The Mystery of Caroline C. Thomas

In my family tree there are two Caroline C. Thomas’s whose lives were fairly intertwined.  I’m going to put all the facts here in this article in an attempt to untangle them to the degree that it’s possible, however, there are certain paradoxes which make this a more difficult task than it might seem.

The first Caroline C. Thomas was my 3x great-grand aunt, the daughter of James S. Thomas and Sophia Ransom.  She was the sister of my 3x great-grandfather Charles H. Thomas.

The first mention of this Caroline C. Thomas is in the 1850 census.  The Thomas family was living in Burke, Franklin, New York with a woman named Catherine Mott.  Caroline is listed as 16 years old (b 1834), born in New York, and her father James is listed as a “Shoemaker”.  Since this is the first record, I tend to take the birth date more seriously for this record since 16-year old women don’t usually fib about their ages.

In the 1860 Census, Caroline is living in the home of her brother Joel Wells Thomas with her parents in Burlington, Chittenden, Vermont.  Her age is 26 (b 1834), and the birthplace listed is New York.

In the 1870 Census for Burlington, Vermont, Caroline is listed as “Caroline C. Thomas”, age 33 (b 1837), born in Vermont.  She is living in the home of Burlington Police Chief Nobel Hanagan where she is listed as a domestic.  Her brother Beriah W. Thomas and her niece Hattie Thomas are living with her.

On 5 Jun 1875, there is recorded a marriage between “James Nite” and “Caroline Thomas”.  Caroline is listed as being 43 years old (b 1832) and it being her first marriage.  Her parents are listed as James Thomas and Sophia, which matches perfectly.  The year of birth doesn’t really match up with the 1834 we’ve seen previously.

Thomas/Nite Marriage 1875

Thomas/Nite Marriage 1875

The groom’s card for the marriage lists him as 53 years old, a clerk, and born in Scotland.  It was the groom’s second marriage.

Wedding card for James Nite (Knight)

Wedding card for James Nite (Knight)

I’ve also obtained the original church record for this marriage which says James was born in Glasgow, Scotland.  It says that Caroline was born in “Troy, NY”.

Burlington Methodist Church record

Burlington Methodist Church record

I have been able to find no other mention of this James Nite (Knight?) in Burlington.  Neither in the Census records for 1870 or 1880, nor in the City directories for the years around 1875.  I can find neither James nor Caroline in the 1880 Census records.  There are some entries in the New York City Directory in 1882 and 1884 for a James Knight who was a clerk.  In 1886 his wife Caroline is listed as a “Widow”.  So that James Knight seems to have died about 1885.  We have no way to prove at this point that they are the same James and Caroline who got married in Burlington, however.

I’ll switch gears at this point to talk about the other Caroline C. Thomas.

One year after Caroline Thomas and James Knight were married, Caroline’s nephew Charles Franklin Thomas married Mary “Polly” Thomas.

Charles Frank Thomas Sr., his son Charles Jr, and wife Mary "Polly" White.  Taken about 1890, you can see the toll the deaths of his children and family have taken on Charles Sr.

Charles Franklin Thomas, his son Charles Jr, and wife Mary “Polly” Thomas c1890.

The documents show the groom’s parents as Charles H Thomas (brother of Caroline Thomas) and Lois Pond.

ThomasThomasMarraige1876

Mary, on her record, is listed as the daughter of Henry Thomas and Caroline Smith.  Mary is listed as 21 years of age (b 1855) and having been born in Burlington, Vermont.

ThomasThomasMarriage1876_hers

Obviously Mary’s mother Caroline Smith was Caroline Thomas after her marriage to Henry Thomas.  So what do we know about Caroline Smith Thomas?

Mary “Polly”‘s death record from 1902 lists her parents as “Henry Thomas” and “Caroline C. Thomas.  Despite her marriage record saying she was born in Burlington, Vermont, Mary’s death record says she was born in Burke, NY on 19 May 1854.  This will be important later.

Mary Thomas Death 1902

Mary Thomas Death 1902

Now things get confusing.

In the 1900 Census for Brattleboro, Vermont, Charles and Mary are listed as living with a Caroline Thomas.  This Caroline was born in Oct 1832 in New York, and is listed as the widowed mother of Charles F. Thomas.  She is listed as the mother of one child total and one living child.  She is also listed as having been married since 1854.  If one overlooks the “mother” vs “mother-in-law” angle, this lines up well to be Mary Polly’s mother Caroline Thomas.  One complication is that the birthplace of Mary Polly’s parents are both listed as “unknown”.  If the Caroline living with her is her mother, why would this be the case?  In the 1880 census Mary Polly said both her parents were born in New York.

Thomas Census 1900

Thomas Census 1900

The next record chronologically is for the death of the above Caroline Thomas on 22 Apr 1902.  She is listed as 67 years old (b 1835), widowed, and having parents Henry [no last name] and Maria Ransom.

CarolineThomasDeath1902_2

So right away we can see this is kind of a mash-up between Caroline Thomas (the aunt) and Caroline Smith Thomas (the mother-in-law).  The birth date is that of the aunt.  The father listed is the same as the mother-in-law’s husband (Henry), and the last name of the mother is the same as mother of the aunt (Ransom).  Confusing, but if true it means Caroline Smith Thomas’s father was Henry Smith and her mother was Maria Ransom.

We also have three obituaries for this Caroline.  They do not do much to make things clearer.  The first obit from the Brattleboro Phoenix (25 Apr 1902) lists her as Caroline C. Knight, mother of Mrs. C.F. Thomas (Mary Polly).  It says she was born 19 Oct 1831, that she was buried in Burlington, Vermont, and that she had a brother in Burlington in 1902.

CarolineThomasObit1902

Brattleboro VT Phoenix, 25 April 1902

The next obit only adds that she died of cancer.  The death record says an “ulcer of leg”.  I’m sure such ulcers can be cancerous.

CarolineThomasDeath1902

The last obit says that Caroline Thomas was the mother of C.F. Thomas.

CarolineThomasDeath1902

Burlington weekly free press., April 24, 1902, Page 5

So what do we make of this?  Two of the obits list her as Caroline C. Knight.  However, the Caroline Thomas which married James Knight clearly said that her parents were James Thomas and Sophia Ransom.  The death record also lists her mother as “Maria Ransom”, when the mother of Caroline Thomas (the aunt) was Sophia Ransom.

Most other facts point to her being the mother-in-law.  The birth date mentioned in the obit of 1831 (not 1834), the marriage date of 1854 listed in the 1900 census (Mary Polly was born in 1854) also aligns with the mother-in-law.  The death record lists her as Caroline Thomas, not Knight.

Overall there is more evidence that the Caroline Thomas who died in 1902 is the mother-in-law of Charles Franklin Thomas and not his aunt.  We still have no idea what happened to Caroline Thomas Knight after her marriage to James Knight.  If they are the same couple in New York, it appears James died there about 1885 and Caroline may have remarried at that point, thus making her unable to be located under the name Caroline Knight.

At this point I’m inclined to believe that the woman who died in 1902 was Caroline C. Smith, mother of Mary Polly Thomas, but there are many more questions to answer before this is a certainty.

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About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

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