The Saga of Alice Pierce Schwemm and the Missing Newspaper Index Entry
I love newspapers. It is the plain unvarnished truth. I have folders bulging with copies of newspaper articles; a hard drive crammed with their images and the simple fact that I have spent too much money on subscriptions to newspaper databases. I just love doing genealogy research using newspapers.
There are times, however, when there are newspapers that I cannot access via the internet. In those cases I have to rely on indexes that have been created by hardworking volunteers that make my research easier. Without those indexes my research would be much slower and much harder. I would have to read through rolls of microfilm and take a chance that my ancestor’s birth, marriage or death had been published in that newspaper. That would also assume I had the time and money to spend to visit all those cities across the country! Indexes are wonderful, but I found that they can be faulty.
Searching for Alice Pierce Schwemm
My great grandfather Fred Schwemm was married twice. His first marriage to Alice Pierce in 1884 produced three children, two who survived to adulthood. His second marriage in 1897 produced four children, one of which was my grandmother, Florence Schwemm. Technically there was no reason to document his first marriage.
I was intrigued, however, when I interviewed my grandmother’s cousin Ruth Schwemm Hardacre in 2000. Ruth was 95 and the oldest living member of the Schwemm family. She was shocked when I told her that her Uncle Fred’s eldest sons were from his first marriage. In fact, she did not believe me until I showed her the marriage license. Ruth said that there had never been any mention in the family of Uncle Fred’s first marriage. Alice seemed to have disappeared from the family memory without a trace.
When I decided to start my research on Alice Pierce Schwemm I was living in Florida so I relied on the newspaper indexes. According to all available records Alice and Fred had lived on a farm in Barrington Township, Cook County, Illinois. According to the index for the local Barrington paper, The Barrington Review, there was no obituary published.
I was surprised to find an index entry in the Crystal Lake Herald. Crystal Lake is located in McHenry County Illinois and it does border Cook County, Crystal Lake is not and was not close to Barrington. The newspaper did have a three line obituary which included a date of death, May 28, 1896, which led me to Alice’s death certificate.
Over time I was able to put together an outline of the brief life of Alice Pierce Schwemm. I was able to trace her family’s journey from Barrington Illinois to Marble Rock Iowa. As a young girl she came back the Barrington area to live with her grandparents. A second cousin of my grandmother’s found some photos of Fred and Alice, their children and members of the Pierce family. Alice’s sons married but did not have any children who lived to adulthood. The pictures had been passed down to one of the half-brother’s family.
The Missing Index Entry
This past year I was reviewing my notes on Fred Schwemm and decided that something was not right. It bothered me that an obituary had not been published in the Barrington Review; it was inconsistent with how other family members’ deaths were handled.
During a quick trip to visit my mom I decided to look for the obituary. Since I love to read newspapers, instead of starting with the issues around her date of death, I started a couple of months before she died.
The first thing I noticed was that the comings and goings of the Fred Schwemm family was not mentioned under ‘Barrington Local News’ but under “Spring Lake Local News”. While today Barrington covers a large area, back in 1896 it seemed that it was broken into multiple communities, Spring Lake being one of these. As I read I found entries about Freddie and Charles Schwemm going to various children parties.
Then in the beginning of April there was a brief note in the “Spring Lake Local News” that Alice Schwemm was ill. In May it stated that she was “dangerously ill’. I knew that Alice had died on May 29, 1896, but I did not see an obituary under the “Spring Lake Local News”. There was an entry, however, listing the people who had attended the funeral of Mrs. Schwemm. I looked over the page again; it had to be there… Then I saw an article titled “Only Sleeping”. It did not have the appearance of an obituary. It did tell the story of a woman who was loved by her family and had died too young. The woman was Alice Pierce Schwemm. I could now fill in some of the holes in Alice’s story.
The volunteers who had built the index had not seen the obituary. It was easy to miss because the title did not contain a name or state that someone died. I was looking for it and did not see it. What did I learn? Indexes are a great research tool but they are not infallible. If you think a family would have published an obituary, birth announcement or marriage announcement and it is not listed in the index you might want to go to the source and look for yourself.