#52Ancestors: 2nd Great-Uncle Juvenal Joseph Nieto, Trying to Prosper Amid WWI Butte Mining Town Turmoil

During World War I there were three registrations. The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. (A supplemental registration was held on August 24, 1918, for those becoming 21 years old after June 5, 1918. This was included in the second registration.) The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, for men age 18 through 45.

My 17th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for week 17 is – Prosper. Which ancestor has a rags-to-riches story? Which ancestor prospered despite the odds?

My 17th  ancestor is my 2nd great-uncle, Juvenal Joseph Nieto (1898-1978).

Uncle Juvenal came to the U.S., I imagine, like so many other young immigrants, with the hope of prospering — of building a new life, of making a better life for his parents and siblings, of starting a family of his own. My branch of the family says that our Compean / Sanches / Nieto / Robledo family lost everything in the Mexican Revolution. Juvenal came looking for work, for a new start.

About Juvenal

I never knew Juvenal, nor do I recall ever hearing his name growing up. But his sister Maria Hermalinda Nieto (my great-grandmother Nana) died when I was just a toddler, and Juvenal died when I was just 8 years old. I didn’t even know OF a Juvenal until I found him living with our extended family in Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California on the 1920 U.S. Census. So his name became one I regularly searched, in hopes of finding records pertaining to my Nieto family line.

Juvenal Joseph Nieto was born in 1898 Mexico. I do not yet know the actual date, as I have not found his Mexico baptism or civil registration record of birth. Juvenal’s WWI draft registration claims he was born 15 February 1898, but his death certificate claims 27 March 1898. Both simply indicate Mexico as his place of birth, although it is very likely that he was born — like so many of his family members for generations — in or near the municipality of Armadillo de los Infante, in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico.


I first found Juvenal’s World War I draft registration card in 2003, when it repeatedly came up in searches I conducted on Ancestry. But I initially ignored that hit, because it listed a Montana residence for my 2nd great uncle Juvenal. Montana couldn’t be right. Juvenal came from Mexico. And once he immigrated to the U.S., he settled and lived in Los Angeles County, California with other members of his family. Or so I thought.

When that pesky search hit wouldn’t go away, I finally took a look at the actual digitized record (I NEVER automatically dismiss record hits anymore!), because Juvenal just isn’t a very common name — even among Mexican males.

What I found in the digitized record surprised and delighted me.

It WAS my same Juvenal. And he indeed lived in Montana when he registered for the draft on 12 September 1918. On the draft card, Juvenal identified his mother Mrs. Aurelia Compian [Compean] of San Luis [Potosi], Mexico as his nearest living relative. Aurelia is my 2nd great-grandmother, and our family did originate in San Luis Potosi. No chance of being wrong here. Definitely my Juvenal!

Juvenal Nieto, WWI Draft Registration Card
Juvenal Nieto, WWI Draft Registration Card, dated 12 September 1918. Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

RESEARCH TIP: Mexican Surnames

It is interesting to note that Juvenal identified his mother’s name as Aurelia Compian [Compean] — not Nieto, which was her husband’s surname. Compean was Aurelia’s paternal surname (apellido paterno). Traditional Mexico naming conventions assign dual surnames to a child: their father’s paternal surname, followed by their mother’s paternal surname. Thus, according to tradition, Juvenal’s name was Juvenal Joseph Nieto Compean. Traditionally, women don’t ever go by their husband’s name in Mexico — they retain their original dual surnames even after marriage. So Juvenal identifying his mother’s surname as Compean instead of Nieto was traditionally accurate.

According to the World War I draft card, Juvenal worked as a miner for the North Butte Mining Company in Butte, Silver Bow County, Montana. He is described as 20 years old, white, a non-declarant alien, of medium height and slender build, with black eyes and hair. While the draft card doesn’t state it, Juvenal was still single at this time. Juvenal lists Butte as his residence, and Speculator as his place of employment.

Speculator? We’ll come back to that.

Leaving Home

Juvenal’s son-in-law and I chatted on Facebook a couple days ago about the post I just wrote on Juvenal’s father, in which I also mention Juvenal. The conversation focused on the draft card and the Montana mines. Juvenal’s son-in-law said that Juvenal left home at a young age to work in the mines. I am not sure if that was directly for the Montana mines, or if he first worked the mines in Mexico.

The 1920 U.S. Census indicates that Juvenal immigrated to the U.S. in 1915, but I have not been able to find a border record for his initial entry into the U.S. — only for a much later year, when traveling between the two countries.

Juvenal’s older sister Maria (my great-grandmother) had immigrated in 1915 with her husband and two oldest children. I have a border entry record for Maria and her infant son Refugio (although not yet for Maria’s husband Jose and daughter Guadalupe). According to the draft registration card for Maria’s own husband (my great-grandfather), Maria and Joe were already living in Long Beach, California by 12 June 1918.

Butte Mining & Immigrants

The discovery of copper ore in the 1800s — necessary to electrify America — transformed Butte, Montana from a frontier mining town to “‘the Richest Hill on Earth,’ the most lucrative copper mining region in the world.” [1] By 1917, mining operations were booming due to the increased wartime demand for copper. Immigrants made up a considerable portion of the mining labor population.

For the better part of four decades now, Irish, Cornish, Welsh, Serb, Italian, Finnish, Croatian, and Mexican workers had been pouring in to work “the richest hill in the world,” and in the process they turned Butte into a kind of Rocky Mountain Pittsburgh. (Laskin, loc. 1481)[2]

“In early 1917, Butte was a unionized industrial city with a population of 91,000 people. Home to one of the largest mining operations in the world, the abundance of employment opportunities drew workers from every corner of the globe. “No Smoking” signs posted in the mines were printed in 16 different languages. More than 30 languages were spoken among the city streets.” [3]

This is where my Mexico-born 2nd great-uncle Juvenal came to work, at least by June of 1918, when he registered for the draft.

WWI Draft Registration

On 06 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, joining the allies of Britain, France, and Russia. Because our armed forces were so depleted, Congress instituted a draft for the first time since the Civil War.

“During World War I there were three registrations. The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. (A supplemental registration was held on August 24, 1918, for those becoming 21 years old after June 5, 1918. This was included in the second registration.) The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, for men age 18 through 45.”[4]

Juvenal participated in the third draft registration in 1918.

The first draft registration, on 05 June 1917, was known as National Registration Day.

The Speculator Mine

Now back to Juvenal’s place of employment — Speculator.

Speculator was the name of a copper mine, which has become quite infamous in mining history. Due to the disaster of 1917.

The Disaster of 1917

On the night of 8 June 1917, fire broke out 2,300 feet down in the Granite Mountain shaft of the mine, caused when an employee’s carbide lamp mistakenly ignited a frayed electrical cable. Fire, smoke, and poisonous gas spread quickly. By the time rescue operations ceased on June 16th, 168 men had lost their lives, dubbing the event the worst disaster in Montana history and one of the worst metal mining disasters in the world.

The mine closed for good in 1923.

Anti-War & Labor Hotbed

Butte, like many other mining towns that relied heavily upon large numbers of new immigrant laborers, became a hotbed for antiwar protests leading up to and during the First World War. Allegiances were questioned, primarily among European immigrants who hailed from homelands on the enemy side of the war. Some European immigrant families were torn between wanting to support and fight for their new country, yet knowing that would mean defeat or even death for family members back in the old country — brother versus brother.

At the same time, unions were protesting the dangerous deplorable conditions forced upon mining laborers. And in the face of war, many such labor sentiments were branded as un-American, even treasonous.

The Speculator mine disaster of 1917 happened just three days after National Registration Day, the first of the three WWI drafts.

A seven-month long strike ensued. Federal troops were sent in to restore order.

Was Juvenal There?

Was my 2nd great-uncle Juvenal Nieto present at the time of the Speculator mine disaster, the ensuing strike, and the crackdown against the labor movement? Was he a target of anti-immigrant sentiments, even though he came from Mexico rather than the countries with whom we were at war? Did he have to make his way through federal troops, and striking miners, just to earn a living? Did he join the striking miners?

These questions are impossible to answer at this point in my research.

Juvenal didn’t register for the draft until 12 June 1918, and that draft registration card is the first and only record I find so far placing Juvenal in Butte, Montana. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Juvenal did NOT work and live in Butte at the time of the 1917 mining disaster. He could have been there.

Probably the only chance I have at verifying if Juvenal was working for the mine at the time of the disaster, is to search for some mention of him in the mining company records, which are held by the Montana Historical Society. Perhaps the name of a 19 year old Mexican laborer might appear in some sort of roster, financial, or business record?

Even if Juvenal had not yet been there for the 1917 disaster, he would have heard about it upon arrival and must have thought about it every single time he went down into the Speculator mine to work. Wondering each day if he would make it back out above ground after his shift.


Sources Cited

  1. IndependentITVS. http://itvs.org/films/butte-america.
  2. Laskin, David. 2010. The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War. Kindle edition. HarperCollins e-books.
  3. The Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial. 2010. “History: Intro.” The Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial. http://minememorial.org/history/intro.htm.
  4. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. n.d. “World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, M1509.” National Archives. http://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww1/draft-registration/.

Sources Consulted

  • Gutfeld, Arnon. 1969. “The Speculator Disaster in 1917: Labor Resurgence at Butte, Montana.” Arizona and the West 11 (1): 27–38.
  • Independent Lens | BUTTE AMERICA | Film Clip #2 | PBS. 2009. Independent Lens. https://youtu.be/r_4ofHTXYnA.

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#52Ancestors: Headstone for Walter Scott Gann (1875-1947) Prompts Me to Learn More

My 44th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I am still playing catch up, from being sick much of this year.

My 44th ancestor is my husband Jeff’s 2nd great grand uncle Walter Scott Gann (1875-1947). Walter was the youngest brother I have identified for Pauline Adeline Gann (1860-1938), my husband’s 2nd great grandmother. He was born 7 September 1875 in California to William Chamberlain Gann (1831-1893) and Elmira Tucker (1840-1920).

Headstone Walter S. Gann

Walter only recently came on my radar when Jeff and I visited the burial site of Jeff’s 2nd great grandmother Pauline and her husband Leonard Jackson Harless, who share a plot and headstone at the historic Mariposa District Cemetery in Mariposa (Mariposa County), California. We were there in July looking specifically for Pauline and Leonard’s headstone, but noticed a couple other Gann headstones located next to their grave site. I wasn’t sure who these Ganns were, just that they were likely related to us, so I snapped photos of the headstones. In doing a bit of follow up research for the names of those Gann headstones, I discovered that one of them was for Pauline’s brother Walter.

Headstone Leonard Jackson Harless and Pauline Adeline Gann
Walter’s headstone is located just off of my husband’s left shoulder, behind and to the right of the headstone for Jeff’s 2nd great grandparents, Leonard and Pauline.

I have thus far found Walter on the following U.S. Censuses:

  • (1880) 10th District, Calaveras County, California: 4 years old, living with his parents and siblings.
  • (1910) White Rock, Mariposa County, California: 35 years old, worked as a copper miner, married to Gertrude E. (possibly a son name Joseph P.), living with sister Pauline and her husband Leonard.
  • (1920) Lewis, Mariposa County, California: 45 years old, worked as a farmer on a stock farm, married now to Diana B., living next door to his sister Pauline and her husband Leonard.
  • (1930) Township 5, Mariposa County, California: 55 years old, worked as a gold miner, divorced, living with his business partner.

The only other real information I have on Walter is from his World War I draft registration card dated 12 September 1918. He registered in Madera, Madera County, California at 43 years of age. Walter lists a PO box in Lewis, Maricopa County, California as his last home address (his mother Elmira’s address), but identifies himself as a miner working for James H. Lestor in Raymond, Madera County, California. Gann is described with medium height, medium build, blue eyes, brown hair, and no physical disqualifications from service.

Gann Walter Scott - WWI Draft Card - Mariposa CA
WWI Draft Registration Card. Courtesy of Ancestry.com. Click to view a larger image.

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#52Ancestors: Hallie “Hal” Corder Haley (1878-1942)

Hallie Corder Haley My 40th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

My 40th ancestor is my husband’s great grandfather, Hallie “Hal” Corder Haley (1878-1942).

Hal was born 21 March 1878 in Rome (Smith County), Tennessee. He appears to have been the youngest child (of the four I have identified) of William Jerry Haley (b. 1835) and Matilda Beasley (b. 1839). He, at 3 years old, is listed with his family of five on the 1880 U.S. Census living in the 12th district of Smith County, Tennessee.

In 1897, at about the age of 19, Hallie married my husband’s great grandmother, Gedie Webster (1881-1931). I have not yet found a marriage record for them. By the 1900 U.S. Census (01 June 1900), Hallie and Gedie were living next door to Hallie’s parents, and were already the parents of two daughters under the age of two, Catherine and Margaret. Hal worked as a farmer, and the family had a 10 year old black female servant child named Monsie Taylor.

Haley Hallie Corder Family - Haley William Jerry Family - 1900 US Census - Ancestry - Close Up
1900 U.S. Census. 12th District, Smith County, Tennessee. William Haley Family and Hallie Haley Family. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

At the time of the 1910 U.S. Census, Hallie and Gedie lived in the 4th district of Smith County, Tennessee, next door to his brother Comer and sister-in-law. Three more children were added to the family: sons Webster and Gordon, and baby daughter Francis. An adult black “hired man” named Ulus Beasley is also living with the family. Hal and Comer both worked as farmers.

On 12 September 1918, at the age of 40, Hallie Haley registered for the WWI draft in Nashville (Davidson County), Tennessee. On the card, Hal lists Nashville as the city of residence for him and Gedie. He would live in Nashville for the rest of his life. It does not appear Hal ever went back to farming. By 1918, Hallie was working as a carpenter at a powder plant in Davidson. He is physically described as tall, of medium build, with brown eyes, grey hair, and no physical disqualifications from service.

Haley Hallie Corder, WWI Draft Card
WWI Draft Registration Card for Hallie Corder Haley, 1918. Signed by him on page 1. Courtesy of Ancestry.com. Click to view larger size.

The 1920 U.S. Census records the family still living in Nashville, with Hallie working as a carpenter, and owning his own home. He and Gedie added four more children to their large family by this time: sons Norman and Comer, daughter Eleanor, and daughter Rebecca (my husband’s grandmother). On the 1930 US Census, again in Nashville, Hal is employed as a mechanic with the telephone company. By this time, he and Gedie had their final child, a little girl named Nan.

Gedie died the following year, in 1931, leaving Hal a widow with three minor age children. Hallie remarried in 1933, at the age of 55, to Lillian Mae Manning.

Hal, wife Lillian, and youngest daughter Nan (now 18) are listed in the 1940 U.S. Census in Nashville. Hal is still employed as a mechanic with the telephone company. Hal remained in that job for the rest of his life.

On 20 September 1942, Hallie suffered some sort of accident at home that resulted in a tetanus infection. He died from the infection on 13 October 1942. I don’t know if in these last years, Hal ever got to see his daughter Rebecca again and her two oldest children, but he definitely never met her youngest child Betty (my mother-in-law), who was not yet born when her grandfather Hallie died.

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WWI Draft: Step-Great Grandfather Frank J Ward

After finding that 1920 city directory I discovered yesterday for my great grandmother Sarah KENNEDY (1898-1930) and her first husband Frank J. WARD (b. 1895), I spent some time looking for additional records on Ward that might provide more information about my great grandmother and her children.

I came across Frank Ward’s WWI Draft Registration card.

Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

Frank Ward registered for the draft in Belmont County, Ohio on 6 June 1917, at the age of 22. He identifies himself as a natural born citizen, born on 19 May 1895, in Bellaire, Ohio (also his current home). Frank worked in a brickyard, for the Suburban Bridge Company, and had no prior military experience. He is described as Caucasian, of medium height and build, with blue eyes and auburn hair (not bald), and has a corn on a toe (seriously?).

At the time of the draft, Frank was married — to my great grandmother Sarah. He also indicated two dependent children, this would have been my grandfather’s sister Catherine Mae WARD  (1914-1994) and his oldest brother Joseph A. WARD (1916-?). Since son Leonard Luther WARD was born in 1917, and this draft registration was conducted in June of that year, Sarah was pregnant with Leonard at this time.

#52Ancestors: WWI And PFC William James Mara

My 24th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

My 24th ancestor is my great grand uncle, William James MARA (1894-1952).  William was the brother of my great grandmother, Viola Elizabeth Maud MARA (1893-1971) and half brother of my great grand uncle Herbert Gerald ALLEN (1889-?). His parents were Anna Sophia ALLEN (1871-?) and Thomas MARA (1858-1916).

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the event that sparked the First World War, the Great War…the War To End All Wars. The war did not officially start until 28 July 1914, and the U.S. did not declare war until 6 April 1917, but I thought I would take advantage of today’s 100th anniversary to talk about my great grand uncle’s service during WWI.

William registered for the draft in Detroit, Michigan. I can’t tell if he registered in 1917 or early 1918 since the date is cut off on the microfilmed record. At the time, William was 22 years old, and employed as a civil engineer for the United Fuel and Supply Company in Detroit. He was single, listed his mother as his nearest living relative, and lived at 75 Herbert in Detroit, Michigan. William was described as Caucasian, of medium height, with light blue eyes and light hair, and no disfigurements.

He registered for the draft despite not being a U.S. citizen. Mara had been born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and indicates that he had already filed a declaration of intention to become a citizen.

WWI Draft Registration for William James Mara. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

An application for a veteran’s headstone filed after his 1952 death by his wife Irene provides information about William Mara’s service in the First World War. He enlisted in the National Army on 5 March 1918, and was assigned serial number 806 804. PFC Mara served in the Medical Department of the Army, at the Base Hospital on Camp Mills, New YorkMara was given an honorable discharge 1 July 1919 as a Private First Class.

Applications for Headstones for U.S. military veterans, 1925-1941. Courtesy Ancestry.com.

Camp Mills, located on Long Island, New York, was established in September 1917 to prepare Army units for deployment to Europe. After the war, it served as a demobilization center before becoming part of Mitchell Field in 1919.

Encampment of National Guard soldiers at Camp Mills, New York training for service in World War I. Public domain photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any further information about PFC William James Mara’s activities during the First World War, but it does not sound like he was deployed overseas. I wish I knew what kind of work he did at Camp Mills. He did not have a medical background, but had worked as an engineer. So he most likely was involved in facilities operations, perhaps helping to build some of the permanent structures.

William did receive that veteran’s headstone. He died 24 November 1952, and is buried in Oakview Cemetery in Royal Oak, Michigan.

My Mexican-Born Great-Grandfather Jose “Joe” Robledo And The World War I draft

Jose Robledo (1875 – ca 1936).
This is the only known photo
of my great-grandfather.

I know very little about my great-grandfather Jose “Joe” Robledo. He died before my Dad was even born, and only one of his children is still alive, so that has created some major brickwalls in my research.

Family lore claims that his family was of Spanish descent. And the pale skin, pale hair, and pale eyes in the only photo we have of him lends credence to this story.

I have no birth or death records for him. I don’t even know his death date — I only have an unconfirmed year from family recollections. I do know that he was born in Mexico, and that he lived in San Luis Potosi, but I have no idea if he was born in SLP or just moved there by the time he got married. I know that he did not immigrate to the U.S. with his wife Maria Nieto in 1915, but I don’t know when he came across the border.  I did confirm about 11 years ago, through Census records, that he was already living in Long Beach, California by 1920, and that he was born around 1875 or 1876.

This past week, I discovered his World War I draft card, which finally — through his own account — confirmed at least a few more details about Joe’s life.

World War draft registration card for Jose Robledo, courtesy of FamilySearch.org. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Despite not being a U.S. citizen (I don’t think Joe ever did gain citizenship), Joe, like all men up to the age of 45 was required to register for the draft between 1917 and 1918. Joe’s age group 18 to 45, fell in the third wave registered beginning September 1918.

My great-grandfather Jose Robledo registered for the World War I draft at the age of 43 on September 12, 1918 in Long Beach, California — just under three years since his wife Maria arrived in the U.S. He listed his birth date as either June 26 or June 29 (it’s hard to read), 1875. He lists himself as a citizen of Mexico and a non-declarant alien (I guess this means he did not intend to become a citizen?). Jose was described as being white, of medium height and build, with grey eyes and black hair (that doesn’t match what our photo of him depicts), and with no physical impairments.

On the draft card, Jose lists his place of residence at 123 E. 4th St. (in the rear) in Long Beach, California. He recorded his wife Maria as his nearest relative, living at the same address. Jose also indicates that he was employed as a laborer with the City of Los Angeles, working for the San Pedro Harbor Department.

And, most exciting for me, I get to see my great-grandfather’s signature!

A closer look at my great-grandfather’s signature.

While this discovery provides some good useful details about Joe’s life, it also poses many more questions to be answered. Where in Mexico was he born? When did Jose immigrate to the U.S.? Why is he listed as a non-declarant alien? Didn’t Joe immigrate with the intention of gaining citizenship? Or was Jose hoping to return to Mexico with his family after making some money, or after the political situation in Mexico settled back down?

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