Five years ago my husband’s mother and father moved from Florida to Minnesota to live with his younger brother. Since his brother already had everything set up my mother-in-law put their boxes in the rafters of the garage and there they sat.
So, why is this important? Because I made a big genealogical mistake before they left. I did not scan the photo album of Nellie Neilson Schultz Evans, my husband’s great great grandmother. And that album was now destined to be in the rafters of the garage for an unknown period of time.
I had seen the album once before but since I had not started researching his paternal line I did not see the rush in getting it scanned. Now, five years later I wanted to see if the album would help fill in an eleven year gap in Nellie’s life.
Nellie Neilson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 18, 1856. As a young woman, Nellie married William H. Schultz on September 15, 1878 in a Methodist ceremony. William and Nellie had two children, Nellie (June 16, 1883 - December 19, 1883) and William Henry Schultz (May 1, 1887 – September 11, 1949).
William Schultz, a jeweler and an actor, died on August 12, 1889. He was performing in a play in Indiana when he became sick. He travelled home to Philadelphia but did not recover. His funeral was held at his mother’s home and neither his wife Nellie nor son was mentioned in the obituary. William was buried in the family plot along with his father and infant daughter Nellie.
Eleven years later on February 2, 1899 Nellie, now listed as a widow, married Wilson Evans in Plano, Illinois.
had been widowed two years prior and
was 25 years older than Nellie. Her son William Schultz was living with Nellie
and Wilson at
the time of the 1900 census. Wilson
Wilson Evans died in May 26, 1907 leaving Nellie a widow, again. Wilson owned property in Plano and his will provided an income for Nellie and his daughter Mary Evans Osmond from the property. When both Nellie and Mary were deceased the property was to be sold and the money was passed to his daughter’s children.
William Henry Schultz, Nellie’s son, married Myrtle Warren in 1908. In the 1910 census, Nellie is living in Plano, Illinois and is listed as the head of household. William and Myrtle are living with her.
In 1920 the family has moved from Plano Illinois to LaGrange, Illinois and Nellie is now 64 years. The family is recorded in the Illinois census and William assumes the title of Head of Household on the 1920 census. In 1930 the family has moved to Western Springs, Illinois and at the time of the census, Nellie is still living with William and Myrtle.
Sometime during the 1930’s however Nellie moves into the Old Ladies Home in Aurora, Illinois. She dies there on June 14th 1935. The home still exists and is now named Sunnymere. When I contacted them, they had a record of Nellie’s death, but not when she became a resident. Nellie was buried in Arlington Cemetery in Elmhurst, Illinois in the family plot.
This was Nellie’s story until the summer of 2012.
UnRaveling Nellie's Album
Earlier this year my brother-in-law purchased a new home. This meant that my mother-in-law would finally have to go through the boxes in the garage rafters. Nellie’s album was going to be found.
I should have known something was up the day Chuck talked to his mom and when I mentioned Nellie’s album he just shrugged. Later that week when I opened the mailbox there was a package from Minnesota! I tore it opened and immediately recognized it, I was holding Nellie’s album.
I rushed into the house and was thrilled to see that the years in the garage had not harmed the album. From the first page the album appeared to be a dream come true. There were pictures of Nellie, her son William and his wife Myrtle. Each posed in front of the same tree and with their names written on the bottom of the photos.
That evening I went through the album page by page and what I found were wonderful family pictures and a very big mystery. The first 10 pages of the album took me back in time with pictures of William and Myrtle’s two sons Bernard and Charles Neilson and their daughter Francine. The family lived in the towns of Plano and LaGrange Illinois and the various photos noted both the people and the town’s name.
Then after ten pages the landscape changed. There were pictures of Nellie in a farmer’s field riding a horse and laying in what appeared to be a hay field. These pictures only had Nellie’s name on them, no explanation of where they were taken.
The next few pages of the album had familiar family faces with towns noted were in the area of Illinois were the family lived. This led me to believe that the pictures on the horse may have been a family vacation. Imagine my surprise when the next group of pictures were labeled Nashua, Montana and pictured flooded farm fields and buildings in the town.
I was even more confused when a family with the last name of Beecher became very prominent in the photos. The Beecher’s had three boys who were the subject of many pictures. Again, thanks to Nellie’s shaky but prominent handwriting it appeared that two of boys’ names were Willard and Ward. In all of my research I had never seen the surname Beecher connected with the Schultz or Evans family.
Amateur Photo DetectivesI was surprised about the prominence of the Beecher family and the Montana location. None of this fit into my research or the family history of Nellie, her deceased husband William Schultz Sr. or her other deceased husband Wilson Evans.
I thought I may have missed something over the years so I went to Ancestry.com to search on Willard Beecher. From the look of the pictures I thought he might be about 5 years old. I entered the information and pressed Search.
There at the top of my search results was a photo of Willard and Katherine Beecher celebrating their 66 wedding anniversary! I was stunned. It was a private photo on a private family tree so I pressed the ‘Contact the Owner’ and told my story.
To my surprise and against all odds I had a reply the next day. The Willard Beecher in Nellie’s Album and the Willard Beecher celebrating his 66 wedding anniversary were the same person. The person writing back to me was his daughter and she had talked to her dad and he remembered Nellie and her family!
Over the next few weeks I found that Nellie and her son William had homesteads in Nashua Montana and their farms were adjacent to the Beecher farm. Nellie also had a house in town which the Beecher used one winter so the boys could attend school.
I then researched the homesteads on the Bureau of Land Management and requested the files from the National Archives. I have also been in contact with the Valley County court house and discovered that Nellie lost her property for back taxes.
To Be Continued....
From the Homestead records I know that in 1916 William and Nellie started working the land in Nashua. They filed for an exception to live in Illinois for 5 months a year because of the hard winters in Montana. There are also letters and affidavits explaining crop failures due to droughts and floods.
From 1916 until the mid-1920’s Nellie, along with her son William, his wife Myrtle and their children Bernard, Charles and Francine travelled from Illinois and Montana on an annual basis. By 1926 William and Nellie have both given up their plans to be farmers in Nashua and appear to live full time in Illinois.
Why didn’t anyone in the family know this story?
Willard Beecher said his family thought Nellie and her family were actors from Canada. I know that Nellie’s husband William was an actor but never found any proof that Nellie did any acting. I also cannot find any trace of Nellie or her son William from the time her first husband William Schultz died in 1889 until 1899 when Nellie married Wilson Evans in Plano, Illinois.
Nellie’s album fulfilled many of my fantasies. The pictures are labeled with names and places. While they lack dates I can estimate them based on the ages of her grandchildren Bernard and Charles.
On the other hand Nellie’s album created more questions than it answered. But they are questions I did not know to ask. And, because Nellie or someone else took the time to label the pictures I was able to find Willard Beecher and add another chapter to Nellie’s story
And, last but not least I have proof that the prominent Schultz ears do truly come through the Schultz line of the family.