He’s dead, Jim (or, Down a blind alley)

In the last three posts, I laid out the evidence for my hypothesis that my great-great-grandfather’s death shortly before 1900 was a ruse, and that he had instead lived to the ripe old age of 87, dying in 1965 in Denver, CO.

I felt at the time that this was the simplest explanation that accounted for all of the known facts. Over the last two days, I’ve been digging hard and deep into historical documents to fill in the blank spots in the story. The evolving picture was consistent with the posts I wrote about the death being a ruse. As I mentioned in the third and final post, the alternative scenario was that there had been two Gilbert M. Scherers running around at the same time, who just happened to have been born in the same place on the same date, to families which had the same first names, and with only one of these Gilberts at a time being documented in the historical record. To me, that seemed a greater stretch than the faked death story.

But then I stumbled upon this document—an 1870 census return from Smyrna, Iowa—and everything started to fall apart. On this census is a five-year-old boy named Gilbert M. Shearer, a Gilbert M. Shearer who would have been about 13 years older than the Gilbert M. Scherer I had been documenting.
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A Death Greatly Exaggerated, part 3


Warning—the conclusion of this post is now known to be incorrect.  See the “He’s dead, Jim (or, Down a blind alley)” post for details.


In part 1 of this story, I explained how my inherited last name should have been “Scherer” or “Shearer,” but my grandfather, Vernon, refused to use that surname because his birth father, Zyonia Ray Shearer, abandoned him and his family when Vernon was only 4 or 5 years old. But then I looked briefly at Zyonia’s (Ray’s) childhood and found that he, too, had lost his father when he was only 4 or 5 years old. Family tradition held that Ray’s father, Gilbert Michael Scherer, died shortly before 1900 due to traumatic injuries he sustained in an accident:

“Gilbert Shearer was building a home in Missouri.  He was working on the roof when he fell off across a tree stump, bursting his abdomen open.  He fell from his house while shingling his roof.  He was taken to a sanatorium, but died four days later. He was buried in Edmond Cemetery, 4 miles north of Powersville, MO.”

In part 2 of this story, I introduced Gilbert Michael Scherer and his wife Mary Belle (Coddington) Scherer, and tried to present everything I know (or thought I knew) about Gilbert, his short life, and his death. At the end of part 2, I presented the first piece of evidence that Gilbert was still alive long after his supposed death.

In this third and final installment, I’ll make the case for Gilbert not having died when, where, or how the family tradition maintains he died.

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A Death Greatly Exaggerated, part 2


Warning—the conclusions of this post are now known to be incorrect.  See the “He’s dead, Jim (or, Down a blind alley)” post for details.


In part 1 of this story, I introduced my great-great-grandfather Gilbert Michael Scherer. According to family tradition, Gilbert died a traumatic death shortly before 1900, when he was only about 22 years old or younger. According to his granddaughter, Anna Cornelia (“Anelia”) Hayes, who wrote a history of the family,

“Gilbert Shearer was building a home in Missouri.  He was working on the roof when he fell off across a tree stump, bursting his abdomen open.  He fell from his house while shingling his roof.  He was taken to a sanatorium, but died four days later. He was buried in Edmond Cemetery, 4 miles north of Powersville, MO.”

This would indeed be a sad end to a short life, if the story were true. It is not.

I don’t know if Gilbert fell off a house, or if he landed on a tree stump and burst his abdomen, or if he was in a sanatorium as a result. What I do know is what I’ve learned through my research; namely, that Gilbert did not die in 1900 as the family (or at least some of the family) was led to believe. Instead, he appears to have moved away and started a new life. At least two family members—his mother Emma and his sister Ivy—knew about his second life, and it’s very likely that his younger brother Leslie also knew that he hadn’t died.
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A Death Greatly Exaggerated, part 1


Warning—the conclusion of this post is now known to be incorrect.  See the “He’s dead, Jim (or, Down a blind alley)” post for details.


My grandfather, Vernon Curtis Black, was named Vernon Cornelius Shearer at birth. I don’t know why he stopped using Cornelius (his maternal grandfather’s name), but I have a fairly clear understanding of why he changed his last name. When Vernon was only five years old, his biological father, Ray Shearer (born Zyonia Ray Shearer), was given an ultimatum by Vernon’s mother Catalina: he could sober up and stay with the family, or he could continue to go out drinking with his friends and flirting with women. Ray chose the latter option, and Vernon never saw his biological father again.

As the ancient proverb states, however, there are always two sides to every story. Ray was apparently a friendly, outgoing man who had his own childhood scars—he also lost his father, Gilbert Michael Scherer, when he was only about five years old. According to Vernon’s younger sister Anna Cornelia (“Anelia”) Hayes,

“Gilbert Shearer was building a home in Missouri.  He was working on the roof when he fell off across a tree stump, bursting his abdomen open.  He fell from his house while shingling his roof.  He was taken to a sanatorium, but died four days later. He was buried in Edmond Cemetery, 4 miles north of Powersville, MO.”

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