Sunday, August 23, 2015

Family Mystery Part III: Are You My Grandpa?

After uncovering an 81 year-old family secret (see A Family History Mystery Revealed) and then identifying that secret's possible protagonist (see Family Mystery Part II: Identifying the Watchman), I set out to learn more about Sam Kirk - the mysterious watchman.

Could I identify clues that would help confirm whether Sam was my biological paternal great-grandfather?

I turned my sleuthing abilities to Sam's life to map out every documented detail. Mindful that any clue could help shed light on this family mystery, no record was too small or insignificant. This would be the definition of an exhaustive search.

Timeline of Sam Kirk's Life
1895 Iowa State Census

  • The 1895 Iowa census is the earliest document I was able to locate for Sam Kirk. His age is given as two years old.
  • He's living in Polk County, Iowa with his parents William F. and Nancy (Weeks) Kirk along with seven siblings.
  • Curiously, both father and son are enumerated by their middle names. William F. Kirk is listed as Frank Kirk and Sam J. Kirk is listed as ... drum roll please ... James S. Kirk. James!
  • Sam's middle name could explain the father's name of Jimmy Kirk that appears on my grandfather's birth certificate. 
  • Now would also be a good time to mention that my grandfather's first name was Frank. Was he named after Sam's father?
  • While this information is not conclusive proof on its own, it's certainly eyebrow-raising and may help tip the scales as we weigh the preponderance of evidence.

James S. Kirk in the 1895 Iowa state census

1900 U.S. Federal Census

  • Sam appears in Grant Township, Dallas County, Iowa. Dallas and Polk counties border each other, so the family didn't travel far between 1895 and 1900.
  • Sam is enumerated as Samuel Kirk and is now seven years old. His birth occurred in February 1893 in Iowa.
  • His parents, William F. and Nancy E. Kirk, have nine other children (ten in total).

Samuel Kirk in the 1900 U.S. federal census

1910 U.S. Federal Census

  • Samuel Kirk is enumerated with his parents living in Edgewater, Jefferson County, Colorado.
  • He's 17 years old, can read and write, but is not attending school. He is now working as a laborer.

Samuel Kirk in the 1910 U.S. federal census

World War I - Draft Registration

  • On June 5, 1917, Samuel James Kirk completes his draft registration card for World War I.
  • His full birth date is listed as February 23, 1893, and he says he is a natural born citizen born in Granger, Iowa.
  • He's employed by John Evert as a bee keeper.
  • He is single with no dependents, and described as short, slender, with blue eyes and black hair.

Samuel Kirk - WWI Draft Registration Card
  • A list of drafted men is published in an issue of the Colorado Transcript on February 14, 1918, indicating that Sam was pulled into service.
Colorado Transcript February 1918
  • His headstone engraving and a list of enlisted men held at the Denver Public Library indicates he served as a Private 1st Class in the Army's Motor Transport Corps.

1920 U.S. Federal Census
  • Samuel Kirk is enumerated living at home with his mother and five siblings. His father is now deceased.
  • He is 26 years old, single, and working as a farm laborer.

Samuel Kirk in the 1920 U.S. federal census

1930 U.S. Federal Census
  • Sam J. Kirk is listed as single at the age of 36.
  • He continues to live at home with his mother and several siblings.
  • He works as a laborer completing odd jobs.
  • This is the year that my grandfather would be conceived. Sam is living in the same neighborhood as my great-grandmother. They live a 2-minute drive or 11-minute walk apart.
Samuel Kirk in the 1930 U.S. federal census

1940 U.S. Federal Census
  • Samuel J. Kirk is living in the same home, but his mother is now deceased. His brother William is the new head of household.
  • Samuel is 47 years old and still single. 
  • He's working as an overseer for the Industrial School for Boys in Golden, Colorado.
Samuel Kirk in the 1940 U.S. federal census

World War II - Draft Registration
  • In 1942, Samuel J. Kirk completes a draft registration card following the outbreak of World War II.
  • For the first time, he's no longer living with his siblings in the Edgewater family home. He's living in Lakewood.
  • He lists Minnie Kirk as the person who will always know his address. This is the first time we see the name of Sam's wife.
Samuel Kirk - World War II Draft Registration
  • Samuel J. Kirk died April 24, 1970 in a military hospital in Fort Lyon, Bent, Colorado. He was buried in the city cemetery in Golden, Colorado.
  • His obituary states that he was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
  • His obituary also states that he married Minnie on June 7, 1940. That date would make sense. Sam is single in the 1940 census, which was enumerated on April 1st of that year, but by 1942, Minnie is listed with the Kirk surname on his WWII draft registration card. Curiously, I was not able to locate a marriage record for them in that year. In fact, their civil marriage record is on file with the city of Denver and took place on December 5, 1963. Had they previously been married in the church and were only now - 23 years later - filing that marriage with the state? Perhaps there was a legal need that necessitated the move.
Excepting my grandfather's birth certificate, there is nothing in written record that I've uncovered to-date linking Samuel James Kirk explicitly with his son Frank. 

The documented sketch of Sam's life suggests similarities to the father on the birth certificate: he was a man of the right age, with a middle name that could be construed as the father's, and lived and worked in close proximity to the mother. 

I felt like I was researching the right man, but I wanted proof. I wanted something that could confirm whether Samuel James Kirk was my biological paternal great-grandfather. Perhaps there was a role for DNA to play in confirming a genetic link.

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