Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Happened To Delilah?

Family research can be both exciting and frustrating at the same time. This is vividly illustrated by the story of Delilah Ann (Phillips) Champion.  She and her husband, Francis A. Champion, were my great grandparents. Their identity had been completely lost over the years until much of their life story was found in the files of the National Archives in Washington.
According to the National Archive documents, Francis died in 1879 from complications of injuries he sustained in 1861 in the Civil War.  After his injury, Francis was disabled and unable to provide much support for his wife and ten chldren.  After his death, Delilah applied to the U.S. Government for a Civil War Widow’s Pension.  In typical fashion, the government allowed the application to become ensnarled in a bureaucratic quagmire and the pension was never granted.  See Anxious To Get Away From Here for a more detailed description of the pension fiasco.  
By 1884 Delilah’s life was a mess.  Her disabled husband had died; seven of her ten children had died; two of her three living children had been sent to an orphanage; Washington was treating her Civil War pension application with bureaucratic finesse until it was eventually denied; and most of her attorneys working on the pension application seemed to be adept at foot dragging.   It is no wonder that Delilah lamented in her June 16, 1884 letter to the U.S. Pension Commissioner that she was “anxious to get away from here.”  
Discovering the existence of Delilah and Francis was exhilarating. My grandfather, John Franklin Champion, was one of the two placed in the orphanage and he had almost no memory of his parents.  The National Archive documents show that Francis died in June, 1879 in Pemiscot County, Missouri although we’ve not been able to locate his grave.  The facts and circumstances of Delilah’s death on the other hand remains a complete mystery.  We do not know when she died, her place of death or the circumstances of her death.  We know that she was still living in Pemiscot County in March, 1886 because we have a notarized signature of hers on an official document submitted to the Pension Office.  We have copies of letters to the Pension Office from her attorneys as late as 1887 and we have copies of internal Pension Office documents dated in November, 1898 closing the file.  Under most circumstances, the next U.S. Census would be enlightening but, unfortunately, the 1890 Census burned in a 1921 fire in Washington.  I’ve not been able to find Delilah in the 1900 Census which is a good indication that she had died by then.  It is possible of course that she had another surname due to remarriage but I’ve found no record of a marriage license.  I’ve searched all online records of Pemiscot County cemeteries and came up empty there.
There was a time that I thought I’d never locate my Champion great grandparents but the success I’ve had with that spurs me on to be diligent and tenacious in my searches so I still maintain hope that eventually I can report back to you that I’ve found Delilah’s grave, gravestone (if one exists) and the circumstances of her death.

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