Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dear Grandmother Lydia,
I want to update you on my search for additional information on Theodore William "Trit" Clarke. In several of his letters home, Trit writes that he can not come home to visit as he can not afford to "be thrown out of a situation which in my present circumstances I can not well afford to lose. I am engaged in the telegraph office in this place (Brownsville, Nebraska Territory) and am getting to be a first class operator. I am very pleased by the situation and have as good prospects as any young man could wish." (Letter from Brother Trit (Theodore W. Clarke)  to Sister (Mary Elizabeth Clarke) dated Dec. 18th, 1860 in the possession of Cecily Cone Kelly).
Theodore William "Trit" Clarke
aka Theodore William Ford
In the uniform of the 1st Nebraska Infantry
St. Louis, MO, circa 1862
(scan from tintype in my personal collection)
In a letter written to you on March 24th , 1861, he replies to your request that he come home,
"Well the reason I do not come is not because I do not love home and all its associations for I do but I am making money here and you who know my circumstances at home so well would hardly advise me to come back without being at least a little better off than when I went away."

As I look for more information about Trit, those statements have always given me pause. As far as I knew, he was the son of a prosperous merchant John Champion Clarke, who might well have made room for his son in the family business. Sometimes, family historian's find the answer in more closely examining the information we've already found. A closer examination of the 1850 census for the family of Theodore's grandparents, George and Sarah Hornell, gave me my first clue.
1850 Federal Census for Highland, Oakland County, Michigan
enumerated on the 6th day of October 1850 by S. Stevens
image from
Line 1 lists Geo Hornell         age 57, M, Farmer, Value of land 1200, Place of Birth N. Y.
Line 2        Sarah ditto           age 56, F, blank, blank, Place of Birth R. I.
Line 3        Hasting ditto         age 17, M, blank, blank, Place of Birth, Mich
Line 4        Theodore Ford,   age 12, M, blank, blank, Place of Birth, ditto

Could Theodore Ford, born about 1838, be the same person as Theodore William Clarke, son of Lydia Hornell Clarke and brother to Mary Elizabeth "Molly" Clarke? Further searching lead me to a marriage recorded in White Lake, Oakland County, Michigan.

This certified copy was obtained by me on Jun 19, 2008 from Oakland County. It reads, "White Lake June 13th 1837- I hereby certify that I have this day bound together in the Bonds of Matrimony Milton Ford, of Warren Pa & Lydia Hornell of Highland Oakland Co Michigan at the home of the Rev. Geo. Hornell and in the presence of a (?) number of witnesses.   Signed A. F. Wells, V. D. M.

Recorded in the office of the clerk of said County of Oakland this 20th day of July  A. D. 1838,
Charles Scafer, County Clerk.

I do not know what happened to Milton Ford. I assume he died not long after your marriage. The 1840 census for the George Hornell household, in Highland, Oakland County, Michigan list the following:
Free white persons male < 5:                   1 presumably Theodore Ford born about 1838, age 2
Free white persons male 5 thru 9:            1 presumably Hastings Hornell born 1833, age 7
Free white persons male 40 thru 49         1 presumably George Hornell born 8 Aug 1792, age 47
Free white persons female 15 thru 19      1 presumably Mary Crosby Hornell born 4 Apr 1824, age 16
Free white persons female 20 thru 29      1 presumably Lydia Hornell Ford born 4 Nov 1819, age 21
Free white persons female 40 thru 49      1 presumably Sarah Thacher Hornell born 5 Sep 1793 age 46

Did Theodore stay with his grandparents after you married John Champion Clarke October 2, 1845? I'm sure he and Hastings were inseparable and I suppose the grandparents thought it would be a good idea for the newly married couple to have some time to set up housekeeping. Did Theodore come to live with your family before George Hornell died in 1855? He is clearly using the Clarke name in the letters he writes home in 1860. Was he adopted by John C. Clarke? There are so many questions I would like to ask. Theodore's letters make it clear that he loved both his mother and sister dearly. Perhaps, it was the absence of his birth father that made him so determined to succeed.

I continue to look for clues about Theodore's life, his adventures laying the telegraph lines in the Nebraska Territory and his service with the First Nebraska Infantry. I still hope to discover where he is interred.

Love, your 3rd great granddaughter,
Cecily Cone Kelly