Saturday, November 7, 2015

Surprise...FOIA records from the VA

Over a year ago I submitted a FOIA request to the VA for a copy of the pension file for Harl Cain, who served in the First Battery, US Field Artillery from 1901-1904. In October 2014, I wrote about the exchange with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, and my inquiry to the VA Regional Office in Baltimore. I had not received a response from this inquiry, and honestly I had given up on receiving anything further from the VA. Yesterday a box arrived via UPS from the VA Baltimore Office, containing an inch-thick file of records on the pension file of Harl Cain. This was quite a surprise.

Harl was the brother of my 2nd-great-grandmother Mary Alice Cain Read, and was born on 16 June 1879 in Glasgow, Barren County, Kentucky. Like his Uncle Robert Foster Flatt did during the Civil War, Harl took the first opportunity to join the Army in 1901 during the Spanish American War. He enlisted on 31 August 1901 at Louisville, Kentucky and was shipped off to Camp Atascadero, California. His company never left California, and Harl decided to stay there too. He was discharged on 30 August 1904, and less than two months later married Anna Elizabeth Schnebele Brautlacht in Siskiyou County, California.

When Harl enlisted in the Army at the age of 22, he provided his sister Mary Alice as the emergency contact, at her address in Glasgow, Kentucky. For physical features, he had blue eyes, dark brown hair, a dark complexion and was nearly 5' 8".

Just to show that records relying on the memory can be misleading, in a 1930 claim for a pension increase, Harl wrote that he married Anna on 16 September 1904. This is an error, according to the marriage certificate from Siskiyou County (which I have), they were married on 16 October 1904. He was also off by a month on the birth dates for his children.

In a 1934 correspondence with the VA Claims Department of California, Harl provided a statement that after leaving Louisville, his unit was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco.

Curiously, the file includes correspondence from Anna Elizabeth Cain dated 12 June 1939 asking the Pension Office if Harl was drawing a pension for his wife. She says that she "had not lived with him for 14 years and certainly deserves some of it if he is as they are not divorced." Anna was living with her son John Alvin Cain in Mowich, Oregon. She died on 4 July 1947 in Modoc, California, still going by her married name Cain.

Harl later married Leeta V. Gordon in Washoe County, Nevada (this is not listed in the pension file).

The most interesting document in the file related to my present search for information on the father of Harl and Mary Alice Cain, was a clinical record dated 4 March 1953. The record describes Harl's patient history. At the time, he was 74 years old. His past history was recorded as follows: "Occupation: Laborer. Military History: 1901-1904. Denies any illnesses or wounds suffered while in the service. Childhood illnesses: Mumps, measles before the age of 15. Denies any scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough, chicken pox, rheumatic fever, typhoid fever, pneumonia...Habits: Two cigars per day, denies any drinking for the past 35 years. Family History: Father died age 30 accident, mother died age 30 of childbirth. History of his family as known: Married 1904, spouse died 1925. Two children, one died of wounds suffered during WWII, daughter age 43 living and well. Married 1951 present spouse in good health. Inventory by systems essentially negative save for the present illness."

This description contains some errors. Harl's mother, Nancy Jane Flatt, died in 1894, and was either 39 or 40, not 30. His first wife, Anna, had died in 1947, not 1925 (although perhaps they separated in 1925). Harl's son John died in 1951 in San Francisco and is buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery.

I think it is likely that Harl's father died about age 30. Nancy Jane remarried in October 1884 to Pleasant Morgan, so if he died between 1880-1884 then he would have been born around 1850-1854. This would have made him fairly close in age to Nancy Jane, who was born about 1855. I still do not have a first name for the mysterious Mr. Cain.

I am glad the pension file finally arrived, the few bits of additional information are useful and provide more clues into the early family life of Harl and Mary Alice Cain in Barren County, Kentucky.

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