Monday, March 30, 2015

MYSTERY MONDAY - WHO'S YOUR DADDY? Brick Walls Post #2 - Robert L. Bowden 1863-1906

Green tree with question marks_Robert Lee Bowden
BOWDEN is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name.  I have not yet been able to locate the parents or any siblings of her father Robert Lee Bowden.  This mystery has been going on for well over ten years.  Here is what I have and what I’ve done so far.  I welcome your input.

Born 8 Feb 1863 in White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier, West Virginia.  Married Florence HUNTER on 10 Mar 1887 in Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio.  Two children born to this couple: Florence Lee Nora Bowden (my grandmother) born 31 Jan 1888 in Ashland, Boyd, Kentucky and Edna “Denny” Mabel Bowden born 1 Jan 1890 in Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio.  This couple divorced on 17 Jul 1899.  The divorce was filed in Kenton County, Kentucky.  Robert worked for the railroad in every record I have about him.  He possibly remarried to a lady named Bertie Kearney in 1900.  Robert died on 8 Oct 1906 in McKees Rocks, Allegheny, Pennsylvania at age 43.

Robert’s signature from his 1887 marriage record

BOWDEN_Robert_signature from marriage record_Ohio_1887

Here is what I know about Robert’s life so far:

(Click on any image to enlarge it)

BOWDEN screenshotindiv page
BOWDEN screenshotindiv page-last 2 events

I know that Robert and Florence divorced in 1899.  I have that record and a record of her trying to get him to pay child support.

Here are a few records from the divorce, filed in Kenton County Circuit Court, Kentucky and granted on 17 Jul 1899.

Bowden_Divorce--All pages_Page_01 BOWDEN_Robert & Florence Hunter_Divorce_papers_1899_KY_Page_3 Bowden_Divorce--All pages_Page_10

My grandmother, Florence, who is Robert’s older daughter, left me a lot of genealogical information on our family.  She had his death date listed as Oct 1906.  Since I have found her information to rarely be incorrect, and this was her own father, I looked for death records based on that date.

Here is the page from her journal with him listed as the second person.  I have redacted this list for anyone who may still be living.

My brother, John and I believe we have found a record of a second marriage for Robert L. Bowden, shortly after the divorce from Florence was final.

BOWDEN_Robt marriage to KEARNEY_BC_1 Mar 1900_HuntingtonCabellWVA_enh1

We do find Robert living with a woman named Bertie and her son, who’s last name is Kearney in the 1900 census.  He is a railroad brakeman, which is consistent with what we know about Robert’s occupation.  The record states they have been married only 4 months, which is consistent with the marriage record and Robert is said to have been born in February, which is also what we have on record.  The only thing different is the year of his birth being listed as 1865 instead of 1863.  But, we all know those years vary from record to record, especially in the census.  The other variant is the state of birth being Kentucky, when my grandmother stated it was West Virginia.  I have checked both the Kentucky and West Virginia birth records and not found anything....yet.

Here is that 1900 census record.


My big AH HA! moment came when the Pennsylvania death records 1906-1944 were released last year on Ancestry.  One night I just decided to check these records for Robert.  Why?  I don’t really know, as I had no record of him ever being in Pennsylvania.   
NOTE:  You never know where you will find the record you need.

There it was!!!!  A death record for Robert L. Bowden on 8 Oct 1906 in McKees Rocks, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  A railroad man who died suddenly of heart disease.  Of course no parents names are listed.

BOWDEN_Robert L_death cert_8 Oct 1906_McKees Rock Allegheny Pennsylvania_B&W copy

Thanks to the assistance of a researcher on the Allegheny County, PA Facebook group, I also found out there was a newspaper article about his death.  Can you believe it?
BOWDEN_Robert L_newpaper article_9 Oct 1906_The Gazette Times_page 2_PittsburghAlleghenyPennsylvania BOWDEN_Robert L_newpaper article_9 Oct 1906_The Gazette Times_page 2_PittsburghAlleghenyPennsylvania_cropped
And, I saw that the death certificate was signed by a Coroner, so I sent for the Coroner’s record, which gave me no new information.  All the Coroner did was look over the body to rule out signs of foul play.  See my post about my analysis of the Coroner’s report here

  • A birth record to verify when and where he was born (although due to the Civil War, this may not be available)
  • Who his parents were?
  • Who his siblings, if any, were?
  • Any court records I may have missed regarding the guardianship of his daughters
  • Information from the cemetery that could contain details I don’t have.  I have left two messages and will try calling again.
Please note:  There is a Robert L. Bowden of about the correct age in the 1870 census.  He is the son of Elias & Sarah Bowden and living in Hardy Township, Isle of Wight, Virginia.  I have followed this lead and this IS NOT my Robert.

Do you see anything I have missed?


If you think you might be related, even remotely, to anyone mentioned in this blog, please contact me!
Happy hunting,
Michigan Girl

Copyright ©  2010-2015   Diane Gould Hall


  1. As my sister, Diane, said, Robert L. Bowden's origins are something of a mystery. Additional evidence of his marriage to Bertie C. (Price) Kearney, include that Florence said her ex-husband's post office address was Kenova, WV in 1902 when she filed for child support and alimony. Kenova is less than two miles down river from Ceredo, WV, where a Robert L. Bowden, age 35, and a Bertie P. Bowden, age 29, were living with her son, Vincent Kearney, age 3, per the 1900 federal census for Ceredo, WV.

  2. Thoughts I'm throwing out there, for what they're worth: West Virginia did not become a state until 20 June 1863 (date of admission), so technically, he was born in Virginia. Have you looked in the 1860 Federal Census of Virginia for Bowdens to see where various families are located, especially those counties that would have been in what later became West Virginia? West Virginia was a Union state. Did any Bowden men serve from Greenbrier County? They would have been of age to be his father. Have you checked county histories and biographies or newspapers for that time period? Have you checked out all the names that appear as witnesses in the above documents? They could be family members or good friends who may give you clues as to who his family was. Best of luck! I always enjoy these posts, Diane!

    1. Miriam - I do know about W VA becoming a state in 1863. However, in looking at my entry in Legacy for Robert, I can see that if he was born in Feb (as my grandmother states), then it would have still been Virginia. I've just changed his information to reflect that. THANKS!
      I am going to look today for ALL Bowden families in and around the area in 1860 and for those who served. Funny thing about these brick walls. We work on them periodically over years (in this case 10+ years) and if our notes aren't really good, we can easily forget where we have looked. Again, thank you for your input :) Glad you like my posts. I've got 8 more to go :) :)

  3. One more thought: he's listed as Robert Edward Lee Bowden in your grandmother's journal. Could his mother's maiden name have been Lee?

    1. Miriam - No, that thought hadn't crossed my mind. Why? Because all I've ever thought was that he was named after Robert E. Lee. That's why I value input from other researchers so much. Thank you!

  4. Diane,
    Have you thought to contact any of the various railroad museums? There is a large one in Strasburg PA with a significant library and archives and the Baltimore and Ohio has a museum in Baltimore. There are about 80 others scattered around the country. The curators may have ideas where you should look for employment records if they cannot help you directly.

    1. Elizabeth - thank you for your input. I have, over the years, contacted various RR museums. I've also gone online and researched the railroad records (as much as I can find) and emailed some people listed as contacts on those sites. I've been told by everyone that no records would exist as to Robert Bowden's RR employment. I do find that difficult to believe, but maybe it's true? I doubt the records would provide his parent's names. However, we never know. There could be some reference or signature or other person named on an application or other piece of paper that could be useful. I haven't given up on this resource yet.
      Thanks for stopping by.


I look forward to reading your comments. If you have any connection to the people mentioned in this blog, please let me know. I write about mine and my husband's ancestors and would welcome new information or meeting a new cousin or two. Thanks for visiting and come back soon.