Monday, February 24, 2014

52 Ancestors Week 8: John McGovern - My First Brick Wall

John McGovern, my 2x Great Grandfather, was my introduction to the concept of a brick wall.  And I have not made much progress at all......

Once I started researching my family, I thought:  Oh, this will be easy!     All those shaky leaf matches - weeeeee, just bring everything into my growing tree.   I quickly learned 2 things:

#1 Trust nothing those shaky leaves lead you to until you have analyzed the information carefully yourself.
#2 When you get stuck on a person - that is a Brick Wall

Meet my 2x Great Grandfather, John McGovern.   Birth date - who knows.   Based on the information in the census, I can get close - sometime in 1847.   Possibly December 1847.

He was born in Canada/English - I'm not positive what that means.   Speculation is that it means English speaking Canada rather than French speaking Canada.

John McGovern - age 47, married Lola Ann Palmer, age 21 on March 10, 1895.   I note that the son listed on the 1900 Census was born in 1893 - 2 years before the couple was married.    Not unheard of that there is a baby before marriage, but it did pique my interest.   I was able to find that Lola Ann Palmer was involved with a Mr. Elliot Hudson.   In 1894, in Utah, Elliot Hudson was convicted of, and spent 30 days in jail for fornication with Miss Lola Ann Palmer.

So.... who are Owen's parents?

  • Is he the son of Elliot and Lola, the result of the "fornication" poor 21 yr old Elliot was convicted of?
  • Is Owen the son of John McGovern and Lola Palmer?  If so - why can't I find any mention of John McGovern in Utah around that time?  
  • Is Owen the son of John McGovern and a previous wife?

Ouray, Colorado is, and was, a very small town.   I found several McGovern's there, more than I would have suspected.   I followed every McGovern I could find, to no avail.  I did learn that there are a LOT of McGoverns.   There are a LOT of John McGoverns, and there are a LOT of McGoverns that came to Canada from Ireland.

I have spent hours hunting through newspapers from the 1800's and early 1900's in Colorado trying to find some hints about John McGovern.     There were McGovern;s involved in mining, in politics, in wrestling.   I did find a couple of articles about the how John McGovern died.

The end of John's life was documented in startling detail.   I thought that newspapers today were graphic.  I learned that the early 1900's had some pretty graphic reporting.

At the end of his life, John McGovern was working for his father-in-law at the Billy Creek Sawmill.    On December 12, 1903 there was an accident.  The boiler exploded and killed 3 men, one of which was John McGovern.

I found 2 newspaper articles - one reports that "McGovern had a leg blown off and was thrown through the building" (Plaindealer, 18 December 1903, Front Page), another article titled "Blown to Atoms" states that "McGovern's head was blown off and his brains were scattered in all directions and his body was found literally wrapped around a post in the mill several feet from wherehe was standing, reduced to a pulp and so badly mutilated that identification would have been impossible had it not been known it was him." (Ouray Herald, 18 December 1903, Front Page.)

John McGovern left behind a Lola Palmer, and 6 children.  They had been living at housing at the mill.  The young family fell on hard times.    There was a mention in the newspaper of a fundraiser that the town put together, later Lola moved in with her father.   In 1910 Census shows no sign of Owen, and Claude, Clifford and Rodney living as "inmates" at the State Industrial School in Jefferson Colorado.    

Lola married Luther Bevell in 1905 and the 1910 census shows the 2 youngest of John McGovern's children, Luther and Maude living with their mother and their stepfather and several children of that marriage.


  1. This was very interesting. John is my 2x great grandfather as well. My grandfather was Claude. According to family lore, Lola was raped by the guy that went to prison. You did fill in some questions that we've had. Thank you. Heidi Cochran

    1. Claude was my great grandfather, his son Calvin McGovern is my grandfather.