Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unsolved Mysteries: The Frank Rivers Saga

Unsolved mysteries bug the living crap out of me.  I can't help it.  The human race has put a man on the moon, built skyscrapers, cloned animals, and done all sorts of stuff that seems scientifically impossible...until someone does it.  (Internet, anyone?)  So why is it so hard to figure out what happened to some people?  How can simple things like bones and flesh and minerals just disappear, or become seemingly impossible to find?

Before they found the skeletons of the Romanovs, I lost some serious sleep wondering where on earth they were.  I still occasionally lose sleep over the Amelia Earhart thing.  I've spent serious time pondering where the Ark of the Covenant could be.  These are all solvable problems...or they should be, in my mind.

But in the past year, I've lost the most sleep over one of my own relatives:  my elusive great-great-grandfather.  I've become addicted to genealogy research.  It's my crack.  The computer has to be pried out of my sleepy fingers before I'll shut it off and let go of the elusive loose end that is Frank Rivers.  He's the guy on the left in this photo, with his hand on the dog.  The man you can barely see.  The man I can't find.


Frank Rivers.  Don't suppose any of you know who this guy is?  I sure don't.

According to family information I was given, he lived in Smith's Valley, Nevada in the late 1800s.  This picture was taken there in about 1902.  Based on federal census information, I think he showed up in Cache Creek by 1870.  He sold the Nevada farm and moved south, but I'm not sure exactly when--he died in Los Angeles in 1912.  I don't know how or when he headed west, but he wasn't born here.

He filled out his census information with several different birth dates ranging from 1841 to 1845.  Most of his census answers indicate that he was born in New York about 1844.  One says "L.I.," which I take to mean Long Island.  However, Frank's daughter Hazel (my great-grandmother, the little girl sitting on the porch in the photo) answered her 1930 census with a strange response for "Father's Birthplace:"  Michigan.


Michigan?  WTF?  Why the heck would she say Michigan when in 1900, 1910, and 1920, she said Frank was born in New York?  What did she know that I don't?

Another family member, a second cousin who'd begun a family tree in the 1970s, also lists Frank's birthplace as Holland, Michigan in July of 1842.  That's not New York and it's not 1844.  Why do my second cousin and great-grandmother think Frank was born in Michigan, when he himself told every census taker who asked him he'd been born in New York?  Was he lying?  Did he have something to hide?  Or, if he was telling the truth, why would my great-grandmother have lied?  Or did Frank lie to his kids, but tell the truth to the census taker?  What's the point of that?

It makes my head hurt.

I have spent HOURS on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org looking for leads.  This has gone on for over a year now.  For the past two nights, I've been up past midnight tracking down everyone by the name of Francis or Frank Rivers who lived in New York or Michigan in the 1840s.

So far, I've got two "Francis Rivard"s in Michigan, one born in 1843 and one born in 1835.

I've got two "Francis Rivers"s in New York.  One, born in 1844, was in the poorhouse by 1854 and indentured to a guy named William Buchan in Hopewell.  He shows up on the census in 1855 and 1860, but he's vanished in 1865.  Is this my Frank?  Did he head west when he grew up?

The second New York candidate was born in 1844 and lived in St. Lawrence, NY.  I need to go back and see where he falls off the map....if he falls off the map.  Maybe one of these guys is my ancestor.  Maybe none of them are.  It kills me to know that I may never know who Frank Rivers was.

It doesn't seem right that I can't find out who he was.  He was just a man.  An ordinary man.  No king, no oil baron, no one.  Still, he existed.  There are a few pictures of him and a record of a few land deeds and court cases in Nevada.  A man named Frank Rivers lived.  So why is it so hard to find out who he was and where he came from?

I'll probably never know the truth.  And I am having such a hard time with that.  Whoever he was, he's a part of me.  Did he murder someone and flee west, taking a new name?  Is he a humble farmer whose birth was just never documented?  How am I supposed to know where I came from when I can't figure out who this guy really is?

He's the major thorn in my genealogical side.  And it kills me that he's an unsolved mystery.  I feel like there's always going to be a part of me I don't know unless I solve this mystery.  It's silly, because I am who I am regardless of what Frank did.  But I began my genealogical quest in the hopes of finding answers as to why I'm so different from most of my family members.  When I spot others who are different, like Frank, it makes me think I might be like them.  But if Frank was a bad guy, what does being like him mean?  I want to know.  I need to know.  And I can't.  And it makes me want to tear my hair out.

Do you guys have any unsolved genealogical mysteries?  Which unsolved mysteries keep you up late at night?