Friday, March 26, 2010

The Quest for Al's Birth Parents

As his daughters grew older, Al began to grow concerned that he did not know his birth family and where they might be living.  He set out to find the truth about his birth parents in the 1930s. I do not know how much he knew when he started this quest, but he eventually found his maternal grandfather still living in New Castle, Pennsylvania. But his mother had died just a short time before he found his grandfather. As for his father, according to Ethel, Hazel, and Lois, Al did not find out who he was. However, there is no doubt in my mind that his grandfather whom he visited with several times knew the identity of Al’s father.

Al also learned that the circumstances of his birth.  Al's birth mother was a young, unmarried girl who was "taken advantage of" by the man who likely lived next door. I will refrain from passing judgement on what "taken advantage of" means here since all parties are long since gone and cannot speak for themselves and there is no record of what happened.  That said, there are other records relative to the lives of Al's birth parents that can help paint a picture of these two people and their character.

Al learned that his mother was Catherine Biddle, the daughter of John Wesley Biddle, who was living in New Castle. Al developed a relationship with his newly found grandfather and got to know several of his Biddle uncles, aunts, and cousins. I will come back to Biddle family in a future post, but for now will focus on Catherine.

Catherine Biddle was born in New Castle in September 1879, the daughter of John Wesley Biddle and Mary Virgilia Lloyd. Catherine was 17 years old when Al was born. In about 1908, Catherine married James Pemberton who was a laborer in the tin can factory in New Castle which was where Catherine’s father also worked. Catherine worked as a bookkeeper at the same factory. Catherine and James lived with her parents in New Castle’s 5th Ward. By 1930, Catherine and James had moved to Youngstown, Ohio where James worked as a laborer in street construction. Catherine died in Youngstown on 8 April 1934, at the age of 54. She had no other children.
All that Al passed on to his daughters concerning his father was that his name was Gardner which was not much to go on. There were several Gardners living in New Castle around 1897 who could have been Al’s father, so positively identifying him is nearly impossible. However, extremely strong circumstantial evidence leads me to believe that Al’s father was Victor Marcellus Gardner. The evidence is very simple but compelling. Victor and his family were the very next door neighbors of the Biddles at the time Al was born. Victor’s sons were too young to have been Al’s father, but a look into Victor’s life also strengthens the likelihood.

Victor Marcellus Gardner was born on 5 July 1864 in Butler County, Pennsylvania, son of William M. Gardner and Euphemia Jane (Effie Jane) Ralston. Victor, a Catholic, married Amanda Ott, a Protestant, in 1884. Victor and Amanda had 7 children who were raised Catholic. Victor was a carpenter by trade. He died of typhoid fever in 1907 at the age of 42 in New Castle.

So those are the facts of Victor’s life, but fortunately we can know more about the character of Victor from a couple sources. From court reporting in the New Castle newspapers we learn that Victor was arrested in 1902 for non-support of his family and in 1906 was in jail again for abandonment and non-support. There are also a number of newspaper accounts of violent fights between members of the Gardner family and with neighbors—involving Victor’s mother (again a subject for a future post)! From a grandson with whom I have been in contact, we learn that Victor was a chronic alcoholic. According to grandson George Gardner, Victor “was also a kind, hard worker, and sentimentalist who loved his wife and children, even though he made their lives difficult by his drinking.”

Of course George Gardner knew nothing of Al Redmond until I contacted him, but he was not surprised. He believes as I do that Al was Victor’s son. Unfortunately since the DNA trail is passed from father to son and Al had no sons, unless someone has a lock of Al’s hair or some other bit of his DNA, there are no DNA tests can prove the connection beyond question. Based on what Al passed on to his daughters and the evidence above, I think that we can say that it is likely that Al was Victor’s son.

It is true neither Victor Gardner or Catherine Biddle played a role in the upbringing of Al Redmond, but beyond the circumstances of Al’s birth and Victor Gardner’s flaws and despicable actions, there are two colorful families that are branches of our family tree. We cannot ignore that Al likely had seven half-brother and sisters and a large number of nieces and nephews.  There are a number of interesting stories from both Victor and Catherine's families that will come in future posts.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kipp. I am Jennifer L. Schoch. This is an amazing job you have done! I would like to give you my childrens' names and such so that you can add them :) I live in Titusville, PA. My father was Buddy Dwight Schoch and my mother Shirley Ann Barnett Schoch. Please feel free to message me, email me, or facebook me..