Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Case of the Mysterious Disappearance of Luke Lukes

First of all, let me assure you that I absolutely understand that reading stories about someone's else family is just a shade more interesting than the selection of magazines in your dentist's waiting room.  Given that, I still think this case is worth reading. You are welcome to gloss over the dates, places, and names, but a couple of names and places might come up a few times and if that happens, that's a cue to start paying attention.

St Blazey, Cornwall, England
Anyway, the story starts off quietly enough in the small Cornish village of St Blazey, situated nicely on the coast of Cornwall with a harbor, farming lands, tin mines, copper mines, and china clay extractions.  In an effort to confuse the Cousin Detective, the Cornish name for St Blazey of Lanndreth is randomly thrown into records in order to make people think it is two places. It isn't. It's one place. And, to make matters worse, the civil parish is St Blaise which encompasses a larger area. St Blaise and St Blazey are easy to mix up.

But I digress, and if you really care about the history of the mining industry of Cornwall, I implore you to look elsewhere. There are plenty of bookssites, and videos all about this time and place.

So, our story really starts in July 1826 when Robert Lukes and Amelia Brokenshire got married and started their family in St Blazey -- what a coincidence! You just knew I would tie up that loose end, didn't you? Sleep well tonight.
Marriage of Robert Lukes and Amelia Brokenshire, Cornwall, 6 July 1826
Their sixth child, a son, was born in June 1840 and was named Luke Lukes after his great grandfather of the same name. Luke Lukes. I looked it up, and double-names are called reduplicated names, and quite common in Wales. Names like James James, Robert Roberts, Thomas Thomas, Owen Owen, and many more reduplicated names. Well, Luke Lukes was born in Cornwall. I said that, right? Perhaps there is some Welsh history in the Lukes family if you go back far enough.  Point made that Luke Lukes isn't that weird? Enough said.

GS Film number: 0226194, 0090240
Well, this Luke Lukes just happens to be my great great grandfather. Sorry, but you knew that was coming. This is about my family. But again, I assure you it's an interesting case even if you aren't related to the Lukes of St Blazey. Luke Lukes got married in 1861 to Alice Martyn, and moved to her hometown of Latchely near Calstock, Cornwall.  At the time of his marriage he is listed as a policeman, and once in Latchely he became a miner. It's not a big town. I think it has one road that crosses another, and that's a big deal.  Fair warning for you to yawn, as there are a great deal of census records to insert in this part of the story as the family started to have children and then moved to Tunstall in Durham, England when a new mine opened there. That's a long way across England from Cornwall, but you had to do what you had to do when the mines closed.  Many families from Cornwall made the same trek.

In 1871 the family of Luke and Alice Lukes had grown with the addition of four children. and was living at Seaton Colliery, Seaham, Durham, England.

England and Wales Census, 1871
Well, you knew it had to happen. Something bad was bound to enter the story at some point.

Seaham Colliery after the explosion, 8 Sept 1880
There was an extremely serious mining accident at the mines in Tunstall in 1880. At 2:20am on Wednesday, 8 September 1880 the coal mine at which Luke worked suffered a tremendous underground explosion, and over 160 people perished, including some surface workers and rescuers. Luke and his son John both survived, but we don’t know if either of them was seriously injured physically or mentally, or if they lost close friends. We do know that it made them question their mining careers. If you want to read more about this terrible accident, feel free, there is even a complete list of the victim's names, which thankfully does not include any Lukes family members.

On 2 April 1881 the England census was taken, and it shows Lukes Lukes living at 22 Stewart St West, New Tunstall, Durham, England with his wife Alice, and six children. There would have been seven children, but unfortunately young Lucy Lukes died at age 3 in October 1873.

England and Wales Census, 1881
I really think that the mining accident factored into Luke's thinking when in July 1881 he booked passage and left for America aboard the S.S. Caspian. The voyage went from Liverpool to Baltimore, and when it arrived on 8 July 1881, he stated his destination was Des Moines, Iowa. He went alone, which seemed to be quite common at the time. Run ahead, get a job, buy a house, and then send for your wife and kids.

The S.S. Caspian (1870-1897)
S.S. Caspian Manifest, 8 July 1881
Almost four years later, Luke finally sent for his wife and daughters. Alice and her three youngest daughters arrived on 1 May 1885 aboard the Anchor Line's City of Rome. Their son John was not with them, and that's yet another mystery. The mysterious disappearance of John Lukes. The two older daughters were married by this time, and both came to the US later.

The S.S. City of Rome (1881-1902)
S.S. City of Rome Manifest, 1 May 1885
But back to that four years. What happened during that time? What was Luke up to, really?

The family settled down in Oskaloosa, Iowa and I presume had a happy reunion as their son, Robert Lukes was born in April 1886. Their youngest daughter eventually married and became my great grandmother.

So everyone is happy, right? No worries. Well, that's where I step into the picture. I am the Cousin Detective, and the first step to finding cousins is to make sure you have your own direct ancestors all nailed down and buttoned up tight. Well researched, impeccably documented, no loose ends, and good solid citations for every little bit of their life.  So, all I need to know is the date of death (DoD) for Luke Lukes. Easy, as their is a cemetery in Oskaloosa where the entire family is buried -- even the ones that got married and moved away. Upon death they all returned to Oskaloosa, presumably to make my research just that much easier.  I appreciate it. Except, everyone is there but Luke Lukes.

Where is Luke Lukes?

This is where the mystery actually begins. I hope you enjoyed ignoring the first part of the casebook, but now it is time to start paying attention. Heck, you might even want to back and read what you skipped.

Going back to the records, I find that he became a naturalized US citizen on 1 November 1886 in Oskaloosa, but that's it. Certificate number: National Records 2, page 76. No other mention of him, and the cemetery and courthouse have no record of his death. This is it.

Finally, I find a newspaper notice in 1889 requiring him to appear in court as his wife is suing him for divorce!

What on earth? What happened? In 1893 there is a newspaper notice that there is uncollected mail piling up at the post office for him. So it appears he just disappeared! The mind wanders and imagination takes over. Why? Well, because in the absence of information we just make things up. It's part of being human. Did he abandon the family, and is being sued for divorce on grounds of desertion? Is it because he found another woman while on his own in Iowa between 1881 and when his wife came over in 1885?  I am sure that the divorce papers are somewhere in the Oskaloosa courthouse, and would help tell some more facets to this story -- NOTE to anyone actually living in the Oskaloosa area, I would truly appreciate any help in finding them.

I called all my relatives, on the phone. I know, right? Talking to people. That's the last recourse, the absolutely last recourse. None of them had ever heard that their great grandparents had been divorced. That was certainly not something that Grandma Rose talked about. She was quite a serious lady and having her parents divorce was something about which she was apparently even more serious.

Enter the Brick Wall. This is what we in the genealogy world call a brick wall folks, and there it sat for many years. It's really not that important a brick wall, as I do know how to get past it and find many more Cornish ancestors. It's more of a puzzle that your mind just keeps gnawing on, day after day, month after month, year after year.

1908 Santa Cruz Newspaper Clippings
And the years do go by -- as if they have a mind of their own. And I've given up on ever finding Luke Lukes. I mean, I Google him from time to time, and nothing much comes up.  Then one day, out of the blue I get an e-mail from someone saying that a Luke Lukes, born in Cornwall around 1840, died in California in 1908.  There are even a couple of handy dandy newspaper articles about his death if I was so inclined.

I didn't care much for the tone of the e-mail, since it basically implied that I really hadn't tried hard enough to track down this case. It was kind of like, "You could try to Google his name, uh, that's what I did... and... I found him." So, it was time to dust off this old case and see what I could add to the file. I pulled up the newspaper articles from the Santa Cruz Evening News and the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

What, what? The Santa Cruz Sentinel? What the heck? That is absolutely crazy and there is no possible way that is true. I grew up in that very same little tiny surf town of Santa Cruz, California. We all subscribed to the Sentinel, and my neighbor Geoff was even a paperboy for a few years! My parents moved there for a job in the 1960s, having zero connection with the town whatsoever. There is no way we had relatives there, especially not a great grandparent. We would have known. We should have known.  Santa Cruz is not that big of a town!
1910 Postcard from Santa Cruz, California

Picking myself up off the floor, I read the articles a few times and find myself puzzled. I mean, he could have remarried and had another son that nobody knew about. He came to Santa Cruz "about 30 years ago" which if you are bad at math, sort of lines up with his 1888 disappearance from Oskaloosa. Seriously, there is no way on Earth this is him, right?

Putting on the fedora, I entered into the dark unseemly underworld of California State Death Certificates. Not that dark really, mostly fluorescent lighting actually. And I found it. The real deal.
Luke Lukes of Santa Cruz, died 26 June 1908

Well, let's see what it says! The parents of Luke Lukes as listed on that 1908 death certificate are not at all helpful. Not at all. The father's name is listed as just "Lukes" from England. How useful did they think that would be? And, the mother's name is listed as P. R. Richardson from Vermont.  That makes no sense. Vermont? They were from England, weren't they? So, I dig a bit more and find that the informant is one Arthur W. Lukes of Santa Cruz, the son of Luke Lukes and Persis Robertson Lukes née Richardson.  So, it's clear that Arthur put in the name of HIS mother instead of the maiden name of the deceased's mother. Groan. Can't anyone follow directions?

Brick Wall.

But, as I sat with my feet up on my desk, my hat pulled over my eyes, the smoke twisting around the single bare light bulb, it occurred to me that Arthur W. Lukes was a new lead.

Arthur is a clue. Clues need to be run down and sorted out. That's their one job.

1880 US Census, Silveryville, California
So, I started tracking down Arthur, and found him in the 25 June 1880 US Census living in Silveryville in Solano County, California with his parents, Luke and Persis Lukes. Yep, that's them. But, bah! There is no way my Luke Lukes was in California in 1880. He was happily living in England in 1881, as I so clearly noted earlier to those of you paying attention. Additionally, Arthur has a few well-documented family trees out there on the web that all seem to stick to the story that Luke Lukes' parents are John Lukes and Ann Knight.  They are so clearly not Robert and Amelia. Nope, this is the wrong Luke Lukes.

Brick Wall.

Except for one thing, and wait for it: John Lukes and Ann Knight are the names of my Luke Lukes' great uncle and aunt! The Luke Lukes of Santa Cruz and my Luke Lukes are second cousins, named after the same Luke Lukes who was the great grandfather of both of them!  Are you serious? I lived almost my entire life in Santa Cruz, and there were cousins of mine who were already there, and had been there for years?! Luke Lukes is my second cousin four times removed, and his son Arthur Lukes is my third cousin three times removed.

Not only that, Luke Lukes of Santa Cruz had a brother living in town with him, and between them they had a good collection of offspring and descendants that still carry the Lukes name on to this day in California.  If your last name is Lukes and you live in California, I can tell you how I am related to you. Contact me. Yes, William, Mary, Theresa, and John of Ventura, I'm talking to you. You're all my fifth cousins once removed. Seriously.

On top of that, since both cousin Luke and his brother Joseph Lukes died in Santa Cruz, they must be buried there. I found the grave of Joseph Lukes in a small cemetery right next to the high school I graduated from! How crazy is that? Random crazy.

Then, just to make things interesting and to really pile up the coincidences, I find in the 1920 US Federal Census that Luke Lukes' widow Persis Lukes, is living at 97 Mott Avenue. Are you kidding me? That street is about four blocks long, and happens to be the exact street my parents lived on when they first moved to Santa Cruz. They've renumbered all of the houses on the street, but at this point I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same house. Nothing is outside the realm of possibilities anymore.

And now as the sun sets on another day, it looks like I've gotten just a little side-tracked here! What happened to my great great grandfather? Where is my Luke Lukes? It would have been an amazing coincidence of epic proportions if it had indeed been him there in my hometown of Santa Cruz, but it wasn't.  I mean, it's still really great to have found a bunch of Lukes family cousins, and I look forward to reconnecting with that long-lost branch of the family in the near future.

But, where where where, where did my Luke Lukes end up?

I still do not know.  However, as I was typing up these very case notes I did one last search in FamilySearch to make sure I hadn't missed anything. And there is a new death record for a Luke Lukes that I've never seen before. That's the thing. They just keep adding records. They never stop. You search in 2014 and find nothing. You search in 2015 and wham, there is another clue.

Could this be him? A miner. Born in Cornwall, England. Died of pneumonia in British Columbia, Canada on 20 May 1895 aged 55 years and five days. Could be.  That would mean he was born 15 May 1840, and all I know is that my Luke Lukes was christened on 26 June 1840. I don't know when he was born, but those dates line up and seems reasonable. Could it really be as simple as that. He just died?

But, wait. What was he doing in British Columbia? The mystery continues...


  1. There ae a lot more people interested in reading about other people's family's and the search for them than you realize. I love your story. Really interesting. Thank you for sharing it. I wanted to tell you that I've included it in my Noteworthy Reads for this week: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/06/noteworthy-reads-19.html

    I look forward to reading what comes next.

  2. Hi,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/07/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-july-10-2015.html

    Have a great weekend!