Doris and the Schuesslers of Los Angeles

Using DNA to identify grandparents

A Teenage Bride

I found a marriage license for Ada’s 14-year-old daughter Helen and a man named James Tilley. The date was December 9, 1932.

Helen lied about her age and claimed to be 18, but why? Was it an act of rebellion, fueled by resentment for her mother marrying Charles Michell a few months prior? Was Helen “in trouble”?

There’s no doubt this is Helen, Ada’s daughter.

 

California Marriage License

It seemed awfully suspicious that the marriage date is only about a month after Doris was born — if November 5 was Doris’s actual birthday.

Helen’s marriage to James didn’t last very long. She later remarried and had some kids, and I realized I’d have to tell this crazy story to one of them in the hopes they’d be willing to take a DNA test.

Maybe Helen was the daughter of Charles Mitchell. (she wasn’t)

Maybe Helen was Doris’s mother. (she wasn’t)

Maybe if I reached out to Helen’s daughter Gini, she’d be willing to send me an adorable photo of her mother crouching in front of an old car. (she was)

Helen Hill 1939
Helen Hill, 1939

It’s not easy to contact a stranger out of the blue and start making weird allegations about their mother. Most people don’t like that.

You don’t know me, but can we talk about your mom?

I’ve contacted a lot of people through the course of these searches, and sometimes I’m met with a skepticism, often annoyance, and a few times outright hostility. But Gini was obliging and sympathetic. If Gini didn’t live on the other side of the country, I’d love to meet her for a cup of coffee or tea.

It’s wonderful to encounter someone who isn’t afraid to let some family skeletons fall out of the closet. Or in this case, to take the door off its hinges and sweep out every last bone. Thank you Gini, for your part in solving this mystery.

As I hoped, Gini’s DNA test came back as a suspected 2nd cousin. I really didn’t want 14-year-old Helen to be Doris’s mother. Helen, Dorothy, and Ada were Hallard Garvey’s next-door neighbors — nothing more. *whew*

Now we now had only two suspects — Leona and Mathilda. Either of them could have met Hallard while visiting their sister Ada.

Sorting out the Schuesslers

Leona Schuessler: born 1894. Residence in 1932: San Bernardino. Never married.

Mathilda Schuessler: born 1903. Residence in 1932: Unknown. Marital status: Unknown.

Leona continued to appear on census records and in the city directory until her death in 1954. Her mother Carolina died in 1959. They were buried next to each other at Roosevelt Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Finding Mathilda

There had to be more information. Where did Mathilda go? Finally I found something.

The Find A Grave index on FamilySearch indicated the final resting place of Mathilda D. Schuessler Carmack. This information can also be accessed directly at the Findagrave website or on Ancestry.com.

Find a Grave Carmack

The date of birth matched exactly, so this had to be her. I checked for family members who might have been buried near her and found none.

Mathilda Daniels Carmack Grave

Mathilda’s middle name was Carolina. What did D stand for? Who was Carmack? The person who submitted this photo to Findagrave told me he didn’t know anything about Mathilda. He just takes photos of local grave markers and matches them up with death notices.

I’m not exactly sure how the next part happened, but I found the next big clue. I was browsing through marriage licenses on digitized microfilm some night, half-asleep, around 2am and there it was. I’d probably get a D- if this was a class on documentation in accordance with the genealogical standard.

It’s not easy to read, so I’ll zoom in a bit.

Mathilda Daniels' Son

Below, we see Robert Wesley Daniels marrying Marian Wills in July, 1948.

Mathilda's Son

Robert was born December 3, 1926 and he was living at 1524 Menlo Ave, in Los Angeles. His father’s name was William Daniels of St. Louis, MO, and his mother was Mathilda Caroline Schuessler, born in Pittsburgh, PA.

D is for Daniels!

Mathilda Daniels.

Now I had a new name to search. Almost immediately, I found some old newspaper articles.

A Year on the Rock Pile

In July, 1928, Mathilda charged William with failure to provide for their child. Possibly, she also alleged he stole her car, because the grand theft auto charges that had been made against William were dismissed by the judge. William was sentenced to “a year on the rock pile” for not supporting his child.

William W. Daniels son of Mathilda Schuessler
The Los Angeles Times. 16 Jul 1928, Mon • Page 38

Mathilda filed for divorce in April, 1929, when their son Robert was less than three years old.

Mathilda's divorce
The Los Angeles Times. 16 Apr 1929, Tue • Page 22

Mathilda and William were married on May 14, 1926, and their son Robert was born 6 1/2 months later.

There were a few women named Mathilda Schuessler in the greater Los Angeles area in the 1920s, per the marriage index. Prior to the discovery of Robert and William, this index page didn’t have enough details to tell me if this was our Mathilda. Now I knew this was her.

Schuessler Daniels marriage

As it turns out, Mathilda was right under my nose the whole time, but her surname change threw me off the trail. She had been living down the street from her mother Carolina, sisters Leona and Ada, and Ada’s daughters.

Another Widow

Not surprisingly, Mathilda listed herself as a widow on the 1930 census, but her husband was still very much alive across town. What is surprising is that her son Robert was never listed on the census with her. It wasn’t until about 1942 that Robert and Mathilda appeared to be living at the same address — 1524 Menlo Ave — the same residence as Carolina and Leona Schuessler.

Hallard Has a Roommate

On the 1932 city directory, which often reports information from the prior year, Mathilda was living at 1232 W. 9th Street, only a few hundred feet from Ada’s boardinghouse. A few months later, she moved even closer to her sister.

Per the 1932 California voter registrations list, Mathilda Daniels was living at 1113 1/2 W. 9th Street.

Hallard Garvey was also living at 1113 1/2 W. 9th Street in 1932.

1932 Voter List Daniels Garvey

I’d call this case closed, but without DNA testing someone closer than a 2nd cousin, we couldn’t be completely sure. Even speaking to someone who knew Mathilda could help confirm what this veritable mountain of evidence was suggesting.

Stalking Researching the Daniels Family

Through obituary searches, I learned that Mathilda and William’s son Robert Daniels died in 2009. Robert had one son, William B. Daniels, who passed away in 2017.

William had three children. I contacted his daughter Lisa and shared with her what I’d found. I asked if she’d be willing to help me verify some details.

You don’t know me, but can we talk about your great-grandmother?

I lucked out again. First Gini was super-nice, and now Lisa was incredibly helpful and kind. She replied to my initial inquiry within 12 hours.

Yes, Mathilda was my Grandpa’s mother … My Grandpa [Robert] passed over 15 years ago, but as far as we know he was an only child. From what my mom remembers, my grandfather’s dad [William] left Mathilda when he [Robert] was really young, so no one remembers him.

We heard stories of how poor they were when my grandpa was young, he said it was horrible. She eventually did remarry. I believe she lived in Oregon and moved out here to California when she was older. My grandma (Marian Daniels) did a genealogy chart probably 20 years ago, I think it’s somewhere in the rafters I’d have to look.

Over the next week or so, the pieces all started to fall into place. Lisa’s family tree was exactly as I had figured. Mathilda and William only had one child, Robert. Robert only had one child, William B. (Lisa’s father).

Mathilda married a man named Lloyd Carmack, who predeceased her.

I want to thank Lisa for sharing these details and documents, and especially for providing Pam with photos of her grandmother.

Carmack, Mathilda
Lloyd Carmack, William B. Daniels, and Mathilda Schuessler, circa 1955. Image courtesy of Lisa Daniels.

When I shared these new findings with Pam, it triggered a memory.

I remember (vaguely) my grandmother, Marguerite’s, neighbor told mom that her parents’ last name was Daniels and they gave mom up for adoption because they couldn’t afford any more children. She also believed they had a son.

Pam had no DNA matches to anyone named Daniels, so it’s understandable she would have forgotten this bit of information. Fortunately, Pam didn’t tell me this story until recently, or I might have spent a lot of time searching for a genetic connection to the surname Daniels.

Mathilda’s Dimples

As Lisa and her mother went through the rafters, they passed along more photos of Mathilda. Here is a side-by-side of Doris and Mathilda.

Finding the biological grandmother with DNA
Doris (left) and Mathilda (right)

Doris clearly inherited her dimples from Mathilda. Their eye shape is the same, as is their hairline with a slight widow’s peak, and jawline.  The paper-trail, the DNA, and now photographs verifying facial resemblances. Mathilda was Doris’s mom and she lived to be 93.

An Updated Family Tree

Pam’s tree was no longer missing a branch. With the new information we’d gathered, I was able to fill in the blanks.

Final DNA verified family tree

Even with Pam’s tree filled out, there are still a few unanswered questions.

Mathilda was issued a Social Security number in Illinois sometime before 1951. Why? I have found no record of her ever living there.

How did the Cruikshanks know Dr. Harrop and why did they have to wait several months before bringing Doris home? Did Mathilda promise them her baby and have second thoughts?

If you have any information on Mathilda Schuessler Daniels Carmack in the 1930s-1940s, or information about Dr. Harrop regarding any other adoptees, please let me know.

Thanks again to Pam, her siblings Walter and Laurie, and to Gini, Lisa, and Hal Jr. for allowing me to share their family stories.