My great-grandfather, PopPop Fox joined the US Navy at 16. When they found out he was only 16, they sent him home. It was 1917 and surely he would have been sent to fight where forces were needed in World War I. Instead, he had to wait until he was 18 to enlist and by the time he was trained, the war was near it’s end. By 1920 he was in Vallejo, California, serving on the USS Nebraska.
The first born of an American steel worker and a Welsh immigrant, Frank Kermit Fox was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in the fall of 1900. Their family moved to Philadelphia somewhere between 1907-1910 and remained there until the end of his parents lives. Grandma always spoke very highly of both her parents, and she had a special relationship with her “daddy”. They tried hard to have children, and they welcomed their first and only baby, my grandma, seven years after they were married.
By this time, they were working and living in Baltimore, Maryland, and on occasion visited his family back in Pennsylvania. My great-grandmother Fox would ask about her husband’s parents past, especially his father’s but very short answers were given. “He was born in New York.”
This is a branch that has still remained a mystery to us today. My grandma is curious about where her father’s family came from and I think I’m even more intrigued. First of all, my grandma’s grandfather, who was also named Frank Fox, married Elizabeth Ann Simmons, a widow with nine children. Nine. First question that comes to my head is, “Why?” She had been Elizabeth Ann West, born in 1871 in Wales and married John Simmons when she was very young. They immigrated to Philadelphia in 1893 on the SS Maryland with five children (?) and had the other four in the US from the records I can find (passenger list, censuses, etc.) When her husband died in April of 1899, somehow she meets Frank and they show up in Reading together by June of 1900, saying they’ve been married for six months. My great-grandfather is born in October of that year. In the next five years, they would have his two sisters, Mae and Fern. I think twelve kids is quite enough to have in a very populated city like Philly.
So what’s the mystery? We don’t know who Frank’s parents are. Or where he even was before I find him in 1900 living with Elizabeth, his new wife, and step-children. I can’t seem to find a marriage record for the two of them and the only other document that gives me any kind of clue to his past is his death certificate.
He was found off the Disston Street wharf of the Delaware River on August 6, 1939. They lived not far from there, on Tulip Street, and though it says “Inquest Pending” on his death certificate, the follow page only says “Death by drowning”. Family stories tell us that he was taking a walk along the river and had a heart attack, fell in the river and drowned. He was 72. Maybe.
What’s interesting is that it looks like someone corrected the birthdate from 27 April 1865 to 1867 and his age from 74 to 72. I don’t know why it was changed, but I noticed it. While normally death certificates are like liquid gold for genealogists, it didn’t help me at all to give me names of his parents. It only says “Not known” and that he was born in New York City. But did his wife really know it was New York City? Or just the state of New York? Finding a Frank Fox in New York is like – well, it’s just impossible. Might as well give me a William Jones to look for. That’s why I’m thankful for names like Lawrentz and Scroggs…
Seemingly a dead end, occasionally I run a search for their marriage record, or a birth record of sorts for his date and different parts of New York. A newspaper scan here and there. I don’t even know if I’m looking in the right place at all!
Then I found an entry for a Social Security Application and Claims Index for a Frank Fox. It was made in December of 1937 about a year after the first Social Security card was issued. Frank was still working an Elevator Operator at a Dying Company in Philadelphia so it’s possible he filled out an application for one. The other information this index gives me is the SS number, date and place of birth and parents names. The date was 27 Apr 1865 and place was New York City. The first three digits of the social security number told me that it was issued in Pennsylvania (where he was living at the time).
So is this enough to tell me that THIS was MY Frank Fox? My grandma’s grandpa? If I could say for sure it was, then right there in front of me I have a new can of worms opened- ancestors names I didn’t have before! If James Fox and Jane E. Bogart are my 2x great-grandfather’s parents, I would have a brand new couple to add to our tree, and then, as is the territory, new questions.
But that’s what it’s about. WHEN did Frank come to Reading? As a child or as an adult? Was he in Philadelphia first, from New York? Was he born in New York City, truly? If his parents were James and Jane Fox, were they NYC natives? Or were they immigrants? What happened to them? Why did Frank never talk about them?
My next step is to reel in my imagination and find out how to prove that Mr. SS#204 is our Mr. Frank Fox, Sr. If I can do that, then I’ve helped answer questions that my 84 year old grandma has about her roots, mainly about where her father’s family came from.
I hope I can do that for her! Stay tuned!