Monday, April 30, 2018

Katherine Alexander and Her Return from Gathering

There were a number of people who joined the LDS Church that decided to go west. Following the doctrine of gathering they moved their families to where the other Latter Day Saints were living. A few, for a variety of reasons decided that after having gathered that they wanted to return home. In the case of my research that meant coming back to Tennessee. In this project I have identified a handful of families, seven so far, that I will be trying to suss out why the decided to return. (See intro here) This post is about one of them: Katherine Alexander.

I have tweeted about Katherine Alexander before. She joined the LDS Church in Memphis, became a Relief Society President, and in 1916 took her family west. I knew she had "gathered to Zion" but I had not realized, until recently, that she was one of the returnees. My dream methodology would be to locate a journal or diary in which she reveals her thoughts. I know that is not likely so my backup methodology it to look over the public record to see what it suggests.

Katherine Pearl Cromer was born on 4 March 1883 in Walthall, Webster, Mississippi to Thomas H. Cromer and Willie P. McComb. Some sources use 1880, 1881, 1882, or 1884. All of them are estimates based on her age recorded in census or marriage records. The 1883 date was an exact figure written on her baptismal record, so I'll stick with that.

She married Edward R Alexander in Washington Co., Mississippi probably in 1899. I couldn't find a marriage record, but that happens a lot so no big deal. The 1910 census shows they had been married for 11 years, so 1899 is close enough.

They lived with her mother in Webster Co., Mississippi showing up in the 1900 US Census. Her father is not there. They weren't in the depths of poverty since her mother owned her home free of mortgage. Edward listed his occupation as a restaurant keeper and said that he was employed year round. The record shows they had no children at the time.

Their first child, William "Willie" Ray Alexander, was born in Washington Co., Mississippi. His death certificate says he was born 14 Oct 1900. His baptismal Record say 14 Oct 1901. I can find no source for the 14 Oct 1899 date on Family Search.

Their second child, Kathleen Alexander, was born in Slaughter, East Feliciana, Louisiana on 17 December 1903. As with most families who move to another state, it is likely they moved for employment, though other than restaurant keeper, which I wouldn't think would require moving to another state, I see no other hint of an occupation. At least not yet.

Their third child, Charles Edward "Edwin" Alexander, was born in Belzoni, Humphreys, Mississippi on 17 December 1907. I noticed the date, though not the year, was exactly the same as his older sister. A little alarm went off in my head to check that, but it appears to be correct. The person writing down the baptismal record even wrote the date for Kathleen wrong, then crossed it out and put in Dec 17th after realizing his mistake. At the very least the clerk looked the date twice, if not more. I could almost hear the the thought process of a little girl learning that her baby brother was born on her birthday. Did it bother her that this one day that was hers alone now had to shared with this crying smelly thing. Or did it create a special bond between them akin to how twins share something special that no one else will ever know? A four year old girl might adore having a newborn in the home. Sadly we probably will never know her reaction.

At the time of the 1910 US Census, they lived in Brown Co., Kansas. By then his occupation was listed as a Telegraph Operator for the railroad. A railroad worker might be required to move to where they were needed. By their nature Telegraph Operators would need to be spread out to send and receive telegraphs. Their frequent moves now have a specific explanation. They may have had even more, not revealed in a census taken only every 10 years.

Their fourth child, Ruth, was born in Kansas in 1910. She does not appear on the Middle Tennessee Baptismal Record since she was too young to get baptized. But we can infer her birth because she appears in the 1920 census with Kansas as the place of birth. Her death certificate is more specific listing her birthplace as Horton, Kansas. Both match where the family was living at the time. She was also not in Family Search. My guess is that the original entries in Family Search were based on the baptismal record. It is a hint that perhaps the family did not stay affiliated with the LDS Church.

Sometime between 1911 and before 1915, Katherine moved the family to Memphis and it appears she did so without her husband. The record does not say why. A Family Search user added a death location in Kansas, but without a date or supporting documentation. There wasn't even a note saying "I know this because that's what grandma Kate told me and she would know first hand." Come on people! We can't read your mind.

In Memphis Katherine met either missionaries or members of the church and became interested. The story of her conversion has eluded me so far, but on March 28th, 1915 there was a conference held in Memphis. Charles Callis spoke and in all likelihood Katherine was in attendance because the very next day March 29th, 1915, she and her oldest son, William, were baptized by Jim Hallman. Katherine was confirmed by Ira Gardner and William was confirmed by Louis Henry Laney.

Two days later, on Wednesday March 31, 1915 the Memphis Branch was re-organized. Katherine Alexander was set apart as the Organist. At this point I have to say organists don't grow on trees. This was a talent she had obviously learned and practiced over several years. Organs don't fit in your back pocket. She must have learned the organ by practicing and playing for other churches. Not earth shattering, but it does give you a hint of her life before joining Mormonism. She attended other churches and did so fairly regularly.

In May 1915, a Relief Society was organized in Memphis. Katherine Alexander was set apart as the President. Her counselors were Edna E. Stewart and Lulu B Maynard, both of whose husbands were in the branch presidency. Bessie Long was the secretary and Rosie Douglas was the assistant secretary. Sister Featherston replaced sister Alexander as the Organist.

Two of Katherine's younger children, Kathleen and Charles were baptized a couple months later on June 6th, 1915 by Henry LeRoy Stewart, First Counselor in the branch presidency. Ruth was not baptized because she was only five years old.

Katherine's name shows up a couple times in the mission newspaper. The first time as helping, probably in her capacity as Relief Society President of the nearest organized branch (Memphis), at a conference in Dyersburg in April 1916. Brother and Sister Stewart from the Memphis branch attended too. Her last mention in the mission newspaper was when she took her family to Preston, Idaho in October 1916. She was at the time serving as Relief Society President and Organist for the branch.

Once in Idaho Kathrine married Antoni P Nelson on 28 November 1917 at the Temple in Logan, Utah. Antoni was a 57 year old Danish immigrant also living in Preston Idaho. He was a widower since 1903 and still had a couple children living at home. Their blended family shows up in the 1920 US Census living in Preston, Idaho. All of their children show up with the last name Nelson.

In February tragedy struck. Katherine's third child, Charles Edward Alexander, came down with influenza on Feb 16th. The doctor treated him as best he could. But after eight days Charles developed pneumonia and died four days later on Feb 29th, 1920.

I don't know if this was a trigger moment for Katherine and her family, but the death of a family member has caused at least one other convert to return to Tennessee. And it may be the case here. The next recorded event in the family was the marriage of Katherine's second child, Kathleen, to Emmet Hamm in Memphis on 22 October 1922. Kathleen's baptismal record does show "Alexander" was crossed off and written above it is the name "Hamm" though there is no indication of a date or location, or even her husband's full name. I'm pretty sure this means that Kathleen was not actively involved in the Church since those that were had more details about their marriage recorded. A look at the marriage record shows it was officiated by Pastor C. W. Webdell, not a member of the Memphis branch leadership.

In 1925, there is a note in Katherine and William's baptismal record that the two had returned to Tennessee. Although the note says 1925, I believe it could easily mean that the clerk recording the information became aware of their return in 1925. This suggests that after their return to Memphis they did not re-initiate their participation with the local Memphis congregation.

It is telling that she did not return to Tennessee with her second husband, leading me to believe the marriage arrangement was somehow unsatisfactory. For his part Anton Nelson stayed in Idaho where he passed away in 1927.

On 29 May 1926, William married Rosa Rebecca Williamson in Escambia, Florida by the county judge. I'm not sure what that tells me. But there is more than meets the eye here. I can't find them on the 1930 US Census in Florida or Tennessee. In the 1940 US Census they are in Memphis where they have had three children. Joy (1928), Bill (1932), and Dennis (1935). The 1940 US Census also says that all of their children were born in Tennessee.

Ruth poisoned herself with cleaning fluid on 3 March 1929 in Memphis. Ruth worked as a clerk (sales lady) at the Bry's Department store. She never married and had no children. Mrs. R E Alexander (her mother?) was the informant on the death certificate living at 857 Poplar Ave.

In 1930, Katherine is living in a boarding house in Memphis. But in the same house is her daughter Kathleen and her husband Emmet, and their son Dexter (1924).

In 1940, Kathleen and her husband are renting an apartment on Washington Avenue in Memphis. But 16 year old Dexter is not on the schedule. Kathleen's mother Katherine, however has an apartment in the same building.

Kathleen's husband, Emmett Hamm, died in 1945. A Family Search user has suggested that Kathleen would marry again to Robert W McGregor. She would outlive her second husband too, who died in 1975. Kathleen herself died in 1990 in Memphis. The connection between Kathleen Alexander Hamm and Kathleen A McGregor is not a slam dunk. Without further evidence I have to say this identification is tentative, but possible.

In 1963 William died in Memphis from Lung Cancer. He had been diagnosed with seven months earlier and it had become metastatic.

Family Search shows that Katherine died in 1976, but I have not been able to verify the date or produce a location.

The wealth of evidence leads me to believe that Katherine probably returned to Tennessee disaffected from the LDS Church. At the very least her children did not continue their association with the Church. The reason, however is still speculation. Was the death of Charles a trigger? Was she unhappy in her marriage with Anthon Peter Nelson? While this exercise has helped me narrow in on some possible ideas, they will have to remain speculations for the time being.


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