Saturday, May 31, 2014

Introducing... The REAL Frank Cullen, Sr.

Before reading this post, I suggest that you read my original post about Frank Cullen, Sr. It is here: 

Ok, now that you're dying of curiosity, I will reveal how I found Mr. Cullen. And by Mr. Cullen, I mean Mr. Iliff. Did you say Iliff? How do you even say Iliff? 

I began looking for my 3rd great-grandfather approximately 4 years ago. I looked in the usual ways that you look for a man who died 75-100 years ago. Census records, marriage records, death records, city directories, photos, letters, postcards, address books, etc. You'd think that somewhere there would be a tangible clue. As I mentioned in my previous blog post (written over a year ago I might add), there wasn't a shred of evidence that Mr. Frank Cullen even existed. I was beginning to believe that Mary Jane Cullen made him up. Oh, but she did!

I'm getting ahead of myself again... 

Back in February, I was going down the old road again of looking for Frank. I decided to look backward by Mary Jane's city directory listings in Cincinnati. She was listed in Cincinnati as Mary Jane Quinn until 1878, and then drops off the planet until she shows up in Detroit as the widow of Frank Cullen in 1889. What happened during that 11 year gap? The other issue with Mary Jane is that her census records for 1880 & 1900 are nowhere to be found. 

Or so I thought. I decided to cross reference Mary Jane's mother's 1880 address of 93 Smith from the Cincinnati directory with 93 Smith in the 1880 US federal census. That took many hours considering the pages & pages of handwritten census records that jumped between streets & city blocks fairly randomly. What I found was this:
Quinn, Martha, White, Female, Age 59, widowed, Housekeeper - from England, with parents both from England. Well right there, I was skeptical that Martha Quinn was Mary Jane's mother Margianna. Her name isn't Martha, although it's similar. And all previous records have shown that she was born in Ireland or New York and that her parents are from Ireland. So I almost ignored the next record, which is:

Sliff, Mollie, White, Female, Age 26, Daughter, Widowed, born in Ohio, parents born in England.  

Then I thought that I might as well investigate. Maybe I'd find something interesting, if not Mary Jane's story, someone's story. 

So I searched Mollie Sliff, Mollie Iliff, and many other variations of the spelling since the handwriting isn't easily deciphered. And then Mary Jane Iliff, Sliff, etc.

Here's what I found on (which by the way has some records that doesn't. So I do always check with Family Search if I can't find what I'm looking for on

Michigan Marriages 
Detroit, Michigan
Dec 5, 1878
Frank Iliff - White - Cincinnati Ohio - 25 - (profession is illegible)
Mary Jane Quin - White - Cincinnati Ohio - 25

So, I'm putting the pieces together. Mary Jane married a man named Frank Iliff. That's where "Frank" came from. They got married in Detroit. They both lived in Cincinnati at the time. What took them over 250 miles north to Detroit? This was prior to the Interstate system of course. Even today it would take over 20 hours by train. Was she pregnant? Not that I can tell. Frank's brother Elmer was born in 1881, 3 years later. It's possible she was pregnant and lost the baby, but I don't have any evidence of that. Maybe they eloped. Neither the Cincinnati or Detroit newspapers (that are digitally searchable from my computer) have record of a marriage announcement. So maybe they did elope. Regardless of why, they got married. 

And this is weird. They got married 5 years to the day before their son Frank Cullen was born. It was already strange that Frank Cullen & his future wife Viola Marmaduke were both born on December 5, 1883, but now it's even more weird that Frank's parents were married exactly 5 years earlier. Especially considering the mystery surrounding Frank's father... I feel like this is significant...

Anyway, so I found him. I found Frank Cullen... I mean, Frank Iliff.

It took me a bit to get over the fact that I found him before the questions started rolling in. Just when I thought I had enough questions regarding my family history... 

Why was Mary Jane calling herself Mollie Iliff 2 years later - not to mention calling herself a widow? 
Did Frank & Elmer know their father's name was Iliff? 
Are there birth certificates out there for Elmer Iliff & Frank Iliff? 
Was Mary Jane out in Detroit calling herself the widow of Frank Cullen when Frank Iliff was still alive? 
Why all the secrets?

I probably had even more questions. This is just fascinating! 

So, I did find out a couple of things that I think are interesting...

Now that I had a name, my mom & I started going through Frank Cullen's postcards & date books, which include a lot of addresses. After searching a while, we found an address in his date book for a C. Iliff at 958 Hatch Street Cincinnati in 1905. It matches up with Frank Iliff's brother's address in 1905 in the Cincinnati city directory. Not only that, but the city directories show that Frank & Mary Jane Iliff lived together on Hatch Street in the 1880s. CRAZY! So did Frank know that this C. Iliff was his uncle? Did he know that his father's last name wasn't Cullen? It was really surreal to see the name Iliff written in Frank Cullen's beautiful penmanship. I wonder what his emotions were toward this man when he wrote his address. I wonder if he ever wrote to C. Iliff. Are there postcards out there right now that a grandchild of C. Iliff has kept? 

It drives me crazy to think that there may be answers out there to these questions. I just don't have enough hours in the day or money in the bank to put toward finding out! 

To answer another of my questions... Yes, I did find out that Mary Jane moved herself, her mother, and her young boys to Detroit Michigan around 1889. It was in Detroit that she began using the surname Cullen. Where she got the name, I have yet to find out, but you better believe I'm working on it! During that time, Frank Iliff was living in Cincinnati as a soap salesman, and ended up living in Columbus, Ohio, where he died in 1908. His obituary is a bit curious as well. 
ILIFF: Frank Iliff. suddenly, at Columbus. Ohio. Saturday. July 11. Funeral Monday, July 18. at 2 p.m. from J. J. Gilligan's mortuary chapel. 315 E. Eighth st. Remains to be cremated. Relatives and friends invited without further notice.
Since he was cremated, I doubt that there is a gravestone or memorial for him anywhere in Cincinnati. It does appear that he was taken to Cincinnati after his death for the funeral by someone. I need to order his death certificate. I also need to find out if there are birth certificates for Elmer & Frank under the name Iliff. 

This story leaves me to wonder many things, but mainly I wonder what happened between Frank & Mary Jane. Why did she leave Cincinnati and her husband? Why did she change her name? Did the boys have any contact with Frank after they left? Did they know he died in 1908? 

The best part about this is that I am able to share the story with my grandmother & mom. I wish my great-grandmother Mary Cullen (Frank's daughter) was still living so that I could talk to her about it. My mom & grandma and I agree that she probably did not know any of this. She was the type to dish the dirt about things like this. I wonder what she would've said if she found out that her name shouldn't have ever been Cullen. 

We are planning a Fall trip to Cincinnati to hopefully uncover more about the Iliffs. The Iliff family is well documented on, so I am hopeful that we will even meet someone from this previously unknown branch of the tree. I have a feeling that this is just the beginning of the story...

#6 - My own dear Bettie & Jeannette: Feb 25th, 1903

Brick Haven, VA
Feb. 25, 1903

My own dear Bettie & Jeannette:

I know you have been looking for a letter from me for some time in answer to yours but it is not through neglect dear children for you are on your mother's mind continually & seldom a night that I do not dream about my darlings. Oh Bettie what a blessing to have a dear heavenly Father to carry your troubles to & one who is able & willing to hear & bear them! Continue in prayer darling one & He will surely answer some time. It does me so much good to know that you have this faith Bettie.

Janie & cousin Mary have gone in town today with the Baby. You wanted to know his name. It is John Clinton & we call him Clinton. We all make a great pet of him & he is real cute.

Dare has gone to Pittsburg again & came over to see us. He is looking well but it made me feel very bad to have him go.

Viola never writes to me anymore. I can't imagine the cause but hope she write often to you both.

May's address is 1127 9th St. N W.

Jeannette & Bettie must write to Mama again very soon. Your letters are a great comfort to me. Hope I will feel better soon & can write oftener.

With much love & many kisses, I am your devoted mother.

Alice M. Marmaduke.

I don't have a lot of commentary on this letter. Nearly a month has passed between letters #5 & #6. Of course, if any letters were written in the meantime, they may have been lost. 

I mentioned in my last Alice post that I wished I had more of the envelopes. Good news! Uncle Ralph (my grandmother's brother) brought over many boxes of photos & some papers. Several envelopes addressed by Alice are in a box. I believe that they match up. I need to sit down with them to confirm, but those letters will help to determine where Bettie & Jeannette were living throughout this time frame, as well as who they were living with.

A 3rd cousin (a Hilldrup!) has just responded to a letter I sent recently. One of my most important research tools is to contact any known living relatives, especially those who may have been living at the time I'm researching. There aren't many left, and those who are left may not be interested in digging up the past. But I found a goldmine of information from this cousin. He mentioned that his grandfather was sent to live with the Marmadukes (likely Alice's mother & father in-law) as a boy because his family could not afford to feed him following the war. That leads me to wonder if that is the reason Alice's children were separated from her. Was she unable to feed & care for them financially? I suppose I will have to be satisfied with that assumption without any more information.

I am thankful that Alice was unashamed of the Gospel. She boasted in the power of God's comfort and peace even while separated from her children. Reading her words about God reminds me of the verse in Hebrews. Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Amen and Amen!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"My escape is little short of miraculous..."

"My escape is little short of miraculous. As I cannot swim, I held onto a piece of wreckage until a man pulled me out."

Frank Cullen, September 1906

Frank Cullen (right) & brother Elmer (left) in 1904.
When I was in the 7th grade, I was given an assignment to write about an ancestor in my family. I wrote about my great-great grandfather, Frank Cullen, and his experience in a train wreck. Frank is the family member who has most dramatically influenced my desire to research my family history. Frank lived more of a life in his first 25 years than most people do their entire lives.

In the years between 1904 & 1909, Frank traveled the entire country, as well as parts of Canada, as a bill poster for various performing acts - Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, Forepaugh & Sells Bros. Circus, Isle of Spice Company, Palmer's Uncle Tom's Cabin Company,and possibly Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Frank had worked in 1900-1903 for E.D. Stair who was a prominent newspaper & theater man (the eventual owner of the Detroit Free Press & the Lyceum Theatre in Detroit). 

Frank documented & saved bits of memorabilia from his career, which has helped my family piece together his story. Frank kept detailed travel journals for the years of 1904-1909, which show the location of every route stop. He also kept names & addresses & a financial ledger in the same journals, which contributes greatly to my research of his life. He also bought postcards at nearly every one of his route stops, and mailed many of them to his mother & his beloved Viola (who he later married in 1918). Our family has a collection of hundreds upon hundreds of postcards bought by Frank. Frank also saved glowing recommendation letters from most of his employers, which are just as interesting as the letterhead & envelopes that contain them.

When I was in 7th grade, I called my grandmother to hear her recount the story of Frank Cullen and the train crash. I don't remember much of that conversatin, and I don't know if I still have the paper or not (I will be looking for that this week!), but I do remember the impact that her story left on me. What I didn't know at the time was that 15+ years later, I would still be discovering bits of Frank's life...

Frank Cullen was born 130 years ago today - December 5, 1883 (& incidentally so was his wife Viola Marmaduke). I called my Grandma yesterday to talk about Frank & Viola, and she began to tell the story of the train wreck to me. She said that she wasn't sure when or where the accident occurred, but that it was the story that Frank told over & over in her childhood. She said that she had friends who loved to listen to her grandpa Frank tell his stories, particularly the one about his train wreck. Grandma told me the parts that she remembered: The accident was somewhere mid-west like Oklahoma... Frank's mother (Mary Jane Quinn Cullen) didn't know for weeks if her son had survived or not... A bridge gave out & the train went in... Frank floated for hours on pieces of scrap... The tow of the river was so strong that it ripped his clothes from his body. A farmer & his daughter rescued him on the bank of the river & gave him a blanket to cover up. She also mentioned the name of Frank's friend, Hank Littlefield, who was with Frank on the train. 

After our phone call, I started to think about Frank & his travels. I got out his travel journals - small date books that could've easily been discarded over the years. Yet, here they are over 100 years later... I was looking for clues in the books - dates, locations, mention of an accident, names of people... I didn't see what I was looking for. What I should've noticed is that the 1906 date book has the name & address for a N. N. Littlefield in Gainesville, GA & also a C. S. Kitch in Kingfisher, Oklahoma...

Then I "googled" his friend's name: "Hank Littlefield." 

There it is! "While it is believed that several lives were lost, only one person is known positively to have perished. He was Hank Littlefield, an employee of the Forepaugh-Sells Circus..." (New York Times,  Sept 19, 1906).

The accident occurred the morning of September 18, 1906 on a train en route to Chicago in Oklahoma. Here is the New York Times article from September 19, 1906.

(The sun. (New York [N.Y.]), 19 Sept. 1906. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>)
Frank's account of the accident is recorded in the New York Sun as shown above. It isn't very clear, so I've transcribed the portion concerning Frank: 
Frank Cullen, one of the advance crew of the Forepaugh-Sells circus, was one of those picked up by a farmer several miles below the wreck. He said:  "I was in the smoker, and the first thing I knew there was a grinding sound, as of something falling. In a second we were in the water with the coach turned on its side and I crawled out of a window. The car was whirled around and around by the water, but we managed to hang on. In a few minutes we grounded in midstream and we tried to pull off our clothing. The waves were so high that it was all we could do to hold on.
We had been there about half and hour when the whole bridge fell. The big waves and wreckage struck us, throwing us all into the water. The car was overturned and completely submerged. Several of us had been sitting on top of the car trying to figure out some means of escape.  

My partner, Hank Littlefield, was about all in when the wreckage struck us. I saw him go down and I am sure he was drowned. How I was saved I don't know, as I cannot swim. The water was full of floating heads and bodies all around me, and I am sure that not many of them escaped. It was a hard matter to get out of the window and help Littlefield through. The coach was so full that it is almost inconceivable that so many got out. The chair car and two Pullmans remained on the track.
(The sun. (New York [N.Y.]), 19 Sept. 1906. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>)

First of all, it is amazing to me that Grandma (or anyone for that matter) remembers the name of a man who lived over 100 years ago. A man that she never knew, but only heard about in her grandpa's story... Well, his name turned out to be the key to our family mystery. Not only did my Grandma remember his name, but she remembered the facts of the story incredibly accurately! 

When I called Grandma with the news of finding the story of the train accident, she told me a follow up story from her grandpa Frank.

When Frank was down the road a few years, he went to a seance. Being a Bible believing man of God, he was not prepared to hear the woman say that someone named Hank was trying to get in touch with him. She said something to the effect that Hank wanted to tell Frank that he was better off in his own watery grave than Frank. Boy did this freak him out! 

I am incredibly proud to be the Great-Great Granddaughter of Frank Cullen and the granddaughter of his granddaughter! Thank you Grandma for instilling your love of family into my life! I love you!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

#5 - My Own Darling Children - January 29, 1903

Brick Haven
Jan 29, 1903

My own darling children,

I received your very welcome letters & was delighted to hear from you & to know that you are well. We are all sick with colds & cousin Mary has been very sick, but is better again. Bettie please send me brother's address when you write again, he never writes to me & I am so anxious to hear from him & to know how he is getting along. Bettie please burn my letters as soon as you read them. I never feel like writing any more & am ashamed for anyone to see my letters. I have been sick ever since summer & am now very weak & nervous, but I think I will be better soon.

I am going to send Cousin Mary's picture, but you must not mention it in your letters for she does not want me to send it & would not like it, but I just think it is cute. The baby is much prettier than this picture. He is very interesting.

You have both improved a great deal in your writing.

Try to do the best you can children & God will do the rest & answer our prayers some day. He has seen best to separate us for a while.

Good bye darling ones. Pray often for help & comfort & all things will work around for our good some day. Write again soon to your devoted Mother.

Boy, am I thankful that Bettie didn't burn her mother's letters! 

This letter leads me to believe that Bettie & Jeannette are together at least. I wish I had more of the envelopes from the letters. I'm assuming that the girls are still in Belfast, NY just 20 days after Alice wrote to Bettie there (see the blog post that includes letter #3). I still don't know who they were living with at that time - maybe Uncle Eddie. The living situations will unfold some more in the coming letters, but never become entirely clear. 

Wouldn't it be fun to see the photo of Mary & the baby? I need to go through all of the photos I have in Viola's collection to see if there is anything that looks like it could be of Mary & baby Clinton Swift... 

Here is one photo that I think could definitely be of Mary Swift. I have seen a photo of Mary later in life (I posted it on a previous entry), which was added to by Mary's great-grandson, and so this one compares very favorably, and seems to be a photo of Mary in her younger years. It's just a hunch though. 
How sad it must've been for Alice to spend so much time with her niece Mary & great-nephew Clinton and not be able to see her own children... It really does bother me, and I wish I knew the reason & the outcome...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

#4 - Brick Haven - January 13th, 1903

Brick Haven
Jan 13th, 1903

My dear darling Jeannette,

I have wanted to answer your letter before, but have so much writing to do. I have not had an opportunity sooner. I wrote to Bettie last week & hope to get an answer soon. I am miserable when I do not hear from my children regular, so please write often Jeannette.
I rec’d a letter from Vi for Xmas & a nice collar but have not answered her letter yet. I do not have much time to write, besides I have been sick. It is very cold out here & the houses are cold, but it will not be long before we will be in a home of our own to do as we please.
I have written to Bro. twice since hearing from him. Now I do not know where to write.
I will send you a picture of Cousin Mary & her Baby. She is ashamed of it, but I think it is cute don’t you?

I will have to close now, Jeannette, as Cousin Mary is waiting for me to take the baby. Write soon if not sooner to your devoted Mother.

Page 2

This is one of Alice's letters that doesn't seem to have a lot of substance. It leaves me wondering several things. Where is Jeannette at this point, and who is she staying with? She is 11 years old. 

Alice seems frustrated when she says "we will be in a home of our own to do as we please." I wonder what her living situation is like with the Swifts. Are they kind to her? Do they treat her like "poor old Aunt Alice?" Alice, by the way, was only 44 when she wrote these letters. 

What kind of illness plagues Alice throughout these letters? Was it something that contributed to her death 4 years later?

I like the way Alice refers to her son Dare as "Bro", and her daughter Viola as "Vi" in many of the letters. This gives me a sense that the Marmadukes didn't relate to each other as differently as my family does today, with nicknames & all. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

#3 - My Dear Bettie - Jan 7th, 1903

Brick Haven, Va

Jan 7th, 1903

My dear Bettie:
Your very welcome letter was duly rec’d & was very thankful of the money, but am afraid you needed it your own dear self. Never mind Bettie I think we will all be together again soon, so keep courage darling children. I know you have had a hard time and our trials have been severe, yet I know they all must be for some purpose & for our good in some way, so lets have courage to the end of the battle.
Be a good girl Bettie & do the best you can which I am sure you do. Oh Bettie,

I do want to see you & Jeannette so bad! I will write Jeannette soon, had intended to write tonight, but it is so late & all are getting ready for bed.

I have not seen May for some time, as the weather has been so bad I could not get to town. I rec’d a letter from Vi a  few days ago & she sent me a very pretty collar.

Bettie I will have to close with lots of love & kisses for you & my darling baby. Write soon to your devoted

Let me begin by observing several things in this letter & the prior letter from my last post.

This is letter #3 in my collection from Alice. It was written January 7, 1903, about 2 weeks after letter #2. I would imagine that there were even more letters written by Alice to her daughters, but these are what remain. 

In letter #2, Alice refers to Aunt Janie, Cousin Mary, the baby, & Cousin Johnny. Aunt Janie is Alice's sister Mary Jane Sandys, who remained unmarried until her death in 1920 at the age of 74. She was 56/57 at the time that these letters were written. From what I can tell from my research on & other sites, Alice was staying with Aunt Janie in Brickhaven, Alexandria County, Virginia (I believe just outside of Washington DC). Aunt Janie also appeared to be living with her niece Mary Sanford Swift, daughter of Janie & Alice's sister Rosalie Vashtie Sandys Sanford. The Sanford name is fairly prominent in Virginia, so I will be exploring that more very soon. Mary married John Clinton Swift on December 1, 1894 in her mother's home in Stafford County, Virginia. John Clinton is called "Johnny" in these letters. 

Coincidentally (or maybe not), Alice's son Dare Marmaduke married Johnny's sister Louise Swift in 1906. Louise bore Dare 3 children, & then in 1925 she committed suicide by drinking Lysol. Yikes! So Alice had a Swift as a daughter-in-law & also as a nephew-in-law. Interesting!

Here are photos of Mary & Johnny - they were added to by Louis Shomette, my awesome 3rd cousin 2x removed that I have collaborated with some on 

Anyway, back to the letters... I do have the envelope from this particular letter, which shows that Bettie & probably Jeannette were living in Belfast, NY. It is my belief that they were living with their Uncle Eddie (as future letters may hint) in New York. I'm currently going through the US phone directories to pin down where Uncle Eddie was living in 1902 & 1903. I know that he was in Brooklyn, Kings, New York in 1910, and had married a woman from New York in 1901/2, so I'm safely assuming that he was living in New York in 1902/3. I'll keep looking though. 

This letter & the one previous emphasizes the desperation in Alice Marmaduke over not being with her children. As a mother of a toddler myself, I cannot imagine the heartache of being separated from my child, especially in circumstances beyond my own control. Heartbreaking! 

The next letters are much more interesting, so stay tuned!


Monday, July 22, 2013

#2 - My dear darling Bettie - Dec 25, 1902

Brick Haven, Alex Co., Va. 
Dec 25th 1902. 

My dear darling Bettie, 

I rec'd your very nice letter some time ago but have been sick & could not answer sooner. This is Xmas day & cousin Mary & Aunt Janie have gone to Mrs. Swift's to spend the day, but there is no pleasure for me Bettie except with my children, anywhere, or at any time. I enclose a letter to Jeannette, as she wrote in her last that she expected to be with you soon.

Please write me everything Bettie about yourself & Jeannette and just as soon as you receive this as I am so anxious to hear from you. Cousin Mary has a darling little baby. He is very smart & pretty. Cousin Johnny's health is very poor & is sick all the time. 

I can only write you a short letter this time Bettie as I have a number to write and will not have time again. So hoping to hear from you. 

I am as ever, Your devoted Mother 

 PS. please send me a stamp in your next Bettie if you have one.