James Lingenfelter

12 October 1858 – 20 August 1927

James Lingenfelter was born in Montgomery, New York to a family of native New York Staters. He was the third youngest of eight children (five boys and three girls), and when he was five years old, his father died or perhaps abandoned the family forever. In any case, he is gone from the lives of his wife Ellen and their children.

In the 1865 New York State census, James, his siblings, and his mother are living with Mama’s elderly widowed father, the youngest sibling’s age given as 0. Whatever happened to Papa (and one suspects most charitably that he died in the Civil War but I can find no record of Papa at all, at least not one that ties a Lingenfelter casualty to Ellen), the family continues on from this first glimpse in the census records without him.

The family is still all living together in 1870 sans grandpapa who I suspect has also since passed away. Oldest brother Abram is working as a tin-peddler, second oldest brother Fredrick is a laborer, and oldest sister Sarah is working as a dress maker. All are doing their part to support the little family and help bring up the younger siblings.

But by the 1875 New York census, James is out on his own, living and working as a farmhand at the age of 15, in Fulton, way upstate from his Montgomery birthplace.

In 1880, James is back in Montgomery working as a laborer and living on his own, and here is where the lost 1890 census would REALLY come in handy because his movements are a mystery to us for the next twenty years without it. There is no 1892 listing for him on the New York census either which suggests he had left the state by then.

We next find James in 1900, living in Chicago on Kinzie Street with his younger brother William who is married with two children. James and William are working as steam fitters. Knowing James’ peripatetic lifestyle, one wonders if William helped James get the job, giving his single, wandering older brother a helping hand.

In 1910, James is living as a boarder, listing his age as 46 (which I always wonder if things like that are mistakes or attempts to stay employable or just younger as time passes), and still working as a steamfitter.

Our last glimpse of James is a pleasant one. He has his own home, mortgaged, and is working as a farm manager (I cannot tell for sure if he has given himself this title for his own farm or if he is living in his own home and working for someone else as a manager but I suspect the latter). He’s sixty years old and never married, but finally — after so many years of moving from place to place, renting, boarding, never having his own thing — he has his own place out in the countryside of DuPage County.

His death record is the most confusing thing I found. While his age wobbled all over the place on the censuses, his birth year is listed as 1859 on the headstone, but the death record says October 1858. It could be whoever ordered the headstone went from what they knew. We can see from the emblem etched on it that he was an Oddfellow, so perhaps his membership information had the often listed rounded-up birth year on it.

The death record also lists his occupation as steamfitter. I do hope that wasn’t the case and that he wasn’t forced to return to such hard work in his late 60s as well as to the city. I liked to picture Old Man James puttering around on his farm! I am hopeful that this was simply a listing of his last pre-retirement job or that William (who I presume handled this sad task) took a “once a steam-fitter, always a steam-fitter!” Union Strong position on filling in that bit of information.

352 N LockwoodIt appears, however, that despite my hopes for Farmer James, most likely due to age or infirmity, he did have to leave his farm and return to Chicago. When he died, he was living in an apartment just off of Kinzie, around the corner from his little brother William who all these years later is still in the same neighborhood but has his own home. The building where James lived at the time of his death was still there in 2019, having most recently been a store-front church, but appears to now be abandoned. The building was in very bad shape two years ago when Google Maps photographed it (out of frame, large chunks are gone from the roof though I can’t tell if that’s just wear and time or due to some kind of fire damage), so it could also now be entirely gone. You can see from the elements still visible on the façade that date back to the time of its construction that it was a charming little place in its day. William and his wife Minnie’s house is now a vacant lot.

The oddest thing about his death information, however, is that it lists the wrong cemetery for his internment. I found James’s headstone in Woodlawn in the area just beyond Showmen’s Rest, but he is originally listed as having been buried at Forest Home.

I DO have a possible explanation for that, however! Forest Home and Concordia were both forced to relocate hundreds of graves in the mid 20th century due to the construction of the Eisenhower Expressway (I am planning a feature story on that one of these days), so perhaps James was moved to another cemetery entirely at that point. It could be that the date error on the headstone is due to this theoretical relocation as well. Perhaps his original stone was damaged or lost and whoever had the new one made fudged the birth year.

The above is speculation of course as I am wont to do, but the theory fits nicely with the facts I do know.

RIP James and your supportive little brother and family.

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