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The Boxcar family in McCook

Friday, November 30, 2012

Susan Doak

SW Nebraska Genealogy Society

This may be one of my stranger stories since I am not going to reveal this family's name. They were a McCook family for at least part of their lives, but the events that occurred here make it difficult for me to expose their names because over half of these children were adopted out and I have no way of knowing if all of the children were aware of that fact.

You may be aware of the "Boxcar Children" books that have been in print for over 60 years. McCook had its own version of boxcar children but their story was not the fascinating adventures written in the books.

As you follow Federal Avenue south the remnants of an old railroad boxcar still sits below the road. Hard to imagine, but in 1929, a family with 12 children lived in that boxcar while their parents awaited the birth of another child. It was not to be a happy occasion, for according to the records, the mother failed to survive the birth leaving the father with 13 children to feed and clothe during the bleakest time of modern American history: The complete collapse of Wall Street and subsequent Great Depression that followed. Records indicate that the children's' mother is buried in an unmarked grave in McCook's Memorial Park cemetery.

During the early 20th century many people managed to live off the grid; not counted in Census Records, leasehold or cash renters instead of land owners, drifters who passed from place to place following the seasonal jobs. This family may well have fit those descriptions since their last name shows up only in two places during their sojourn here: Once in the notation of the mother's grave and again in the District Court Probate Records telling of the adoption of 7 children, all bearing the same last name to various families within the area. Since only 7 are listed and the daughter of one of the adoptees told me the children had been removed from the father's care, one can assume that the other 6 children were either considered to be old enough to live on their own or were too old to adopt out and were sent to live in an orphanage until of legal age. The child whose daughter related this story to me was 11 at the time of the adoption and she was aware of where some of her siblings were located in Red Willow County. They may have attended the same schools, seen each other at church or in town during the common Saturday shopping. Some may never have seen each other again, a typical experience for families separated at that time.

We can't even really ascertain how long they had lived in the boxcar prior to being removed by the Welfare workers, but if you take a moment and look at the old box car as you pass by, it gives you an understanding of how hard life could be in the 20s and 30s.

When records are sketchy it takes a bit of detective work to find even the faintest trail of family history. That is when personal recollections have to be combined with actual written facts to piece together the story. When secrets were kept in a family, the pieces are even harder to find. To even begin tracing a family that stayed unrecorded, I had to use all the available resources that SW Nebraska Genealogy has including the listings of District Court Records which gives only the names involved in a case and the type of case being heard before the court which was in this instance, the adoptions, though it does not provide the link to each adoptive family. The tracing of the unmarked grave was a fluke, just a slight notation in city cemetery records with no dates attached. With patience and perseverance, you will find the answers you seek and SW Nebraska Genealogy Society members are always willing to help. To find us on the internet go to: swngs.nesgs.org or look for us on Facebook!

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