Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Thief, in a Manner of Speaking

When I was a child I knew my grand-uncle Daniel Bickerstaff, but I didn't know much about him.  When I began working on family history I learned that, in a manner of speaking, he was a thief.

Daniel was the son of Edward Jesse and Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff.  His Jefferson County, Ohio, birth record gives his date of birth as April 9, 1897.  Other records state that date or suggest the year as correct.
  • He is shown as age 3, born Apr 1897 in the 1900 U.S. Census, Steubenville Township, Jefferson County, Ohio.
  • He is recorded as 12 years of age in the 1910 U.S. Census, Steubenville Township, Jefferson County, Ohio.
  • He is 23 in the 1920 U.S. Census, Mineral Ridge, Austintown Township, Mineral Ridge, Ohio.
  • His World War II enlistment record gives his birth year as 1897.
  • And his death certificate gives his birth date as April 9, 1897.

But then!  Then his marriage record to Mary Luretta Sanford proclaims a different birth date!  (Click open image in a new tab where you can see it more clearly.)

Daniel indicates that he was 21 years old on April 9, 1916.  In fact, on the date of his marriage to Mary Luretta Sanford, on October 28, 1915, he was 19 years, 6 months, and 20 days old.  I've been unable to find the legal age for marriage in 1916 in Ohio.  If it were 21 years, then yes, he would have needed to change his age to marry (or possibly seek parental consent).

His World War I Draft Registration Card also gives his birth date as April 9, 1895.

World War I begin in 1914 when Daniel was 17.  At the time he enlisted, on May 10, 1918, he was already 21, so there should have been no need to fudge his birth year.  On the other hand, it's possible that his age when he enlisted needed to match his age on his draft registration card, which he'd already changed by two years.

It is difficult to determine the motives of people who are no longer alive.  The family "legend," told by my aunt and Daniel's niece, Doris (Meinzen) Dray, is that Dan was so eager to serve his country in World War I that he changed his age (specifically his birth year) so he could enlist.  I do not know the truth of this legend.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding his change of birth year, Daniel was, in a manner of speaking, a thief.  He stole two years from his life -- at least until he enlisted in the Army in 1942 and reclaimed them by stating his real birth date of April 9, 1897.

You can read more about Daniel F. Bickerstaff at Twice a Veteran and A Soldier in My Family.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Thief."


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