The Family Of Wayward Edmond And Saintly Sarah
First, let me tell you the facts, then I’ll mix in some fiction, and hopefully then come back around to find some truth in this, my family’s tale… Edmond David Henderson was born 13 Sep., 1849 in Lapeer Co., MI, to Zina A. Henderson and Orit L. Lee. Zina was the grandson of James Henderson, Revolutionary soldier, buried in Henderson, New York. The Hendersons were Scots-Irish.
O.K., now for the juicy part… One day in the early 1890’s Edmond simply disappeared. He was never seen again by his wife or children. He reportedly wrote a very few letters from Michigan, but one day the letters stopped, and not another word was heard from him.
Of course, the shock to the family was immense, and it still reverberates through the family today. Growing up, I heard a variety of stories about Edmond’s disappearance, and some are pure fiction. My favorite was probably the story my grandfather, Murl Lee Henderson, Edmond’s grandson, liked to tell. It goes something like this:
Edmond was a horse doctor, the kind that knew how to doctor up a horse right before a race so he would run faster. Of course, the horse might drop dead afterwards, but then that was another matter. The trick was to win the race and not get caught.
Inevitably, one day, Edmond did indeed get caught practicing his illicit brand of medicine, which no doubt involved massive doses of coca-based medicines (i.e., cocaine). So Edmond was obliged to quickly and quietly exit the scene, stage West. Running from the law, he ended up in the Oklahoma Territory, where it is said he was scalped by the Indians.
…I should say that this is my interpretation of Grandpa’s story, not his verbatim account of it. Grandpa would tell the tale with a unique combination of reserve, bluster and jauntiness that I could never duplicate. He was a man of very few words, but on most occasions, the few he offered were gems. Growing up, my brother and I would sit in his room for hours watching TV with him and waiting for a quip. All the while, Grandma would walk to and fro, talking incessantly (while Grandpa said little, Grandma easily made up for his reticence). Eventually (and often just as Grandma was out of earshot), Grandpa would say a very few words related to Grandma’s roving conversation, and my brother and I would find ourselves on the floor, rolling and laughing, prompting Grandma to reappear with hands on hips, insistently asking, “What’s so funny!?” So I guess I would say that a whole story told by Grandpa was a memorable treat.
Left with a family to raise by herself, Sarah worked tirelessly and became a much-revered matriarch. She did endless amounts of laundry in Fillmore and did whatever work that needed to be done to get her family by. Sarah lived to be 96 and was beloved by everyone who knew or met her. My Mother is still inspired by her and vows to live to be 100, an age her dear great grandma aspired to but did not quite make due to tripping over some stairs at church on Easter Sunday. (While taking a picture outside the church on Easter Sunday, Sarah backed up and tripped over the stairs up to the front door, breaking her hip I believe.) If history is any indication, Mom has a good shot at achieving her great grandma’s goal. It’s in the genes: Hendersons often live into advanced age.
In Fillmore’s Glendale Cemetery, there is a large stone that in my mind stands out from the others near the front of the cemetery. On it are written the names of Sarah A. and Edmond D. Henderson; Edmond‘s date of death is glaringly uncarved, and we wondered about him for over 100 years.
Now let me fill in some more details… Edmond’s father left Michigan in 1859, bound for Illinois, with his wife and sons Zina Alfonzo, Edmond David, Charles Freesnant M. His sons grew into men and married, and then things started to go very badly for Zina. First, his wife Orit(Oretta) died some time in the 1880s and Zina remarried to Lucy Henry Moon in 1888. Next his son Alfonzo died in about 1890. Alfonzo had been a school teacher, and he died in the middle of the term, so Edmond taught the remainder of the term. Then son Charles died in September, 1892. Zina’s second wife also died about 1892.
Whatever reason Edmond had for running away, Zina was no doubt distraught at seeing his family wither. Zina ended up returning to Michigan and living with his sister there, where he is last seen in the 1900 census in the home ofhis sister, Helen Groff and husband in Oakland County, just over the line from his previous home in Lapeer County. There is little doubt that Edmond decided to go with his father, but his leaving without a single word of parting is jarring.
Why did Edmond leave? While it is true that Edmond was his day’s equivalent of a veterinarian, noone really believes there was anything untoward involving fixing horses for races. Edmond’s father, Zina, was known to raise stock on his farm, and it would seem that Edmond had a taste for working with the animals. What is known is that there was a certain amount of scandal involving one of Sarah’s close relatives and Edmond. This certain person was branded home-wrecker by the family. As a boy we would go with Grandma and Grandpa to put flowers on the graves of all our ancestors every year for Memorial Day. I still remember walking past her grave in McInturff Cemetery, Vandalia, IL, with wariness and a scowl. Perhaps this scandal and the grief of Edmond and his father were the impetus for Edmond’s cowardice. In any case, this theory is likely the best answer we will ever have as to why he left.
Having started genealogy as a 9-year-old boy, I loved going to see all the relatives that Grandma and Grandpa constantly visited and hearing their stories. However, my favorite trips were those to see AuntEthel, Edmond’s ancient daughter. Knowing the story of Edmond could whip me into a frenzy of fascination, my grandfather ordered me not to ask Aunt Ethel about her father so as to not upset her. Being a typical Henderson, Aunt Ethel was no China doll, however, and I would go to see her and gently ask my dear old Great-Great Aunt what questions I could, waiting for the day that she would mention her father to me without my asking. Indeed one day she did tell me about him, and you have read the bulk of what I remember of her account. She asked me why I had not inquired of him before, and I explained thatGrandpa wouldn’t let me. (I was a handful as a child, but disobeying Grandpa on a matter like this was truly unthinkable.) While she dismissed the notion that she would get upset at talking about her father at the age of 98 or 99, she was certainly as wistful as one so old can be when talking of him. When she finished, I told her solemnly that maybe I could find out what had happened to him, and she inferred that finding her father would truly be something wonderful to her.
Aunt Ethel’s granddaughter, Sharon Cothern Carroll (my family partner in the hunt), and I were hot on his trail for the first time in over 100 years. We believed that the Edmond Henderson, veterinary surgeon, listed in the 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 Amesbury, Essex Co., MA, censuses, is our ancestor. One day, in the summer of 2005, I got a letter for the Amesbury, MA, town clerk. In it was the death certificate of one Edmond Henderson, who died 19 Nov., 1938, in Amesbury, Essex Co., MA, of stomach cancer. His parents? Zina Henderson and Oriette Lee.
We found him, Aunt Ethel. We have found your father.