Sunday, December 22, 2019

Whatever Happened to James Henry Winkler?

James "Jim" Henry Winkler abandoned his wife and young daughter in the late 19th century.

Over the years, the hunt for my third great-grandfather's final whereabouts has been thwarted by false starts and trails that have run cold leaving him shrouded in mystery.

I suspect he absconded from his family and intentionally sought anonymity. And he did a darn good job of it!

Here's what I know.

Tracing James' record trail: 1862 - 1880

Following James' record trail is a frustrating muddle - fragile clues suggest I'm on the right path, but conflicting facts surface to thumb their nose at me and confound any resolution.

A family bible lists exact birth dates for the nine children born to Samuel and Nancy Mariah (Barron) Winkler. James Henry Winkler was born September 29, 1862.

Winkler family bible - courtesy of  Rosemary Scott

In 1870, the Winkler family was enumerated in the federal census living in Prairie Township in Washington County, Arkansas. James was listed as "J.H." aged eight and born in Arkansas. His father was born in Indiana and his mother was born in Tennessee.

1870 US Federal Census, Washington Co, AR - detail of the Winkler family

Ten years later, in 1880, the Winkler family was still living in Prairie Township, but 18 year-old James was not enumerated in the household. Where did he go?

A broad search for James Winkler - aged 18 - turned up only one match.

An 18 year-old James Winkler was enumerated in the household of D.B. Tipps in Cooke County, Texas - about 300 miles southwest of the Winklers in Washington County, Arkansas.

This Texas-based James was a farm laborer. His birthplace and that of his parents was given as Tennessee (a match for his mother, per the 1870 census, but a discrepancy for himself and his father).

Although the name and age were a match, the birthplace and his current location were complicating facts.

1880 US Federal Census, Cooke Co, TX - detail of James Winkler

Marriage and separation

Three years later, on September 26, 1883, James Henry Winkler and Pauline Brickey applied for a marriage license in Newton County, Missouri. They were married the following day.

The marriage record indicated that both James and Pauline were from Dayton Township in Newton County - about 90 miles northwest of the Winklers in Arkansas.

James H Winkler and Pauline Brickey 1883 marriage record - Newton Co, MO

Nearly nine months later, on June 15, 1884, James and Pauline had a daughter, Annie Charles Winkler. Annie - my second great-grandmother - was born in Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas.

According to Annie's delayed birth certificate that was created in 1945, both parents were married at the time of the birth and were residents of Fayetteville.

Delayed birth certificate for Annie Charles Winkler

For unknown reasons, the marriage didn't last. On December 30, 1891, "Mrs. Pauline Winkler" married James Russell Lee in Fayetteville.

Had James H. Winkler died or did he and Pauline divorce?

The Archives for Washington County, Arkansas (where Annie was born and both parents were residents in 1884) had no record of a divorce. Archivist, Tony Wappel, wrote:

"I just checked our Divorce Records for that time period and find no Winklers at all. As with today, the person who filed for the divorce had to file in the county where they lived. I looked at Pauline’s marriage record and it does say Mrs Winkler. My first thought is that she was a widow and not a divorced woman. Of course, you would know better. I looked at our Personal Property Tax Records to see if they appeared in Fayetteville. No Winklers in Fayetteville in 1888. For 1890-1891, I see a W F and Sam Winkler but no Henry or no Mrs Pauline Winkler. I suppose the death or divorce happened before 1891 somewhere other than Washington County."

Furthermore, a review of the Newton County, Missouri digitized court records (where they married), turned up no evidence of a divorce between James and Pauline Winkler. If they had divorced, where would it have occurred?

Photographic evidence

In 2014, I scanned old family photographs that had been in the possession of Annie's daughter. A cabinet card depicted two women and was labeled with an intriguing piece of evidence:

"Grandma Annie Wagnon & half-sister Belle Winkler"

Annie, whose married name was Wagnon, apparently had a half-sibling and, judging by the sister's surname, the shared parent was their father James Winkler.

Who was the mother of Belle? Did Belle ever marry? I haven't located her in the records, but finding her no doubt will help solve this mystery.

I was puzzled by the appearance of a half-sibling, but I began to speculate that another relationship may have prompted the split between James and Pauline. Perhaps he even fled his marriage to be with Belle's mother.

Return to Texas

I lose James Winkler in Arkansas. But several records make me wonder if he returned to the Lone Star state.

On December 24, 1897, a James H. Winkler was appointed postmaster for Pine Valley, Walker County, Texas. The order was rescinded nearly five months later on May 14, 1898. Why did he have such a short tenure?

Appointments of US Postmasters, Walker County, Texas
On November 19, 1899, a J.H. Winkler married Cora (Shelton) Doors in Liberty County, Texas.

In the 1900 US Federal Census, the married couple were enumerated in the Emporia Log Camp in Angelina County, Texas. J.H. Winkler's occupation was given as a logger at a saw mill.

What I love most about the 1900 census is that it provided the birth month and year. J.H. Winkler was born in September 1862 - an exact match to the family bible!

The census also appeared to indicate that the marriage to Cora was his second with a small '2' written beside the 'M' denoting he was married.

His place of birth was given as Missouri, conflicting with the 1870 answer of Arkansas, but his parents matched. The father was born in Indiana and the mother was born in Tennessee.

1900 US Federal Census, Angelina Co, TX - detail of J.H. Winkler

The matching data strongly suggests that J.H. Winkler living in Angelina County, Texas was my third great-grandfather.

Unfortunately, James and Cora's marriage didn't last. On April 30, 1906, "Mrs. Cora Winkler" was united in marriage with W.T. Reed in Jefferson County, Texas.

I ordered a copy of their marriage license to see whether it indicated if Cora was divorced or widowed, but there were no clues.

Mrs. Cora Winkler marriage to W.T. Reed, Jefferson Co, TX 1906

It remains unclear whether Cora remarried as a divorcee or a widow. James slipped away once again and hasn't surfaced in any later records (yet!).

Taking stock

James' mystery remains unsolved, but the wall is crumbling.

Across three states and several decades, I've discovered two marriages and two daughters. The records may be scarce and holding tightly to James' final secrets, but my grasp is tightening and I'm certain I'm close to uncovering his final whereabouts.


  1. Interesting hunting story. I enjoyed reading your post

    1. Thank you! Glad to have you on board for the research journey.

  2. Very interesting. I have a second great grandfather who disappeared on me.

    1. My wish for the new year is that we both find clues that lead to our elusive ancestors!

  3. My Christmas wish for you - DNA matches with Belle's descendants or other siblings of Annie. Or some people taking the bait via this post.

    1. Trawling through DNA matches sounds like what I'll be doing over Christmas break. Fingers crossed!

  4. He must be related to my husband's 2X great grandfather, Isaac Sturgell, who married 4 times and kept disappearing from counties in Missouri and Arkansas. :) Hope you pick up his trail once again.

    1. I think there must be an evasive ancestors club that they were both inducted (or abducted?) into!

  5. Great research, Michael. Any luck with DNA matches? Have a wonderful holiday!!

    1. I'm working through the matches now. Here's hoping something turns up. Happy holidays, Amy!

  6. I solved a similar family mystery pertaining to a missing uncle. It is a complex story. However, I eventually found him through a military pension file. Pertaining to the divorce, you may be able to retrieve a copy of James' divorce by writing or calling the local city or town hall where he resided at the time of the divorce. Sometime when a person cannot be located, they were incarcerated or residents of state hospitals. I didn't have time to read the entire case. I hope some of these research suggestions are helpful.

    1. All are great tips. Thank you! He can't stay missing forever. ;)

  7. You have laid out the research very well. Here's wishing you good fortune in solving the case soon.