There is a huge, genealogical elephant in my living room. Every so often, he nudges me with his trunk, he asks for fresh water, and bats his long eyelashes at me in hopes that I will scratch behind his giant elephant ears.
My theory about family history research is that nothing is as cut and dry as it seems at first. Dig a little deeper – search a few newspaper archives – and you’ll either make your particular research question a) more complicated, or b) exceptionally clear in a way you never expected.
By the time I actually his “POST” on this article, I will most likely have re-written it several times. This elephant is giant. HUGE. Effecting the way an entire branch of my family will view its identity – even its surnames. I’m putting on kid gloves. But most importantly – I want to outline for my extended family and my future family exactly how I arrived at my present hypothesis. I feel deeply convicted that the truth is most important, and simply pushing the glaring evidence to the side or turning a blind eye really is no way to share and spread the truth. It’s like embracing a half-truth, because the full truth is just too different from what we were lead to believe all along. And that’s not my style. Sensitivity and empathy are key, because this is a touchy subject.
OK. Ready to address this elephant? He’s staring at me full-on!
About three years ago, when I first started exploring genealogy and my own family tree, I stumbled upon a huge brick wall. One of those impossible-to-solve research questions. Naturally, I channeled my frustration into further research, reaching out to local historians, libraries, anyone who could help me answer my burning questions. I swore, while trying to prep for this article, that I had posted on this blog a while back about this particular family unit – the Jacob Luden and Sarah (Musser) Luden family - previously, but it looks like I did so on my now-deleted family blog. Here’s the twisted/turning tale of my fourth great-grandparents…
Sarah Ann Musser (1822-1896) marries a man named Amos Bright Yeager (1808-1889) in 1838 in her hometown of Reamstown, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, at the age of 16. Sarah and Amos have two children together:
- Frederick Musser Yeager (1840-1920)
- Susan Elizabeth Yeager (1843-1917)
US Federal Census 1850, Reading, North West Ward, Berks County, Pennsylvania
Source: Year: 1850; Census Place: Reading North West Ward, Berks, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_752; Page: 245A; Image: 491
Notice Amos Yeager’s profession: “Confectioner”. This is the only point in which I note that his employment is in the candy business; after his time serving in the Civil War, he works in various trades to include photography, in the shop of his son Frederick M. Yeager.
Now, here is where life becomes extremely complicated for the Yeager household. At some point between 1850 (presumably) and 1853, Sarah (Musser) Yeager strikes up an extramarital relationship with a man named Jacob Luden (1824-1864). Luden is a jeweler whose business is located on the same block in Reading, Pa.
In 1853, Sarah (Musser) Yeager gives birth to daughter Caroline Mary. I have hard copies of Caroline’s baptismal record at the First Universalist Church of Reading, Pennsylvania. Her name is listed as “Caroline Mary Yeager”.
In November of 1854, she gives birth to my 3rd great-grandfather, Edward Musser Luden. I also have copies of his baptismal record, which didn’t take place until July of 1860 – six years later – at the First Universalist Church, Reading. Notice the last name? Luden.
Subsequent children born to Sarah (Musser) were:
· Alburtis Musser Luden (1857-1864)
· Sally Ann Luden (1861-?)
· Jacob Charles Luden (1864-1926)
Here’s where I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version to spare you a little time.
Here’s an snippet of Sarah (Musser) (Yeager) Luden in 1860:
Source: Year: 1860; Census Place: Reading, North West Ward, Berks, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1077; Page: 1106; Image: 248; Family History Library Film: 805077
Here is Amos Bright Yeager, living in the Mischler Hotel in Reading, PA along with children Fred and Susan in1860:
Source: Year: 1860; Census Place: Reading, North West Ward, Berks, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1077; Page: 1104; Image: 246; Family History Library Film: 805077
Living just blocks apart! Separate lives. Mother in one home with new husband and children, ex-husband in another home (a hotel, no less) with their children from the 1st marriage.
I obtained documents from the Prothonotary office in Berks County, Pennsylvania detailing a few of the legalities of the separation and subsequent divorce of Sarah (Musser) and Amos Bright Yeager. Arrest warrants were issued in 1856 for Jacob Luden (I believe this was pretty typical of a situation in which an extra-marital affair occurred), depositions filed (or misfiled, since this is the “meat” of the mystery that I would love to see…and unfortunately the documents have gone missing and the Prothonotary can’t locate them), legal fees paid, and case closed in 1858. Looking at the timeline, this means that the initial complaint wagered by Amos Yeager didn’t occur until two years after the birth of my 3rd great-grandfather, Edward Musser Luden.
So, a vortex of time between 1853 and 1856. Two children born. Divorce filed. One additional child born (Alburtis Luden) to Sarah Musser, and presumably, Jacob Luden.
Now comes another interesting document focusing on this complicated love triangle.
A document essentially making Caroline, Edward, and Alburtis Musser, legal heirs to Jacob Luden – as if they had been born “in lawful wedlock”
I mentioned that Caroline Mary was baptized in 1853 at the First Universalist Church of Reading as “Caroline Mary Yeager”. So, husband #1 was under the impression that Caroline was his daughter. Then, things dramatically changed.
I just wonder…what did Amos B. Yeager think when Edward Musser was born – my 3rd great grandfather? Did he believe the child was his? Did he know about his wife’s indiscretions? What about the birth of Alburtis in 1857?
It’s easy to forge that this was 1855…not 2015. In Reading, Pennsylvania, not New York City. I need to verify family law specifics at the time, but typically there was a waiting period of at least 5 years – if divorce was even allowed. This was a progressive issue for a non-progressive era, for sure.
To cap off my treasure trove of Luden/Yeager/Musser documents, I have to include a clipping from Sarah (Musser) Yeager’s will :
Source: "Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994." Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2015. County courthouses, Pennsylvania. Berks County, PA.
“I give and bequeath unto my two children, being the children of my former husband, Amos Yeager, to each of said two children the sum of one dollar, which shall be their full share coming to them out of my estate.
I give and bequeath all the rest and residue of my property, real personal, and mixed unto my five other children, being the children of my deceased husband Jacob Luden, to them or the survivor or survivors of them their heirs and offsigns forever to be divided between them share and share alike…”
Frederick Musser Yeager and Susan (Yeager) Mischler: $1 each.
Caroline, Edward, Alburtis (deceased), William (Luden Candy millionaire), Sally, Jacob: the remainder of her estate.
Seems a little harsh?
If I could time travel – I would visit this family. I would ask the tough questions and demand the tough answers.
What does this mean for my research now? Should I take my 4th great-grandmother at her word and believe that her son, Edward Musser Luden, is in fact a son of Jacob Luden and not her first husband, Amos Yeager? That’s what the probate records and family history support.
When should I rely on DNA testing to negate the truth purported in legal documents and oral history?
THIS, my friends and family, is the huge elephant in the room.
Next up: What, pray, does the DNA say?
Next up: What, pray, does the DNA say?