Agnes Ellen Gurney born 12 October 1867 in Pepperell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts to Mary Williams Orcutt and Henry Ebenezer Gurney, went missing in 1880 at the age of 12 years old.
The portrait above was taken about 1874 when Agnes was seven years old before she and her mother (Mary Williams Orcutt) left New England for Iowa.
Luckily, for generations that followed, she wrote down memories from her childhood. In her story, she gives an event by event account of the years leading up to 1880 and the years following with little factual details such as dates and full names.
Her narrative is like reading a trail of breadcrumbs. Feeling very much like Gretel, I follow.
The nagging question I must answer is where was 12 years old Agnes during the 1880 United States Federal Census?
I found her mother in the census living in Charles City, Iowa teaching. She was living alone and suffered from tuberculosis on and off again.
According to Agnes’s account:
“After teaching for several years in Osage, my mother taught in Charles City, Iowa, and I was sent to stay with my mother’s cousin Bina in Indianapolis where I attended school….The next year I went to Charles City to be with Mama.”
From the information above, this is a no-brainer. In Agnes’s story, she states living with Bina and her husband in Indianapolis for a year. Easy, right?
Maybe my dating is off? Agnes mentions only a few dates.
I can place everyone in her family and the people from her narrative in the 1880 US Federal Census. However, Agnes appears to have gone missing.
Here is what I do know:
- In the Fall of 1876 Agnes and her mother leave Massachusetts for Iowa.
Her mother worked in Osage, Iowa until about 1879.
- Agnes’s mother gets a teaching job in Charles City, Iowa and Agnes goes to live with her distant cousin Albina Jenkins Warne for about a year.
- Agnes returns to her mother in the spring of 1881.
- Her mother becomes very ill, and they stay in Osage on their way to Stacyville until Mary is strong enough to travel.
- Mary’s doctor thought she did not have long to live, so Mary arranged for Agnes to be adopted by a local family the Douglasses. I have the adoption document. It is dated 9 May 1881.
- Mary lives, and in the fall of 1881, they return to New England for a visit along with Mrs. Douglass.
- Mary did not fare well in New England and quickly returned to Iowa with Agnes.
They stayed with the Charles Penny family where Mary died 26 December 1881.
- Sad story, I know.
You may ask, “Did you check all known relatives and friends households in the 1880 Census?”
I can answer “Yes.” I found everyone in Agnes’s life in the census for that year. She is not listed with anyone including her cousin Albina Jenkins Warne with whom she had gone to live. The census date at the residence of Albina was 2 June 1880.
My best guess at this moment is Agnes was in transit to or from Indiana at the time census takers knocked on doors.
Am I satisfied? No. Will I keep looking? You bet.
What kind of mysteries in your ancestral tree is baffling to you? I would love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading.
J. R. Lowe