Monday, November 17, 2014

Clarence Ryder

Richard Buck and Clarence Ryder, c1910
The only two Ryder men who could be my
missing grandfather.
My mother was conceived sometime in late March or early April, 1946. At that time, my grandmother, Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller was a mother of three children under the age of eight years, and unhappily married to a philandering husband. Concurrently that spring, she met the man who would show her love and affirm her worth. That man was Frank Louis Strukel. Just days after relinquishing for adoption a daughter she so desperately believed and wanted to be Frank's, born in December 1946, Helen and Frank were married.

This left little to no room for my mother's biological father to have had any significant relationship with Helen. Perhaps it was a one-night stand. Perhaps Eldon was off on one of his extra-marital flings, and the kids were staying with their grandparents, and Helen met a handsome stranger who helped her forget about a life in which she felt trapped. Perhaps it was a man she saw more than once, but immediately paled in significance when Frank Strukel entered her life.

But what it meant to me was that it was unlikely I would find this man in any sort of paper trail or closely interwoven into Helen's life. He likely did not live next door or down the street from the Millers. He likely did not work in the same vicinity. He was probably a random encounter and a brief fling, so finding a meaningful, solid connection to Helen would be difficult, if not outright impossible. And although DNA analysis had led me to a list of men of whom one was likely to be my maternal grandfather, none of them lived that close to my grandmother in 1946. Although all were within a twenty to sixty mile radius of Elkhart, Indiana, none of them were lurking around the corner.

But this hunt for my grandfather had taken on the dimensions of a crime drama. Who had the motive? Who had the means? Who had the opportunity? I had narrowed my search to six possible men, but I still had to put them into Helen's world. I had to figure out whose life would have intersected with hers in the most believable way, and who had the freedom and opportunity to make that meeting happen.

Clarence Ryder seemed to meet those criteria.

We have already discussed Gideon Ryder's often-married son, Eugene Joseph Ryder, as he was the progenitor of the Ryder descendants whose DNA had taken me this far in my journey. But Eugene's brother, Leslie Ryder, eleven years his junior, couldn't have been more different than his brother.

Leslie Ryder (1886-1960) and his wife,
Jessie Moslander Ryder (1889-1978)

Born in Beattie, Marshall County, Kansas, Leslie Ryder was still young when his parents returned to rural Dowagiac, Cass County, Michigan. He did not have a childhood marred by constant wandering as did his elder brother Eugene, but instead had the mundane and stable existence of a farming and working family in southwestern Michigan. Like most boys of his time, he obtained an eight-grade education, and like his brother began working as a moulder in the many iron foundries and factories in the area.

Leslie's wife-to-be, Jessie Mamie Moslander, had a far rougher time growing up. Her parents, Joab Moslander and Savilla Helen Guntle, had married in Elkhart County, Indiana, in 1881, but the marriage was a rocky one. In 1888, while living just northwest of Plymouth, Marshall County, Indiana, Joab had attempted to get his wife declared insane and committed to a hospital. She was not. A year later, and perhaps in an attempt at a fresh start, the Moslanders moved to a home eight miles from Dowagiac in Cass County, Michigan. It was here that Jessie was born in 1889. But in the spring of 1894, her parents separated. Her mother, Savilla, pregnant with her fourth child, stayed in Cass County, Michigan, with her eldest daughter, Emma. Her father took the two middle children, Ida and Jessie, and moved to the farm owned by his parents near Plymouth, Indiana. Thereafter, Ida and Jessie, often found homes with their father during moves to Payne, Ohio; and to Coleman and Gaylord, Michigan; or went back and forth to Plymouth, Indiana, to live with their grandparents. By the time she was fifteen years old and after several homes in three different states, the whole family finally reassembled and settled on a farm outside Plymouth, Indiana.

Once her family was resettled in Indiana, they learned of the whereabouts of her older sister, Emma, long since separated from the family by their parents' divorce. Emma had married Samuel Buck in Dowagiac in 1899, and after Jessie turned sixteen, she moved to Dowagiac to live with her. Only having a sixth-grade education, Jessie had been working out as a domestic since her early teen years, and she continued to do so in Dowagiac. It was here that she met Leslie Ryder in November 1905 after he took her home from church. They were marred in the Methodist Church in Dowagiac on 10 November 1906. Leslie went to work for the Round Oak stove factory to learn his trade as a moulder.

Their first child, a son, was born on 16 July 1907, in Dowagiac, Michigan. They named him Clarence L. Ryder.

Clarence L. Ryder, 1907
Dowagiac, Michigan

A daughter, Mamie Bell, was born to them in Dowagiac in 1912. In the spring of 1914, the young family moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, and as Jessie wrote later, it was "the first place we ever had of our own, and we thought it was wonderful, for it was the first place we lived that had electric lights, and running water, and furnace, and bathroom, and all the conveniences." They welcomed their third child, Isabell Helen, while living in this home in 1915. After spending just over a year in another bungalow in Battle Creek, Michigan, the family moved to a home in Level Park which was a small community just northwest of Battle Creek. The move occurred in September 1918, and on their first day in their new home, Leslie Ryder, was stricken with the flu. Thousands of Michiganders would die of influenza the following month, and it was feared that Leslie would be one of them, but as Jessie remembered "the Lord spared his life." Their last daughter, Doris Catherine, was born here in 1920.

Clarence L. Ryder, c1912

Clarence Ryder grew up in this God-fearing, loving family, spending his childhood in and around Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1927, shortly after his twentieth birthday, Clarence married Mildred DeMond, eighteen, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Per Clarence's sister, Isabell, "Mildred ... lived up by the fire station on Cliff Street. She was an only girl. She had two brothers, was nice, but spoilt and expected more than my brother could give her." She filed for divorce in January 1930, five months pregnant with their only child. Ralph Duane Ryder was born in Battle Creek on 30 May 1930, and his parents divorce was official on 28 November 1930.

But Clarence Ryder had already left town before his divorce was completed.

It was the Great Depression, and work was scarce. Leslie Ryder was unable to maintain a residence in Level Park while supporting his wife and children on inconsistent work. They rented out their home and the entire family moved to Plymouth, Indiana, in 1930, to live in a home owned by Jessie's father, Joab Moslander. Both Leslie and Clarence were able to find work at the Argos Foundry nearby. The following year, Leslie sold the house in Level Park, Michigan, and put the money into a hotel and lunch room in Sidney, Indiana, forty-five miles southeast of Plymouth, that had been purchased by his father-in-law. The work maintaining the business was hard, and often many weeks passed where no money was made from the enterprise. Twelve-year-old daughter, Doris, developed a sinus infection the following fall that progressed to spinal meningitis. She died 27 October 1932. The grief for Jessie was overwhelming, and she did not have the energy to continue the grueling work at the lunch room. They sold their part of the business and moved to a ten-acre patch of land in Plymouth, Indiana.

By 1940, Leslie and Jessie (Moslander) Ryder had moved into town on Pierce Street. They would live at a number of addresses while in Plymouth, Indiana. Their son, Clarence, remained single after his brief first marriage, lived at home with his parents, working as a grinder operator at the local feed mill.

But shortly after the United States entered World War II, Clarence Ryder did two things: he married his second wife, Thelma; and he decided to do his part for the war effort. On 14 August 1942, at the age of thirty-five, Clarence enlisted into the United States Army. It was not long before he was sent overseas, leaving his new bride behind in Plymouth, Indiana.

PFC Clarence L. Ryder

Clarence was assigned to the 262nd Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company, Ant-Aircraft Artillery, and spent his time overseas in North Africa and Italy. The men of the 262nd were tasked with repairing and maintaining anti-aircraft weaponry, and served with the Seventh Army in Sicily in July and August 1943, and for the Fifth Army thereafter. They usually did their work about twenty miles behind the front lines, and Clarence was involved with the campaigns in Naples-Foggia from September 1943 to January 1944, followed by Rome-Arno from January 1944 to September 1944. He returned home thereafter and was honorably discharged on 22 November 1944.

Sadly, Clarence returned home to Plymouth, Indiana, to find that the new bride he had left behind had taken up with another man in his absence. They immediately divorced.

With the economy improved, Leslie Ryder no longer needed to rely on the financial help of his Moslander in-laws. The entire extended Ryder family moved back to Battle Creek, Michigan, where Clarence Ryder remarried on 31 May 1947 to Grace Elmira (Funk) Curtis, a divorced mother of three pre-teen girls.

Clarence L. Ryder, c1945

Clarence and Grace moved to Level Park, Michigan, and Clarence found work as a custodian at the Wolverine Tower (built as the 18-story Central National Bank in 1931, it is now known as the Battle Creek Tower Building.) Their marriage did not last long.

On the night of 1 February 1951, Clarence and Grace (Funk) Ryder were driving home from his parents' home where they had enjoyed dinner together. Suddenly feeling ill, Clarence stopped the car on South Kendall Street in Battle Creek at the Michigan Central Railroad crossing. Grace motioned frantically toward two soldiers nearby, and Clarence was rushed to Percy Jones Army Hospital. He was dead of a heart attack before they arrived. He was forty-three years old.

My mother was only four. If Clarence Ryder was my mother's unknown father, he died an even younger man than Frank Strukel. We apparently were not going to escape genetic heart disease.

So what made Clarence Ryder a tempting candidate? Beyond mathematically fitting the genetic match calculated with the other Ryders previously tested, Clarence was the only one that lived in Indiana. The remaining candidates lived in the area of Niles and Dowagiac, Michigan. And even though Plymouth, Indiana, was slightly more distant than the Michigan destinations, there was a reason for Helen to have spent time there.

Helen (Timmons) Miller had a favorite aunt that resided in Plymouth. She also had cousins there. Her grandfather had moved there in 1902 (see Hoosier Daddy?: Helen, Part I: Beginnings), and some of the family had maintained residence there. Her father's sister, Kitty Ann Timmons, had married George Gary Brown, in 1894, and he and his wife move to Plymouth to help Helen's grandfather, Enos Moore Timmons, in the feed mill business in Plymouth, Indiana, until his death in 1913. But after that George and Kitty (Timmons) Brown remained in Plymouth, Indiana, where George worked as a farmer, drayman, and then as a truck driver. They raised one son, Paul Robert Brown, my grandmother's first cousin, who was ten years her senior.

But interestingly, both families - the Leslie Ryders and the George Browns - moved about frequently whilst in Plymouth, living in rented homes, but both always in the central southwest part of town. At any given time, the Browns and Ryders lived just a few blocks apart. At one time, they lived merely a dozen houses away from each other. How easy would it be for Helen to take a trip to Plymouth to visit her paternal relatives, leaving her children in the care of her parents, and meet Clarence Ryder?

Additionally, the bulk of the other genetic candidates were married. And although it goes without saying that a concurrent marriage does not inhibit procreation, being single certainly gives the suspect more opportunity than he would have being married. Clarence had divorced in 1944 while in Plymouth, and he did not remarry until 1947 when he returned to Battle Creek. My mother was conceived in the spring of 1946.

Lastly, we go back to genetics. Again, I will mention the "ancestry composition" patterns set forth by 23andMe. And again, I will tell you that you just cannot put a lot of stock into them. I will let my friend Judy Russell explain to you why at "The Legal Genealogist" from this past May at Admixture: not soup yet | The Legal Genealogist. But, although the composition percentages indicated that my mother was almost exclusively of European descent, she had a little bit of every part of Europe peppered into her. She even has a 0.6% sliver of East Asian/Native American ancestry per 23andMe. And if were to give any of this credence, Clarence Ryder would fit the bill to pass on that hodgepodge of genetic ethnicities to my mother. 

Whereas the other Ryder/Daugherty candidates had spouses of either first- or second-generation European backgrounds, Jessie Moslander was definitely an American mutt. She had a mix of predominantly Dutch and German and English ancestry, but it was almost entirely colonial. There was even chatter in online forums that her Moslander great-grandfather married a woman of Native American descent. And to seal the argument, Jessie Moslander's great-great-great-grandfather was Han Georg Ilgenfritz (1718-1810), who was also the ancestor of a person in the 23andMe database with whom my mother shared the tiniest bit of DNA.

This man, Clarence L. Ryder, had to be my mother's father. It all just fit too nicely.

But getting a DNA sample would be difficult. Clarence's only son, Ralph Duane Ryder, born to his first wife after their separation in 1930, had died at the age of seven years in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Clarence Ryder had no more children that I could test as potential half-siblings to my mother. Clarence's two sisters, Mamie Bell (Ryder) Langs Gibson and Isabell Helen (Ryder) Denney, had died in 2006 and 1997, respectively. But Mamie had two surviving children, and Isabell six, living primarily in the Battle Creek, Michigan, area. If Clarence was the man I was looking for, these eight individuals would be my mother's first cousins, and as such would share approximately 12.5% of their DNA in common with my mother. They would be the closest living relatives I could test, but they would still provide conclusive evidence.

I set out to get me some Denney or Langs DNA.

It would not be easy.

1 comment:

  1. An amazing story! As a Battle Creek native, it has taken a more personal turn for me.