Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Mystery of Alfred Cooke

Soo Depot and Elevators, Anamoose, McHenry, North Dakota, 1928
When I first started researching my family history sixteen years ago, all I knew about James Alfred Cooke (1853-1937), brother of my great-grandfather Arthur Cooke )1867-1936), was that he had married a girl from Boston. Slowly, over the years, more details have emerged, but mystery still surrounds him.

Alfred was born in New Carlisle, Quebec in 1853, the son of William Cooke (1825-1901) and Judith Chatterton (1828-1912). On December 12, 1878, Alfred married Albertina Olson in Boston, Massachusetts. Albertina had been born in Sweden about 1851, and had emigrated to the United States in 1875.

According to Massachusetts birth records, Alfred and Albertina had five children born in Boston beginning in 1881: Frank (1881-1881), William (1883- ?), Emma (1884-?), Helena (1886-1944), and Edna (1891-1894).

A sixth child, Rose, was likely born before Alfred and Albertina were married. At the time of the 1880 US Census, the young family were living in Boston. Alfred lists his occupation as carpenter. Strangely, Alfred also appears in the 1881 Canadian Census living with his parents in New Carlisle.

The real mystery, however, is what happened to James Alfred Cooke after the birth of his daughter Edna in 1891. The 1900 Census records that Albertina was living with her three surviving daughters in Boston. Alfred is nowhere to be found. Albertina lists her marital status as widowed.

In 1910 Albertina was still living in Boston with her three daughters, and still claiming to be widowed. Meanwhile, Alfred has reappeared in Anamoose, McHenry, North Dakota. He is married to woman named Lena, has a daughter Frieda, and a son Frank.

Did Alfred and Albertina divorce? Or did Alfred abandon his family? If Alfred did not divorce Albertina, then his marriage to Lena implies that he was a bigamist.

Fifteen years ago a second cousin of mine was able to make contact with Frank's children. Frank was born in 1907 and died in 1956. Their mother Violet (1912-1991) met their father when he served in England during the Second World War. Unfortunately, they knew very little about their grandparents other than Lena's maiden name was Behr. Apparently Violet was a very private person who destroyed most of the family papers before she died because "it was none of their business."

Census data indicated that Lena was born in Mississippi about 1876. It took numerous attempts over the years to find her, but I think I have finally succeeded. In the 1880 Census there is a Lena Behr, aged 4, living in Beauregard, Copiah, Mississippi. Her father was Alfred Ernest Bahr (1835-1902), a general merchant who had emigrated from Pomerania. Her mother was a local girl named Martha Jane "Mattie" Benton (1856-1939).

Further research uncovered Alfred and Mattie's marriage in 1875, that Albert was a private in Stockdale's Battalion, Mississippi Calvary during the Civil War, and that their gravestones are in the Beauregard Memorial Cemetery.

On her death certificate, Lena's date of birth was recorded as 24 Jul 1879. In view of the 1880 Census data her date of birth was more likely 24 Jul 1876.

Alfred and Lena's daughter Frieda was killed by a tornado on 3 July 1916. The Ward County Independent reported on her death:

Freda Cook, aged eleven years, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Cook of Anamoose, and Anna, the nine-year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ludwig Huber, residing five miles north of that city, were instantly killed in a cyclone which visited that section of the state at six o'clock Monday evening, leaving death and ruin in its wake.... The little Cook girl was killed by flying debris from the wrecked hen house. Her mother was in the building at the time it was destroyed, but escaped unharmed, being left on the floor. The flying timbers struck the little girl, killing her almost instantly.
Alfred remained in Anamoose for the rest of his life.

In 1920, Albertina was living in Boston with her married daughter Helena. I have not found a record of Albertina's death.

Alfred and Albertina's daughter Rose married twice. In 1910 she married Arvid Daniel Skonberg. He died of tuberculosis in 1914 at the age of 38. Five years later she married Samuel Victor Walters. Samuel had been born in Bath, Somerset, England in 1885, and died before the 1930 Census.

Brattleboro Retreat, Brattleboro, Windham, Vermont
Rose's death certificate records that she was born on 13 Aug 1877 in Boston, and was the daughter of Fred Cooke and Albertina Olson. She died of chronic myocarditis at the Brattleboro Retreat in Brattleboro, Windham, Vermont on 7 Feb 1946. Brattleboro is a mental health and addictions hospital founded in 1834. Her death certificate notes that she suffered from "manic depressive psychosis" and the 1940 Census shows that Rose was a patient at Brattleboro.

James Alfred Cooke died in Anamoose on 27 Oct 1937. Lena Behr died in Wells County North Dakota on 4 Sep 1940.

Research continues. If Albert and Albertina did divorce, then a court record should exist, however, a trip to Boston might be required. There is also a collection of 28 photos, called the "Alfred Cook Family Photograph Collection," at the State Historical Society of North Dakota Archives in Bismark, North Dakota. Included in the collection is a "photo of the Cook family in front of their home."