Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

But where was her husband?

While the women in my grandfather's family share the creative gene, the men seem to have something entirely different in common: they disappear to the oddest of places, where you'd never think to look for them... well, okay, where I would never think to look for them.

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.*

Rosmer & Milton Kerr in Topeka, Kansas - 1910
(click to enlarge)

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)
Interesting! Now we have Howe and Kerr working together at 1510 Douglas and both moving their residence to 2520 Harney. More than a business relationship, it would seem. Who is this Arthur J. Howe?, I wondered, and did he have anything to do with Milton going to Nebraska in the first place? Could he be related to Charles L. Howe, who would marry Milton's sister Alice in 1896?

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.

Bessie, Wife of M.E. Kerr, Died Sept. 4, 1887, Age 25 Years

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.

Bessie Z. Kerr, daughter of Milton E. Kerr and Bess K. Zahniser Kerr
(click to enlarge)

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)
Ah, two Howes under the same roof! Now, there's something to work with. In short order, I had a very interesting census record in hand. (Thank you, Cheryl!)

Meadville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania - 1880 - page 8
(click to enlarge)

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.

Meadville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania - 1880 - page 9
(click to enlarge)

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.

Omaha City Directory - 1889
(click to enlarge)

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!

Omaha City Directory - 1890
(click to enlarge)

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.

Omaha City Directory - 1891
(click to enlarge)

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


sl12ca21dj said...

I am a descendant of A.J.Kerr and E.A. Carroll; C.L. Howe and A.E. Kerr; W.A. Challener and Marion Flower Howe, my parents. I have in my possession photos of all family members including Bessie Kerr, Ralph Kerr, Adda Kerr, etc. A descendant of Milton E. Kerr is my next door neighbor.
How can I help you?

T.K. said...

Dear Second Cousin Once Removed, I'm so excited to be in touch with a descendant of Andrew Jackson Kerr! Are you willing to contact me by email? If so, please address it to memwahz at yahoo dot com. I have many questions for you. The first one tht comes to mind is this: Do you know of anyone who has artwork by Kate Pettis Kerr? I have the items which were Rosmer's (featured elsewhere in this blog--see Labels list at the bottom of the page) but surely Kate's other son Milton must have had some of her work also.

Thank you so much for getting in touch!

Anonymous said...

How far back have you traced your Howe lineage? I know that the grandfather of C.L.Howe, Andrew Howe, who married Mary Alcorn, is burried in Millbrook Cemetery, Mercer County, Pa next to my ggg-grandmother Fanny (Howe) Anderson.

Roger Miller

T.K. said...

Hi Roger,
I don't have much more about the Howe family beyond what's mentioned here, other than a little about Charles. I didn't know about Andrew, and I'm interested to know more about his wife, Mary Alcorn, and other members of the Alcorn family. Elizabeth Alcorn is in my direct lineage, and I don't know very much about her.

My Internet access is spotty right now, as I am in the process of moving. I hope to get settled within the next few weeks and get back to genealogy. Please drop me an email so I can contact you directly when I'm better prepared to ask questions. My email address is memwahz at yahoo dot com.

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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