Friday, July 11, 2014

Family Stories, Assumptions and Genealogical Mistakes: Fred Koshuba's Story

I know that the little boy in this picture is Fred Koshuba, since it was taken at my grandmother's wedding in 1916. This people in this picture are also in the group wedding picture.  Joseph Koshuba, Florence Holmberg Koshuba, Catherine Florence Koshuba, and Peter Wons are also pictured.  The second gentleman in the picture is not Peter Wons, which was confirmed by other family pictures and his grandson.  He is now known as "Mr Moustache."

A few weeks ago I wrote about my cousin Fred Koshuba.  He was the son of Joseph Koshuba and Florence Holmberg, born in St Paul Minnesota in 1914.  He died tragically at the age of 27 in a car accident in 1941.
The family story, told to me by my mother was that Fred was a passenger in a car driven by Stephen Koshuba, his and my mother's uncle.  I assumed that the accident occurred in St Paul or Minneapolis, since that was where most of the Koshuba family lived.  She also told me that Fred lived in Detroit, Michigan and was a reporter for the Detroit Free Press.

A little bit of research poked a lot of holes in this story.  First of all, after I found Fred's death certificate, I discovered that he died in Dolton, Illinois.  This led to some more questions--why were Fred and Uncle Steve in Dolton, Illinois?  Again, I made another assumption, Fred and Uncle Steve were on their way from St Paul to Detroit, and were driving through Illinois. 

Later, I found a newspaper story about the accident in a Dolton, IL, newspaper.  It said that the accident happened when Clarence Akerman flipped his car, seriously injuring himself and killing Fred.  What about Uncle Steve?  Was he injured as well?  There was no mention in the story about anybody else being involved in the accident.

Last month, I met some Koshuba cousins and the subject of Fred's death came up.  The story they heard was that Fred was killed in an accident and a Holmberg relative was driving.  None of us could figure out what Fred was doing in Dolton.  Since one of Fred's sisters lived in Evanston, IL, perhaps he was driving through Dolton on his way to see his sister in Evanston.  This was possible, although the cousins said that their mother never said anything about Fred planning to come to see her.

After looking at the 1940 United States census, several questions were answered. Fred was living in the Detroit area, actually in Dearborn, Michigan, and had lived there since 1935.  This was confirmed by the fact that I no longer found Fred  living in St Paul (in the St Paul directories) after 1935.  I also knew that most of Fred's immediate family had left Minnesota in the late 1930's.  It was unlikely that he was traveling through Dolton on his way to or from St Paul, and unlikely that he was with Uncle Steve.

I recently learned that one of Fred's cousin's, Geraldine Holmberg, married a man named Akerman.  I searched  for Geraldine Holmberg in, and found in the 1940 United States Census, that she had married a man named Clarence Akerman, and was living in Chicago in 1940.  Now all the pieces of information started to make sense.  Fred was in Chicago visiting Geraldine and Clarence Akerman.  Fred and Clarence were driving in Dolton when the car flipped over.  Since the newspaper article never mentioned another car or driver, or any other injured people, it appears that this was a single car accident.  Clarence was driving at a high speed when he lost control of the car, hit a culvert and the car overturned.

Fred's death certificate and the 1940  United States Census disproved one of the other family stories--Fred was a newspaper reporter. Fred worked for the Ford Motor Company, first as a line hand, and later as a payroll clerk.  There was one more surprise--according to his death certificate, Fred was married to Charlotte.  He was not married in 1940.  Who was Charlotte, and whatever happened to her?

What have I learned from this--first of all, don't accept family stories as fact.   There may be grains of truth in them, but don't be surprised if you find out that they are just stories.  Second, always look for sources for any names, dates or photographs you find that may apply to the family member you are researching.  Do not assume that what you may see in a family tree you find on the Internet is accurate.  Some people are lazy genealogists, they copy any information they find on-line, and assume it is correct.  Sometimes that information has a source, but always check the source,  since you may find that it refers to another person with the same name.
So, I know that family stories and assumptions led me to make some major genealogical mistakes.

This may be Fred Koshuba, as an adult, but I have not been able to prove it, since it may be another cousin, Paul Popko. It was taken at Stephen Koshuba's marriage to Sally Popko.