Friday, June 28, 2013

In Search of Grandma Elizabeth

(By Candice Buchanan. Originally published June 2013, updated October 2013.)

On 19 April 1904, a small concrete marker bearing the number 751, was placed as the only tombstone Elizabeth Mary (Garber) Staggers would ever have.[1] By the time the cemeterA numbered grave at Dixmont State Hospital Cemetery.y was closed, over 1300 of these little markers would identify the graves of ancestors not brought home for burial from the Dixmont State Hospital, known to most of those at rest in this overgrown graveyard by its earlier name, the Western Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane.[2]

Forgotten to her family, perhaps by choice, Elizabeth represents a lonely kind of tragedy. She was my fourth-great-grandmother and through twenty years of my research she waited for me, nothing more than a question mark on my family tree. I had missed a vital clue in a basic record and as long it was left unexplored so was her story.

Grandma Elizabeth was a nineteenth-century farmer's wife and mother of four who genealogically-speaking, was a neglected branch in the family trees of both her ancestors and her descendants. A female-descending (and thus surname-changing) line less pursued by Garber researchers, Elizabeth had the misfortune of being equally abandoned by Staggers descendants frustrated by her absence from the expected family and local records.

The Censuses of 1870 and 1880 enumerate Elizabeth as the wife of William Staggers and the mother of their children: Isabelle, Elizabeth Emma (who was known best as "Emma"), and William Thomas.[3] A tombstone for a fourth child, Marion, who died young, also identified her as his parent.[4] Between 1862 and 1863, Elizabeth joined her husband in four deeds to sell portions of their property in Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania. William made "his mark" on all four deeds, but his wife signed her name indicating a level of education.[5] Outside of this handful of records, her trail went cold.

When her husband, William Staggers, passed away on 5 September 1892, his obituary in the Waynesburg Republican identified his three living children and one living sister, but Elizabeth was neither listed as a survivor nor mentioned at all.[6] Though William died intestate (without a Will), his Estate file at the Greene County Courthouse details the sale of his real estate and personal property, it makes no mention of his wife.[7] The respectable pillar that marks his grave in the Staggers family cemetery near the home he shared with Elizabeth in Jackson Township, does not include her.[8] These dead ends often indicate that the one spouse pre-deceased the other and I assumed this was the case, but I still wanted to know what had become of her.

Elizabeth left no Will or Estate of her own in Greene County. I found no entry in the Greene County death register, no obituary in the Waynesburg newspaper microfilm indices, no cemetery listing in the county-wide records. Just in case she had not predeceased William, I looked for Elizabeth in the homes of her children in the 1900 Census or anywhere in Greene County overall, but she did not show up.

Without a lead, I left Grandma Elizabeth, for a time, as just that question mark on the tree. I had other lines to pursue where records were more forthcoming. I revisited her now and then, but with no new clues, she was again set aside while I chased down another line. Then, a chance discovery put me back on her path. While searching the Waynesburg Republican newspaper microfilm for someone unconnected, a familiar name in a neighboring column caught my eye. The small article delivered solemn news, but it was the beginning of a renewed search:
A Young Lady Attempts Suicide 

On last Wednesday morning Miss Emma, a daughter of Wm. Staggers, of Bristoria, attempted to take her own life by shooting herself in the head. By a letter received from a friend on Tuesday evening we learn that the wound up to that time had not proven fatal. The young woman suffers most terribly from it and constantly calls upon those who come into her room, to give her relief, but nothing can be done for her. After the rash deed was discovered, Dr. J. H. Miller was called, but owing to the location of the wound thought it unsafe to probe for the ball. 

The young woman's mind was thought to have been deranged for the past few months. No other cause can be assigned for her committing the act. Her mother, we are told, has been insane for about 20 years. The deeply afflicted family have the sympathy of all their neighbors and friends.[9]

I knew that I needed to revisit every record I had found for Grandma Elizabeth. The news article had been published 24 July 1890, dating her daughter Emma's suicide attempt to 16 July 1890. It was a sad story for all involved and as unhappy as the reference to Emma's mother was, it was also the first evidence I had that Elizabeth was still alive in 1890. A fresh review of the handful of records that I had for Elizabeth revealed the particular detail that I should have not passed over in previous studies. Though she still lived at home with her husband and children in Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth had been noted as "insane" in both the 18701870 Census and 1880 Census records.[10]
A more experienced researcher this time around, I knew where that label might lead. The pieces of Elizabeth's puzzle were finally coming together. This is what I found....

Elizabeth was only in her mid-20s when the Census taker first added "insane" to her entry in 1870.[11] My third-great-grandfather William Thomas was her youngest child and only a toddler at the time, his two older sisters Isabelle and Emma were ages 8 and 5, respectively. A decade later Elizabeth's insanity and family status were unchanged,[12] except for the fact that her eldest daughter, Isabelle, had married within the year and set up housekeeping with her husband, John Rhome, nearby.[13] The Deeds Elizabeth had signed with her husband in the early 1860s[14] indicated that her illness had likely started later in the decade.

I returned to the Greene County Courthouse, to examine the actual records of the Court. In a basement storage room, I studied one of only two volumes of the Greene County Court's Lunacy Dockets. Here Elizabeth's identity and story both began to unfold. In early February 1885, William Staggers had negotiated a sale and exchange of property with Winfield J. Hughes and so wanted to prepare a Deed to formalize the transaction. However, he had an obstacle to overcome. His lawyer, Capt. J. B. Donley, would not do the work without Elizabeth's consent. Whatever illness plagued Elizabeth, it had long been in place by this time and evidently she was unable to perform this role. So under the advice of his Council, on 27 February 1885, William Staggers of Jackson Township filed the initial petition to declare his wife, Elizabeth Staggers "a lunatic." The document states that "the wife of the petitioner has become insane, and has been so, for the space of ten years past and upwards." In support of William's plea to the Court, he provided two testimonies, one of which was provided by the Staggers' son-in-law John Rhome, the other by J. F. Hull. Both deponents said that Elizabeth was "wholly unfit for the management of her affairs." On 6 April 1885, the court appointed a committee of three men including a medical doctor to examine Elizabeth and directed that "the said examination be made upon ten days notice of the time and place thereof to Thornton Garber, the brother of the said Elizabeth Staggers." This is the first record to reveal a link to Elizabeth's maiden name by virtue of a brother, Thornton Garber, appointed to look out for the welfare of his sister and her entitlement to any Estate. On 20 April 1885, the three-man commission provided their assessment to the Court. They reported that "from the following reasons we are satisfied she is not right, she takes no concerns about her household affairs, wades the creek and wanders over the fields, talking to herself and picking her fingers. We are therefore of opinion that said Elizabeth Staggers is insane." The Court accepted their conclusion and William Staggers was granted "power to transact all business relating to the agreement and disposition of the estate, real and personal of himself or of the said Elizabeth Staggers, in as full and ample a manner as he might or could do as if the said Elizabeth Staggers were sane and gave her full consent thereto." In exchange, he was required to pay a bond of $2000 to ensure "the faithful performance of his trust." The final pages of the case detail the Staggers-Hughes Deed for which William had initiated the entire proceeding.[15]

The loss of these powers provided explanation to Elizabeth's lack of representation in William's Estate in 1892, but I still did not know what became of her. I revisited the 1900 Census and broadened my search. She was there. Alive in 1900. I had missed her for two reasons. She was living separate from her family rather far from home and her birth year was off by about twenty years. Nevertheless, the entry was ultimately proven to be Grandma Elizabeth. On 9 June 1900, she was enumerated as an "inmate" at the Western Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane (later known as Dixmont State Hospital).[16] Noted as being single and able to read and write, Elizabeth was one of many displaced individuals living at this facility in Kilbuck Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The Dixmont State Hospital records are managed by the Pennsylvania Archives in Harrisburg. HIPAA privacy laws strictly regulate what a researcher can access; in fact, only the archivist can obtain the records so that the information can be filtered before it is given to the researcher. I sent for Elizabeth's records and obtained everything that I was permitted.

Elizabeth and her daughter, Emma, were admitted to the Dixmont State Hospital together on 3 September 1890.[17] Elizabeth's twenty years of suffering are well chronicled between the Census records, Lunacy Dockets, and the reference in Emma's news article. After all of those years of keeping her at home, Emma's suicide attempt on 16 July 1890[18] was likely the catalyst that led to the decision to send both mother and daughter to the hospital. Emma was ultimately released in "restored" condition on 1 December 1890; only 25 years old, she went on with her life and was soon married to Fred Harvey in Greene County on 19 March 1892.[19] Unfortunately, Grandma Elizabeth never left Dixmont. She died there on 15 April 1904.[20] Dixmont records are not consistent regarding her age, but the most likely to be close to accurate are the Admission book which notes her as 48 years old on the day she arrived,[21] and the Discharge book which notes her as 62 years old on the day she died.[22] Her residence there was 13 years 7 months and 12 days.[23] She was buried 19 April 1904 in the Dixmont State Hospital Cemetery with just the number 751 to mark her grave.[24]

Interestingly, when Elizabeth was admitted, the Dixmont record erroneously listed her as a widow.[25] No legal record so far discovered links her to her husband after he declared her lunacy in 1885. The records of her children have revealed little about Elizabeth's life, but have aided in the evidence of her maiden name. For example, the Pennsylvania state death record of her daughter Elizabeth Emma (Staggers) Harvey, with whom she had once been hospitalized, accurately noted that Emma's mother had been Elizabeth Garber, born in Washington County, Pennsylvania.[26]

Elizabeth's maiden name was never explicitly noted in her Dixmont records. At least not in the parts of the records that I was permitted to see. However, in the "Record of People to be Notified," essentially the emergency contacts in Elizabeth's file, there were two names. The first was her son-in-law John Raum [sic Rhome] of Bristoria, Greene County, Pennsylvania, the husband of Elizabeth's daughter Isabelle.[27] The second name was Thornton Garber of Box 389, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.[28] This same Thornton Garber had been Elizabeth's guardian during the Lunacy proceedings, during which he was clearly identified as her brother.[29]

Thornton Garber is a wonderfully unique name. Young Thornton appears beside a sister Elizabeth, both of appropriate ages, as well as younger brothers Theodore and Jonathan, living with their parents Jacob and Elizabeth Garber in the 1850 and 1860 Censuses.[30] In 1850, they were in West Bethlehem Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, and in 1860 they were in that familiar Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania neighborhood where Grandma Elizabeth later lived with her husband William Staggers. Jacob Garber died intestate in Greene County and his widow, Elizabeth, administered the probate of his Estate 26 August 1873.[31] She, in turn, wrote a Will that was proven in Greene County on 28 September 1878. In it she leaves an unfinished quilt, several dresses, and thirty dollars to "my daughter Elizabeth Staggers."[32] The death certificate of Grandma Elizabeth's little brother, Theodore Garber, identifies their parents as Jacob Garber and Elizabeth McGinnis.[33]

Dixmont State Hospital Cemetery
In June 2013, roughly 109 years after she was buried there, I went to find Grandma Elizabeth at the Dixmont State Hospital Cemetery. Closed in 1984, the hospital buildings are gone. A Walmart tried to open there, but landslides prevented construction. The path to the cemetery is now roundabout through the town of Emsworth, then to a chained-off road. A short walk down the hill leads to a crumbling sign and an overgrown slope dotted with little concrete lumps numbered to mark the 1300-some graves. Grandma Elizabeth's number 751 is out there somewhere, but I could not find her. It breaks my heart a little to not be able to visit her after all this time. I am full of questions of what her life was like, what it was like for her family, why they did not bring her home to rest beside her husband and little son Marion in the Staggers cemetery. But I plan to go back, I won't stop searching so easily. And I won't end this report of her on a sad note either. The truth is, this path that Grandma Elizabeth's life took left behind an unusual paper trail that proved her identity as wife, mother, daughter and sister. I have more insight into how she passed her years than I do on many of the ancestors in my tree. And, I can guarantee that I will never let an unusual Census notation slip by me again.

So, Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandma Elizabeth Mary (Garber) Staggers — born circa 1843 in Washington County, Pennsylvania, died 15 April 1904 in Kilbuck Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, daughter of Jacob Garber and Elizabeth McGinnis, wife of William Staggers — you are no longer just a question mark. As a friend said to me about this search, "Gone but not forgotten ... finally."[34]
If you would like to know more about Dixmont State Hospital, I recommend two outstanding sources:
(1) The Dixmont State Hospital: A Historical Documentary researched by Kate Guerriero and sponsored by The Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center and The Ben Avon Area Historical Association
(2) Dixmont State Hospital (Images of America) by Mark Berton
Also see www.DixmontStateHospital.com for photos and history.



[1] "Mortuary Record," 15 April 1904; page 146, number 2552, Record Group 23, Series # 23.445; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Staggers entry.
[2] Dixmont State Hospital Cemetery (Kilbuck Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania), memorial at entrance; personally read by Candice Buchanan, 13 June 2013.
[3] 1870 U.S. census, Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Rogersville post office, page 260 (stamped)/2 (written), dwelling 17, family 17, William Staggers household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 4 June 2013); National Archives microfilm publication M593, roll 1348. 1880 U.S. census, Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 74, page 232D (stamped)/4 (written), dwelling 38, family 40, Wm. Staggers household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2012); National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 1133.
[4] Staggers Cemetery (Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania), Marion Staggers tombstone; personally read by Candice Buchanan, 17 August 2002, "Marion, / Son of William & / Elizabeth Staggers. / Died / March 17, 1863.
[5] (1) Greene County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book, 106: 373, Grantor: William Staggers and Elizabeth Mary his wife of Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania; Grantee: Abraham Staggers of Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania; Date of instrument: 22 September 1862, Deed recorded: 30 October 1900; Office of the Register & Recorder, Courthouse, Waynesburg. (2) Greene County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book, 106: 377, Grantor: William Staggers and Elizabeth M. his wife of Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania; Grantee: Abraham Staggers of Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania; Date of instrument: 20 November 1863, Deed recorded: 30 October 1900; Office of the Register & Recorder, Courthouse, Waynesburg. (3) Greene County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book, 190: 206, Grantor: William Staggers and Elizabeth Mary his wife of Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania; Grantee: Thomas Staggers of Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania; Date of instrument: 20 November 1863, Deed recorded: 15 January 1908; Office of the Register & Recorder, Courthouse, Waynesburg. (4) Greene County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book, 190: 208, Grantor: William Staggers and Elizabeth M. his wife of Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania; Grantee: Thomas Staggers of Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania; Date of instrument: 20 November 1863, Deed recorded: 15 January 1908; Office of the Register & Recorder, Courthouse, Waynesburg.
[6] William Staggers obituary, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 8 September 1892, page 1, column 8.
[7] Greene County, Pennsylvania, Will Book, 6: 560, estate file no. 4051, William Staggers Estate (intestate); Office of the Register & Recorder, Courthouse, Waynesburg. Greene County, Pennsylvania, Orphans Court Docket Book 15: 187, no. 29, William Staggers estate (intestate), Sale of real estate, October 1892 term; County Clerk's Office, Courthouse, Waynesburg.
[8] Staggers Cemetery (Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania), William Staggers tombstone; personally read by Candice Buchanan, 17 August 2002.
[9] "A Young Lady Attempts Suicide" article, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 24 July 1890, page 1, column 8.
[10] 1870 U.S. census, Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Rogersville post office, page 260 (stamped)/2 (written), dwelling 17, family 17, William Staggers household. 1880 U.S. census, Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 74, page 232D (stamped)/4 (written), dwelling 38, family 40, Wm. Staggers household.
[11] 1870 U.S. census, Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Rogersville post office, page 260 (stamped)/2 (written), dwelling 17, family 17, William Staggers household.
[12] 1880 U.S. census, Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 74, page 232D (stamped)/4 (written), dwelling 38, family 40, Wm. Staggers household.
[13] 1880 U.S. census, Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 74, page 232D (stamped)/4 (written), dwelling 30, family 32, John Rom household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 June 2013); National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 1133.
[14] Greene County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book, 106: 373. Greene County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book, 106: 377. Greene County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book, 190: 206. Greene County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book, 190: 208.
[15] Greene County, Pennsylvania, Lunacy Dockets 1: 168, no. 1, Lunacy of Elizabeth Staggers, June 1885 term; Prothonotary’s Office, Courthouse, Waynesburg.
[16] 1900 U.S. census, Dixmont, Kilbuck Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Western Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, enumeration district (ED) 541, page 260A (stamped)/9 (written), line no. 43, Elizabeth Staggers; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 June 2013); National Archives microfilm publication T623, roll 1368.
[17] "Admission Book, 1883-1892," 3 September 1890; admission # 1550 and # 1551, Record Group 23, Series # 23.51; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Elizbeth Staggers and Emma Staggers entries. In Elizabeth's records, which I sent for first, the archivist added this useful notation: "Emma Staggers, age 25 years, was admitted the same day from the same locality. Presumably, Emma was the daughter of Elizabeth." This notation led to my request for Emma's records.
[18] Waynesburg Republican, 24 July 1890.
[19] "Discharge Book, 1883-1893," 1 December 1890; Record Group 23, Series # 23.75; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Emma Staggers entry. Greene County, Pennsylvania, Marriage License Docket 5: 5, Harvey-Staggers, 1892; County Clerk's Office, Courthouse, Waynesburg.
[20] "Discharge Book, 1893-1917," 15 April 1904; number 1550, Record Group 23, Series # 23.75; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Staggers entry.
[21] "Admission Book, 1883-1892," 3 September 1890; admission # 1550, Record Group 23, Series # 23.51; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Elizbeth Staggers entry.
[22] "Discharge Book, 1893-1917," 15 April 1904; number 1550, Record Group 23, Series # 23.75; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Staggers entry.
[23] "Mortuary Record," 15 April 1904; page 146, number 2552, Record Group 23, Series # 23.445; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Staggers entry.
[24] "Mortuary Record," 15 April 1904; page 146, number 2552, Record Group 23, Series # 23.445; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Staggers entry.
[25] "Admission Book, 1883-1892," 3 September 1890; admission # 1550, Record Group 23, Series # 23.51; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Elizbeth Staggers entry.
[26] Pennsylvania, Department of Health, death certificate no. 66966 (1932), Elizabeth Emma Staggers Harvey; Division of Vital Records, New Castle.
[27] "Record of People to be Notified," 3 September 1890; 4: 182 (1864-1909), number 1550, Record Group 23, Series # 23.123; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Staggers entry. "Mrs. John Rhome" is named as a daughter in William Staggers' obituary, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 8 September 1892, page 1, column 8. John and Isabelle Rom first appear as a married couple in 1880 U.S. census, Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 74, page 232D (stamped)/4 (written), dwelling 30, family 32, John Rom household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 June 2013); National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 1133.
[28] "Record of People to be Notified," 3 September 1890; 4: 182 (1864-1909), number 1550, Record Group 23, Series # 23.123; Dixmont State Hospital; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Staggers entry.
[29] Greene County, Pennsylvania, Lunacy Dockets 1: 168, no. 1, Lunacy of Elizabeth Staggers, June 1885 term; Prothonotary’s Office, Courthouse, Waynesburg.
[30] 1850 U.S. census, West Bethlehem Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, page 185 (stamped) / 370 (written), dwelling 225, family 225, Jacob Garber household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 June 2013); National Archives microfilm publication M432, roll 833. 1860 U.S. census, Jackson Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, White Cottage post office, page 483 (stamped)/157 (written), dwelling 1075, family 1057, Jacob Garber household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 June 2013); National Archives microfilm publication M653, roll 1114.
[31] Greene County, Pennsylvania, Will Book, 4: 438, estate file no. 2719, Jacob Garber Estate (intestate); Office of the Register & Recorder, Courthouse, Waynesburg.
[32] Greene County, Pennsylvania, Will Book, 5: 147, estate file no. 3037, Elizabeth Garber Will and Estate; Office of the Register & Recorder, Courthouse, Waynesburg.
[33] West Virginia, Bureau for Public Health, death certificate no. 2609 (1932), Theodore E. Garber; Vital Registration Office, Charleston.
[34] Facebook comment, RaVae Wilhelm Lewis to Candice Buchanan, 26 June 2013.