Rosmer himself and Milton E. Kerr, his brother, are a good case in point. I recently found them--despite Rosmer being indexed as "Rosiner"--in the 1910 census. Where were they? In Topeka, Kansas, of all places, working in a hotel at 335 Kansas Avenue, Rosmer as a clerk and Milton as a steward.*
Their ages were given as 19 and 21, respectively (an ink blot makes the "21" an educated guess on my part, as I don't think Milton would have passed for 29). Rosmer was born on September 30, 1892, however, and the census was taken April 26, 1910, so he actually would have been just 17, not 19. And Milton would have been only 18, since he was born the 19th of May, 1891.
But we are not here to talk about them. We are here to talk about May, 1891, the ninth month of Kate Pettis Kerr's first pregnancy, and the mysterious absence (on paper, at least) of her husband, Milton E. Kerr, after whom her first child was named.
Milton (the elder) is another one of those men who disappeared to the oddest of places. Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, he was still at home with his parents in Mercer when the 1880 census was taken. He was 17.
I was more than a little surprised when I found him living in Omaha in 1886. According to the city directory that year, he was living at 1510 Douglas with an Arthur J. Howe. Both of them, and a third man named Martin M. Marshall, had the designation "(Howe, Kerr & Marshall)" after their names. Marshall's personal listing also said "pres. Omaha Barb Wire Co., res 310 N. 17th."
There was a separate listing that said, "Howe, Kerr & Marshall (Arthur J. Howe, Milton E. Kerr, Martin M. Marshall), furniture 1510 Douglas" (p. 278). Oddly, in the business section under the Furniture heading, the listing said, "Howe & Kerr, 1510 Douglas" with no mention of Marshall (p. 587).
Howe had been in the furniture business in Omaha for awhile already. He was listed in the 1884 city directory this way: "Howe, Arthur J. (Chamberlain & Howe) r 1715 Cass" (p. 221). A separate listing said, "Chamberlain & Howe (Harry L. Chamberlain, Arthur J. Howe), furniture, 310, 312 N. 16th" (p. 122). Milton was not listed before 1886.
The plot thickened with the 1887 listings:
- Howe, Arthur J. (Howe & Kerr), r 2520 Harney (p. 314)
- Howe & Kerr (Arthur J. Howe, Milton E. Kerr), furniture and bedding, 1510 Douglas (p. 315)
- Kerr, Milton E. (Howe & Kerr), res 2520 Harney (p. 362)
- and in the business section under Furniture: Howe & Kerr, 1510 Douglas (p. 798)
At this point, though, there are much more interesting questions to be asked. On September 16, 1886, Milton was in Mercer, Pennsylvania, marrying Bessie Zahniser (Book 1, License 322), daughter of William and Elizabeth C. Zahniser of Mercer.
The Omaha city directory didn't list spouse names. Did Bessie go to Omaha with Milton and live at the Harney address also? I assume she did, because she was, in fact, in Nebraska when she gave birth to their daughter, Bessie Kerr, on July 12, 1887.
Sadly, this young wife and mother died only eight weeks later. She was buried at Mercer Citizens Cemetery in Pennsylvania.
Milton returned to his furniture business in Omaha. And the baby Bessie? I don't know for sure, but I believe she was left in the care of her grandparents Kerr in Mercer.
Readers, our work with the Omaha city directories has only just begun. In 1888, two new players burst onto the scene:
- Howe, Andrew J. (Howe, Kerr & Co.) r 1510 Douglas (p. 397)
- Howe, Arthur J. (Howe, Kerr & Co.) r 1510 Douglas (p. 397)
- Kerr, Milton E. (Howe, Kerr & Co.) r 1510 Douglas (p. 459)
- Pettis, Kate E. Miss, air brush artist, r 612-613 Paxton Bldg, res 2205 Douglas (p. 688)
- business section under Artists: Pettis, Kate E. Miss, r 612-613 Paxton Bldg (p. 1021)
- business section under Furniture: Howe, Kerr & Co., 1510 Douglas (p. 1038)
In Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1880, there lived a furniture dealer named A.J. Howe, age 45. Boarding under his roof was a cabinet maker named Arthur J. Howe, age 24. With Meadville just 48 miles from Mercer, I was feeling pretty confident, but there was no Charles L. Howe in the household to seal the deal. With Arthur listed as a boarder, not a son or nephew, there was still some doubt in my mind.
Luckily, I didn't have to look too far. The very next page of the census had just what I needed.
I was surprised to see I hadn't reached the end of A.J. Howe's listing. The last member of his household, another boarder, was none other than H.L. Chamberlain, furniture store clerk who would later be listed with Arthur in the 1884 Omaha city directory.
And if that wasn't enough to convince me I'd found the right people (which it was, of course!), further down the page, I found another Howe household, that of J.W. Howe, yet another clerk in the furniture business, and with him, his son Charles L., age 14, who would one day marry Alice Kerr. I don't have all the Howe family relationships figured out but, for now, this is enough to satisfy my curiosity about this group of Pennsylvanians who went to Omaha to sell furniture.
And what about our other new player in 1888 Omaha, Miss Kate E. Pettis, airbrush artist? What brought her to Omaha? And was she there alone? The next city directory had some interesting information.
Kate's mother, Mrs. Kate E. Pettis, was residing with her at 706 N. 16th. But another Pettis caught my eye. Orange S. Pettis, vice-president of Western Casket Company, was the younger Kate's third cousin, once removed. Did they know each other? Were they aware of their relationship? I don't know, but Orange did spend most of his life in Le Sueur County, Minnesota, about 150 miles west of Winona, where Kate was born and raised. He worked as a teacher there. He was older than Kate by ten years or so.
In 1889 the Howes were no longer listed as being in business with Milton. They were indexed only as residents of 1510 Douglas. Milton was also listed back at 1510 Douglas, but now the business was listed thus: "Kerr & Manington (M.E. Kerr and H.M. Manington), furniture 1510 Douglas." I have no idea who H.M. Manington was and, readers, we are not goin' there!
Instead, we're going straight to the 1890 city directory, where we happily discover that Milton and Kate have not only met but married, thus assuring my eventual existence. In the business section under Artists, Mrs. K.E. Kerr is still listed at 520 Paxton Block. But there are strange doings in the alphabetical listings, where we find this: "Kerr, Mrs. K.E., artist, bds Hotel Esmond." Not only is the Kerr & Manington furniture business missing, Milton himself doesn't even have a residential listing. And the same is true of the 1891 directory.
So... are you still waiting for me to answer the title question: where was Kate's new husband? Here's the thing. I don't know. I do know that Kate gave birth to their first son, who was named after his father, on May 19, 1891. The baby Milton was born not in Omaha but in Chicago and, readers, I can't explain that either!
*How did the Kerr boys end up working in a hotel in Topeka? I don't recognize the name of the hotel manager, Frank Root Cargill, nor his wife, Zella Starks Cargill. The Kerrs do have Root ancestors, but there is no Frank Root Cargill in the index of The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut, so I have not found any relationship that would have sparked a job offer for two young Kerr boys from Pennsylvania. Robert Wood Blair, a lodger at the hotel, was born in Pennsylvania, but I know of no further connection there either.
In case you read beyond the highlighting in the city directory, you might need to know:
pesthouse n (1611): a shelter or hospital for those infected with a pestilential or contagious disease