Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Widow Pensions - The widow of William Harney

I decided to do a search for the "Beem" surname in's database of Civil War Widows' Pensions. The database is incomplete, and I really didn't expect to find anything of significance to me. I was in for a surprise that kept me going the rest of the afternoon!

One Lewis C. Beem is named in the widow's pension application for the widow of William H. Harney. The first document I saw was a marriage record for Lewis Beem to Catherine J. Harney. Knowing that my gr-gr-grandfather, Elbridge Beem, had a brother named Lewis, my curiosity got the better of me, naturally, so I went back to read the entire pension application.

William Harney married Katy J. Tallman in Shelby County, Illinois in 1859. In February 1862, he enlisted in Company H of the Illinois 54th Infantry. He died from the measles on May 25th, 1862.

The marriage record for Catherine J. Tallman and Lewis C. Beem is included in the pension application. How, then, did Catherine draw a widow's pension in the 1900's if she married Lewis Beem in 1859? Further reading brought me to a divorce decree. In it, Katy states that Lewis abandoned her in December of 1880, running off to California to join one Alice Tallman, who had already abandoned her husband. Katy was left with two children, William and Cyrus, to support by herself. In addition to leaving Katy with the two children to raise, Lewis had withdrawn their life savings, amounting to $500. He also left her with debts of approximately $1,000. Creditors were threatening to take the 43 acre farm from her, but she was able to secure a loan to pay off those debts.

Lewis and Alice lived together in California, and after six months, Alice filed for divorce from her husband in the California courts. At the time Katy made her statement in Shelby County court, the divorce proceedings between Alice Tallman and her husband had not been completed. At any rate, Katy was granted the divorce on grounds of abandonment, and granted rights to the property that she and Lewis had owned during their marriage.

Because of the divorce, the pension board granted Katy's request to have her widow's pension reinstated. She later moved to Arkansas, where she died on May 17, 1928.

More research is needed to determine whether Alice's divorce was granted. The 1900 census of Oakland, California lists Lewis and Alice as husband and wife, so one could assume the divorce was granted. Is there an official marriage record for Lewis Beem and Alice Tallman, or was this a common law marriage?

It is also interesting to note that Alice's first marriage was to a Tallman, which is Catherine (Katy's) maiden name. More research is needed to determine their relationship, if any.

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