My mother started looking for information on her father a long time ago. She found a few things, but not much and she had this romantic memory of him. If you refer back to my posts on “Desperate Times,” you’ll see some things about her father that we finally dug up. Unfortunately, most of this we found after she passed away.
If you read that earlier post, you’ll also note that Lee Frank Harrison spent at least two stints in the old Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana. I stumbled on the prison admit record in the process of searching for any kind of record of him.
I don’t think my mother knew that Lee Frank was in prison when she was an infant. All she remembers, as I recall from her stories, is she got hand-made moccasins from him that she wore and kept in her cedar chest all her life. It turns out that Lee Frank made those in prison as one of the craft projects the prison encouraged.
Anyway, a couple of years ago, my wife and I bought genetic/DNA testing kits for our family. I followed instructions on mine and sent it in thinking this would help with clearing up things in my family history. I first found my mother’s sister’s children and their kids in East Tennessee. That wasn’t hard or unexpected. Also, it’s amazing how some facial characteristics so memorable in my aunt carried through to my cousin’s children. But nothing prepared me for what happened next.
The other day I received a note on the genetic site from someone who thought they might be related. I checked the DNA comparison and went ahead and shared my info with them. What got me going were the names she mentioned. We messaged back and forth a few times, then she shared my information with her aunt and a sister and we all emailed and messaged back and forth.
It turns out that I now have a whole bunch of new cousins. Lee Frank seems to have been a rather opportunistic young man. He met and possibly (don’t have a record yet) married a woman when he was about 26-27 in Helena, Montana. This was after he paroled for the burglary sentence. They had two children, a boy in 1925 and a girl (don’t have the date).
This relationship didn’t last long, because Lee Frank left the first little family and started another with my grandmother. And fathered my aunt and mother. The first wife could not support two children on her own, so she put the son up in the Catholic children’s home in Helena. She came back for him when he was about 9, according to my new-found cousin. This would have been just about the same time that grandmother dropped my aunt and mother off at the same Catholic children’s home in Helena.
Grandmother, though, dropped them off for completely different reasons. She’d met a rich man and he didn’t want children around. So the story goes.
So, my aunt and mother missed getting to know their half-brother. It turns out this half-brother served in the military, married, had 10 children, and drove truck most of his life. My cousin said her brothers worked in the lumber industry and “were tough.”
Lee Frank changed or switched his name around a lot through his life, and this made tracking him through official records difficult. Stories from my new-found cousin’s family hold that Lee Frank got into more trouble with the law and married a few more times before passing away.
With more information now, I’ll find more records and trace Lee Frank’s history. No, it isn’t a pretty picture, based on what I have now. Sometimes, I wish Mom got to find out more before she passed away. Sometimes, I’m glad she didn’t find out things and get her romantic memories of him dashed.
But, now I have more family to meet, learn from, and get to know.
(*Note: I’m only using Lee Frank’s name to limit confusion. The family chart is now extremely complicated and it’s simpler to not use other names. Thanks for understanding.)