Thomas Duncan Obituary

Thomas Duncan was our Duncan immigrant ancestor.  More of his story is here.  This is his obituary from The Palmyra Enterprise (Wisconsin).  My favorite part is the mention of being the head of the Duncan family in the US and how this is now transferred to his brother William.

Virgo Descending

The rewards of blogging continue. I wrote my first post about Thomas Duncan, author of Gus the Great, over six years ago. Then about 2014 Robert Barron contacted me – he had read “The Sky and Tomorrow” and never forgot it. Read his story here. Last year a reader who liked circuses wrote to me about “Gus the Great” – a fine circus novel. Recently I heard from Mike, a man in the UK who just found my blog. He told me he bought another Duncan book, “Virgo Descending,” in the 1960s and had just re-read it. Still found it to be powerful.
I had not read Virgo Descending so I ordered a collectible copy online. It was nice to see Duncan’s inscription to a woman at 20th Century Fox. I like seeing someone’s handwriting and signature.
The story’s main characters are Pete McCabe, a writer, and Solveig Skovgaard, an ambitious young woman. Part of it takes place in Santa Fe, New Mexico – I like that. In the author’s notes he specifically says he is not McCabe. But I have to think some of his attitudes show through. If so, I think I would like to have know Thomas Duncan. In this story, he writes about literary integrity and romantic integrity. His male, female, white, and brown characters are well developed, not stereotypes.

I can imagine a gathering of Thomas Duncan with Robert to discuss “The Sky and Tomorrow” and the circus historian to discuss “Gus the Great” and Mike to talk with him about “Virgo Descending.” And I get to be there too. Want to join us?


Cation – Duncan Part 3

Eliza Cation Duncan a

Eliza Cation Duncan 1817 – 1890

From Eliza Duncan English’s 1932 interview:
Thomas and Eliza went to Mendota where they lived with Frank Duncan and his wife.  Frank and his wife moved to Des Moines.  Thomas and Eliza went with them.  Then they came back to LaMoille, Illinois to live with Dr. James Duncan, where Thomas’ wife Eliza Cation Duncan died.  Buried at Ottawa, Wisconsin.
I wrote about Eliza English’s interview at the end of this post.

Eliza Cation Duncan died 9 December 1890 in LaMoille, Illinois.  She was 73 years old.

Times and ways of expressing deaths have changed – this article from a LaSalle county newspaper, 1890, has an irreverent ring to it these days:
“The aged wife of Mr. Thomas Duncan who has been with her son, Dr. Duncan at LaMoille, had a stroke of apoplexy recently, but the Gazelle reports her as improving.  Dr. F. Duncan, formerly of this city, is one of her sons.
Since writing the above we learn that the old lady died.”

Thomas Duncan’s 80th birthday was 2 July 1895.

From the Reporter and Sun newspaper, Mendota, Illinois, 6 July 1895:
“Mr. Thomas Duncan celebrated his 80th birthday at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Dr. English on the Fourth of July.  Four of his sons and their families were present.  Dr. T. C. Duncan, Dr. D. Duncan, Dr. G. Duncan of Chicago, and Dr. J. C. Duncan of LaMoille.  Dr. F. Duncan of Des Moines, Ia. and J. M. Duncan of Dallas, Texas could not be present.  Those present had a very pleasant time and promised to gather on his next birthday, should he be spared until that event.  We hope he will be able to see many more occasions before he is called away.”

Unfortunately Thomas Duncan was called away.  He died on 18 December 1895 in Mendota, La Salle county, Illinois.
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This death certificate has the wrong year for his death.  The paperwork was done in January 1896 and the death date is incorrectly noted as 1896 rather than 1895.

Thomas Duncan’s Will
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I Thomas Duncan of the town of Mendota in the county of La Salle and State of Illinois of the age Seventy Nine and being of sound mind and memory do make publish and declare this my last will and testament in the manner following.  That is to say First I give and bequeath to my Grandson William Duncan Five Dollars in full for his fathers interest.  Second if in case my beloved Sons Frank Duncan and John Duncan pay said promissory notes that I now hold against them they shall share equally with my other Children. If in case the said notes are not paid by them they are to have the said notes for their shares.  Third I hereby direct my Executor to divide equally among the rest of my Children my property Real or Personal after my funeral expenses and other debts are paid.  Thomas C. Duncan, David Duncan, James Duncan, George Duncan, and my daughter Eliza English Equally.

Lastly I hereby nominate and appoint my son James C. Duncan as my Executor without bonds and request that my Executor shall keep out enough of my property to erect a suitable tombstone at my grave.  

In Witness where of I have set my hand and seal the Fifteenth day of March in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight-hundred Ninety five.

                                                   [signed] Thomas Duncan

He refers to his grandson as William Duncan although William was adopted by Alderman and took that as his surname many years before.
There is a note in the file from John Duncan saying he cannot pay back the money he owes.

Obituaries can be gold mines, but we must remember they are not a primary source: they are written by people sometimes long after an event (like birth, marriage, emigration) took place.  And the information is often supplied by folks who were not present at those events.  Good information – really good hints.

This obituary is full of genealogical information.  The most interesting part to me is the following:
Mr. Duncan was the head of the Duncan families in America, who are bound together by this compact, “To perpetuate and honor the name Duncan.  The oldest living member is the recognized chief.  He shall preserve the family bible and records.  To him shall be reported all births, marriages, and deaths and other notable events, by the head of all the families in all countries.”
William Duncan, of Fox Lake, Wis., is now the head in America.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to contact any descendant of William Duncan’s family even though his son, William C., married our Frank Duncan’s daughter, Eva.  I do wonder where the family bible is.

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His obituary from the Waukesha Freeman, 26 Dec 1895:
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His 1895 obituary from a Mendota, Illinois newspaper:
Thomas Duncan departed this life peacefully, after a lingering illness, on Wednesday, December 18th, 1895 at three o’clock p.m.
He was born at Li____hgo, Scotland, July 2, 1815.  In 1836 he was married to Miss Eliza Cation, and came to this country in 1846, settling at first near Rochester, N.Y., where he made his home for five years. Since then he has lived in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. He lost his beloved wife on December 9, 1890, aged 73 years and since her death has made his home with his daughter in this city.  Of eleven children born to Mr. and Mrs. Duncan, six sons and one daughter are living, and of the six sons, five are physicians.  They are Dr. T. C. Duncan, Chicago, J. M. Duncan, Dallas, Texas, Dr. D. Duncan, Chicago; Dr. F. Duncan, Des Moines, Iowa; Dr. J. C. Duncan, LaMoille, and Dr. G. Duncan, Chicago.  The only daughter is the wife of Dr. F. N. English of this city.  When Mr. and Mrs. Duncan celebrated their golden wedding in 1886, on that happy occasion there were gathered around them six children and thirty-three grandchildren.
Last July Mr. Duncan passed his 80th birthday, and at that time a happy reunion at which most of the children were present was enjoyed. It was the last reunion on earth.  Mr. Duncan’s strength had begun to fail and the end of a long and honorable life gradually came near.
He was the head of the Duncan family in America who are bound together with …pact “to honor and perpetuate the name of Duncan,” the oldest living member is the recognized chief who shall preserve the family bible and records, and to whom shall be reported all births, marriages, deaths and other notable errata for registration.  Due notices thereof shall be sent to the “heads of all the families in the various countries.”  W. Duncan of Fox Lake, Wisconsin is now the head of the family in America.
Mr. Duncan was a religious man.  Of Scotch origin he was naturally a Presbyterian and to the church of his youth he clung during his life.  He was well versed in the scriptures, passages of which he frequently repeated.  He was a kind and loving parent, an industrious citizen, well and favorably known by all.  The last five years of his life have been spent in our city, and until within a year he was frequently seen on our streets.  He was always glad to see his friends, and his pastor was ever a welcome visitor, and he loved to talk of religious things, especially such as related to the church of his ancestry and choice.
His funeral services were conducted by Rev. Theo. H. Allen and…[illegible]

Some images from the probate packet showing expenses.  I like to see the letterheads used by the sons.

td funeral exptd funeral exp 2And of course, I love the signatures.
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From Eliza Duncan English’s 1932 interview:
Thomas then lived with Eliza and Frank [English] in Mendota until his death.  Buried in Ottawa.  (Also buried at Ottawa are grandmother’s grandfather, William Duncan, father of Thomas Duncan, and James Cation, father of Eliza Cation Duncan, and Jane Duncan, grandmother’s infant sister)  William Duncan and James Cation’s wives are buried in Scotland. Thomas was the oldest in his family.
ottawa cem signduncan stone ottawaduncan plot ottawa

Cation – Duncan Part 2

Eliza Cation and Thomas Duncan lived in the Ottawa/Eagle area of Wisconsin from the late 1840s to the late 1860s.  During this time Thomas applied for US citizenship.  On 20 September 1855 he filed a declaration of intent.  This document gives his year and country of birth and his date and place of emigration.  It also has his signature – one of my favorite things.
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On 19 November 1858 he was granted citizenship.  Eliza did not file – only the men applied.  I don’t know if the Scottish born children of theirs (William, Thomas, and John) had to be naturalized.
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By 1870 according to the Federal Census, the family had moved to Johnstown, Rock county, Wisconsin.  Four of the children were still living at home, John, 28, James, 19, George, 15, and Eliza, 11.
thomas duncan signature

By the time of the 1880 Federal Census Thomas, 64, and Eliza, 63, are living alone in Osage, Mitchell county, Iowa.  The children have all left.  T.C. wed Emma Osborne in 1866.  David married Helen Barlass about 1870.  Frank married Martha Pennell in 1872.  John married Anna Hopkirk in 1874 when he was almost 32 years old.  James wed Anna English in 1875 and after her death married Nettie Patchen in 1880.  The only daughter, Eliza, married Frank English in 1877.  George was the last to marry – to Ella Whitbeck about 1878.

About 1880 a formal photograph was taken of the family.  I’ve posted it before and probably will again as it show so many generations in a high quality print.  My guess is that it was taken in Iowa based on the people present.

Adults standing: L-R:  Eliza Duncan English, Frank English, James Duncan, Nettie Patchen Duncan, Front row: L-R:  Mamie English, Clifford Duncan, Eliza Cation Duncan, Belle English, Thomas Duncan, and Howard Duncan.

Adults standing: L-R: Eliza Duncan English, Frank English, James Duncan, Nettie Patchen Duncan, Front row: L-R: Mamie English, Clifford Duncan, Eliza Cation Duncan, Belle English, Thomas Duncan, and Howard Duncan.

In 1886 Eliza wrote a letter to her sister and brother in Scotland.  The family of Isabelle Cation Barclay saved the letter.  I began to transcribe it, but the quality of the copy, Eliza’s punctuation and handwriting made it unlikely I could do a good job.  But here’s a photo of it.  It’s nice to see her handwriting.  And it has her signature.
eliza duncan letter 1886eliza duncan signature

At this time they are living in Mendota, Illinois with their son Frank Duncan – and using his stationery for her letter.  They had emigrated from Scotland and lived in New York, a couple of places in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois.  Several of their sons were doctors and I think at least the last years of their lives were lived in comfort.