My Grandfather’s Mysterious First Wife

So, one day I was searching online for my grandparents’ marriage certificate when I pulled up something that made me gasp out loud. It was certainly a marriage certificate for my grandfather, The Mariner, but the wife most definitely wasn’t my Nana.

keene-backus-1910-marriage

Right there on the page, No. 150, was listed my grandfather, Charles L. Keene, of Boston, MA. But, the wife’s name is given as Miss Anna L. Backus, of St. Joseph, MO. Both the application for the license and the marriage license were issued the same day, February 10, 1910, in Buchanan Co, Missouri.

I can place my grandfather in St. Joseph, MO. He wrote home to his parents quite often, and the postmarks verify his location. So, I’m pretty certain that this is the right Charles L. Keene.

Charles was specified as being over 21, as he would have been 27 on his birthday in March of that year. Anna’s age was specified as being under 18.  Because she was not yet 18, her mother had to give permission. She is listed on the application as Mrs. Mary Handley/Haudley.

This was all a pretty big shock to me, as I had never heard of my grandfather being married prior to marrying my grandmother. There were, and probably still are, things not spoken of in my family. I’m thinking most families are like that, but it’s still a bit of a shock, for example, to go to an uncle’s funeral, one whom you have known all your born days, to find not only his first wife, but also a daughter, in the front pew. Stuff like that happens.

But, back to this story.

My Grandpy married my Nana June 4, 1912, just a little more than two years after he married Anna. There was a story here, and I determined to sniff it out.

And, promptly came to a dead end.

I asked my Uncle George, son of Charles (and my father’s brother), if he knew anything about it. He seemed to faintly recall someone, somewhere, saying something about a possible marriage that might have taken place. But, he couldn’t say for sure.

Uncle George’s wife, my Aunt Gwen, about the same time, shared with me binders of family records, letters, and genealogy that she had collected over the years. My Grandpy was a chef, and traveled all over the US for work, and he faithfully sent postcards to his parents. (This was before he joined the Matson Line.) I noticed that in those he sent to his parents from 1910-1911, there were quite a few from “Charles and Thelma.”

Thelma? Anna? What was going on here? How many wives did Grandpy have???

Aunt Gwen, bless her, had transcribed these postcards. I began to put the transcriptions in chronological order, hoping to sort out the story. I found no mention of Thelma in the postcards from the date of their presumed marriage until September of the same year, 1910.

9/23/1910, from Atchison & Lenora: We leave here Saturday. Will send address as soon as possible. Thanks for the cards and pictures. Looks just like Father. Will be home in the spring. Thelma and I are both well. Hoping everyone is well at home, Love from Chas and Thelma

10/4/1910:  Will send address soon. Both are well. Chas and Thelma

From 10/9/1910:  Hello Mother: We are in Kansas City for a while working at the Savoy Hotel. Will write you a letter tomorrow. Address 709 East 9th Street. Thelma & Charley

10/12/1910, from Kansas City, MO: Dear Mother, We both wish you a Happy Birthday– and as soon as we are able will send something to show that we still think of you. We are both well and hope that you and Father are also. 709 E. 9th St. Love from Charlie and Thelma

No date: Dear Mother. Am out of work for a week on account of sores breaking out on my face and hands but the Doctor is giving me plenty of strong medicine which by the feeling surely ought to cure me. Thelma is working hard every day.

11/23/1910: Dear Mother. Your letters and paper received. Am very glad to get them. I can go to work Saturday. Love Chas and Thelma 

On a postcard with no date, from Amarillo, TX, continuation from another card:  …and I get my board free so that helps a little. We came here with the intentions of working and saving our money until spring when we will come home but this month I don’t think we can save anything and so near Xmas we will be poor this year but have not given up hope. I hope you and Father are well and when I am stronger I will write more. Love from Chas and Thelma

No date, picture postcard from Dallas, TX: To Mother from Thelma

No date, picture postcard from Dallas, TX, : To Father from Thelma

2/1/1911, from Dallas, TX: Dear Mother Keene. We rec’d your letter with the Christmas cards the other day. Have neglected sending a card–waiting for a letter in answer to ours. It is very warm here. We are getting along as well as could be expected. Mrs. C. L. Keene

And, then, a dark turn…

8/1911, from Wood’s Hole, MA:  Dear Mother. Just went to see Thelma. She is beginning to improve. Temperature dropped to 102 and rational all the time now. Chas.

8/1911, from New Bedford: Dear Mother. Just telephoned New Bedford. Thelma is better. I will go to see her Thursday…Love from Charlie

8/17/1911, from New Bedford: Dear Mother. Thelma is better. Temperature is 99 this AM. Dr. says everything looks very favorable and with good luck can come home in four weeks. Charlie

img153.jpg
Postcard from 8/17/1911, from St. Luke’s Hospital, New Bedford

8/21/1911, from new Bedford, MA: Dear Mother; Last night Thelma was generally improved. Temperature normal. Sounds very encouraging. Am very busy and poor help. I am well and quite strong. Hope you and Father are OK. Will see you in Sept. Love from Charlie

8/29/1911, from New Bedford, MA: Dear Mother. Thelma is a little better this morning. Love from Charlie

9/2/1911, from New Bedford, MA: Dear Mother. I telephone to Thelma every night and she is still about the same except last night she had a slight hemorrhage but has not bled any more since. We are still hoping for the best. I will see you next week some time. Charlie

And, then nothing…

Until five months later, February 20, 1912, when Charles wrote a passionate love letter to my grandmother-to-be, Perpetue, also known as Ducky, also known as Pearl.

Charlie and Pearl married June 4, 1912 in Northampton, MA. They are entry #84 in the record below. Charles was 29, and Pearl was 19. Charles is recorded as a widower.

keene-bergeron-1912-marriage.jpg

It appears that Thelma passed away sometime between September of 1911, when she is still in the hospital, and February of 1912, when Grandpy wrote of his love to Nana. But, I can’t find any record of that. In fact, I can find no records of Thelma at all.

I have searched for census records, deaths, anything, using all the varieties of Thelma’s name I could think of: Thelma Keene, Anna L. Keene, Anna Backus, Thelma Backus, etc.

Nothing.

I’d so love to find out the rest of this story…

 

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “My Grandfather’s Mysterious First Wife

  1. It’s in the Massachusetts Death records I couldn’t find their marriage or her birth record but I guess I should leave that for you! Funny it said she was from Lynn Massachusetts, I was born there!

    Like

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