Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Solved: Mystery of 1926 Longmont Librarian, Genevieve Dorsett


I first heard the name of Miss Genevieve Dorsett in March 2007 during a talk given by Bob Nyboer, the Head of Adult Services at the Longmont Public Library, as part of the Library's Centennial History celebration, 1907-2007. As Bob briefly mentioned the names and backgrounds of each of the past City Librarians in the last 100 years, all of them were accounted for, except for one, Miss Genevieve Dorsett who was the Librarian from 1920 through 1926. A young head Librarian at age 24, she was also a former teacher (see below for more details) in the Wayne, Nebraska area.

The mystery of Genevieve Dorsett was all about the circumstances of her departure in 1926, and what became of her. As Bob explains in his book, the minutes of the library board meetings are void of any explanation of why she left or where she went. We know some information about her early years and family background, based on some census data (see time line at the end) and genealogy lookups. And we do know that she submitted a request for a one-month vacation in February, 1926 , which was initially a letter of resignation, and then modified (scratched-out) to a vacation request. The Longmont Ledger newspaper also has no mentioning of any details of this transition, other than announcing the new Librarian, Mrs. Rae (Mary) Kitely, in May, 1926. The weekly Longmont Ledger edition for March 26, 1926 is inconveniently missing from the microfilm archives and I've been wondering if that perhaps held the details about young Miss Dorsett's departure, with a clue about her next venture. Bob mentioned that one Genevieve Dorsett was turned up in a genealogy search but she turned out to be an ex-slave in Texas.

I've been a Library volunteer for a few years now and occasionally do some lookups of obituaries in the microfilm archives, usually for people outside of Longmont who are doing family history research. One of the regular columns in many vintage newspapers briefly listed the comings and goings of visitors and relatives in town, who was ill, who was recovering, where local residents were traveling to, and even who was buying a new car! Even in the 70s, I remember my family being listed in the local small town newspaper when we were visiting relatives. Nowadays, publishing this type of information would be considered an outright privacy violation but things were different 90 years ago, where society encouraged this type of sharing and citizens voluntarily contributed happenings of their personal lives to the local newspaper. The Longmont Ledger had such a column, called Home News, which I often came across when doing obituary searches.

Back to that evening of March, when Bob Nyboer mentioned the Genevieve Dorsett mystery, I was thinking that there must be some type of clue in the Home News newspaper columns of her time, even if it just listed some visiting relatives of Miss Dorsett's and her mother. I'm not a genealogist but I did know that it would be easier to find out what happened to her if we knew some names of her family because their obituaries at a later time, if found, would likely list the location of Genevieve Dorsett's home, if she was still alive. Further on the plus side, her unique first name would provide some differentiation in searching, from more common names. How many Genevieve's could there be? Imagine, instead, if we were looking for a more common name like Ann Smith or Susan Jones.

I told Bob the next night, at the Library's Centennial celebration evening, that I'd attempt to go find out what happened to Miss Dorsett, perhaps thinking that it would be an easy scan through some microfilm archives. Like most people, I like I good mystery but I didn't know how difficult it would be!

In the first month or two, not trying very hard, I found some references in the Home News section to Miss Dorsett's mother (Mrs. Ellen Dorsett), to her uncle George B. Owen of Morrison, Colorado, and Genevieve's sister, incorrectly listed as "Mrs. E. B. McMillen" of Craig, Colorado, which was also wrong (The correct name is Mrs. E. B. McMullen of Craig, Nebraska). These were mostly three-liners about who was visiting who. This was sort of a dead-end for me -- I could find no other information about Mr. Owen and I was looking in the wrong state for a sister with the wrong name (the two citites named Craig are 800 miles apart). I've observed other errors in Home News and I'm guessing that this column was easily susceptible to handwriting transcription errors as the social news rolled in during the week. Seasoned genealogists must smile when reading this because they're accustomed to variable data quality from newspaper articles! I saw Bob a few weeks later and told him that I had found the name of Genevieve Dorsett's sister but it was otherwise dead-end news. I did say that I would continue looking and it still didn't seem right that with a local newspaper that published trivial events like citizen visits to nearby Lyons and Hygiene, how could a head city librarian of six years just vanish with no mention?

As the summer went by, I hadn't forget about the search for Genevieve Dorsett but admittedly had not done much further investigating. In December as the year-long Centennial celebration was wrapping up and I took some pictures of the Carnegie Library (the same building where Miss Dorsett served as the city librarian), I realized that I hadn't yet read Bob's book which had been out for a few months now. I put it on hold at the Library and a few days later I got the email that it was ready for me to pick up. Refreshing my search attempt earlier in the year, the Genevieve Dorsett "mystery" is described in the book on page 27:
Probably the most "mysterious" city librarian for me was Miss Genevieve Dorsett. After researching many resources and asking of one of my staff to research her, we came up with very little.
I knew the feeling and having some time off during the holidays, I decided to make one last attempt at finding her in the microfilm archives. An obituary turned up for Genevieve's uncle, George B. Owen, who died in 1924. Also, in 1924, Miss Dorsett was listed briefly as having a medical operation, and being returned to her house to recuperate. All good information but I had no genealogy skills to track down the Owen family (in my opinion, the internet is questionable, at best for genealogy searches but I'll write that up later). One more curious piece in Home News caught my attention in the February 27, 1925 Longmont Ledger:
Miss Genevieve Dorsett spent the week-end in Fort Collins with her mother, Mrs. A. A. Hull.
This didn't sound correct. Her mother was Mrs. Ellen Dorsett of Longmont and this is how she was always listed in the Ledger, not as Mrs. Hull of Ft. Collins! Did she re-marry? This has got to be one of those transcription errors that I mentioned earlier. Three days later on Sunday, December 30, during another microfilm session, I see Mrs. A. A. Hull mentioned again, in June 5, 1925:
Mrs. A. A. Hull of Fort Collins spent several days this week with her daughters, Mrs. E. B. McMullen and Miss Genevieve Dorsett.
This is not looking like a mistake anymore but I never saw any notices about Mrs. Ellen Dorsett getting remarried or moving from Longmont.

I had been needing to go to Ft. Collins anyway, so the next day (December 31), I headed north and dropped by the Ft. Collins Library to see if I could find Mrs. A. A. Hull's obituary, which could possibly provide the much needed trace to her daughter, Genevieve. At this point, I still wasn't convinced that this Mrs. A. A. Hull was really Genevieve's mother. A helpful reference librarian went to a back room to retrieve all of the printed Hull obituaries that they had. Unfortunately, in the seven obituaries she brought out, nothing close to Mrs. Ellen (Owen) (Dorsett) Hull was listed.

One last check in the Ft. Collins Library: Larimer County marriage records. Sure enough, it was listed that on July 9, 1924, Mrs Ellen Dorsett remarried (at age 69), to A. A. Hull. The data in the 1925 Home News section of the Ledger was accurate after all! (Some advertisements appear in the Ft. Collins Courier, at the time, showing an A. A. Hull running an automobile tire store at 215 Jefferson -- not sure if this was Genevieve's stepfather or not.) The next check was was with the Larimer County cemetery records, on the same shelf at the Library, and they showed that Mrs. Hull, Genevieve's mother, died on February 6, 1938. This was the pointer I was looking for, to that much sought-after obituary which would likely list her daughter, Genevieve, as a survivor!

Another helpful librarian at the Ft. Collins Library showed me where the Ft. Collins newspaper microfilm was kept and loaded up the reader for me, for the February 1938 period. The obituary was right there, and it indeed listed Genevieve Taylor of Ft. Collins as one of her daughters. Finally, part of the mystery was getting close to being solved. Genevieve Dorsett didn't disappear abroad or fall off a mountain -- she was still in Colorado, with a married name of Taylor and only thirty miles north of Longmont. Her mother, as it turned out, lived a long life of 81 years. Still, what happened to Genevieve?

The second lookup in the Ft. Collins cemetery records showed that a Mrs. Genevieve Taylor died six years later, in 1942. This had to be her but this would have been a relatively young age, in her forties, to pass away. Indeed, her obituary in the Fort Collins Express-Courier on October 16, 1942 confirmed that this was our mystery Librarian, although the obituary surprisingly never mentions her six years in Longmont or her service at our Library. All of the obituary details of her early life matched up consistently with what was published in Bob's book, including her birth year (1896) and her teaching experience in Nebraska. Genevieve apparently had some health problems which led to her early death, complicated by pneumonia. Six weeks before her passing away, she had gone to Phoenix for health reasons, no doubt, and died two weeks after returning to Fort Collins. Sadly, she left behind three young children (ages 3, 5, 7) with her husband.

So what happened to Miss Genevieve Dorsett after her Longmont Library career? As her obituary states, she married Edward F. Taylor, an employee of the Great Western Sugar Company in Julesburg, Colorado in September, 1926 and lived in the neighboring town of Ovid for ten years. In 1936, the Taylors moved to Ft. Collins. We can guess that perhaps she wanted to be closer to her mother, who was 79 at the time.

A history of Colorado's libraries talks about how the Women's Club in Ovid "decided that the time was ripe for a community library" in 1926. Can we suppose that Genevieve Dorsett could have been involved with this effort, as a newcomer in town with six years of head librarian experience? Could she have been recruited to Ovid, with company-town dollars from Great Western, that offered a better salary than the $90/month she was making in Longmont, and with the promise of a fast-growing city?

I found some good pictures here (thanks, Rich62!) of Ovid today, including its one-room library and it's shuttered sugar beet factory.

The mystery remains about why there was little information on record about Genevieve Dorsett's departure from Longmont, and perhaps why her obituary skipped over her life in Longmont. Many would be interested in knowing if she continued in the library field during her time in Ovid. What happened to her family after she passed away?

After getting back to Longmont later in the day, I stopped by the Library to let Bob know that I had found our missing head Librarian. An update to the Genevieve Dorsett story in his book may appear in a future revision.

After asking if I was successful in my microfilm and record searches at the Ft. Collins Library, one of the reference librarians there suggested that I write up this story. Thanks go to the very special public library communities of Longmont and Ft. Collins, for helping to find the story of Genevieve Dorsett. I imagine that libraries help complete thousands of stories like this every day.

In the hope that anyone from the Dorsett, Owen, McMullen, Hull, or Taylor families might find this information useful when it turns up someday in an internet geneology search, I'm publishing the information below intact, for easy searchability. Let me know if you came across this and it assisted you!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Genevieve Catherine (Dorsett) Taylor

* Born: April 12, 1986 in Whittemore, Iowa
* Died: October 15, 1942, in Ft. Collins, Colorado
Obituary: Fort-Collins Express-Courier, Friday, October 16, 1942
* At time of death, Resided at: 128 North Howes Street, Ft. Collins
* Interred: Grandview Cemetary, Ft. Collins, Colorado

* Three Children:
- Elizabeth Ellen Taylor, born 1935 [estimate, could be off by a year]
- Mary Louise Taylor, born 1937 [estimate]
- Daniel David Taylor, born 1938 [estimate]

* One Sister:
- Mrs. Elizabeth (Dorsett) McMullen of Denver, Colorado
- Also lived in Craig, Nebraska
- Mostly referred to as Mrs. E. B. McMullen
- Referred to (mistakenly, I believe) a few times as:
o Mrs. E. B. McMullin
o and listing her from Craig, Colorado instead of Craig, Nebraska

* Sister-in-Law:
- Mrs. A. F. Day of St. Louis, Missouri

* Married:
- Married Edward F. Taylor on September 20, 1926 in Julesburg, Colorado

* Mother:
- Ellen (Owen) Dorsett
o born October 23, 1855
o married to Edward Dorsett, Edward died in May 1920, age 84
o moved to Longmont, Colorado with Genevieve, soon after
o remarried to A. A. Hull on July 9, 1924 in Ft. Collins, Colorado,
moved to Ft. Collins
o died February 6, 1938, Ft. Collins, Colorado

* Uncles (brothers of Ellen Owen Dorsett)
- George B. Owen, died February 11, 1924 pneumonia, 56 years old
o Obituary: Longmont Ledger, February 15, 1924
o was a resident of Longmont, Colorado at one time
o was the owner of Mountain View Dairy Ranch, sold it to
L. F. Sherman in 1919
o Moved to Morrison, Colorado where he operated a larger
dairy ranch
# Two daughters:
(a) Mrs. Nellie Bishop of California
(b) Mrs. Jessie Nichols of Salt Lake City, Utah
o There is a Mrs. George B. Owen, no information about her
- Ed Owen of Wayne Nebraska, died January 1922
- Frank Owen of Ashton, Idaho
- L. M. Owen of Wayne, Nebraska
- One more, yet to be determined


* Brief life timeline:

Apr. 1896 | born, Whittemore, Iowa
between 1896 and 1906 | lived in Pine City, Minnesota
1906 | Moves to Wayne, Nebraska with her family
Graduates from High School and the State Normal
School (now Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska),
and teaches in and near Wayne
1920 | Her father, Edward Dorsett, dies
1920 | Moves to Longmont, Colorado with her mother,
Mrs. Ellen Dorsett (see above)
1920 | Named Librarian, Longmont Public Library
Jun 1921 | Re-elected Librarian by Longmont Library Board
Oct. 1922 | Leaves Longmont for Chicago, for a few months,
to be employed in a library while there
April 1924 | Undergoes medical operation
March 1926 | Resigns from Longmont Public Library

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Mystery began here ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~ There was no mention of her again, in the Longmont Ledger
~~~~ or in the minutes of the Library board. A new Librarian
~~~~ was appointed, Mrs. Rae. Kitely, in May, 1926.


Sep. 1926 | married to Edward F. Taylor, Julesburg, Colorado
1926 - 1936 | Lived in Ovid, Colorado where husband Edward was employed
with the Great Western Sugar Company
1935 - 1938 | Mother to three children (see above)
1936 | Taylor family moves to Ft. Collins, Colorado from Ovid,
Colorado
Aug 1942 | Goes to Phoeniz, Arizona for six weeks, presumably for
health reasons
Oct 1942 | Returns to Ft. Collins, enters county hospital,
condition complicated by pnemonia

References:

1. Longmont Public Library, 1907-2007, A Centennial History,
by Robert Nyboer, 2007, ISBN 13:978-0-615-14385-9

2. Longmont Ledger archives, available on microfilm at Longmont

3. Ft. Collins Express-Courier archives, available on microfilm
at Ft. Collins Library.

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