NOTE: On some browsers in some operating systems, this post doesn’t render properly. If you’re having a problem, please read the two part version, with part 1 here and part 2 here… and my apologies. I simply can’t find the error that’s causing the problem… Sigh…

All that isn’t known of a lifetime

Just who was Mattie Lee (Cottrell) Berens… and what was she like?

The Legal Genealogist would love to have a really good answer to those questions… but there’s an awful lot about this cousin that we may never know.

Starting with who her maternal grandparents were, and exactly what happened to her mother, and why she ended up buried with her family while her husband ended up buried with his, and…

Sigh

1935 South Dakota census

What we do know is that John W. Cottrell, my grandfather’s oldest brother, married Emelia Beitelspacher, in July 1908 in Java, Walworth County, South Dakota. John was shown as American-born, age 28, and Emelia as 18, and Russian. The marriage was performed by the pastor of the Lutheran Church in Java.1

Their child, my first cousin once removed Mattie Lee, was born 110 years ago tomorrow — 24 May 1910 — in Walworth County, South Dakota.2 It’s probably a safe bet that she was born in Mobridge since that’s where she was enumerated with her parents on the U.S. census on 4 June 1910.3

She was not quite three years old when her mother died. The stone for Emma, “wife of J.W. Cottrell,” born 13 June 1890 and died 6 April 1913, stands in the Mobridge City Cemetery.4

There’s no record we’ve found of the mother’s death so, at this point, we don’t know just what happened to her. She was not quite 23 years old, so was it illness? Childbirth? We simply don’t know. And who were her parents, Mattie’s maternal grandparents? You’d think it would be easy to find Beitelspachers in South Dakota or that general part of the country in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, and Emelia/Emma would have been just 10 years old in 1900. But alas… despite some hints, nothing that definitively puts this young mother into the right family that I’ve stumbled across as yet.

John remarried in 1914, to Abigail Claymore. He was a 32-year-old widower living in Mobridge; she was age 27, not before married.5 And in 1920, their one child — a son, Phillip — was born.6

There are scattered records for Mattie over the years:

• She was enumerated as a five-year-old living in Trail City, Corson County, in the South Dakota state census in 1915.7

• She was enumerated as a nine-year-old schoolgirl in Trail City, by then Dewey County, in the federal census in 1920.8

• She was enumerated as a 14-year-old schoolgirl living in Trail City in the South Dakota state census in 1925. She was shown as white, Catholic, able to read and write and with a ninth grade education. Her father’s birthplace was recorded as Texas; her mother’s as South Dakota.9

• At age 17, she was on the school records of Mobridge, Walworth County, along with her brother Philip, shown as age eight in one undated record and age nine in another. That would put those two records somewhere around 1928-29.10 On another, for the school year beginning May 1, 1930, only Philip was shown, as age nine.11

• In 1930, Mattie was enumerated in the federal census as a 19-year-old cashier in a restaurant in Mobridge and lodging with her stepmother’s brother and sister-in-law, William and Emma Claymore.12

We know from a lot of sources that Mattie married John Berens. Her father John’s obituary in 1951 listed “a daughter, Mrs. Johnny Berens of Mobridge,” as a survivor.13 Abigail’s 1965 obituary says she was survived by Mrs. Mattie Berens, Mobridge.14 Mattie’s own obituary says she married John Berens and “lived in Selby for several years before returning to Mobridge.”15 John Berens’ obituary in 1990 identifies his wife Mattie, and says the marriage was in Eureka, which is McPherson County.16

Exactly when Mattie married isn’t clear. There is, of course, no entry for the marriage in the searchable South Dakota marriage indexes — and I haven’t yet gone card by card through the entries to see if one got missed. From the 1930 census, we can figure that she was still single then. But by 1932, her brother Philip was recorded as attending school in Selby with John Berens recorded as “parent or guardian.”17 So it’s pretty likely she was married by then. And when the Berens family was recorded in the South Dakota state census in Selby in 1935, the cards for Mattie and John say the marriage was in 1930.18

And if that’s all correct, then Mattie had one son: Robert John Berens, shown as age two on that 1935 state census19 and as age seven on the 1940 federal census.20

The reason why I add the “if that’s all correct” part is that the child was not named as a survivor in any of John Cottrell’s obituaries in 1951… and attempts to contact him (if he’s still living) haven’t been productive. Sigh…

And nothing I’ve recorded so far begins to explain why Mattie was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Mobridge,21 along with her father, stepmother and brother, while John Berens was buried — according to his obituary — at the Mobridge City Cemetery,22 which would put him with his parents — and not his wife.

And even going through every bit of this… all I have are names and dates and places.

I don’t know what Mattie looked like, what her voice sounded like, what she liked and disliked. I don’t know if she was happy or sad, by nature an optimist or pessimist. I don’t even know if she ever met her cousins — my mother and her siblings for example, or the children of any of my grandfather’s other brothers and sisters.

It’s painful to have to end this the way I began: just who was Mattie Lee (Cottrell) Berens… and what was she like? But there’s still an awful lot about this cousin that we may never know.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The enigma of a cousin,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 23 May 2020).

SOURCES

Image: South Dakota state census, 1935, FamilySearch.org.

  1. See “South Dakota, Marriages, 1905-2017,” Index for 1905-1912, index entry 12259 for John Cottrell and Emelia Beitelspacher, 8 July 1908; digital images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2020).
  2. “South Dakota, Birth Index, 1856-1917,” entry for Mattie Lee Cottrell, 24 May 1910; database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2020).
  3. 1910 U.S. census, Walworth County, South Dakota, Mobridge Town, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 436, p. 61 (stamped), dwelling 385, family 393, “Mary” Cottrell; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2020); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1489.
  4. Mobridge City Cemetery, Walworth County, South Dakota, Emma Cottrell marker; digital image, Memorial No. 140206390, Find A Grave (https://findagrave.com : accessed 23 May 2020).
  5. See “South Dakota, Marriages, 1905-2017,” Index for 1911-1928, index entry 44450 for John W. Cottrell and Abigail Claymore, 9 November 1914; digital images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2020).
  6. Crystal Bachman, “In Memory of Marine Lieutenant Philip Ellsworth Cottrell,” South Dakota WWII Memorial via Wayback Machine (https://web.archive.org/ : accessed 23 May 2020). Also, “California Death Index, 1940-1997,” entry for Philip Patrick Cottrell, 4 Aug 1943; database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2020); citing California Death Index, 1940-1997, California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics, Sacramento.
  7. 1915 South Dakota census, Corson County, South Dakota, Trail City, card no. 26 for Mattie Cottrell; digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 23 May 2020); citing State Historical Society, Pierre. Her father, John, is in that census, ibid., card 25, John W. Cottrell; her stepmother Abigail is not.
  8. 1920 U.S. census, Dewey County, South Dakota, Trail City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 43, p. 2B (penned), dwelling/family 36, Mattie Cottrell; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2020); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1719. Both John and Abigail were recorded in the household headed by John.
  9. 1925 South Dakota census, Corson County, South Dakota, Trail City, card no. 240 for Mattie Cottrell; digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 23 May 2020); citing State Historical Society, Pierre. Her father, John, is in that census, ibid., card 239; her half-brother Philip as a five-year-old child, ibid., card 241; and her stepmother Abigail is recorded as Mrs. John Cottrell, ibid., card no. 622.
  10. Walworth County, District 13 (1926-38), undated entries for Mattie and Philip Cottrell; “South Dakota, School Records, 1879-1970,” digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 23 May 2020); citing State Historical Society, Pierre.
  11. Ibid.
  12. 1930 U.S. census, Walworth County, South Dakota, Mobridge, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 65-6, sheet 9B, dwelling 165, family 203, Mattie Cottrell, lodger, in William Claymore household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2020); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2232.
  13. “Dakota Deaths: John W. Cottrell,” Aberdeen (SD) American-News, 20 April 1951, p. 3, col. 4; digital images, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com/ : accessed 14 Dec 2018). And see “Funeral Held Monday For John Cottrell,” Mobridge (South Dakota) Tribune, 17 Apr 1951.
  14. “A. Cotrell Mass Dated,” Aberdeen (SD) American-News, 19 January 1965, p. 2, col. 2; digital images, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com/ : accessed 14 Dec 2018).
  15. “Local, Area Deaths: Mattie Berens,” Aberdeen (SD) American-News, 4 January 1980, p. 8, col. 2; digital images, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com/ : accessed 23 May 2020). Also “Rites for Mattie Berens Held Here Saturday Morning,” Mobridge (South Dakota) Tribune, 7 Jan 1980.
  16. “Midland Deaths: John W. Berens,” Aberdeen (SD) American-News, 26 March 1990, p. 5, col. 5-6; digital images, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com/ : accessed 23 May 2020).
  17. Walworth County, South Dakota, School Census 1932, Selby District 2, entry for Philip Cottrell; “South Dakota, School Records, 1879-1970,” digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 23 May 2020); citing State Historical Society, Pierre.
  18. See 1935 South Dakota census, Walworth County, South Dakota, Selby, card nos. 59-60 (John W. Berens; Mattie Berens); digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 23 May 2020); citing State Historical Society, Pierre.
  19. Ibid., card no. 61.
  20. 1940 U.S. census, Walworth County, South Dakota, Mobridge City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 65-7, sheet 81-A, line 4 (“persons… enumerated at the Berens Hotel”), Robert John Berens; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2020); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 3869.
  21. Greenwood Cemetery, Walworth County, South Dakota, Mattie Lee Berens marker; digital image, Memorial No. 155717975, Find A Grave (https://findagrave.com : accessed 23 May 2020).
  22. “Midland Deaths: John W. Berens,” Aberdeen (SD) American-News, 26 March 1990, p. 5, col. 5-6; digital images, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com/ : accessed 23 May 2020).
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