12.06.2011

Brick Wall

Carpenter:  A few of my Great
Grandfather's tools...

You could tell my Grandma was a daughter of an Irish carpenter; she knew how to design, build and repair just about anything.

I still have her father's carpenter saw box, and use it to hold books I'm reading. It's dark with age, but still strong. His old saw is with me now, too,  inherited from my parents after they broke up housekeeping. The wood handle has a soft patina from years of use.

William Fitzgerald married a Prince Edward Island wealthy farmer's daughter, took her half-way across a continent to Minnesota, where they did whatever they had to, to make a living. I know very little about him, but what I do know is not good.  He was known as "...a man of intemperate means", and died that way -  run over by a train, 5 years after his wife died shortly after giving birth to their 14th child.
Mom had told me that one time he came home and Mom was only 7 years old, and was ironing clothes with the old flat irons, and he got abusive with Mom's mother.  Mom took after him with the hot iron, threatening him to leave her mother alone.   He responded, "And who is going to stop me?" And she said, "I am, and I have two brothers out there looking in the window that will help me." After that, she said he was pretty docile when he'd come home drunk.  Mom didn't like her Dad very much.  In all the conversations we had during the time Mom lived with me never once did I ask what his father's and mother's names were...  - From a letter written to me on May 15, 1990 by my Aunt Pat (Alberta Fitzpatrick)
Article describing my Great
Grandfather's horrific demise,
Hallock Weekly News
Saturday, July 26, 1913
[Click to Enlarge & Read...]
No known photographs exist of either Great Grandpa Fitzgerald or his wife, Elizabeth Clow - it was through following her family line that I came to know what little I do.   If it wasn't for his notorious death, a handful of newspaper references of his life, and the tools he left behind, I would have nothing to go on at all.

My great grandfather's end came in a most gruesome, but not entirely surprising, manner.  The article to the right describes in graphic detail what became of him.  The events leading up to the "accident" are speculative but likely, based on his activity just prior to the event.  The Kittson County Enterprise, July 1913, had the following article about the aftermath:
William Fitzgerald, a pioneer citizen of St. Vincent, was run down and killed by a Canadian Northern train near Emerson last Saturday night.  Coroner R.B. Johnson was summoned but upon reaching the scene found that although the victim was a Kittson County man, the accident had happened over in Canada, and therefore could not exercise any authority in the case.  The body had been so ground up by the cars that the remains had to be gathered in a sack.
This item was used to carry
 items from the larger tool
chest to the work-site.
Approximately 140 yrs old.
When I discovered the newspaper articles about his death several years ago in the microfilms of the Kittson County Museum, I tried to obtain a death certificate for William.  According to both North Dakota and Minnesota, as well as Manitoba, none of them had a death record of any sort on file for him.  After reading the above about the confusion at the time of exactly where he died, it appears he fell through the cracks for that particular record!

I have no proof of the following, it's purely conjecture:  William's oldest record is a census record in 1881 PEI where he is listed as a farm hand in the Samuel Clow household, with a place of origin listed as "N.S.", or Nova Scotia.  Down the list of sons and daughters of Samuel is Elizabeth, who he would marry later that year.  I have wondered if he may have been Catholic while the Clow family he married into were most definitely Protestant.

I have attempted on my own to mine the records of PEI and Nova Scotia to no clear end, and I have attempted to hire professional genealogists, who have looked at the case and told me they can't crack him.  He is my 'holy grail', my brick wall...

Box insert to tool chest, with drawing knife, square, and
hand awl. All items are approximately 140 years old.

UPDATE: At the end of August 2013, I was contacted by someone who thought they may have information to help me break down my brick wall.  The initial news was very exciting, because it sounded like it was 'my' Great Grandparents.  It turned out not to be the case.  But there is a connection.  I have found that one of her relatives married one of my relatives, and there was an uncanny coincidence of the names - a James William Fitzgerald marrying an Elizabeth Jane Clow. However, it was not my great grandfather, William Fitzgerald or my great grandmother Elizabeth Jane Clow.   But Great Grandma was the Aunt to the other Elizabeth Jane Clow. How? The other Elizabeth's father was Marcus Clow...Great Grandma's brother!  So far, I haven't found anything further, but it's worth looking closer at this other family line, just in case.  Fingers are crossed!