The Mystery of Eli Owen

Eli Owen was born in July 1831 in Liverpool, England, or so he told a census taker in 1880. He never mentioned his parents on any official record during the duration of his life in the United States. On a census record it notes that he came to the country in the mid-1840s but it doesn’t say which part of the country he came into. There has been no official record of Eli Owen’s existence found prior to his joining up with the Union Army in Maine in 1864. Eli Owen is what you might call a genealogical brick wall. But what we do know about the man makes for a very interesting story.

Eli Owen noted the year and the month of his birth most commonly as July 1831. There is no birth record for an Eli Owen in Liverpool in that month. There is a record of a Christening of an Eli Owen on 24 October 1831 but we can’t be sure this is the same person. The Christening took place at Wesleyan Methodist, Cadishead, Lancashire, England. The parents of the boy who was Christened were noted as Jos. Owen and Ellen.

Between his birth in 1831 and his enlistment in the 29th Infantry Regement of Maine’s B Company in 1864 there is no record of his existence. The slate is completely clean, save that on his enlistment record he claims residence in Anson, ME. Only a few people could possibly know what happened to Eli Owen during the first 32 years of his life and they are all dead.

When he returned from the war in 1866 he presumably remained within the confines of Maine until 1867 when he married a girl by the name of Jane Steward in Lewiston, ME. Here would have been the ultimate clue. On the marriage records for every other state in the Northeast parents were listed for each party but not in Maine. There was still no information about where Eli Owen had come from.

By 1870 Eli and Jane had sired two children: Eliza and Anna. They had moved from Maine to Rockport, MA. Eli was working as a weaver. They didn’t stay in Rockport for long.

Between December 1873 and July 1878 the Owens added three more children to their brood but all of them were born in Rhode Island. Some time between 1870 and 1873 Eli had picked up his family and moved them south to 87 Sherburne Street in Providence. The only records of these children (Andrew, Ellen, and George) are their birth records and the 1880 census. After that they just disappear. There is no record of their deaths. No record they ever married. Nothing.

By the mid 1880s the two eldest daughters were living in Falmouth, MA, though their parents, and presumably, any living brothers and sisters, were still at Sherburne Street in Providence. On December 29, 1887 Eliza married a local guy by the name of Joseph Baker. He was a fisherman from Yarmouth. They had at least five children before they divorced in 1919.

Anna married a Baker too, in 1893, Joseph’s brother, and then after leaving him, married another Baker, from another Baker family in 1900.

Back in Providence, in 1881, Jane Steward Owen succumbed to illness and died. Eli Owen, at some point between 1881 and 1900, went to live in the Soldier’s Home in Bristol where he died on May 5, 1901.

Eliza Owen Baker’s daughter Edna married Bass River born and bred Charles Clark. Their second son Earl Davis Clark had three daughters and one son of his own, Earl Donald Clark. Earl Donald Clark had two sons. One of them was me.

Confused? I wouldn’t blame you if you were. Just re-read it and when you’re done, go on to the next paragraph.

You see, there’s a lot of wondering that goes on in the minds of people who keep online journals, of people who keep journals in general. Why am I doing this? What is the point? Aren’t I just wasting time? The answer is, “No. You’re not.”

If Eli Owen had kept a journal, (and of course we can’t be sure that he didn’t, even though if one was written, it has never been found,) we might know an awful lot more about him. Of all of the relatives I have researched in my time at the various libraries I have visited, Eli Owen is the ancestor who always leaves me hanging. He’s the elusive missing link of my family history. If only he had left a few choice words behind.

When I get down on myself for not accomplishing anything with my day, I look at this journal, and remember the mysterious Eli Owen, and I resign myself to the fact that by simply putting fingers to keys, or pen to paper, I have accomplished a great deal more than many others have.