A Mystery Solved

My father never knew what happened to his brother Hamilton Redfield Norvell Jr, — shown below in one of  his only photos.

Perhaps not on the scale of what ever happened to Amelia Earhart, but in our family in many ways just as important. And certainly very convoluted in its own way.   About 1940 my uncle disappeared.  When I was a kid, that was all I knew.   For many years I had hoped to solve this puzzle, but with little luck.   And then. About two weeks ago I had the long-sought-for break through. But I get ahead of myself.

Hamilton Redfield Norvell Jr was born in 1892, nineteen years older than my dad. As a result my dad really didn’t know him well. By the time my dad was a grown man — “Ham,” or “Reddy” as he was sometimes called, was living in the Cleveland area. This was about all my dad knew. But there was a lot more to Ham’s story.

Ham first moved from the Buffalo area to Indiana where in 1917 he married Elizabeth Dorrier.   She is listed on his WWI draft registration record (a wife we never knew about). This didn’t last long then they appeared to divorce in 1921, appeared is the operative word in Ham’s case.

Next Ham pops up in Cleveland, where he married Estella Wolfe in 1922. They had two children – Lila and Genevieve. It was this family my dad knew about. Not the short-lived first marriage.   Then Ham abandoned them.  A letter from one of my dad’s aunts mentions him in about 1936 only in passing, but that is all. No clue where he was.

He next turns up in WWII registration materials in Toledo in 1942 with another wife. Their Ohio marriage document from 1940 lists him as a widower. As far as we know he was still married to Estella Wolfe Norvell.

His new wife was Mary Louise Heath. She was previously married to two other husbands: Norman Hope and Arthur Wood. She divorced Hope about 1928;  the marriage to Wood was short when he died in 1929 in an electrical accident.   Before their divorce Norman and Mary had a daughter in 1927, Margaret Cecilia Hope.

This fact was the key to solving my uncle Ham’s disappearance.

Margaret Hope’s marriage license record in 1947 shows her listed as Margaret Cecilia Hamilton — did a light bulb illuminate,  it did for me.  Hamilton.

Her birth parents were listed as Mary Louise Heath and Norman Hope.  However, the parents who gave consent for her underage marriage were Charles Hamilton and Mary (Heath) Hamilton.

Even better they had to sign the document.   It was an easy task to compare the word Hamilton on the marriage document to Ham’s WWI draft registration.   Both seemed to be signed by a left handed person and both were nearly identical in penmanship.

So there it was.  After 1942 when he vanished from Toledo uncle Ham began using the name Charles Hamilton, which is on the records in 1947.   A search of the Social Security records finds a Charles Hamilton aka Hamilton Redfield Norvell who died in Ohio in 1963, with the same birth date.  Mystery solved.

Mary Louise Heath Hope Wood Norvell later pops up in California where, using a different name Teresa A. Heath,  she married and divorced Francis R. Pople.   If there were any question, is it she, her parents and birthdate  are identical.  Further there is no record of her having a twin sister.   She died in 1987.

As stated perhaps not on the scale of Amelia Earhart but from our standpoint finally solved after 50 years of searching.

And much more satisfying.


About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Buffalo, Family History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Mystery Solved

  1. chmjr2 says:

    Good job of research. Do you have any thoughts on why he stayed away from his family?

  2. Carole says:

    That was a fascinating story that only you could solve. Carole

  3. Luanne @ TFK says:

    So was he a bigamist or is some info missing?

    • jenorv says:

      We do not know of any divorce with Estella, no one in her family ever heard that she got one. So I suspect yes he was married to the two women at the same time.

      • Luanne @ TFK says:

        I am beginning to think this was not all that uncommon. I have a similar situation in my family, it was on that ancestry TV show at one point, and I’ve read about it occasionally in genealogy articles.

  4. Jann Snyder says:

    You really look like your uncle!

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