When Ancestry added “Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952” a couple of years ago, lots of questions were answered in my family tree and also lots of theories were confirmed.
Finally, I was able to see the divorce record of my great-grandparents, Mae (Moore) and William Oakes, my grandmother Helen’s parents. They were married December 23, 1908 in Detroit and had the one child. Mae filed for divorce on August 31, 1914 (when Helen was only 2 years old). It was granted on July 13, 1915 and the cause was cruelty and non-support. William did not contest the divorce.
It was also interesting to be able see divorces that were filed, but never went through. One of these I found was for William Oakes’ parents, Henry and Minnie. They were married April 8, 1877 in Dearborn, Michigan and had 4 children. Minnie filed for divorce on October 16, 1900 and the causes were drunkenness and cruelty. It was still pending at the end of 1900 and apparently never went through because Minnie still received Henry’s Civil War pension after his death. By 1910, Henry was at the Michigan Soldier’s Home in Grand Rapids and died in 1922 at the Soldier’s Home in Milwaukee.
The ancestor that was one of the biggest challenges for me was someone who lived relatively recently and is pretty closely related to me (great-grandfather). William E. Oakes was the first husband of Mae Moore and the father of Helen Dorothy Oakes, my grandmother. Reasons he was a challenge was that Helen was born in 1912 and her parents divorced in 1915. I’m not sure if she ever saw her father again. She never talked about him. Also, he died when he was only 40, in 1928, when my grandmother was only 16.
The document that helped me the most and started unraveling the mystery of William Oakes was his and Mae’s marriage registration. Through that, I discovered their marriage date (Dec. 23, 1908), his age (21 and therefore an estimated birth year of 1887), and his parents names (Henry Oakes and Minnie Schroeder).
This helped me to find the Henry Oakes family in the 1900 census in Nankin Township, Wayne, Michigan. William was listed as “Willie Oak” with a birthdate of July 1888. In the 1910 census, though they were still married, William and Mae were not living with each other. She was a boarder with her mother and worked at a theatre as a ticket clerk. I haven’t found William in 1910 yet. Their daughter Helen was born June 19, 1912. William and Mae were divorced July 13, 1915. William married again on January 1, 1916 to Pearl Sullivan.
Another interesting document that tells a lot about William is his WWI Draft Registration from June 5, 1917. He and Pearl lived at 317 W. Kirby in Detroit, which would have been near the corner of W. Kirby and 3rd Avenue. His birthdate was listed as July 8, 1888. He was a foreman for Ford Motor Company. He claimed exemption from the draft due to poor health.
Sadly, Pearl and William had a stillborn baby boy on April 8, 1918. William died on August 31, 1928 at Receiving Hospital located at St. Antoine and Macomb in Detroit. According to The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1901-1922, volume 2, p. 1185, the Receiving Hospital was:
“Detroit’s municipally-operated hospital located at St. Antoine and Macomb streets…and was opened October 12, 1915.
“It was established by the Poor Commission, now known as the Department of Public Wefare.
“It serves as an emergency hospital and clearing house for accident or injury cases occurring on public thoroughfares or of a public nature, and a psychopathic hospital for the safe and human handling of the mentally disturbed, and is under the control of the Welfare Commission. Other wards of the hospital are devoted to the care of medical and surgical patients unable to pay for treatment in other hospitals.”
According to William’s death certificate, he died of “Acute nephritis superimposed upon a chronic nephritis” with a contributory cause of chronic myocarditis. He was buried in Northview Cemetery in Dearborn.
Random Fact: My great-great grandfather Henry Oakes (aka Henry Oax, Heinrich Ochs, Henry Ochs) was sent to the Detroit House of Correction for 5 years for horse stealing in Wyoming Territory. He was received at the jail March 28, 1871 and was let out August 30, 1875.
I am so fortunate to be able to hear his side of the story from his 1891 deposition from his Civil War Pension File:
When I was discharged from the regular army I went as brakeman on the U.P.R.R. – ran from Laramie to Rollin Springs. Brake man a little less than a year – got my left hand [?] [?] and was in a hospital with that in Laramie City. I can’t tell how long. Went braking again on same route. I can’t say how long then the whole crew was “pulled off.” I laid(?) round Laramie I don’t know how long and I kind of think I came from there to Detroit. No I worked quite awhile at the European Hotel at Laramie City as 2nd(?) cook. Then I had charge of the dining room there quite a spell. Then to Detroit. Was brought to Detroit and put in House of Correction for 5 years for horse stealing. Had started herding cattle and was roped in. Was taking 3 horses from Laramie to Ft. Bridger for a man whose name I can’t recollect and was arrested with the horses in my possession. The man who sent me with the horses kept a [?] house at Laramie and he skipped out.
This post is a re-working of a post I did for a Thriller Thursday back in 2013 about my 1st cousin 3x removed, William F. Ochs. He was the nephew of my great-great grandfather Heinrich Ochs (or Henry Oakes).
William F. Ochs was born January 28, 1880 in Michigan. He married Amelia Hartwig Hamilton on August 14, 1911. Amelia (born 1871) had previously been married to Herman Hamilton and had 7 children with him. Herman died in 1903.
According to a January 16, 1913 Detroit Free Press article titled ‘See Stepfather Slay Wife; Then End His Own Life,’ Amelia’s 2 youngest children, Florence and Ella were at home with their mother when William came home to their farm in Dearborn after a two-week bender. He had a shotgun and shot Amelia in the head as she was trying to escape out the back door. He then went out on the front porch and shot himself in the head. The two girls ran to a neighbor who then notified the sheriff.
According to the death certificates, they both died around 8 PM on the night of January 15th The inquest ruled it a murder/suicide.
Amelia was buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit. Unfortunately, her daughter Ella died in 1924 at the age of 21 of pneumonia. Ella is buried near her sister Laura and her family, also in Woodmere.
John and Anna Ochs arrived at the port of New York on April 22, 1852 on the ‘Oldenburg Gallion Hermine’ with their two young sons, Heinrich, age 4, and Conrad, age 11 months.
According to the New York Daily Times from that date, “The full tide of emigration has set in from Hamburg and Bremen.” On April 3, 1852, 1,500 people sailed from Hamburg alone aboard five vessels headed for New York. Before 1855, there was no central immigrant processing center. According to Rhonda R. McLure, “Before Castle Garden opened, though, immigrants were processed on the ships upon which they had arrived. Inspectors would get the passenger lists from the ship’s crew and go through them identifying the individuals” (from the article “Immigrants to Ellis Island Before 1892“). From castlegarden.org: “During this period, deceptive employers and unscrupulous money changers preyed on immigrants as they disembarked and attempted to secure work and lodging. In response, the State of New York’s Board of Emigration Commissioners established…the Emigrant Landing Depot at Castle Garden.” I hope this didn’t happen to the Ochs family!
John Ochs is next found in the 1860 census in Greenfield Township, Wayne County, Michigan (incidentally Henry Ford was born in Greenfield Township a few years later, in 1863). By this time, John was a farmer and married to Wilhelmine Mager, with two young children, John (3) and Mary (1). Heinrich (13) now went by the name Henry, and Conrad was 9. Since John and Wilhelmine’s first child was born in 1857, I presume his first wife Anna died by 1856. John and Wilhelmine had 3 more children: Minnie, Charles, and Louisa. The 1893 Wayne County Land Ownership map shows the 40 acres John owned in Dearborn.
John lived in Dearborn the rest of his life and passed away February 12, 1912 of senile decay. He is buried in Northview Cemetery. His wife Wilhelmine died in 1914.
1860 United States Federal Census. Ancestry.com. Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2004.
New York Daily Times (1851-1857); Apr 22, 1852; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times, front page.
“New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:275S-8FZ : 11 March 2018), Joh Ochs, 1852; citing NARA microfilm publication M237 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm.
U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918. Ancestry.com. Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Joseph Ralph Smiechowski was my great-grandmother’s (Mae Moore Oakes) second husband. They were married in 1916 in Detroit, Michigan. I have found his last name spelled a few different ways, including Smiechowsky and Smilchowski.
Joseph was born 6 September 1893 in Detroit to Wladyslaw (Walter) Smiechowski and Eva Wolff. He had one brother Edward (born 1895) and two sisters, Amelia (born 1898) and Anna (born 1900). In the 1900 census, the family was living on St. Joseph St. in Detroit. In the 1910 census, they were living on Theodore Street. Joseph was 16 and employed as a shipping clerk at a tannery. On 19 June 1916, Joseph and my great-grandmother, Mae, were married in Detroit. One of the witnesses was her brother, Earl Moore. Mae had a daughter, Helen, who turned four years old on their wedding day. On his World War I draft registration card, dated 1 June 1917, Joseph is described as medium height, stout, with blue eyes and light hair. He lists his dependents as a “wife and child 5 yrs old.” In various documents, his occupation is listed as decorator or painter.
In the 1920 census, the little family was living on Sheridan Street in Detroit. My grandmother Helen was listed as Helen Smiechowski, instead of Helen Oakes and as Joseph’s daughter instead of step-daughter.
Mae filed for divorce on 17 December 1924 and the divorce was granted on 11 May 1925. Causes listed were extreme cruelty and non-support. Mae went on to marry her third husband Alfred Johnson in July 1925.
In the 1930 census, Joseph was living with his parents on Pressler Street in Detroit.
I recently found his death certificate on the SeekingMichigan.org site. Joseph died 21 Sept 1936. His place of death is listed as Motor Boat Lane, Detroit, Michigan. This road appears to be next to a marina or an inlet of the Detroit River near the Manoogian Mansion. His cause of death was “asphyxiation by suffocation drowning.” His father Walter is listed as the informant. His address was 6629 Burns, and I assume Joseph was living there at the time of his death, but the certificate lists his address as unknown. Burns Street was only about 5 or 6 blocks over from Motor Boat Lane. I had no idea when I started looking for his death date, that Mr. Smiechowski had come to such a tragic end.
“Michigan Marriages, 1868-1925,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N3TS-CLW : accessed 5 January 2016), Joseph R. Smiechowski and Mae D Moore Oakes, 19 Jun 1916; citing Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, v 6 p 443 rn 131966, Department of Vital Records, Lansing; FHL microfilm 2,342,718.
“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images,FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K6XQ-4NM : accessed 5 January 2016), Joseph Ralph Smiechowski, 1917-1918; citing Detroit City, Michigan, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,675,371.
“United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MZW1-7LF : accessed 5 January 2016), Joseph Smilchowski, Detroit Ward 17, Wayne, Michigan, United States; citing sheet 20A, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,820,816.