This picture is of my great-grand aunts and uncle Fuller who lived at the time of the picture in Otho, Iowa. There is no date listed, but I assume it is around 1903 because my great-grandmother Alta was married in 1904 and I don’t think she would have posed for a family photo after her marriage. There has been a mystery surrounding this family that is appropriate to this week’s topic, “Fresh Starts”, which involves Irene Estelle, the youngest daughter.
Shortly after the family moved from Iowa to Hubbard County, MN, two new siblings joined their family. An adopted son, Robert Steven, and a daughter Ruth, who was born in 1908. Now the mother of these children would have been 50 in 1908, so it seems a bit improbable that she was the biological mother of said Ruth. Family rumor always had it that Ruth was Fern’s illegitimate baby and her parents just adopted it – which wasn’t unusual at the time to avoid scandal.
Now Fern had somewhat of an independent streak – she either stayed in Iowa when her family moved to Minnesota, or moved back to Fort Dodge shortly after to marry Clarence Kingsley in 1909. She divorced Kingsley around 1923 as she was listed in the 1925 Iowa census as being divorced, living in Cedar Rapids, with 2 years of college under her belt. By 1926 she had married again, up in Hubbard County, MN to an Albert Murk, at the age of 39. She ended up staying in Hubbard County, having a daughter in 1930 (at the age of 43), until her death in 1944.
You might wonder why I’ve given so much detail to someone other than the subject of this post. I wanted to give you some background on why I think Fern did what she did to give her baby sister, Irene, a “fresh start”. It started with my need to verify the birthdate and place of Ruth. Difficult to say the least because illegitimate births weren’t always recorded. More family lore was that Ruth was born in Iowa City, Johnson County, Iowa which was unusual since that county is in southeastern Iowa and the Fullers lived in Northwestern Iowa. Luckily my mom worked for Johnson County and was able to call the vital records department – bingo! There was a record of “Fern Fuller, born 28 Jan 1908 to Irene Fuller”. Huh? Did that mean that it was Irene, not Fern that was the mother of “Ruth”? The birthdate of the mother was given as 29 Jul 1890 – the same as Irene Fuller so she would have been 17 years old at the time. Did Fern take the heat for the illegitimate birth for her sister all those years so Irene could have a fresh start?
If that was the case, it makes me so impressed at the strength of sisterly love and at the stigma Fern had to face for the rest of her life. I guess I’ll never know all the details of this family secret but Irene did indeed get a fresh start – she married Alfred Kallstrom in 1914 and together they had 5 children in Hubbard County, MN. I imagine she saw her sister often and wonder if they ever spoke behind closed doors about their mutual secret.