Thursday, January 26, 2006

What Happened in 1919

A few people brought up some good ideas about what happened to the Petch family in 1919. As I said in yesterday’s post, the family just evaporates from the area in 1919. The mother and three adult sons, one of which I know for sure is married with 3 or 4 kids, are no where to be found in any city or county records after 1919. The family had lived in the area since the 1870s so it seemed odd.

The flu pandemic was my first thought given that Thomas Jr. was a doctor. Although 1918 was the big year for the flu, as John from The Devil Queen pointed out, it really didn’t get out to the West Coast until almost 1919. I think the first case showed up in SF in December of 1918. Given all the travel between Eureka and SF it probably showed up here by January of 1919. I didn’t look at the newspapers for that year yet. It is very possible that if the death toll was high records may not have been kept very well.

I found the father Thomas Sr. and his mother in Santa Rosa, CA in the 1920 census. He divorced Phyllis Petch sometime between 1905 and 1910 and moved there to live with his widowed sister and her three children. That is when The Petch House first became a boarding house. Phyllis turned the dining room and butler’s pantry in to a small apartment for herself and rented out the 4 bedrooms to borders.

It is funny that at first she called herself a widow and then later she was listed as divorced (“That man is dead to me!”). She also changed the spelling of her first name from “Phyllis” to “Phillias”. One could assume that Phillias was her original name but she “Americanized” it after immigrating the US in 1878. For some reason she went back to Phillias after the divorce. Something tells me it wasn’t a pleasant separation. Thomas moved in to a small house on “I” street before heading to Santa Rosa.

It is also interesting that Thomas and Phillias got married in Ireland in 1878. He was 19 and she was 17. They had the first child, Thomas Jr, in California in 1879. That means that at 17 Phillias is newly married, pregnant, and traveling to a foreign country across a lot of wild and untamed country. That is pretty adventurous.

The 1898 city directory shows a John Petch living just across the street from The Petch House. I suspect that was either Thomas’ father or brother and the young Thomas and Phillias were coming out here to meet him. John Petch is gone by the 1900 census and Thomas’ mother emigrates in 1919 as a widow.

I suppose it is possible that the family fell on hard times and all of them moved out together in 1919 for greener pastures, but it is just not something I would expect because the sons were grown adults by 1919. The youngest son would have been about 33 at that time. Would the whole family including wives and grandkids all have moved out together?

Around 1910 the eldest son Thomas Jr., the doctor, does spend some time Tuolumne County in the Sierra Nevada foothills (gold country) but ends up back in Eureka by 1916. His wife and kids did not travel with him. One thought is that he went there to set up a practice, buy a house, and then eventually they all moved there. The 1910 census shows he is a doctor living by himself in a boarding house Tuolumne County. I have no way of accessing records for Tuolumne County from here so the trail sort of dies there.


Ben Biddle said...

Don't give up. Keep digging. It's fascinating to learn the history of lives that shaped our homes and how those homes shape our lives.

K said...

The husband of the family that lived in my house disappeared sometime between 1920 and 1930. Then he pops up on a death index in another county several years later. I guess they divorced, but she called herself a widow in the 1930 census.