15 May 2011

". . . And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon."

The other day I shared a most curious case from a recent client of mine. If you haven't read it yet, go ahead - click over and give it a read so you'll be caught up with the rest of us.  I'll wait. . . .

Now, are we ready to roll?

Well upon further investigation I have found that it is not just a simple case of jealous husband tries to kill his wife. In fact, I'm not sure what it is anymore! 

There had to be more to the story and I found it.  I went back to the library to re-check the newspaper microfilm and found that the library is missing 6 weeks of the Stockton Daily Record - the 6 weeks during the trial of the husband.  So like the educated genealogist I am, I went to the source.  I went downtown to the newspaper's office and asked to see their archived copies of the paper for that time period.  After much begging, pleading and skillful negotiating  I was able to obtain this accounting from the Record [I have only posted the important snippets]:

"A WOMAN SHOT BY HER HUSBAND - Insane Jealousy The Reason For The Shooting

It was learned incidentally of Douglass that he is addicted to drink, or in the habit of having sprees at which times he abused his wife shamefully.  That these abuses and beatings had led once to separation and divorce but that the man was desirous of resuming the relation. 

It is learned from District Attorney Nutter that Mary E. Douglass procured a divorce from J.J. Douglass last summer, alleging failure to provide as a cause for action.  It seems that the ladies of the Aid Society found Mrs. Douglass in poverty and sleeping on old sacks stuffed with straw and her two children as well as herself in tatters.

Finally the neglected woman applied to the District Attorney under the impression that it was his duty as a public official to procure  her a divorce.  Mr. Nutter did not try to disabuse her mind of the error, having learned of the circumstances, but filed the complaint and obtained the divorce.  Mrs. Douglass did not allege drunkenness, but indolence and neglect on the part of the husband."

It goes on to say that the husband had been visiting the wife's place rather frequently of late on the pretext of spending time with the children.  On the morning of the incident, the husband accused the wife of "not being straight."  She told him he was full of baloney whereupon he pulled a revolver and shot her.

Incredulously the last paragraph in the newspaper article is:

"Douglas showed no signs of having been drinking and there is nothing to suggest that he is a drinking man."

Huh?  At the beginning of the article the man is accused of being a drunk and the article ends with the complete opposite!

The information provided by the District Attorney to the newspaper is interesting enough but still does not explain his change of heart for the defendant. 

So after I read the wonderful comments and suggestions that many of you left for me, I thought of a source that I had not checked out.  My client had given me a file folder of records that she had procured from the California State Archives.  There was the Commitment Order from San Joaquin Superior Court, a copy of the man's entry in the Prison Register and Descriptive List of Convicts, and the Application For Pardon which had attached to it the petitions and the personal letter from the District Attorney who prosecuted the case. But was there more?

What is one of the basic rules of research?  Go have a look at the original source.  I drove up to Sacramento to the California State Archives to have a look at the pardon file.  There was one letter that my client had not  included for some reason.  It tells yet another version of the story.

From the Postmaster of the town of Linden to the Governor of California:

"James Douglass is a most respected young man of his neighborhood.  His family are old pioneers and highly respected by all.  I have been Postmaster nine years and know the facts of this case.  He married a strange girl that came here.  They had two children.  She did not love home and quietness he did and she was determined to get rid of him to take up with another stranger that moved in our town.  She did and ran away with him in eight days after her husband was convicted.  It is a fact she was living a life of asignation inside one month after leaving her home and when last heard from (one year later) she was still leading a life of shame.  It was said to dissappoint the man she ran away with.  She said to people (when leaving Linden) that she had put up a job on her husband, he was only a stupid fool anyway and now she was going to have her own way and a good time."

Who knows what the real story is.  It seems that the part about the wife running away with another man is true, found her in the 1900 census with him and her two children.  I'm off with the new information to try and find the rest of the story.

NOTE:  The California State Archives has State Prison records that include San Quentin and Folsom prison registers, inmate photographs, inmate case files (samples only) and pardon files. There is a name index for the years 1850–1979.


  1. Wow! What a story! And what a wonderful research job you did, Sheri! Congrats to you! I know very little about prison record research but you certainly were able to get into a ton of paperwork preserved from this case. It's great to see that it was all still available to you and that it was able to help you place the woman in the later census. Great job, thanks for sharing!

  2. We are going to change the name of your blog to The Educated and Tenacious Genealogist. Good work, Sheri! How sad that no one in town felt he should stay in prison for neglecting her, abusing her and shooting her. The fact that she ran away with another man after he went to prison apparently made what he did all right. I hope she found some happiness. Thanks for bringing this story to light, Sheri. What an interesting project!

  3. I love these puzzles that really get you thinking (and wondering if there will be an answer eventually). Keep us posted :-) Jo

  4. WOW.

    I think you have the bones of a novel here!

  5. Sheri, kudos on an excellent job and on uncovering a fascinating story! You have demonstrated something I always believed: being smart isn't enough, you also have to be very tenacious to be an outstanding researcher.

  6. Great work! I hope you can find out whether the Mrs (or ex-Mrs) was either a battered and tattered woman, or the portrait of a slut. Fascinating to see two wildly divergent portrayals.
    - Brenda

  7. What amazing sleuthing! Perseverance is the most important trait in life. -- and genealogy!

  8. That is fascinating stuff! I'm curious to know what happened to him after he was released from prison...