“Swears Off Marrying,” the headline read, “War Veteran Promises to Abandon Bigamous Life.”
As a genealogist, I am particularly interested in bigamy cases as so often the first wife, whether from a true belief that her husband was dead or to hide her embarrassment, takes on the role of a widow. Obviously I’m not going to suggest that every widow in a census record actually has a living husband somewhere, but we ought not be too quick to discount the idea, unless we can prove by other means that the husband has died.
I had been wanting to share a case study for a while, but obviously I can’t share client work, so I thought I would see how much I could find out and about John Ochs for free and without leaving my living room. This article is a result of that research showing every step I took and why I took the steps I did. I hope you will find it both interesting and informative and that it will help you to form strategies for researching your own families.
“John Ochs, aged seventy-four, who was a gallant cavalryman in the 2d New York fifty years ago, pleaded guilty to bigamy yesterday before Judge Mulqueen, in General Sessions, and was released on a suspended sentence. He promised the court that he would not become entangled with any more women, but would go straight back to the Soldier’s Home on Staten Island, of which he was an inmate untill his latest marriage four months ago.”
“Ochs was so crippled when he appeared in court that he had to be supported. His condition was due, he said, to wounds received at Gettysburg. In 1899 Ochs married Regina Schaefer.”
“She lost track of him four years later. She has put in more or less time looking for him since then, and found him recently, she says, living with a younger wife.”
I was disappointed that the newspaper did not name his second wife, but it did include enough information to begin a search.
This simple search gives 653 results, so there is still a lot of sifting to do. Before adding more filters, I like to check the first page(s) of results to get a general idea of what I am dealing with.
The third item is for the 1900 Census and has his wife indexed as Rsena – I wonder if that should be Regina – one of the children is listed as Frank Schaefer so that looks promising. Further down I see the 1905 New York State Census with a Roseana Ochs listed as “other” – could this also be Regina?
There is an entry for a John Ochs in the United States Registers of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914 this is unlikely to be him as we know he served in the 2nd NY Cavalry (a volunteer regiment rather than the regular Army that these registers cover).
Another entry shows a John Ochs in the National Soldier’s Home in Bath, New York – this isn’t Staten Island, but I want to check it out anyway – it will include the regimental information so I will quickly know if it is the right or wrong John Ochs.
I notice two different entries for a John Ochs born on 19 October 1842 in Brooklyn to Frederick Ochs and Elizabeth Adios. If this is our John, he had been married to Mary E. Phillips before he married Regina. But it may not be our man, as the Soldier’s Home entry gives Germany as the place of birth. Too soon to consider this anyway, I have nothing to check the birth date and parental information against – I only have the information from the newspaper: aged 74 in 1913, married Regina Schaefer in 1899, served in the 2nd NY Cavalry during the Civil War (wounded at Gettysburg), lived in a Soldier’s Home in Staten Island, and took another wife around June 1913.
There are lots of other entries in the index that offer no immediate match to the known information, I will need to look into each one individually at a later time, but for now I want matches so I can flesh out the details and have something more than a name and approximate birthdate to compare records with.
A little further down I see three entries for the “United States Civil War and Later Pension Index, 1861-1817” which is actually the “Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900” with images for a fee at Fold3 and one entry for the “United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934” – I would expect a crippled veteran to apply for a pension and can, again, use his regimental information to see if these are a match.
I check the 1900 Census entry first. The spouse really is listed as Rsena Ochs (I wasn’t expecting that), and the column for years married it says “1” – matching the 1899 marriage date in the newspaper. I think this might be him.
John Ochs, Head, W, M, Oct. 1842, 57, M, 1. He was born in New York, to German born parents and was a butcher by occupation.
Rsena [Ochs], wife, W, F, Jan 1855, 47, M, 1. She was born in Germany, immigrated in 1872, had been in the U.S. For 28 years and was not naturalized.
Peter Speirs, step son, W, M, April 1887, 13
George [Speirs], step son, W, M, July 1888, 11
Jane [Speirs], step sister, W, F, April 1890, 10
Frank Schaefer, step son, W, M, July 1893, 6
all of the children were born in New York to a New York born father and a German born mother.
Note: the census take did not use ditto marks for the surnames and only wrote them out in full the first time they appeared within a household.
The 1905 New York Census index is a little misleading, John Ochs aged 63 is the head, Roseana Ochs aged 52 is listed as his wife and their children are listed as Peter Ochs aged 18, George Ochs aged 16, Jenny Ochs aged 15 and Frank Ochs aged 12. The first names and ages of the children match those of the step-children above,
There is another household living in the house, this comprises Chas Stockman, his wife Halda Stockman, his mother Dora Stockman, and his mother in law, Margaret Hacker.
The Soldier’s Home Record for Bath, New York is our first definite match.
John Ochs enlisted 9 August 1861 in N. Y. City, N. Y. He was a Bugler in Co. G, 2. N. Y. C. [2nd New York Cavalry]. He was discharged on 10 September 1864 in N. Y. City, N. Y. At the expiration of service.
Kind and Degree of Disability: G.S.W. R. Arm, artic Rheumatism, V.V. Both legs, Hemorrhoids.
When and Where Contracted: June 19, 1863, Petersburg, Va. For the gun shot wound and Since the war for the rheumatism, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids.
Where Born: Germany
Height: 5′ 6″
Color of Eyes: Gray
Color of Hair: Gray
Read and Write: yes
Occupation: Butcher [a match to the 1900 Census]
Residence Subsequent to Discharge: N. Y. City, N. Y.
Married or Single: widower
Name and Address of Nearest Relative: no relatives [this was disappointing]
Rate of Pension: $12
Date of Admission and Re-Admission: 20 August 1897
Conditions of Re-Admission:
Date of Discharge: 24 August 1897
Cause of Discharge: Dishon
Admission Papers: approved by Superintendent G.O.#501
Pension Certificate: #584084. Original, act of June 27, 1890
The pension indexes are my next logical step. One is for a Cpl. John Ochs who served in Co. E, 103rd N. Y. Infantry, the next for Sgt. John Ochs, Co. A, 103rd N.Y. Infantry. These both had the same discharge dates and pension application dates, so are obviously for the same soldier. The third was for our John Ochs, Co. G, 2nd N. Y. Cavalry and if I were spending money I would be checking that on Fold3 and going to NARA for his pension file.
The entry in the General Pension Index was very interesting.
Widow: Harriet Ochs
Service: G 2 NY Cav, L 2 NY Cav
The Date of Filing entries are a little blurred but the soldiers application appears to be for August 1879, application number was 301652 and certificate number 584084 [this indicates he received the pension and the numbers would be needed to see the file at NARA].
The widow’s application appears to have been filed on 16 April 1919 with an application number of 1139294 but no certificate number indicating that she was not granted a pension. Perhaps this Harriet was the second wife mentioned but not named in the newspaper article. The marriage being bigamous would be grounds for refusing her a pension. I would love to see the file and at a later date I might, but for now I am not leaving the couch.
It is time to start filtering the search results. I click on “collections” on the right of the screen and then select “United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933” in the military records section. Among the results were 6 cards for Pvt John Ochs who served in Co. G, 2nd New York Cavalry and all 6 showed half of his pension being payable to his wife Harriet Ochs on account of desertion. The card below also shows that John Ochs died on 9 February 1919.
Next I click on “collections” on the right hand side of the screen and then selected “New York County Marriages 1908-1935” and “New York Marriages 1868-1980.” Knowing that John Ochs married Regina Schaeffer in 1899 and another woman, perhaps Harriet, in 1913, I was surprized to find nothing matching either of these. I changed the filter to 1850 Census, 1880 Census, 1870 Census, 1860 Census, 1892 New York Census, 1910 Census, 1875 New York Census, 1855 New York Census and 1915 New York Census, but again the indexes showed no John Ochs with a wife names Regina or Harriet.
I went back to the newspapers – I had found his sentence, perhaps his arrest had made it into the newspapers as well. It was a good hunch.
“Veteran’s Third Wife Gets Help of Fourth in a Charge of Bigamy”
“John Ochs, 74, Who Fought at Anteitam, is Veteran of Another Kind.”
It’s a long article, but the second paragraph tells us about his first wife:
“It was just after the battle of Antietam that Ochs fell in love with Sarah Mason, a Virginia beauty. After the war she came to New York and married him.”
“After her death [this was somehow reassuring given what I knew of his record with women] Ochs went to visit his old Division Commander, Major-Gen. Walker, at Newburgh, N.Y., where, Capt. Price [of the N. Y. Police, who related the tale to the newspapermen] declared, he became enamoured of the General’s servant maid, Harriet [aha!], a young mulatto, and married her. They lived together only a few years and Ochs went to the Soldiers’ Home at Dayton, O.”
“In 1898 Ochs returned to New York and the following year wooed and won Mrs. Rosina Schaefer, a widow with four children. They were married and lived together until four years ago, when Ochs, the police say, deserted her. In April of this year he took Mrs. Bertha Schlelehkorn to the City Hall and had Alderman Smith perform a marriage ceremony.”
I know Family Search has the Soldier’s Home records, so my first search was for John Ochs at the Dayton Soldier’s Home. It seems he was in and out of the home in Dayton 8 times between 1891 and 1917, but the most exciting part was the inclusion of his sister Cath. Wolfangel of 326 115 St. E, N.Y. City, as his nearest relative.
I immediately plugged her name into the Family Search boxes and in the first set of results was a marriage for Catharine B. Wolfangel, daughter of John J. Wolfangel and Catherine Ochs, in Manhattan on 31 March 1898. A couple of entries down was the entry for Kate Wolfangel in the New York Births and Christenings, 1640-1962. She was born on 25 May 1880 in Manhattan to Jacob Wolfangel and Kate Ochs Wolfangel. A few entries below that was an entry in the General Index to Pensions showing Kathirine Wolfangel filed for a pension on 3 October 1900 based on the service of Jacob Wolfangel in Co. A, 15th N.Y. Heavy Artillery. Another pension file I would like to see!
I decided to search for John Jacob Wolfangel and in “New York Marriages, 1686-1980” was the entry for his marriage to Catharine. I was rather shocked. Yes, Catherine’s name was rather badly mis-spelled, but I had seen the names Friedrich Oaks and Elisabeth Edian before! Well the spellings were different, but what a Pandora’s box that opened.
Searching for various spellings of Fred Ochs and Elizabeth Edian, with a son John, not only turned up his birth date and place, but also a few more wives for our Romeo:
13 September 1875, Manhattan, married Caroline Meyer, d/o Frederick Muller and Emma Hermann. His parents given as Adam Ochs and Elizabeth Idian.
24 June 1886 Manhattan, married Ruth Hanson Stephens, d/o Joseph Hanson and Maria Robinson. His parents given as Frederick Ochs and Elizabeth Adion.
8 September 1887, Manhattan, married Mary E. Phillips, d/o James Smith and Annie Russell. His parents given as Frederick Ochs and Elizabeth Adios.
I was out of time, but as I closed down the various browser windows, I saw I still had the newspaper search open, among the results was an article concerning one of the earlier wives of John Ochs. The article was dated 3 March 1888 and showed that Ruth Hanson Stephens Ochs was alive and well and living at 321 East 117th street with her mother, Mary R. Hanson. “She had given her name as Ruth E. Stevens, but in the court room was recognized as Mrs. Ochs, whose husband, John Ochs, was sent to the Island last summer on her complaint of abandonment and ill treatment.”
“Mrs. Ochs said that she did not go by her second husband’s name, because her was an idle and worthless fellow.”