A Note to My Readers: Genealogists understand that researching entire families, siblings, in-laws, aunts and uncles and cousins more often than not reveal the human history of our ancestors and indeed are likely to break down brick walls. In my nascent days of genealogical research, I called this kind of research “sideways”. I believe the scholarly term is “indirect evidence”. I still say “sideways” out of habit, but I am finally channeling my instinctive and self-taught methods into developing a more academic approach to accepted standards set by the Board for Certification of Genealogists®
I may need more than a modicum of patience for myself and the discipline of BCG reportage. Still I have learned a great deal from historians, archivists and fellow genealogists and the satisfaction of continuing to improve on my knowledge and skills keeps it all so very interesting.
And, pardon the pun. Relative.
The Long Lost Son. Walter George Lounsbury (aka Downing).
For several years I was trying to find out what happened to Medorah Rogers, daughter of the prominent veterinary surgeon from the village of Cayuga and Rochester, NY and his wife Mary J. Downing. Medorah had a son, Walter George, but due to a misspelling of her his last name (Longsby) an error in transcription in the 1875 New York State Census, I could not find her or her family. Today I discovered that the name was Lounsbury not Longby and with that I was able to create the life and circumstances of Walter George Lounsbury Rogers Downing.
As is my practice, I often go back to enigmas and check to see if I might find a new source of information that has come to light. This time it was to once again see if I could find out what happened to Medorah Rogers Longsby and her son Walter George. Medorah is an unusual given name and using it and the advantage of Soundex, there might be hope for discovery. I have been back to these individuals countless times with no luck, but if I have one trait, it is tenacity. Or maybe I am just a cock-eyed optimist. It paid off when I found Walter’s death claim and the complicated research data came together.
U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
||Walter George Lounsbury
||28 Oct 1874
||Tonawanda, New York
|Type of Claim
|Signature on SSN Card
|Relationship of Signature
||Signature name differs from NH’s name.
||May 1937: Name listed as WALTER GEORGE LOUNSBURY
|Walter George Lounsbury
It was time to work backward and sideways. Create a timeline and analyze my research. Still using my own wonky vocabulary as you see.
How and why did Walter George Lounsbury become Walter Downing?
According to his Social Security record, Walter was born in 1874 in Tonawanda, Erie county, New York. His professional biographies state that he was born in Rochester, New York. The confusion is understandable since Walter’s father, George, was from Tonawanda and his mother from Rochester. Sometime shortly after his birth, his mother died. His father moved back to his hometown of Tonawanda, working as an Express agent or ‘cartman’ and traveled constantly. He left Walter with his late wife’s parents, Dr. George G. Rogers and Mary J. Downing in Rochester, New York. Walter’s father continued on with his occupation and subsequently remarried and adopted a young German orphan girl, naming her Carrie after his sister. Walter was raised by his mother’s parents in Rochester, New York.
In the New York State Census of 1875 the infant boy was enumerated in his grandparents’ Rochester, New York household as their grandson, Walter G. (transcribed incorrectly as Longby which I have since reported to Ancestry.com).
Walter continued to live with his grandparents and was enumerated in the 1880 Federal Census in Rochester, New York as their 6 year old son “Walter G. Rogers”. In the New York State 1892 Census, Walter was living with his now widowed grandmother in Rochester and still enumerated as her son, “Walter G. Rogers”.
When Walter G. Rogers married Katherine Ellsworth on October 15, 1897 in Rochester, New York, the marriage license listed his parents as George and Mary Downing Rogers and he was an insurance agent. By 1900 Walter had relocated to Auburn, Cayuga, New York living on 87 East Genesee Street with his mother, Mary J. and a second wife enumerated as Mary, an actress. George continued selling insurance.
After his mother Mary died in 1902, Walter G. Rogers left Auburn and I chased him by all three surnames all over country. Born circa 1874 in New York State. Parents born in New York State. Occupation: Insurance. Wife: Mary who was an actress. I found some promising information here and there, but nothing with that ‘slam dunk’ factor.
Since Walter’s social security records confirmed that he also used the surname of DOWNING, his maternal grandmother’s last name as his ‘stage name’, I went searching and found one Walter Downing. Actor. In Hollywood. With a wife named Augusta. An actor that was in bit parts…mostly in ‘oaters’.
Working backward, in the 1930 Federal Census I found a stage actor named Walter Downing born in New York circa 1874 with parents who were born in New York , but with a wife, Augusta. Just possibilities, so I went into industry sources to find more on Walter Downing.
Walter Downing’s IMDB bio states:
Walter Downing was born on October 28, 1874 in Rochester, New York, USA. He was an actor, known for Two-Fisted Sheriff (1937), The Hidden Light (1920) and One Man Justice (1937). He died on December 21, 1937 in Hollywood, California, USA.
The bio also indicates that he began his film career in 1915 though I found him in Broadway productions in the 1920’s. So Walter was bi-coastal.
His brief biography in “The Stars of Hollywood Forever” by Tony L.Scott fills in more information which indicated that Walter was in New York City performing.
DOWNING, Walter (b. October 28,1874 Rochester, NY d. December 21, 1937 Hollywood, CA- Veteran western actor, Downing appeared in two Broadway productions: “Taboo“ in 1922 starring Paul Robeson and Ruth Taylor and “The 19th Hole“ starring Marion Abbott, Kitty Kelly and Howard Sidney.
Subsequent research into film titles in “The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures;
Walter Downing as ‘Newspaper Editor Bill’ in “Kentucky Blue Streak”
Feature Films (1931 -1940)” include Walter’s listing in such films as “Helldorado“(1934), “Kentucky Blue Streak” (1935), “Code of the Range“(1936), “Two Fisted Sheriff” (1937) and ironically, “The Case of the Missing Man“(1935). “Kentucky Blue Streak” is available to view online at no cost. Walter is cast as ‘newspaper editor Bill’.
In a 1920 Broadway show cast list, Walter Downing was cast as ‘Chief of Police’ in the comedy production of “Outside Looking In” starring James Cagney.
And what about “The Lost Son”?
Walter was never lost. He never ran away from home. He always lived with his mother’s parents and without much doubt spent time with his uncle, Edgar O. Rogers, the great showman and actor from Rochester, New York. His father couldn’t have failed to know exactly where his son was. Dr. Rogers was prominent in his field of veterinary surgery specializing in horses and was listed in Rochester directories for all to see. After the death of Walter’s grandmother, it seems logical that the reason I lost track of him after 1902 was that he was offered a position with his uncle’s traveling emporium of actors and circus entertainment. Edgar’s wife who was a celebrated actress and his business partner died suddenly in 1903 and uncle and nephew found comfort together as a newly minted family and show business entity. Goodbye, insurance and hello to the hurly burly of limelight and the romance of stage plays and life on the road.
All The Life’s A Stage
My favorite area to research is old newspapers. When I had nailed down the primary sources of censuses and death records and directories and noted secondary sources for further research, I settled down to the tried and true method of boolean searching for Walter George Lounsbury Rogers (on occasion Rodgers) Downing. Two newspaper articles popped up concerning one George A. Lounsbury of Tonawanda who ‘found his long lost son’ in 1905. Walter would have been on the road with E. O. Rogers at most only three years at that time.
North Tonawanda NY Evening News 6 Oct 1905
According to the article, George thought Walter had died until one day in 1905 he read the posted bills of E. O. Rogers Repertoire Company that was posted in a public place with the words ‘under the management of Walter G. Lounsbury’ and in a flash of recognition, found his long lost son. What no doubt caught his attention was the fact that his son was listed as managing his uncle’s traveling acting troupe. George Lounsbury would have known his brother-in-law and putting two and two together and approaching his 60th year, he wanted to see his ‘long lost’ son.
Walter died in 1937 and is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery (formerly Hollywood Memorial Cemetery). Walter’s wife Augusta died in 1944. There is no evidence that Walter had any children from any of his marriages.
Author’s Note: Mary J. Downing Rogers is the sister of my maternal 3rd great grandmother. She and her husband, Dr. George G. Rogers are buried in Lakeview Cemetery in the Village of Cayuga. The research is the ‘easy’ part. The ‘fun’ part for me. I travel the individual’s history with them in kind of a time machine and always with a sense of visiting family. My imagination and my practical fact finder detective brain work that way together. Note taking and citing are on autopilot. It is when I have to abandon my time machine and report the work academically that I chafe. All those citations.
Deborah J. Martin-Plugh
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