“Pop”: My Grandfather Was Adopted? Part I

Or so I had been told on more than one occasion. One that I particularly remember was on an infrequent visit to Dover, NJ, where my father had been born, raised, and eventually left for WWII.

My mother had died the previous fall and in the spring of 1983 my father and I drove together up the east coast where he had made his retirement home in Georgia, to the very northernmost border of Maine where the oldest of my five brothers was then living and teaching. This was truly my trip of a lifetime; we traveled for a month, on both the way up the coast and the way down, we stopped and stayed a few days with my Dad’s younger sister, my Aunt Irene, and her husband, my Uncle Seth Ely. This was my third, and my last visit to Dover since we moved away when I was a toddler; we’d been back once in 1956 on our way to an overseas assignment, and once in 1959 on our way back from an overseas assignment. In the interim, my grandfather, Howard Searing Davenport, Sr. had died, in 1958 at the age of 67. The last time I saw my grandfather was in 1956; I was 11, I asked no questions.

During one of those 1983 visits, my aunt, my father, and I spent the day visiting the several cemeteries where some of my ancestors and relatives had been buried. Although at the time I didn’t know how long it would end up being before I overcame my inertia, my career, and my own children to actually give family history a serious thought, I was interested enough to take a few notes and even to find them 25 years later when that time came.

One of the things I was told that day, by my aunt, was that my grandfather had been “adopted” and that he had said that no one would be able to find his family. I took this statement at face value, although it seemed a little odd given that we knew that my grandfather’s middle name, Searing, was his mother’s maiden name.

When time to get serious about family history came, it was time to address this puzzle of the man who was my paternal grandfather, the man everyone called “Pop”…. his children, his grandchildren, his wife. My memories are few, but he is always “Pop”, the family is always middle class America, salt of the earth, hardworking, never wealthy, never wanting.


My Uncle, Carlton R. Davenport, my aunt, Irene Davenport Ely, My grandmother, Elsie Ann Ike Davenport, my grandfather, Howard Searing Davenport, Sr., my father, Howard Searing Davenport, Jr. circa 1942

An initial search for my grandfather, probably done on day one of my free Ancestry trial since he was one of the grand total of three of my ancestors whose entire name I actually knew, brought up little. I found him first on registration cards for both WWI and WWII, already married to my grandmother.

pop1917draft popww2draft

But, now I know one thing I didn’t know before: a probable birthdate, and it has been entered the same on both draft cards: 5 Jun 1891.

I find a likely Pop, age 9, in the 1900 US Census, with a stepfather, James Dugan and two older sisters, Jennie and Stella.


In 1910, Howard is the only remaining of Mary’s children with Mary and husband James Dugan:


By 1920, Howard is married to my grandmother and they have a five year old son, my uncle Cart aka Carlton R. Davenport b 1915. By this time any mystery is history, and an online search of Morris County Probates has told me that my grandfather had been executor of Mary Dugan’s 1931 probate. Voila!

It’s a crapshoot, but I decide to look at this family a bit more closely, and, to explore the idea that Pop’s mother was Mary Searing Davenport Dugan, and, I begin to patch together a family. First, I want a Mary Searing who marries a Davenport, so, I look at Marys married to anyone with surname Davenport. I admit, I am flying by the seat of my pants, but at this time, and given New Jersey, I had nothing but bare minimums to go on; New Jersey State Census results were not yet online and New Jersey BMD records, in any form, had not yet been released. I was not able, and never will be able to travel to New Jersey. If I were, I’d need a chauffeur because I remember the New Jersey traffic of 1983 as hair raising. No New Jersey for this Idaho grandma, New Jersey does not consider birth, marriage, death and other records to be public records, at the time there was no way at all to search any of them online. I had and have, no funds to hire a researcher, no chance to “present in person” at the NJ State Archives……..which is what they require for records 1878-1914.

So…searching for a Mary who might have been a  Searing married to a Davenport, I find my most likely suspect to be the Mary, wife of Stiles  Davenport, whom I first notice  in the 1880 US Census with an infant son, Charles.


Stiles is also found in 1860 with his parents and siblings and in 1870 as a single farm laborer.

So….I go looking for a Mary Searing who would have been about 17 in 1880. And I find one prime candidate……..Mary C. Searing who is the daughter of Lewis G Searing and his wife, known (to me) for a couple of years only as “Phoebe”…another mystery.


In 1880 Mary is gone from Lewis’s household.

So, at this time I have a stepfather, James Dugan, a mother, Mary, and children, in 1900, Stella, Jennie, Howard, with an older son, Charles, probably having already flown the nest. And, I mark time by looking at those children and find some more supporting evidence that I have the right family. Charles, I find essentially not one of many Charles Davenports who seems to have a concrete connection to this family; Charles is, at this point essentially lost to history. Howard,or as I knew him “Pop” I now know was not adopted, but was raised from infancy by his natural mother, Mary Searing Davenport Dugan and stepfather, James Dugan. Among the mysteries, the fate of Stiles Davenport.

And, the clue to what happened to the two sisters, Estella and Jennie, lies in what I see in the US Census in the household of Mary Searing Davenport Dugan and later in the household of the widowed James Dugan: in 1930 Mary and James have with them a grandson, William Babcock, age 13; in 1940 Mary Is deceased but in the household with James Dugan is “step grandson” William Babcock, his young wife Ella, and a baby William Babcock, age 1. Backtracking tells me that in 1920 a 21/2 year old William Babcock, birthplace CT had been a nephew in the household of Jennie and James Wright, and that in 1910, Estella (24), Clarence DeWitt Babcock(33) and Clarence’s daughter, Ruth(12) were living in Fairfield, CT.

So this part of this tale is about to come to a temporary end as of about 2010. At that time I have no idea I’m about to be blessed some supporting evidence in the form of records and a shocking contact with an unknown cousin followed much later by some icing on the cake that would be the indirect result of the Ancestry DNA test I’d be taking in the Spring of 2013.


Registration State: New Jersey; Registration County: Morris; Roll: 1712356; Draft Board:

Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

Original data: United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library microfilm.

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of New Jersey; State Headquarters: New Jersey; Microfilm Series: M1509

Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

Year: 1900; Census Place: Morris, Morris, New Jersey; Roll: 988; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0064; FHL microfilm: 1240988

Year: 1910; Census Place: Morristown Ward 1, Morris, New Jersey; Roll: T624_902; Page: 20B; Enumeration District: 0026; FHL microfilm: 1374915

Year: 1880; Census Place: Mendham, Morris, New Jersey; Roll: 793; Family History Film: 1254793; Page: 183D; Enumeration District: 121; Image: 0088

Year: 1870; Census Place: Morristown, Morris, New Jersey; Roll: M593_877; Page: 284A; Image: 572; Family History Library Film: 552376

Year: 1910; Census Place: Bridgeport, Fairfield, Connecticut; Roll: T624_129; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 0052; FHL microfilm: 1374142

Year: 1920; Census Place: Morristown Ward 2, Morris, New Jersey; Roll: T625_1060; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 35; Image: 1030

Year: 1930; Census Place: Hanover, Morris, New Jersey; Roll: 1373; Page: 17B; Enumeration District: 0024; Image: 721.0; FHL microfilm: 2341108

Year: 1940; Census Place: Morris, Morris, New Jersey; Roll: T627_2372; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 14-65


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s