"In this great future you can't forget your past" ~No Woman, No Cry, Bob Marley

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Benjamin SULLIVAN--A Mystery

Benjamin SULLIVAN:  father of my one of my maternal grandmothers (and two other children), husband of Margaret (MONROE) SULLIVAN, laborer, and mystery. Many have heard say or read mention of the fact that I have been feeling the tug of at least three Ancestors, Benjamin is one of those three (we’ll get to the others as time goes on, I promise).

Benjamin is someone for whom I have almost no information, and what I do have and know comes from census records, my grandmother’s birth certificate, a brief obituary notice, and his death certificate (which shares the same information found in the aforementioned records). No one living has any recollection of Benjamin, and based on what has been shared by his grandchildren his children did not talk about him very much, so very little was and is known. So, some might find it odd that there have been times during the feeling of tugging, it feels as though somewhere inside me, I can see his face—the face of a man whom I’ve never met, and of whom there are no known photographs. Here is what I know about my great grandfather, Benjamin.

I have been working to learn more about Benjamin, and seeking to learn the names of his parents off and on for roughly ten years; in that time I have, I admit, not gotten very far—he is buried deep, but shall, I hope be unearthed! He was born, based on ages in census enumerations and my grandmother’s birth certificate, between 1878 and 1881 in Missouri (probably Sedalia). According to information provided on my grandmother’s birth certificate Benjamin was 52 when she was born in 1932, making his year of 1880. I first find Benjamin in Snohomish County, Washington in 1900 working as a laborer and living as a border in a home. Whoever answered the enumerator’s questions gave his place of birth as Colorado. Whoa, Colorado—hmmm…? Okay, I talk this through with my Mom and myself, and try to make sense of this. I turn on-line records for Colorado, just to see what is available (and because I could not at the time take a trip to the state—besides, I wasn’t and still am not certain there is anything there for me—time will tell).
COLORADO: I discovered that a historical society for Colorado had a number of holdings that had been digitized (more have probably been so done since this time), among them some prison records, including mug shots of those who had been convicted of crimes. On a whim, I typed in the name Benjamin SULLIVAN and in under two seconds the site returned a “mulatto” Ben SULLIVAN who had served two years for burglary. He was 17 at the time of sentencing and was released in 1898; based on this, this individual was born about 1879. Could this be the same person? What did I have to lose? I ordered the record and a copy of the mug shot. The copy of the prison record describes this Ben as 17 years old, 5’7 ¼ inches tall, of slight build, and has “Mulatto” written across the sections for Complexion, Color of Eyes, and Color of Hair. His occupation is listed as “Laborer” and had a number of scars on his hands and above his left eye. His place of birth is listed as Fort Scott, Kansas—Kansas? Ah, but Sedalia, Missouri is fairly close to the Missouri/Kansas border; in fact, Fort Scott, Kansas and Sedalia, Missouri are separated by but just over 130 miles. Hmmmm….The mug shot received? Well since no one living knows what Benjamin looked like, relatives could only guess as to whether or not there was any resemblance between this young Benjamin and who would be his sons (Benjamin and Alfred) some years later.
WASHINGTON: As previously mentioned, Benjamin is found in Snohomish County, Washington in 1910. On 19 September 1910, he married Margaret MONROE in Everett, Snohomish County, Washington.  The witnesses, Belle GAINES and Henry CLAYTON were relatives of Margaret—her aunt, and her uncle via marriage. Their three children, Benjamin, Alfred, and Agnes (my grandmother) were born in King County, Washington. He died in Seattle, King County, Washington on 9 March 1938 as a result of false pneumonia. His age was listed as “about 60”, which would place his year of birth at 1878. No parents’ names are listed in the Colorado prison record (in fact, they are listed as deceased), nor are any parents names listed in the brief obituary (which lists his occupation as a plumber) or on the death certificate (which gives his place of birth as Sedalia, Missouri). I can account for Benjamin and family in city directories and in census records after his marriage.
While I am not certain I will ever learn the names of Benjamin’s parents, I hope to learn more about him and bring him from the depths of the unknown to the known and honor his story.
*Point of Curiosity/Interest: When examining the signature of Benjamin Sullivan on his marriage certificate in 1910 to that of the Benjamin Sullivan upon release from the Colorado Penitentiary in 1898, there appear to be some similarities. Below are the signatures:


  1. It seems as if all of us have that mysterious relative! Good luck on your search!

    1. Yes, so true, Ms. Erlaine! Amazing how many mysterious folks there are in our trees :) . Thank you, and I hope you make gains with your mystery or mysteries.

  2. Great story! I love a good mystery. :) It would be great if you could post the 2 signatures so people could help you compare.

  3. Thank you so much, Nia Jai! I'm wondering what more can be uncovered and learned; I am sure there is something--smile. Great idea about posting the signatures so that folks can compare. I'll try to do that; I tried to upload the mug shot, but for some reason it wouldn't work the day I did this post. Thanks for reading, commenting, and the great suggestion!

  4. Wow great researching. I am also researching Ben Sullivan, my grandfather Ben Jr.s father. I recall many visits with grandma Margaret but I was too young to ask about Ben then. My mother tells me that he died from being frozen. He passed out from drinking and was in the road side water all night and froze. I was able to find the he worked for Seattle City Light and I have reached out to thier archive folks. I would love to see the picture. My mom would know if it was her grandfather. Reach out to me. Geminichick425@yahoo.com Moniqueka Thrower

    1. Hi, Moniqueka,
      Thank you. We have met, we are cousins :) Gerald was my grandfather. Benjamin, father of Agnes, Benjamin and Alfred, died in 1938 or so of false pneumonia, I found the newspaper obit some time back.
      I'm so glad that you are researching him as well! Please feel free to email me at honoringourhistory@live.com!

  5. Wow great research. Ben was my great grandfather. My mom tells me that he died from being frozen. He fell down and passed out drink on the side of the road in the water and froze. I have learned that he worked at Seattle City Light and have reached out to them. I would love to see the picture, my mom would know if it was him or if her father looked like him. Reach out to me. 425-891-2886 Moniqueka Thrower


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