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 Over the last two days, I’ve been digging hard and deep into historical documents to fill in the blank spots in the story.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.

After seeing this document, I realized that of the only three pieces of historical documentation I had about the Gilbert M. Shearer who was my great-great-grandfather (the “G1” Gilbert of yesterday’s post), one of these documents—the one upon which I relied most heavily, the 1880 federal census entry—was not actually of my great-great-grandfather at all, but rather of this mysterious “G2” Gilbert M. Scherer.

Eureka!  Of course the two Gilberts (G1 and G2) seemed to match up so perfectly—much of the information I had about G1 was actually information about G2! With the information from the newly found 1870 census record added to the picture of G1 Gilbert and the information from the 1880 census pulled out of the picture of the G1 Gilbert, here’s the revised comparison chart:

“G1” Gilbert 1880 census “G2” Gilbert
Name Gilbert M. Shearer Gilbert Scherer Gilbert Michael Scherer
Birthdate ca. 1865 ca. 1878 June 7, 1878
Birthplace (? Smyrna, Iowa)
(was living there at 5 years old)
(? Perryville, Missouri)
(was living there at 2 years old)
Perryville, Missouri
Mother Emeline C. Shearer Emma B. Scherer Emma B. Scherer
Mother’s maiden name ? Fink Zink
Father John F. Shearer William Scherer William Scherer
Siblings Joseph F. Shearer
Cynthia A. Shearer
Mary C. Shearer
John D. Shearer
Iva “Ivy” L. Scherer
Ivy L. Scherer

Yikes—the G1 Gilbert and G2 Gilbert actually do seem to be different people after all, so the last three posts can essentially be completely ignored. Wow. I’m going to need to do a bit of post-game analysis to figure out how I could have gone so very far down that blind alley.

In case you already read the last three posts, let me correct a couple of my conclusions:

  • Gilbert M. Shearer wasn’t pretending to be 12–13 years older than he really was.  He actually was 12–13 years older than I had previously thought he was (which was based on a birth year inferred from the 1880 census, which I now realize was documenting the other Gilbert).
  • Gilbert M. Shearer quite possibly did die just as the family tradition stated. The whole reason I thought otherwise was that I thought I had found G1 Gilbert moving around the country and inventing typewriter parts long after he was supposed to be dead. That was the other Gilbert (G2), not “my” Gilbert (G1).

It’s amazing how a single incorrect assumption about a single document ended up leading me down such a long and crazy rabbit hole. The information in that one document was supported by dozens of other documents, so I gave the combined information in these documents a lot of weight. What I lost sight of was the tenuous connection that that first document had to the person I was trying to uncover.

Well, it’s back to the drawing board for me—I’ll have to erase a whole bunch of Scherers from the family tree, and then start learning about the family of the newly revealed Gilbert M. Shearer.

3 thoughts on “He’s dead, Jim (or, Down a blind alley)

  1. Hello Cousin:
    My great-grandmother was Mary Belle Coddington who was married 1st to Gilbert Shearer & 2nd to M.B. Stokes. Did you know that Gilbert Shearer & M.B. Stokes were 1st cousins? Their mothers were sisters.
    I too have heard the story of Gilbert Shearer falling off the roof, my grandmother told me.
    I believe you are headed down the wrong path concerning the parents of Gilbert Shearer.

  2. Hi Peggy,

    Nice to meet you! I didn’t know that they were first cousins. So Isabelle Caroline Jones (1849–1904) and Emeline Clarina Jones (1841–1925) were sisters?

    Concerning going down the wrong path, that was the point of the post! I now believe that his parents were John Finley Shearer (1832–1903) and Emeline Clarinda Jones (1841–1925). Does this agree with what you know?

    Are you a descendant of Mary Belle Coddington’s second husband Milton Stokes, or of her daughter from her first marriage, Anneta Fern Shearer? Your name sounds vaguely familiar, as if my grandparents mentioned you, but I don’t have any Rickers in my tree yet. Would love to find out where you fit in!


  3. Good Morning Michael:
    Yes, Isabelle & Emeline were sisters, their parents were Matthew W. Jones & Lucinda Moore, natives of KY. I believe Lucinda died shortly after Isabelle was born.

    My great-grandparents were MB Stokes & Mary Belle Coddington, their daughter Zealia (my grandmother) married 1st-Geo. F. Turner, my mother is Bonny Turner. I remember my mom telling me someone from Ray’s family had contacted her about info on Ray & they corresponded. I think the lady’s last name was Hayes, but not sure.

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