret's statement was clear - "I am entirely innocent." Margaret stated she had never seen any of the clothing articles that the police showed to her and that the pawnbroker who identified her "must have mistaken me for some other woman" although she did admit that in past she had pawned some articles for Roseannah, the articles she pawned were not the stolen items and she had dealt with a woman at the pawn shop, not a man.

My Opinion

The police admitted in their statements that they had arrested a third woman, named Johanna Walker, when they had arrested Roseannah and Margaret. According to the police, Johanna was known to them as a prostitute, not a thief, so they released her and had been unable to subsequently find her again. In her statement, Margaret Prentice indicated that while she was lodging with the Mitchells for about a three week period, an unknown woman who could have been Johanna Walker did come to the flat on possibly three occasions. Margaret stated she, nor anyone else, ever spoke to the woman so had no idea as to what the stranger wanted.

While it might be at worse case suspicious that Roseannah appears to have been in possession of a key that opened the doors to all of the various flats involved, it is possible that locking mechanisms used at the time and in the homes of the less-than-wealthy families involved, were not sophisticated and overly secure locks. I think it highly unlikely that Roseannah had been able to fashion herself or have made for her a universal "master" key capable of fitting the locks of diverse neighbourhoods and buildings. In addition, no witnesses could place Roseannah at any of the residences at the times of the thefts. Is it possible that Johanna was the thief and Roseannah a subsequently an unwitting victim of circumstance?

The evidence, especially that of Ann Hanlon (nee Brannon) who stated that Roseannah not only sold her some clothing but also offered to purchase some articles from Ann demonstrates the business Roseannah was in - acquiring articles from a wide variety of sources in order to sell them at a hopefully higher price later.

In the next and final post on the trial of Roseannah, I will share Roseannah's own words from the court records.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 3

My last post was probably overly long in summarizing the witness statements and evidence presented in 1877 at the trial of my third great grandmother, Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds). Roseannah had been charged with multiple counts of theft by housebreaking and her trial was held in December 1877. This post will summarize the witness statements and evidence involved in the next charge against Roseannah.

Third Charge

Barbara Smith was a millworker residing in a ground floor flat at 47 Naburn St., Hutchesontown, Glasgow. Barbara testified that between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 25, 1877, she went up two flights of stairs in her apartment building to the flat of her sister. There she remained until about 3:00 p.m. She stated that when she returned to her flat in the afternoon the door was locked just as she had left it but that once in her flat, she noticed some cloth sticking out of a chest drawer. On further inspection, she found that four petticoats, two jackets, a plaid, a napkin, a tunic and a silk cape were missing.

She reported the theft to the police and over the next few days, she attended the police station to identify three petticoats, the silk cape, the tunic and the napkin that police had recovered. Barbara further testified that she knew Roseannah well as Roseannah was a 'hawker' who had been in her building almost daily for the past year even though Barbara stated she had never dealt with Roseannah personally. She had a "strong impression" that she had opened her sister's flat door to Roseannah but because she saw Roseannah so frequently she wasn't really sure it was her.

Elizabeth Gray (nee Smith) was Barbara's sister. She corroborated that Barbara was in her flat between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on September 25, 1877. Barbara left her flat but returned shortly afterwards telling her of the theft. Elizabeth stated that she went with Barbara to the police station when the missing items were identified.

Mary Jack (nee Duncan) was a widow who lived at 33 Duke Street in Glasgow and worked as a pawnbroker at 8 Burrel's Lane, Duke Street, Glasgow. Mary testified that on September 26, 1877, Roseannah 'pledged' a petticoat and was given 5 pence and a pawn ticket. Mary also stated that on September 29th, police arrived and removed the petticoat from the shop. Mary later identified Roseannah as the individual who had 'pledged' the item.

Patrick Blession lived with his mother at 1 Muse Lane, off Duke Street i Glasgow. Patrick testified that he took a woolen napkin to McGuire's pawn shop on September 26, 1877 and that Roseannah had given him the article in her house at Havannah Street. He stated that he received £2, 6 pence and a pawn ticket which he turned over to Roseannah.

Michael McElaney was a pawnbroker's assistant who resided at Stirling Road in Glasgow. Michael testified that on September 26, 1877, Patrick Blession 'pledged' a woolen napkin in McGuire's pawn shop and was given £2, 6 pence and a pawn ticket. Michael further stated that on September 29th, a woman 'pledged' "a pair of trousers" under the name Jane Mitchell and was given 6 pence and a pawn ticket. He later saw Roseannah at the police station but could not identify her as the woman who had 'pledged' the trousers explaining that he had been very busy at the time of the exchange so he didn't remember much of the woman.

Robert Smith resided with his father, Thomas Smith, a shoemaker, at Havannah Street in Glasgow. Robert testified that he knew Roseannah "as she lives below us." Robert testified that Roseannah asked him to take a petticoat and tunic to a pawn shop for her. He went to Conway's pawn shop, accompanied by Roseannah who waited outside the shop for him. He received 8 pence and a pawn ticket that he gave to Roseannah. Robert stated that Roseannah paid him a half penny. According to Robert, she told him "to give my own name but I did not do so but gave in her name."

Finally, the court heard from Edward McKay, a pawnbroker's assistant at Conway's pawn shop at 2 Duke Street in Glasgow, resided at 183 George Street in Glasgow. Edward testified that on September 28, 1877, at about 9:00 a.m., a person using the name of John Mitchell of Duke Street 'pledged' a petticoat and a tunic and was given 8 pence and a pawn ticket. Edward stated that he later gave these goods to the police when requested. Edward also couldn't remember nor identify the person in the transaction.

The jury found Roseannah guilty of theft by housebreaking.

My Opinion

As was the case with charges one and two, there doesn't appear to have been much of a defence, if any, offered on behalf of Roseannah. It might be that Roseannah was possibly in possession of articles that had been reported as stolen in the worst case but even with this, the witnesses were unable to positively identify the persons involved in the transactions that might have then linked back to Roseannah. There can be numerous reasons as to why Roseannah didn't complete all of the pawn transactions herself. As a 'hawker' I suspect she regularly bought, or otherwise received as barter, articles from a range of sources, both honourable and quite possibly dishonourable. Successful 'hawking' involved like most entrepreneurial activities, buying low and selling high. Roseannah again appears to have been an easy, expendable target for the charges chiefly on the fact that she daily was in the vicinity of where the theft occurred, the infamous being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 2

Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds) is my third great grandmother. She was also convicted of theft by housebreaking in 1877 in a Glasgow court and was sentenced to eight years in prison. I have obtained the court records, including the statements of the witnesses, for the trial. Without a doubt Roseannah and her husband, James Mitchell, appear to have lived a hard life, scratching out a living in a hard knock world.
The following is a summary of the evidence that was presented to the jury in 1877 on the first two charges.

First Charge

Anna Thomson or Cullen, wife of David Cullen, lived at Malvern Place, Comely Park, Glasgow. She testified that on August 24, 1877, sometime between 10:00 - 11:00 a.m., the following articles of clothing were stolen from her home: a cloth coat, cloth vest, cloth trousers belonging to her husband and a silk dress, jacket, and tunic belonging to Anna Cullen.

Anna stated that she left the house, a second floor flat, at 10:45 a.m., locked the door, and returned at 11:10 a.m. When she returned, Anna states she found the door to flat locked, just as she had left it, and nothing in the flat looked out of place. She didn't notice the missing articles until about 7:00 p.m. that evening when she was putting other items away in a clothes chest. Anna asked a neighbour to report the theft to the police. Anna later identified the missing articles at the police station. She also testified that she did not know Roseannah Mitchell (Dowds).

David Cullen, Anna's husband, corroborated his wife's story and stated that he had been in and out of the house for various periods of time throughout the day. He testified that he reported the theft to the police and did not know Roseannah Mitchell (Dowds).

John McCann was an assistant pawnbroker to Charles Shannon at 4 Saint Joseph's Place, Abercromby Street, Glasgow. John stated that during the afternoon of August 24, 1877, Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) 'pledged' a coat, vest and trousers for which she was given £1 and a pawn ticket. Margaret, according to John, used the name of Mary Stewart for the transaction. John positively identified Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) as the woman who pawned the clothing articles.

Second Charge

Margaret Smith (nee Shearer), was the wife of William Smith, a cotton-yarn dresser, and lived on Bernard Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow. She testified that between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. on September 17, 1877, her house was entered by someone using a 'false' key. She further testified that two dresses, two jackets, two napkins, a beaded bertha and a child's blouse and dress were stolen from her house. Margaret stated that when she returned to her home at about 1:30 p.m. the door to her third floor apartment was still locked and nothing looked out of place. Later in the day, she found the drawer where the clothes were kept to be empty.

Margaret told a neighbour, Mrs. Cree, of the theft. Mrs. Cree in turn told Margaret that a woman had been in the building selling things door-to-door. Margaret reported the theft to the police and later identified the recovered beaded bertha and napkins at the police station.

Margaret's sister, Matilda McDonald (nee Shearer), testified that she went with her sister to the police station and helped identify the recovered items.

David Cree, Jr. lived next door to the Smiths at 159 Bernard Street in Glasgow. David stated that at about 1:00 p.m. Roseannah Mitchell (Dowds) came to his flat door, selling pinafores. According to David, Roseannah was carrying a canvass bag over her shoulder. He stated he was able to identify Roseannah based on a mark on her face. He also testified that he didn't know if Roseannah had gone to the door of the Smith flat and he did not hear the door to the Smith flat open after Roseannah had left his door. David further stated that his mother was in bed at the time this occurred so she had not seen the woman.

Betsy Dunn (nee McDougall), the wife of John Dunn, a boilermaker, lived in a flat directly below the Smith flat on Bernard Street in Glasgow. Betsy testified that at about 1:00 p.m. on Monday, September 17, 1877, she saw Roseannah going upstairs in the building. "I took a good look at her, knowing she was a stranger." Betsy stated that she didn't hear anything out of the ordinary after seeing Roseannah, including any doors opening, and she did not see Roseannah come downstairs and leave the building. However, Betsy did testify that 15 minutes after Roseannah went upstairs, Mrs. Smith told her that her house had been entered. She then told Mrs. Smith about the "stranger woman" who "was alone and carrying a bag over her arm. There was nothing in it."

My Opinion

The justice system, then and now, places the burden of responsibility on the prosecution to prove guilt 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' Roseannah was found guilty by the jury based on what I think was very flimsy, circumstantial, and at times contradictory evidence. Nothing placed Roseannah near the Cullen home on charge one nor ever in possession of the stolen articles. In fact, the evidence suggests that the stolen clothing articles were in the possession of Margaret Prentice, using the name of Mary Stewart when she pawned them. Margaret Prentice testified that not only did she not steal the clothing, the pawnbroker's assistant, John McCann, was mistaken when he identified her as the woman who 'pledged' the clothing articles in the pawn shop.

On charge two, there were two witnesses, David Cree and Betsy Dunn, who placed Roseannah in the building around the time that the theft of the Smith clothing occurred. Roseannah herself did not refute that she may have likely been there, explaining that as a 'hawker' she went from place to place all day long selling various articles to make a living. No one saw or heard anything that directly links Roseannah with the theft of the clothing.

I'm certain that without the benefit of forensic evidence, prosecuting cases may have come down to credibility in 'he said - she said' scenarios in the era of these charges being heard by the court. It doesn't appear however that any substantial defence was put forward for Roseannah that would have pointed out the conflicting timeline offered by Betsy Dunn who stated that Roseannah went upstairs in the building at 1:00 p.m. and that at 1:15 p.m., Mrs. Smith told her about the theft from her flat even though Mrs. Smith's evidence was that she had not returned home until 1:30 p.m. and didn't notice the missing articles until later in the day. Betsy Dunn also stated that the bag she saw Roseannah carrying had nothing in it although no one seems to have asked her how she knew it to be empty.

If there is doubt, the accused is to be acquitted but Roseannah was somehow found guilty. I can't help but feeling that the proceedings were based on 'marching the guilty party in.' It seems Roseannah didn't stand a chance of finding justice and being acquitted - but then I'm a proud great-great-great grandson.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 1

Court records can provide a bounty of genealogical information, especially if one of your ancestors has a central role in the records. I have been fortunate enough to find such records at the National Archives of Scotland concerning my third great grandmother, Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds). Roseannah was born around 1835 in County Derry, Ireland and married James Mitchell on September 4, 1855.

The trial of Roseann (or Roseanna or sometimes Roseannah) Mitchell (nee Dowds), was held in Glasgow in December 1877. Roseannah had been held in custody prior to the trial on eleven counts of "Theft by Housebreaking." The Crown Attorney, William Watson, proceeded by way of indictment on the eleven counts, alleged to have occurred between August 24th, 1877 and November 15th, 1877. For the purposes of the trial, 34 witnesses were called and numerous alleged stolen goods, all of which were clothing items, were presented as evidence.

Roseannah consistently maintained and professed her innocence, including in two sworn statements, which form part of the 100 plus pages of the court file that I have received.

The list of witnesses was as follows (as it appears in the records):

1. Walter Cook Spens, Esquire, advocate, sheriff-substitute of Lanarkshire.
2. James Neil Hart, writer in Glasgow.
3. George Brander, now or lately clerk in the sheriff-clerk's office, Glasgow.
4. John Lindsay, now or lately clerk in the sheriff-clerk's office, Glasgow.
5. John Campbell, now or lately sheriff-officer's assistant, County Buildings, Glasgow.
6. Henry Banner Hill, now or lately sheriff-officer's assistant, County Buildings, Glasgow.
7. Anna Thomson or Cullen, wife of, and now or lately residing with, David Cullen, joiner, in or near Malvern Place, Comely Park Street, Glasgow.
8. David Cullen before designed.
9. John McCann, pawnbroker's assistant, now or lately residing in or near Abercromby Street, Glasgow.
10. Margaret Shearer or Smith, wife of, and now or lately residing with, William Smith, cotton-yarn dresser, in or near Bernard Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow.
11. Matilda Shearer or McDonald, wife of, and now or lately residing with, John McDonald, shoemaker, in or near Bernard Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow.
12. David Cree, junior, son of, and now or lately residing with, David Cree, engineer, in or near Bernard Street aforesaid.
13. Betsy McDougall or Dunn, wife of, and now or lately residing with, John Dunn, boilermaker, in or near Bernard Street aforesaid.
14. Barbara Smith, mill-worker, now or lately residing in or near Naburn Street, Hutchesontown, Glasgow.
15. Elizabeth Smith or Gray, wife of, and now or lately residing with, William Gray, powerloom-tenter, in or near Naburn Street aforesaid.
16. Mary Duncan or Jack, pawnbroker, now or lately residing in or near Duke Street, Glasgow.
17. Patrick Blession, now or lately residing in or near Meuse Lane, Duke Street, Glasgow.
18. Michael McElaney, pawnbroker's assistant, now or lately residing in or near Stirling Road, Glasgow.
19. Robert Smith, son of, and now or lately residing with, Thomas Smith, shoemaker, in or near Havannah Street, Glasgow.
20. Edward McKay, pawnbroker's assistant, now or lately residing in or near George Street, Glasgow.
21. Mary Ann Malley, shopwoman, now or lately residing in or near Victoria Street, Govan, near Glasgow.
22. Bridget Welsh or Malley, wife of, and now or lately residing with, Patrick Malley, in or near Victoria Street, Govan aforesaid.
23. Patrick Malley before designed.
24. Annie Hanlon or Breirton, wife of, and now or lately residing with, Charles Breirton, engineer, in or near Drygate Street, Glasgow.
25. Mary Hanlon, daughter of, and now or lately residing with, Patrick Hanlon, fruit and vegetable merchant, in or near North Albion Street, Glasgow.
26. Ann Brannan or Hanlon, wife of, and now or lately residing with Patrick Hanlon before designed.
27. William Booth, now or lately criminal officer in the Eastern District of the Glasgow Police.
28. Agnes Grant, now or lately female searcher in the Eastern District Police Office, Glasgow.
29. John Anderson, now or lately criminal officer in the Govan Burgh Police.
30. Margaret Brown or Prentice, widow, now or lately residing in or near Meuse Lane, Duke Street, Glasgow.
31. Donald Stewart, now or lately sheriff officer at the County Buildings, Glasgow.
32. Bernard McLaughlin, now or lately sheriff office at the County Buildings, Glasgow.
33. Archibald McKenzie, now or lately constable in the Partick Burgh Police force.
34. Dugald MacPherson, now or lately sheriff officer and bar officer at the County Buildings, Glasgow.

The items of evidence, seventeen items in all, the alleged stolen goods, ranged from napkins, to petticoats, to dresses, coats and trousers. Finally, the Crown Attorney entered into evidence Roseannah's prior convictions for theft, dated April 8, 1871, August 26, 1873, May 28, 1875, and January 7, 1876.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Death of Mary Wagner (nee Staebler)

Rev. Louis Henry Wagner, my wife Ellen's great grandfather, maintained a diary, off and on, for several years covering the time he was 15 years old until well into his 30's. Louis' diaries are significant in offering a glimpse of life into not just the family's history but also 19th century Ontario, Canada.

Louis' father, Rev. Jacob Wagner died only a week after Louis' first birthday. Subsequently, Louis was raised by his mother Margaret Wagner (nee Hailer) and later, by agreement following his mother's marriage to Daniel Bean, his uncle and aunt Louis Breithaupt and Catherine Breithaupt (nee Hailer). In 1884, at the age of 27, Louis married Mary Staebler, the daughter of Jacob Staebler and Anna Muerner. On May 10th, 1886, their only child, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner was born in Hespeler, Ontario.

In great detail, Louis describes in his diary that at the beginning of May 1887, Mary wasn't well. She had experienced a deal of fatigue and some dizziness. On May 1st, Louis sent for Dr. Brown who provided Mary with some medicine. When her condition worsened, Louis gave Mary "3 drops each of Landinnin and Digitalis in a teaspoonful of Glycerene and went and reported to the Doctor. He was very indignant at me interfering with his patient, called it a "terrible blunder;" but I believe, what I gave her, did her good for it relieved her." Dr. Brown's opinion was that Mary had "inhaled a strong dose of poison somewhere."

Louis' diary account of the illness, of Mary's fever and high pulse rate, of Dr. Brown's vagueness in diagnosing what the illness was, is filled with the frustration of a young husband becoming more concerned and helpless to the events unfolding around him. On May 5th, Mary told him that "I am so glad that I attended to my soul long ago. If I would have to do it now it would make me crazy." Dr. Brown "wanted to make out it is a severe case of dissentary. Dave [Mary's brother Dr. David Staebler] refutes that and still believes it to be Typhoid fever." In Dr. Brown's absence, Dr. Whiteman from Shakespeare, Ontario attended to Mary and expressed his opinion that Mary indeed had typhoid fever. Louis noted in his diary, "My opinion of Dr. B[rown] is that he is neither a gentleman nor a physician and not near what some people think him to be."

Tuesday, May 10, 1887

"Last night between 12:00 and 1:00 Mary got such a weak spell that we thought she would pass away. Dave had just gone to bed, so we called him. Mary revived again, but began to rave and talk worse than ever. We had quit giving her medicine but we thought we should not let her quite alone. There might be a chance yet, so we began to give her tonic (Brandy and water) and medicine through the night with no seeming effect however.... Her breathing has been quite irregular - heart beat strong and good. Hands quite cold and feet getting cold at 4:00 a.m. Expect death at any time. May the Lord relieve her some way.

11:45 a.m. - I came down again. Mary much weaker. Eyes starey and getting glassy and she only moans with every breath. Aunt Breithaupt and John just arrived.

12:50 p.m. - My dear Mary just breathed her last. Thank God the struggle is over."

"Our baby was just one year old this 9:36 a.m. Poor motherless child!"

Mary Wagner (nee Staebler) was just 28 years, 2 months, and 26 days old when she died according to her death registration. Dr. Brown listed the cause of death to be Typhoid fever - 2 weeks.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Diaries of Louis Henry Wagner

While on vacation during the past week, I had the opportunity to intersperse visits with family members in various Ontario, Canada cities with genealogy pursuits. I finally donated the Henry Erskine manuscript to the University of Guelph's Centre for Scottish Studies and the professors at the university seemed genuinely thrilled to receive it.

I was also able to visit the Special Collections section of the Dana Porter Library at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. The library holds about 125 linear feet of original family documents connected with my wife Ellen's paternal ancestral family. In my two visits thus far, I think I have managed to go through only about one foot!

My goal on this visit, that I successfully completed, was to scan (the Special Collections section offers a great free scanning service) the four personal diaries kept by Ellen's great grandfather, Louis Henry Wagner (pictured to the right). These old, leather bound diaries contain Louis' descriptions of his activities and the activities of the family covering the period December 15, 1872 until November 30, 1891. They offer not only a great insight into the Wagner family but also into life in southern Ontario during that timeframe. I can only wish that my ancestors had left such great documentation for me!

Of the many entries that I will share over time, the following caught my attention as it is Louis' thoughts and recollections on the christening day activities for his son, and eldest child, Ellen's grandfather, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner. The entry is dated:

"Saturday, January 1st, 1887

This morning finds us up in good time preparing for the christening of our dear little boy Louis Jacob Gordon.

We had quite a time getting a name for him. The first one selected was Jacob after his two grandfathers and three great grandfathers. The former - Jacob Wagner and Jacob Staebler and the three latter, Jacob J. Hailer, Jacob Staebler and Jacob Muerner. The second was Gordon after the English General Charles George Gordon, commonly called 'Chinese Gordon,' also 'The Hero of Khartoum,' a pious Christian soldier. The third we selected was Louis, after my Uncle and foster parent from my 13th year, Louis Breithaupt who died July 3rd, 1880.

Having the full name of my cousin Louis Jacob Breithaupt, he with his wife Emma kindly consented to be his Godparents. Rev. Father Wm. Schmidt who performed the sacred rite was the first to arrive - about 10:40 a.m. and very soon the old homestead erected by Grandfather Hailer over 50 years ago and now occupied by my mother, was filled with the pleasant faces of old and new relatives.

There were present beside ourselves and Mother's family consisting in herself, Alma, Wesley, Samuel and Eusebius, Aunt Breithaupt, Albert, Melvina, Caroline, John, William, Louis and family of 3 children, Louisa Hailer and child Erna, A. B. Augustine (Carrie's betrothed), Julius Knauf, Father and Mother Staebler, Ike K. Devitt with Annie and 2 children.

At 12:00 all was ready and we handed our boy to Louis and Emma and Father Schmidt preformed that beautiful and solemn ceremony baptizing in the name of "The Father, Son and Holy Ghost" in the German language. (Father S. also married my mother and two aunts). This was the first baptism in this old home, which was built by Grandpa Hailer about 1830.

Our charge is now publicly consecrated to God. May he grow up in the fear of the Lord, an honor to his Maker, a blessing to the world and a joy to his parents. May we train him up in the nature and admonition of the Lord! Amen - Amen.

The table set in the parlor was now surrounded and very soon all were busily engaged in supplying the physical wants of the body. We got two turkeys, one 18 pounds and the other about 8 pounds so there was enough and to spare. Immediately after dinner John took Will to Galt where he took the train for Kansas City and Albert B. Augustine also left about 3:00 p.m.

Mother was quite pleased that we had the christening at her house and everyone secured happy. In the evening we went out to Aunty's and next morning I left for my appointment to Strasburg and Hespeler leaving Mary and the baby to remain a few days longer in Berlin."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Roseann (Roseannah) Dowds Mitchell Revisited

In May, I wrote a blog post entitled, "My Ancestor Did What?", about the discovery that my 3rd great grandmother, Roseann (or Roseannah) Mitchell (nee Dowds) appeared to have been convicted in 1877 of theft by housebreaking and that she had been sentenced to eight years in prison for the crime. I speculated as to what the motive might have been and recognized that only by reviewing the case file could I come close to any answers, including the most important one - was this 'my' Roseann Dowds Mitchell?

Although it is a bit of a lengthy process to receive a fee estimate for a copy of the applicable court file from the National Archives of Scotland, the wait was worth it. The cost of the file material was a little more than $100 but Roseann's is a thick file, more than 150 pages. I have received the first 100 pages, all high quality colour photocopies of the original file that includes the thirty-four witness statements from the trial in addition to Roseann's own statements.

As to my questions about the case, it is regarding 'my' 3rd great grandmother, Roseann Mitchell (nee Dowds), of that I have little doubt. Although I can't take pride in the criminal acts described in the case file, I am proud of my ancestor and not threatened at all by her 'record.' The information contained in the pages I have received adds dimension to her name in my database. The information adds bark to the family tree, not just another leaf.

As to the story surrounding Roseann's conviction, a single post won't do it justice and properly I need to see the 50 pages of the file that have not yet been sent to me but are "to follow ASAP" according to the note provided by the archivist who processed my request.

I have only had the opportunity to take a quick read of the file to this point and it is safe enough to say that Roseann was convicted and sentenced based on circumstantial evidence. The "he said, she said" variety of evidence that convinced a jury of guilt but leaves me wondering about the sub-text of the Glasgow street life of the time, with sufficient characters to fill a 'Dickens' novel.

In addition to the thirty-four witnesses, sixteen articles were admitted into evidence at the trial. Of these articles, twelve items were clothing - 'the stolen goods' - ranging from a napkin to trousers to petticoats. Roseann professed her innocence to the end but circumstances accumulated that lead to her conviction and separation from her family and an unhappy eight years in prison.