The Wanderer

Week 4: #52 Ancestors – Curious

By Eilene Lyon

The Putterer’s maternal great-grandparents, Arthur Lewis Gee and Mary Frances Stephens, have intrigued me since I came across their (separate) photographs. I knew that Arthur farmed in his early life, but wondered why he roamed around so much between 1900 and 1920.

In looking closer, I realized I made an erroneous assumption about his first wife, Mary Frances, who died in 1905, the day after her twenty-fourth birthday.1 Her headstone indicates that she was buried with two infants. I thought she died in childbirth with a set of twins. Curiously, the Illinois articles about her death and transportation of her body from Stuttgart, Arkansas, to her home county of Ford, Illinois, do not mention babies.2

Mary F. (Stephens) Gee headstone (Toni Swan on FAG)

I have not found any newspapers for Arkansas County, Arkansas, that would shed light on Mary’s death, nor did the county keep death records at the time. Instead, I delved deeper into the Illinois news accounts.

Arthur L. Gee was born in Woodford County, Illinois, in 1872, the youngest of four children born to William Gee of England, and Esther Forsythe of Scotland. William and Esther divorced around the time of their oldest son’s death in 1890.3 (James William Gee and his wife, Emma, died from a leaky gas stove, though their infant son, James, survived.)4

James William and Emma Jane (Parkhouse) Gee in 1889. (Shared by dspberg on

Mary Frances Stephens was born in Fleming County, Kentucky, where she was orphaned at ten. She relocated to Illinois with her older siblings (one sister and six brothers). At age eighteen, she married twenty-six-year-old Arthur Gee in Wall Township, Ford County.5 The following year, in August 1899, the couple had a baby boy.6

Mary Frances (Stephens) Gee c. 1900 (Collection of the author)

Tragically, two days after Christmas, a runaway team pulling their carriage/sleigh threw them all, and the baby suffered a fatal concussion.7 This undoubtedly is one of the two infants buried with Mary. I have been unable to find any record of the second.

I began to suspect that Arthur might have had money issues when I found a notice that his entire farm and all its livestock and equipment were being auctioned in November 1901.8 Was it a gambling problem? I wondered. Arthur and Mary moved then to Arkansas, where their daughter, Cleo Mae Frances Gee, came along in August 1902. She is The Putterer’s grandmother.

Cleo Mae Frances Gee about age 2, c. 1904. (Collection of the author)

After Mary’s death, Arthur returned to Illinois, then in 1906, he traveled to South Dakota to work the harvest season.9 Then he settled in Ringsted, Iowa, for several years.10 He visited family in Illinois in 1908, the year his eighty-year-old father accidentally drowned in East Lynn Creek.11 William’s death notice stated that he had only one son–George. No mention of Arthur.

George Gee, date unknown. (Shared by dspberg on

Arthur remarried in Ford County in 1909 to Ida Joanna Cavan.12 They relocated with Arthur’s mother, Esther, his nephew, James Gee, and Cleo to Livingston County, Missouri.13 Esther wrote her will in 1910, solidifying my suspicion about Arthur’s money problems. It was probated in 1912.

Ida Joanna Cavan, date unknown. (Shared by dspberg on

Esther left her farm to her son, George, and much of her remaining estate to her six grandchildren by her deceased daughter, Mary A. Stowell. She specifically stated that she had already given Arthur everything she intended to, and she had a promissory note due from him for $3,300. Rather than forgive the debt, she also willed the note to her son George.14

Cleo and Allison Gee c. 1912. (Collection of the author)

While living in Missouri, Ida gave birth to two boys. The first, Arthur James Gee, was born in a weakened state (premature?) and lived only five days.15 Allison Lee Gee came along in 1911 and became little half-brother to Cleo.

Arthur finally settled his family in Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois, by 1920, living in rentals and changing homes every two or three years. He worked for a time as an auto mechanic, but by 1928 was unemployed.16 I found no further work record for him. Arthur and Ida remained in Bloomington until their deaths in 1951 (Ida) and 1962 (Arthur, age 89).

Arthur Gee, Ida (Cavan) Gee, and Arthur’s sister-in-law, Mary (Kenney) Gee, widow of George Gee. Taken at a family reunion in Paxton, Illinois, in 1938. (Shared by dspberg on

Feature image: Arthur Lewis Gee at age 46, c. 1918. On back it indicates it was originally given to his nephew, Jimmie. (Collection of the author)

  1. “Death and Funeral of Mrs. Gee” The Paxton Record (Paxton, IL) Sept. 14, 1905, p. 3 – via 
  2. Ibid.; “The body of Mrs. Arthur Gee…” The Paxton Record, Sept. 11, 1905, p. 3 – via; “The remains of Mrs. Arthur Gee…” The Paxton Record, Sept. 12, 1905, p. 3 – via 
  3. William remarried in 1892, and Esther is listed as divorced in the 1900 census. 
  5. Arthur L. Gee and Mary F. Stephens. Illinois, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1800-1940 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016. 
  6. “Born, Monday, to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Gee, of this township, a son” The Paxton Record, Aug. 9, 1899, p. 1 – via 
  7. “Baby Dies of Injuries” The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL) Dec. 29, 1899, p. 2 – via 
  8. “Arthur Gee will sell at public sale…” The Paxton Record, Nov. 14, 1901, p. 4 – via 
  9. The Paxton Record, Aug. 30, 1906, p. 4 – via 
  10. The Paxton Record, Dec. 23, 1908, p. 2 – via 
  11. “An Old Man Drowned in East Lynn Creek” The Paxton Record, Mar. 9, 1908, p. s – via 
  12. “Court House News – Marriage Licenses” Woodford County Journal (Eureka, IL), Feb. 11, 1909, p. 4 – via 
  13. Arthur Gee. Year: 1910; Census Place: Rich Hill, Livingston, Missouri; Roll: T624_796; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0111; FHL microfilm: 1374809 – via 
  14. Esther Gee in the Missouri, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1766-1988> Livingston> Wills Vol. D & E images 640, 641 – via 
  16. Employment and residences from the 1920, 1930, 1940 censuses and Bloomington city directories 1920-1937. 

48 thoughts on “The Wanderer

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  1. Wow, the way people had to live with sudden death back then is mind-blowing. So how did Arthur support himself and his wife without employment for so many years? My grandfather (born 1882) lost his business during the Depression and never recovered his footing financially. By the 1950s he had suffered his first stroke and was employed briefly by his son-in-law in order to qualify for Social Security. Those SS checks provided for him and my grandmother until their deaths in the early 1970s.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really have no idea how they managed to get by, but it was probably “off the books.” It seems that Cleo had such a rough childhood with her mom dying and her dad wandering all over. She must have been “dumped” on her relatives in Illinois at least part of the time.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. It’s wonderful you have pictures to support your interesting story. I have very few from my family. It appears Arthur had a hard time holding down a job. He was a bit of a rolling stone. I wonder if George ever received the $3,000 that Arthur owed his mother?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hard to say about the debt. Maybe George was a little more forgiving than their mother. Some of those photos were mailed to me by a distant relation who found me through Ancestry. Better than throwing them out!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a young man in my tree who also died from a leaky gas stove. I suppose it still happens in poorly maintained places, but things are safer now, generally. I don’t know about the name. I come across other surprising names for men in the past that are now considered women’s names.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning are not uncommon still. Allison is a “surname” first name, perhaps they migrate over time? Hilary is similar. All the Hilarys I know are women, but we have a male politician called Hilary Benn. Cameron Diaz? All the Camerons I know are men. And Shirleys are all women – but LM Montgomery has a male Shirley. As you can probably tell, this has fascinated me a little bit!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. At least now we have CO monitors. I’ve got one in my house now, as we have had leaky gas pipes, but outside.

        Leslie is also one of those names. I still find a male one now and then, but mostly female. I sold my car recently to Chase – a female.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So, you cover dying young, dying as the result of a leaky gas stove and death by drowning . . not to mention losing the farm, literally. And what do I focus on? These women bunching all that hair up on their heads like a high wire act! In the time before Tylenol!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s good to look on the lighter side of things! I’m not I would consider a pile of hair to be a particular burden, compared, say, to a ten-point rack.

      You know, when you always write about dead people, manner of said does tend to work its way into the story at times. I don’t even go into the half of what I find along those lines. Many cultures consider it a good thing to have regular reminders of our mortality. In modern times we try to keep real death hidden, while watching a multitude of depictions on our screens.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, you do have a point there. No puns intended . . .

        We’re good with the fiction of our mortality, as if somehow we can convince the grim reaper that if we’re entertaining enough, maybe he’ll take an extended lunch.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, it’s hard when you’re dealing with eras where life was so hard, medicine was young and prenatal care unheard of.

        I did giggle a little at the thought of his mom willing that promissory note to her other son. She must have been really mad.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m amazed by how many of your ancestors moved around the country. Arthur lived to a ripe old age, didn’t he? The photos you have for these people are lovely. It’s fun to put faces to the stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I hadn’t realized how well documented this bunch was, photography-wise. My ancestors, about as far back as I can trace, were a mobile lot. I had one great-grandfather who was born and died in the same county. Everyone else moved, right down to me and my siblings.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Life certainly wasn’t easy, and being married to a man who was financially challenged would have made things rather miserable I imagine, especially if the woman wasn’t financially independent.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was struck by how many places—how many different states—Arthur lived in during his life. We think that today we are a more mobile society, but it seems some of our ancestors also moved around a lot—perhaps for the same reasons–economic opportunities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure what people get out of collecting just BDM data and creating enormous trees that tell you nothing of the people behind the data. I was pleased to find so many photographs for this particular story. I still want to understand Arthur better, though.


  7. I love seeing the old photos you have collected for your posts Eilene. The dress and hairstyles at the time, especially the children. It seems there are many sad tales accompanying your research and reading the reasons for their deaths surely tells us how easy we have things now. Many incidents with horses spooked and taking off, or, in my great grandmother’s case, she was hooking up the horse to the buggy to go to church, the horse spooked and rose up, coming down hard on her foot, shattering her foot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Horses can and do hurt people with unexpected actions. My mom suffered a broken cheekbone and a stomped arm. Sturdy boots are essential – foots get stepped on all the time.

      The availability of photos for this story was remarkable. And yes, many sad tales out there. I’m going to look for some cheerier fare!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I went horseback riding all the time as a teen and tried to convince a friend to go with me at a local stable. She was not game; I pressed her to go and they gave her a horse that was on her first day back after “maternity leave” … my horse was taller, nudged her horse and she spooked. My horse kicked my friend in the shin. She was lucky to have no breaks but she had a very bad bruise for a long time – last time either of us sat on a horse.

        Yes, the lifespan then was not so great unfortunately – your tales and photos are enjoyable to see.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Average life span was low, but some people had very long lives and many did not survive childhood. Sorry to hear that incident kept you and your friend from riding again after that.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. That’s quite the tale! So many tragic deaths in a relatively short period. How sad that, on top of all his personal losses, or maybe because of them, Arthur seemingly continued to gamble. And, of course, back then, it was merely seen as a character weakness rather than, as we now know, a mental illness that can be treated if the person is willing. I wonder if you’ll ever learn the identity of the other baby. Finally – Cleo was adorable! I just love that photo!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seems there are no shortage of sad and tragic tales when one digs into family history. Human life is a messy struggle. It sometimes makes me wonder how we’ve done so well as a species!


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