Friday, September 28, 2012

Murder in The Church - The Death of Dr. James Wright Markoe

My wife's North American roots are deep. I can trace her ancestors in what is the United States and Canada back to about 1628, just a few years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. My family, in contrast, immigrated to North America in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. It is likely for this reason that most of the MyHeritage record matches with Find-A-Grave memorial pages involved Ellen's ancestors.

One of the several bits of information that I discovered about Ellen's ancestors through their memorial pages involved a fifth cousin, twice removed: Dr. James Wright Markoe (right, as he was pictured in the New York Times in 1920). James and Ellen share great grandparents, John Faulkner and his wife, Sarah Abbott. John and Sarah are the 4th great grandparents to Dr. Markoe and the 6th great grandparents to Ellen.

On Dr. Markoe's Find-A-Grave memorial page is a biographical note stating that he died after being shot at church. I couldn't resist exploring that story and found that it was, in fact, true.

Dr. James Wright Markoe was the personal physician to J. P. Morgan, the very wealthy financier and industrialist. It was this friendly relationship that lead J. P. Morgan to financing New York City's Lying In Hospital which Dr. Markoe founded and oversaw for a number of years.

The New York Times reported that on Sunday, April 18, 1920, Dr. Markoe was one of a number of ushers who were taking up the collection during Sunday services at St. George's Episcopal Church, near Stuyvesant Square in New York City. As Dr. Markoe proceeded with the collection task "a lunatic, recently escaped from an asylum, arose from a seat towards the rear of the church, fired a revolver and mortally wounded" Dr. Markoe. Some reports have suggested that the murderer had misidentified Dr. Markoe with his real target, J. P. Morgan, Jr.

The 'lunatic', as the newspaper referred to him, was apprehended by men who were also attending the church service and turned over to the police. He was later identified as Thomas Simpkin of Duluth, Minnesota. Simpkin's version of events is that he had no particular target but rather he was dismayed because the "preacher in his sermon at the church told them to be good to strangers but no one spoke to me, and I resented it." Simpkin as it turns out had moved his family from England to Canada about seven years earlier. He told police that he had joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in World War 1. According to Simpkin, just prior to departing Canada for the war, he learned that his wife was again pregnant and when his request to be stationed closer to his family was denied, he deserted and moved the family to the United States. The attestation papers for Thomas Simpkin indicate that he lived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada when he was inducted into the military in 1916.

Dr. Markoe's murder prompted a flurry of calls for changes in the way the U.S. courts dealt with those who at the time were considered to be 'insane.'

As for Dr. Markoe, he was laid to rest in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery following a funeral service that took place in the chapel of the very church in which he had been killed. The New York Times described  the funeral as a "quiet, simple service except the dismal beating of the rain on the tin roof which at times almost muffled the droning of the prayers for the dead." The funeral was held under police guard with admittance controlled by admission tickets. Among the mourners were Dr. Markoe's widow, Annette, as well as family and friends including J. P. Morgan, Jr. as well as a police honour guard provided in recognition of the work Dr. Markoe had done for the police of New York City over the years.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Tip From Randy Leads to Interesting Ancestral Stories

I read with great interest Randy Seaver's Genea-Musings post on September 20th about how MyHeritage's new record match feature was assisting him in locating the Find-A-Grave memorial pages for many of the people he has listed in his genealogy database. Please read Randy's post for the details on how he successfully used the records match process.

Like Randy and many genealogy colleagues, I have used Find-A-Grave frequently over the years to find burial information about ancestors. But, having about 12,700 ancestors in my genealogy database covering both my family and my wife Ellen's family, searching individually for every ancestor on Find-A-Grave was too exhaustive a process to undertake. However, having taken advantage of a recent MyHeritage subscription offer (which for disclosure purposes I paid for myself), I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of Find-A-Grave records matches My Heritage could offer me.

MyHeritage indicated that it had found 201 records matches in Find-A-Grave with individuals in my family tree. MyHeritage based this on a older version that I had uploaded to the site last year. I have since uploaded a more current version of my family tree information, one in which some branches have been pruned while other branches have grown. 

All but a very few, likely less than five, were valid matches that I confirmed after first extracting information from the Find-A-Grave memorial pages.

What interested me the most though was some of the biographical information about a number of our family ancestors that I wasn't aware of. Over the years of conducting family history research, I have always felt that every person in our family tree has a story to tell and one of my chief goals was to discover and hopefully tell the ancestor's story. 

I take pride in our family ancestor's as it is through their efforts, trials and tribulations, successes and achievements that my family is enjoying our current comforts. Not all of my ancestors made the right decisions all of the time, some made huge mistakes but they sure seem to have done what they thought was the absolute best for themselves and their families at the time. Their decisions, sometimes difficult to understand in a current context, were right for them in their current context. Those decisions ultimately guided the family, and me, to where we are today.

In the next few posts, I will share some of the stories of these ancestors that I found to be particularly interesting when I found out about them through their Find-A-Grave memorial pages.  Often, these are ancestors that are on family tree branches that are not close to my more direct ancestors whom I tend to focus on, but they are still family.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Edwin Cyprian Mcrae - Corrected Information

On April 28, 2011, I posted a story about my maternal second cousin, Edwin Cyprian McRae.

Edwin was quite the smart fellow: an engineer (according to his Michigan marriage registration in 1924; the company attorney for a Detroit auto company; and, an inventor who was granted 28 patents on everything from an anti-skid braking control system to a vehicle torque converter to a ball cock valve.

In my post however, I indicated that Edwin passed away in 1983. I have been contacted by Edwin's granddaughter who corrected me, stating he died in 1993. I checked my database and sure enough, I have his year of death listed as 1993. I can only assume that the error was a result of my clumsy typing skills.

My thanks to Edwin's granddaughter, also a cousin to me, for pointing out this date error. The details count!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Wagner - Faulkner 50th Wedding Anniversary

When my wife Ellen's grandparents celebrated the significant milestone of their 50th wedding anniversary in 1962, as is often the case for these events, a party was held.

Unfortunately, Ellen's parents were unable to attend due to business commitments but Louis Jacob Gordon and Charlotte 'Lottie' (nee Faulkner) Wagner's three other children and their spouses were present to celebrate the occasion.

Pictured below are the Wagner children with their parents: seated are Charlotte 'Lottie' (Faulkner) Wagner, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner; and, standing left to right, Ralph and Phyllis (nee Wagner) Moore, Ivy (nee Harvey) and Gordon Wagner, and Bernice (nee Wagner) and Albert Sexsmith.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to meet any of these family members but that is changing. Taking advantage of recently being in the western part of Canada, I've now had the opportunity to meet with Ellen's only surviving aunt and uncle, Ralph and Phyllis Moore. This year, Ralph and Phyllis celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary, a milestone that I have a tough time 'wrapping' my head around as it is an achievement of longevity and commitment so seldom enjoyed by couples.

Congratulations to both of them!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Cousin Was A Hero! (Re-Post)

In honour of the 9/11remembrances and memorials taking place today marking that tragic day 11 years ago, I am re-posting the story of one of my family's heroes, Lt. Michael Warchola of the New York Fire Department who gave his life in the World Trade Centre while rescuing building occupants.


Until this past week when I was contacted through a "new cousin connection" who had read about our family in this blog, I didn't know that I had a cousin, a second cousin once removed to be exact, who had died a hero! In my last couple of posts, I have recounted the new 'cousin' connection. One of the many bits of new information passed on to me was about another cousin, Lt. Michael Warchola (pictured to the right) of the New York City Fire Department. Michael's great grandmother was Agnes (nee Sweeney) Mitchell Branchfield, my second great grandmother.

Michael, or 'Mike' as he was known, was born, raised, and lived his life in New York City. Like his older brother, Dennis, Michael joined the NYFD. Just two shifts before his retirement, the paperwork completed, Michael died saving the lives of others on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Centre.

The events of that horrific day are indelibly marked in my mind as is the case with most of us. Yet, from the relative safety of my office in Canada, it was too easy to feel somewhat distant and removed, after all, I really didn't know anyone in New York City. Now, learning that a cousin, one of my cousins, was there and that he died saving the lives of others in his role as a 'first responder', a role he undoubtedly loved and worked hard at, makes the tragedy of the day hit 'home' that much harder.

I never met Michael but wish I had had the chance. I have learned from a number of tributes posted about Michael that he enjoyed history, especially stories of the strange and bizarre, a passion reputed to have developed from reading British tabloid newspapers at his grandmother's house. Michael was a Golden Gloves boxing champion who went to university in Buffalo around the same time I was in university in Toronto, just a 90-minute drive away. Mike and I both graduated from university in 1976 and, in 1977, after years spent on the waiting list, Mike joined the New York Fire Department.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Lt. Michael Warchola led his crew from Ladder Company 5 into the 'B' stairwell of the North Tower at the World Trade Centre. On the 12th floor, he stopped to help a young woman who was experiencing chest pains. When the call went out to the emergency responders to evacuate the building, Michael was seen by other firefighters still tending to the woman, promising that he would soon also evacuate.

After the collapse of the building around him, Michael was heard over the radio, "Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is Ladder Company 5, mayday. We're in the B stairwell, 12th floor. I'm trapped, and I'm hurt bad." Michael was able to call out two additional maydays but his would-be rescuers were unable to reach him due to impassable debris.

Michael's body was recovered on Friday, September 14, 2001 and was carried out of the rubble by surviving members of Ladder Company 5. The world had lost a hero!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Johnny Burke - Canada's Newest Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee

Last night, our great friend, Johnny Burke became the newest inductee into Canada's Country Music Hall of Fame. Just the 52nd artist, joining the likes of Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Hank Snow, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, and Ronnie Prophet so honoured in a country deep with country music traditions.

Below is a photo I took of Johnny at his 2005 induction into the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame.

Johnny is a man of great class and great talent who has entertained for well more than fifty years. And, I'll not forgot that he and his wife Teresa drove an hour and half for just a fifteen minute visit and to wish me well when I was in the hospital's ICU a couple of years ago.

So proud are we of our good friend that we had to drive the 2880 kilometres (about 1800 miles) to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to witness Johnny receiving his extremely well deserved, but overdue, honour.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Louis Henry Wagner's Second Family

Just over a year ago, I wrote about the diaries kept by my wife's great grandfather, Rev. Louis Henry Wagner.

Louis was born in 1857 in Grove, Alleghany, New York state to Rev. Jacob Wagner and his wife Margaret (nee Hailer). By the time, Louis was a year old, his father had decided to end his career as a minister and he entered into a business partnership with his brother-in-law, Louis Breithaupt. Sadly the partnership in a tanning business located in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario ended abruptly when Jacob died in 1858. The tannery that he and Louis Breithaupt established went on to prosper as one of Berlin's major companies with the Eagle Tannery building still a part of Kitchener's downtown core.

While Louis Henry Wagner worked in the family tannery, he eventually became a minister in the Evangelical Association and married Mary Staebler. In a series of diary entries, Louis described his wife's death of typhoid fever in 1887, on the first birthday of their son, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner, my wife's grandfather. Just over two years following the death of his wife Mary, Louis married for a second time. His second wife was Sarah Lodema Moyer (whose family is the subject of voluminous 'genealogical record' compiled by Rev. A. J. Fretz in 1895).

Louis and Sarah appear to have lived a good and stable family life until their deaths in 1945 and 1941, respectively. Below is a family photo, taken around 1908 - 1910 of Sarah (far left) and Louis (far right) with their children, from left to right: Ida (born in 1893), Margaret Florence (born 1898), Louis Jacob Gordon (from Louis' first marriage, born 1886), and Carl Henry (born 1897).

Louis and Sarah Wagner are buried together in the Mount Hope Cemetery located in Kitchener, Ontario.