13 December 2009

Great-Grand Parents Hegwer & Richardson: Divorce is not so simple

The notes my dad left me in 1982 included a photo copies of 6 pages of divorce proceedings between great-grandparents Charles Herman HEGWER and Margaret Lavina RICHARDSON. Margaret, alleging desertion, filed for the divorce. Charles denied the charges but was found guilty. I naively assumed that Charles was not a nice person. But the genealogical research I have done over the last few years has shown me repeatedly that there is always another side to a story and that seems especially so in this case.

The Basics

Charles was born 28 June 1846 in Freistadt, Ozaukee, Wisconsin, the 10th and youngest child of 'Old Lutheran' immigrants
from Silesia, Carl Benjamin Hegwer and Maria Rosina Ilgner. The family moved to Chase County, Kansas in 1857 where Charles remained for at least 20 years. He appears in the 1880 census as a farm hand with John & Nancy Wilson in Dale, Atchison, Missouri. This is the only record I have found showing Charles ever in Missouri and I don't yet know his connection to the Wilson's.

Margaret (Maggie) was born 24 July 1860 in Tiffany, Morgan, Missouri, the fourth child of 8 of John D. Richardson and Isabella Shaw. So far, it appears that Margaret's ancestors were probably originally English and had been in America for at least 2 generations but probably much, much longer. All known records for Margaret prior to her marriange are in Missouri.

They married 9 December 1883 in Corning, Nemaha, Kansas [1]. Charles would have been 37 and Margaret would have been 23. I don't know how they met. Their family backgrounds seem fairly different, with the Richardson's seeming to have been more established and stable than Charles.

Their five children were:
Benjamin Theodore, born Kansas 1885

Walter H., born Colorado 1889

Raymond Dudley, born Colorado 189
Lela, born probably Colorado about 1897 (died before 1900)
Unknown child, born and died before 1900

The Divorce
Margaret filed for divorce 31 July 1905. A court date was set for August 14. The documents [3] say that Charles denied the charges but there is no mention of any evidence presented by either side. Charles was found guilty and the divorce evidently granted but that sheet is undated; I assume it was August 14.

...But the other evidence I found...

1900 US Census

At first, the 1900 census [4] for the family seems clear: Charles, Margaret, Benjamin, Walter, and Ray in Precinct 11 of Del Norte, R
io Grande County, Colorado.
But, researching Margaret's parents, I found that Margaret and the two younger boys were also listed with her father in the 1900 cen
sus in Mill Creek, Morgan, Missouri from the bottom of one census page to the top of the next: Lavina Hegwer, Walter, Ray D.

The census forms very clearly state that the enumeration is to be for the night of June 1. One of the enumerators may have misunderstood and used the day of enumeration: June 4 & 5 for Missouri and June 6 & 7 for Colorado. However, given the nature of transportation at the time and that the two rural locations are roughly 1000 miles apart, it seems unlikely that Maggie and 2 children could have gotten to Del Norte in a few days. I think it is possible that Maggie had taken the two younger boys to Missouri and her father reported them with his household, while Charles reported them in his family even though they were not there that night. (It's also interesting to me that the Colorado listing is more accurate than that of Missouri, but that's probably another issue.)

Margaret leaves Del Norte

A brief mention on p.4 of the 30 August 1902 "Durango Democrat" of LaPlata, Colorado stated in its entirety: "Mrs. M.L. Hegwer and two young sons arrived in the city from Del Norte last evening and will make Durango their future home. Mrs. Hegwer came to Durango in order that she might school her children properly." [5] It did not say that she had left a husband and 17-year-old son in Del Norte.

Margaret not mentioned

The Del Norte area newspapers [5] have many mentions of their son Ben in the late 1890s and early 1900's, with just a few mentions of Charles. I have not fou
nd any mention of Margaret in any of those papers even though the social pages seem to record every little activity in town. There is no mention of her attending Ben's high school graduation in 1904, where he graduated first in his class of 4 students and received a state university full scholarship.

Margaret quickly remarries

Margaret married Albert Wentling Dane 25 of August 1905 in Aztec, New Mexico Territory [6]. Assuming she had known him for more than nine days, this fact alone may be the strongest evidence that it was not a simple case of desertion on Charles' part.

Charles' obituary

Charles did not remarry and died in 1911 in Kansas while staying with one of his nieces. His obituary [7] is kind and describes warm relationships with his nieces and nephews' families.

Note that the obituary is on the front page, above the fold, and with a bigger headline than President Taft's impending visit.

Yes, there was a divorce but the cause was probably not one of simple desertion. It
seems more likely a complex interaction of many variables and events: age and cultural differences, difficulties of frontier life, and who knows what else. Charles and Margaret were each far away from their own siflings and where they grew up. The deaths of two of their young children must have been a terrible blow to them as parents and to their marriage. Charles had tried many livelihoods (farmer, miner, teamster, laborer, ...) and probably was away from the home at times.

One piece of evidence may imply one conclusion. But, as I find more information, I see that there always seems to be more than one side to a story. The lives of my ancestors were just as complex as our lives are today.


[1] Nemaha County, Kansas; Probate Court Marriage Records, 1861-1951; Family History Library film # 1,887,934

[2] I have specific dates for the boys but did not write them here since I am still looking for better sources. Current sources are: BT -- family notes & death certificate; WH, RD, & L -- Ancestral File at familysearch.org; unknown child -- 1900 & 1910 census notation for Margaret

[3] La Plata County Court, Colorado; 6pp photocopies in MHD collection

[4] US Census image excerpts from those at ancestry.com

[5] The
Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection is a wonderful, free online source for small town newspapers in Colorado. Luckily for me, Rio Grande County is well represented. The search function's ocr has all the typical problems, but the Del Norte paper, for instance, is small enough and the social pages consistently located that, for the most part, I just read every social page for years.

[6] New Mexico, San Juan County: Early Marriage Records 1887-1912, 2nd part, p.33; an extraction, citing p. 20 in the originals

[7] Strong City, Chase County, Kansas: News-Courant, 7 September 1911, p. 1, col 4-5; cropped from a photo copy in MHD collection

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