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George Edmonds—Another Clue

Family lore tells me that my great-grandmother Laura Riddle (1853-1933) once married a man named George Edmonds. Who was he, and what happened to him?

I have never found a marriage record for this wedding, but George and Laura did have three sons together. Francis (Frank) was born in Berrien County, Michigan in 1876; Lewis was born in St. Joseph County, Michigan in 1877; and Joseph was born also in St. Joseph County in 1880. The 1880 U.S. census reports the young family living in Leonidas, St. Joseph County, Michigan where George (born in NY about 1849) worked as a farm laborer. George Edmonds, farm laborer, also appeared on the 1870 U.S. census for Van Buren County, Michigan.

By 1884, George no longer lived with Laura and the boys. The 1884 Michigan State Census records her and her sons in the household of her father, John Davis Riddle. George Edmonds’ name does not appear on this census. No one in my modern-day family knew why the family split up or where George went after 1880. Perhaps he had died…

About twenty years ago, I took a stab at unraveling this mystery. Back then, research was expensive. To look at microfilmed Michigan records I had to pay to order microfilm rolls from the Family History Center. Money was tight with teenage boys in my household. Rarely did I feel I had the money to order multiple rolls of film from St. Joseph and surrounding counties to find records of George Edmonds.

When I did splurge to order a film, I usually found nothing about George. If he died in St. Joseph County, his death was not recorded. He never seemed to own any land. The only clue that turned up was an 1884 marriage index entry showing a George Edmonds marrying Mauda Kathkart. Was this the same George? I did not order the record but kept the clue for later followup.

Ordering county records directly from St. Joseph County back then was difficult. The judge there was unfriendly to genealogists and instituted a policy whereby only his approved researcher (just one) could view and copy the county records. The county court would not respond to mail inquiries. This policy made county courthouse research impractical and had a real chilling effect on St. Joseph County research.

Since those days, Michigan research has become much simpler. The Family History Center has many of their Michigan microfilm rolls online. The website Seeking Michigan (seekingmichigan.org) provides even more online records. I decided to look again for George Edmonds.

This week on Family Search I navigated to the 1884 St. Joseph County marriage records. Instead of an index, I could now see the county record itself for the Edmonds-Kathkart marriage. It contains a great deal of information not included in the index I had viewed so many years ago. I learned this George, like mine, was born in 1849 in New York. The record even provides a specific birthplace—Chatauqua County. The marriage took place in Sturgis, Michigan, but both parties were residents of La Grange County, Indiana, just south of the state line. The bride was only 16 years old.

It looks like George left Laura and the children to marry a girl half Laura’s age. Armed with George’s birthplace and his 1884 Indiana residence, I may now be able to track him through time to find out more about his family. Going back to look at the original county record has opened some promising new lines of inquiry.

I still do not know whether George and Laura formally married. She resumed her Riddle maiden name after their parting. The boys were usually known by their Edmonds surname although the middle son, Lewis, sometimes went by Riddle.

As I continue to investigate what happened to George Edmonds, I need to keep in mind that there was more than one man with that name in Michigan and Indiana during this time period. Untangling these individuals will not be easy.

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