Many of you may be curious about how his wife finally find out that her husband was living under an assumed name. Especially since I wrote that she did not find out for well over two decades. I always find reading statements very interesting, and thought you might too as fellow researchers. Below are a few excerpts from depositions that tell the story of how the truth was finally known.
Before we begin, there are two societies mentioned in the depositions that I had never heard of. They are the Epworth League and Young Peoples Society of Christian Endeavor. Doing a quick search on it I discovered that they were both groups for young Christians to help them with ministries and service through their faith to the community. The Epworth League, through the Methodist Church, is still active today.
Beginning with the testimony of his wife, Nancy, the story unfolds on how she discovered the truth. On June 24, 1918 she told the special examiner:
I never knew that Harry M. Coad was not his correct name until we had been married 26 years, I think about 26 years. There was an Epworth League convention at Marshall, this Co. and I saw in the program the name of Edward Altemus as a delegate. I had heard my husband mention that he had a sister who had married a man named Altemus. I thought this Edward Altemus might be related to my husband so I wrote to him and through that correspondence learned that Edward Altemus’s mother was in fact the sister of my husband and also that my husband was not named Harry M. Coad, but Henry Clay Thompson. At first my husband denied that his correct name was Henry Clay Thompson, then a nephew named Frank Maple wrote he was coming to visit us and then my husband confessed he had deceived me as to his name; that his correct name was Henry Clay Thompson.
Lucky for me, and my husband’s family, they were able to collect depositions from his two nephews, Frank and Edward. Edward’s testimony dated May 31, 1918 was a genealogical treasure trove. It listed married names of his aunts as well as names of all the cousins he knew, and last known residences around the country of the family. Until he had correspondence from Nancy, Edward had not seen or heard from his uncle since he was a small child. Edward stated in his deposition:
I was State Secretary of the Young Peoples Society of Christian Endeavor and was living in St. Louis. I received a letter, in which inquiries were made about my family, this letter came from either the daughter or wife of my uncle Henry Clay Thompson. She had seen my name in a paper and saw my photograph in a paper and that was why she wrote me. This letter said uncle Henry Clay was living. I was then living in St. Louis. I answered the letter and uncle Henry’s daughter, don’t recall her name, came to St. Louis to see us and later on uncle Henry came. That was somewhere around twenty years ago.
Frank Maple, whom I also quoted in the Family Tree article, has a very animated and descriptive telling of the discovery in his deposition taken on February 13, 1918. He tells the special examiner:
About 26 years ago a convention of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor was held at Marshall, Saline County, MO., and Mr. Edward Altemus of St. Louis, MO., my first cousin, was the States Secretary. A short time later a letter was received to Altemus from a Mrs. H. M. Coad, of Saline Co., MO. In a writeup of the Convention in a Marshall paper she had noted the name of Edward Altemus, Secretary, and she then recalled that her husband had once upon a time told her he had a sister, Harriet Frances, who married a man by the name of Altemus and naturally her curiosity was aroused and she ventured a letter of inquiry. Several letters passed back and forth until it finally became a matter of conviction with Mrs. H. M. Coad that the wife of Mr. Altemus, Sr., was her husband’s own sister. Harriet Frances Altemus, my mother’s sister, finally wrote Mrs. Coad as follows in substance – I remember this as the final message that settled the matter – “Your husband is my brother and his name is not Coad, but Henry Clay Thompson.” … I know Mrs. Coad told me that the night before my arrival on the visit to their Home that she and the rest of the family has confronted the husband and father again with these evidence and implored him to make a full breast before his young nephew arrived and this save all of them an embarrassment. This he did. She his wife, said that he covered up his eyes and said that he had married her under his brother-in-law’s name, Coad, and not under his right name, and that his correct name was Henry Clay Thompson, that he assumed the name Coad sometime after the close of the Civil war.
Call it genealogical serendipity if you will, but if it was not for curiosity, tenacity, and a little luck on the part of Nancy we may never have known the whole story of Harry/Henry. Thanks to her efforts in connecting him his family it made it a little easier for him to prove who he was later when applying for pension. As well as letting his mother see him one last time before her death.
*Image Library of Congress: Study of a mule team and wagon, with driver
*Images of Depositions loacted in pension file of Harry M Coad / Henry C Thompson, NARA