Home > Watson Holyer
Back in 2001, the LDS Church released a massive indexed version, on 50 CDs, of the US 1880 census, following on from their successful UK 1881 census released in 1999. Back then there were few data resources online and these CDs offered the prospect of doing valuable genealogical research at home, instead of visits to record offices and archives. Indeed, for US research for those in the UK, it was a game changer.
On this website, when revised in 2006, I reviewed what I had found concerning Hollyer, Holyer and Hollier families in the USA in the 1880 census. It enabled a lot of research into previously unknown holders of the names, many originating from countries other than England.
I had hoped to follow up a Watson Holyer, who I knew had married a lady with the odd name of Sidney Wall. Sources seemed unclear whether he was born in Clearfield, Pennsylvania or in England, though the name Watson was not known to me as one of the English Holyers. I had also found information about a Watson Holyer who appeared to be married to a lady with the name Missouri and who committed suicide in Salida, Colorado in 1893. Was this the same person? It seemed a strange coincidence that both Watson Holyers were connected with Colorado.
Any hopes that the 1880 indexed census would solve the problem were soon dashed. I was surprised to find that Sidney Holyer and her daughter were miles away from Colorado in Snohomish City, Washington Territory. What’s more, she stated that she was a widow, so Watson must have died. This implied that the Watson Holyer who died in 1893 must be a different person. But no Watson or Missouri Holyer were to be found. I was stumped.
Since 2006, I doubt if I have done any further research on Watson Holyer, but recently I had cause to visit the Find-a-Grave website while adding gravestone images of Holliers in Australia provided to me by researcher Maureen Bosca. I decided to see what Holyers might be on the site, expecting some Kent Holyers to appear but was surprised to find the gravestone of Missouri Holyer in the Fairview Cemetery at Salida, Colorado. This triggered the thought that in all these years, there might now be enough online records to solve this particular problem. So off I went doing new searches on Ancestry, FindMyPast, LDS Family Search and other sundry searches and now believe I have solved the Watson Holyer story, but putting the whole story together was far from ‘elementary’. Were there two Watson Holyers? If so, were they possibly father and son? In the end, I concluded that there was indeed only ever one Watson Holyer.
In summary: Watson was born in England, he seems to have married three times – a likely serial bigamist – had just one child, but no descendants to the present day. He seems to have had no definitive profession throughout his life and is variously recorded as being a Clerk, Miner, Commercial Agent and Bookkeeper.
Watson Holyer was born in 1829 in Maidstone, Kent, the youngest of five children of John and Martha Holyer. Two of his siblings died soon after birth. John’s ancestry is not entirely proven. As he married Martha in Rochester, it is probable that he was the John was born in Rochester to Thomas and (Ann) Rachel Holyer (or Hollier). As Ann Rachel was born in 1772, it is probably that Thomas was born 1771 in Egerton, son of John and Alice Holyer.
In 1830, Watson’s father John died and Martha quickly remarried to Charles Merrix Evenden, who was 13 years her junior. They had four children but Charles died in 1839, aged just 29. The 1841 census records widow Martha and her surviving children, with Watson recorded as Watson Evenden, which is why he had escaped my notice in earlier times.
Watson emigrated to the USA in 1849. Although no ship passenger records have been found, this fact is included in his US naturalization certificate many years later.
In 1852, at Tippehanoe, Indiana, he married Catherine Carnahan who was seven years his senior and born in Ohio. Little else is known about her except they appear on the 1860 census at Burlington City, Iowa where he is shown as a Clerk and she a Milliner. What happened to this first marriage is not known, but in 1867 Watson married Sidney Ella Wall, who had been born in 1836 in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, one of nine children of William and Sarah Wall. The marriage took place in Denver, Colorado. At the time, Sidney was a teacher in Denver.
In the 1870 census they have a daughter Josephine Sarah aged one. She was often called Josie but here recorded as Sarah. Watson was shown as a Miner. At the time, they were living in the gold mining community of Granite, in Lake County (later Chaffee County), Colorado. However, I guess Watson did not make his fortune out of gold and between 1875 and 1879 he is listed in Denver City Directories as a Bookkeeper. In 1878, Sidney is also listed as a shirtmaker for Bascom & Stearns.
There is one other record from the 1870s. In 1873, Watson is listed as a passenger on a ship from Bristol, UK to New York City. The only information given is that he was aged 44, a Commercial Agent and had travelled steerage.
What happens next is not entirely clear, but the couple parted ways. Sidney and her daughter travelled to California, a long train journey which first involved travelling north to Cheyenne and then westwards on the transcontinental railroad to Sacramento. Along the way, the train passed through Carlin, Nevada and the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper reported that amongst the passengers passing through on 18th April 1879, en route to Sacramento the next day, were Mrs S E Holyer and daughter from Denver. This suggests that Sidney and Josie had left Watson. As recorded above, we know that in 1880 Sidney is not in California but in Snohomish City, Washington Territory (not then a State). All we know is that she is listed as ‘Keeping House’ and 11 year old Josie is ‘At school’. This is quite surprising, as the railroad did not reach Snohomish, which is north of Seattle, until 1889, so getting there from California would have been a very arduous journey. It might even have been most practical by sea.
Sidney stated that she was a widow, which really threw me off the scent. Indeed, Watson is nowhere to be found in the 1880 census, leading me to believe that there were two Watson Holyers. But not so. Watson is listed in 1881 as a bookkeeper at Leadville, high up in the Colorado mountains, a small mining community based on Lead and Silver. So it’s possible that it was Sidney who deserted his family. However, by 1885, the Colorado State census shows that Watson was back in Denver and continuing to work as a bookkeeper. He also appears in the City Directory of that year.
Before relating what happened next to Watson, it would be useful to tell the story of Sidney and Josie in California. Fairly soon after settling there, Sidney enrolled at the State Normal School at San Jose, an institution that would now be called a Teacher Training College. She graduated from there in December 1883. In 1887, the Sacramento Daily Union reported that an educational diploma had been awarded to Sidney Ella Holyer (the only record that states what her middle initial E stood for). They settled in Santa Cruz and later in Oakland. When Josie herself left school, she first worked as a bookkeeper but then she also trained as a teacher. She worked at Branciforte School in Santa Cruz in the 1890s, where the schools inspector said that ‘Your room is like a well-ordered home’ – quite a compliment. She also wrote poetry - some was published - and was an accomplished musician. She was living in Santa Cruz on her own in the 1900 census, occupation school teacher. (I have not located her mother, but she was most probably still in Oakland). In 1903, Josephine married Herbert Byers Perkins, a businessman originally from Waukesha, Wisconsin. The romantic wedding ceremony took place deep in the redwood forest in the Santa Cruz mountains near a small community called Wrights, now a ghost town, largely as a consequence of the 1906 earthquake. Sidney gifted some land in 8th Avenue, Oakland to Josie, presumably for their married home.
After Josephine married in 1903, Sidney continued as a teacher and moved back to Colorado. In particular there are several newspaper reports in the Fort Collins Weekly Courier of Sidney taking up a teaching post in the tiny community of Masonville in 1906 at the age of 70, but they also say that she had a home in Denver, as well as relatives there.
Josie gave up teaching after marriage and the 1910 census records her as a housewife, while Herbert is a salesman of ‘building specialities’. By this time, Sidney is living with Herbert and Josephine in 8th Avenue and at the age of 74 might have needed care. Yet in fact until 1914, when she was 78, the City Directories still showed her as a teacher. An interesting point about the City Directories, in which she appeared from the 1890s to 1928, is that in some years, the names did not show Mr or Mrs and in those years she suffixed her name with “(wid Watson)”. Odd that after so many years since their separation and although she professed being a widow as early as 1880, she still referred to Watson and I wonder if she actually knew that Watson had indeed died.
In 1920, the three are still in Oakland, but Herbert and Josephine now state their occupations as ‘Christian Science Practitioners’. Sidney is incorrectly shown as being 64, rather than 84. The 1920s were a difficult time for Josephine. Her husband Herbert died in 1922 at the age of 47, while her mother Sidney passed away in 1928. Josephine returned to teaching in Oakland, as seen on the 1930 census. By 1940, at the age of 71, she was still living in Oakland and shown in the census as being an Apartment Manager. She died in 1946 and thus ended this Holyer descendant line.
So what happened to Watson? In 1886, at the age of 57, he married for a third time to a lady with the equally unusual name of Missouri Emeline Seay. Not surprisingly, she was born in Missouri at Osage, in 1852. She was the youngest of 11 children of Camm Jefferson Seay and Lucy Jane (nee Tiller). Her elder brother Abraham was notable as the second Governor of Oklahoma Territory. In 1874, she graduated from Missouri State University where she had studied Drawing, English and German. Her residence was shown as Steelville, Missouri. When the marriage licence was applied for, she stated she was 30 (actually 34), while Watson, 57, stated he was 40. They married at Villa Grove, Saguache County, Colorado, a tiny settlement to the SW of Colorado Springs. She was recorded as being from Claytonia, Saguache County, but the location of this place is not known. They later lived at Salida, further north, but with the absence of the 1890 census, it is not easy to ascertain what the pair were doing.
All that is known is that on 10th November 1891, Missouri died of Typhoid and was buried in Fairview Cemetery. Of her it was said “Passed away at her home in Salida. Her disease Typhoid fever, she was confined to her bed six long weary weeks and suffered greatly, was patient and uncomplaining, and was ready for the summons. A devoted wife, loving sister and sincere friend.”
Strangely, in 1892, after being in the USA for 43 years, Watson applied for US Naturalization. Perhaps there was some legal reason that he needed to be a US citizen; this is not clear. But just a year later, Watson committed suicide. The Salida newspaper reported: “Watson Holyer, about 65 years of age and a resident of Salida for several years, was found dead in his room in the Hively block this morning, with a rifle ball through his head. He had not been seen on the street since Saturday night, and the time of his death is conjecture. All indications lead to the conclusion that the old gentleman suicided, as he had been in hard financial straits recently and was depressed in spirits.” A sad end to a very colourful life.
After his death, Missouri’s brother, Ex-Governor Abraham Seay settled his financial affairs and paid Watson’s friends for the cost of the funeral. But unlike Missouri, there is no gravestone.Back to top