When More Than One Newspaper Is Needed – The John M. Foy Fatal Auto Accident

Newspaper reports and articles often provide rich texture about the lives of our ancestors. Newspapers not only informed our ancestors of world and civic events they were living through but they served as the social media for generations who would not know about the events in the lives of family, associates and neighbours due to time, distance and restricted transportation opportunities. The local newspaper kept them up-to-date with the social life of their community.

I have recently dedicated some time to deepening my research into my wife’s California ancestors. While most of that research was targeted at Ellen’s grandmother Martha ‘Mattie’ Diona Knox and her parents Thomas Elliott Knox and Amy Squires, I devoted some time to looking at the Squires family.

John Squires is Ellen’s 2X great grandfather. John and his wife Mary James were both born in England. It was also in England that they married and had their eight children – four boys and four girls. In 1873, John and Mary packed up the kids and sailed from Liverpool to New York City where John found work as a bricklayer. Sometime during the 1870’s, the family made its way to Berkeley, California where they put down roots. John worked as a brick mason and eventually rose to some prominence through civic duty as the tax collector for Berkeley.

The children of John and Mary did well in California and each of their four daughters married prosperous, successful men. Oldest daughter Emily married Charles Wiggin, a successful electrical company manager. Amy married Tom Knox, a pioneer vineyard proprietor and civic leader. Emma married John Foy, son of a San Bernardino pioneer, civic leader and wealthy capitalist. The youngest daughter Olive married Frank Naylor, who became President of the First National Bank of Berkeley.

In the early twentieth century, the family was living the ‘American Dream.’

That dream was shattered however on a pleasant Friday afternoon in July 1915.

Newspapers in Oakland and San Francisco scrambled to report on the tragic events of that Friday, July 2nd. The newspapers in more distant San Bernardino were also interested in reporting due to the pioneer family connection of John Foy. But just like today’s social media, it took some time and multiple newspaper reports for the story to out.

The Oakland Tribune, July 2, 1915, reported in large front page headlines “Two Killed, Three Are Hurt In Auto Accident On Dublin Boulevard Today.”  The Tribune story reported that John M. Foy, former Secretary of the State Harbor Commission and capitalist was killed along with his mother-in-law Mrs. John Squires in an auto accident. All of the newspaper reports got that part right. It was the remaining details that would have caused anxious moments for the Squires family members.

The auto accident victims as depicted in the July 3, 1915 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

The auto accident victims as depicted in the July 3, 1915 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

Some reports had only four passengers in the auto at the time of the accident; others correctly reported that their were five passengers. One of the passengers, John Foy’s son Frederick, either 9-years or 10-years old at the time, depending on the report you read, was described as being “probably fatally hurt.”

Through a minimum of eight different newspaper reports, the following story emerges:

John Macy Foy was driving his ‘machine’ along the Dublin road, enroute to Livermore, California to visit Tom and Amy Squires Knox. John had four passengers in the car with him: his wife Emma and their son Fred as well as his mother-in-law Mary James Squires and his sister-in-law Emily Squires Wiggins. As they neared Dublin, California, John was unable to navigate a sharp curve in the road and lost control of the vehicle which then rolled down an embankment. John Foy and his mother-in-law Mary Squires were killed instantly.

Young Fred Foy, likely seated in the back seat of the car, probably with his mother Emma and his aunt Emily, was initially reported as being near death. It was later reported that he suffered a broken leg and probably internal injuries leaving him in a precarious condition in a Livermore hospital. Finally, it was reported that he suffered a sprained ankle and an abrasion to his knee.

The Squires sisters, Emma and Emily, were reported as having having “escaped with slight injuries.” It was later reported that they were badly bruised in the car accident.

Thomas Knox was the first family member to arrive at the accident scene to provide assistance. He escorted the victims back to nearby Livermore where they were joined by Frank Naylor.

Funerals for John Foy and Mary Squires were held in Berkelely, California on Monday, July 5th. An inquest jury later determined that the deaths resulted from an “unavoidable accident” and that the deaths were “due to shock caused by spinal injuries.”

The lesson to be learned – keep digging. That first, maybe juicy story may not provide the whole picture but only one angle on the story of your family. The truth of a story sometimes takes a bit of time to emerge.

Abide With Me – The Funeral Records of the Knox Family

A singer named Marshall sang two hymns.

Marshall was accompanied by ‘Mrs. McC’ on the organ while singing Abide With Me and Sometime We’ll Understand.

So says the funeral records that I have received describing the final arrangements for Thomas Elliott Knox, his wife Amy Squires Knox, and a grandson Arthur Knox.

I have come to know a lot about Thomas E. ‘Tom” Knox, my wife’s great grandfather, from years of researching his life. Most of the records about Tom describe his life of public service. He served as Postmaster and then Mayor of Livermore, California. He served as an Alameda County Supervisor and was active in his community. Politically, he was a Republican and through his political activity was at minimum an acquaintance of future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. In business, Tom was a contractor and one of the early proprietors of a California vineyard.

Thomas Elliott Knox (photo taken abt. 1923 during visit to orillia, Ontario, Canada)

Thomas Elliott Knox (photo taken abt. 1923 during visit to Orillia, Ontario, Canada)

Tom was a thin, sharp featured man who was born in Seaforth, Huron County, Canada West (now Ontario) about 1854. It’s likely through the following of employment opportunities that found Tom arriving in California around 1875 where a few years later he would marry Amy Squires, a native of England who had immigrated to California with her parents and siblings in 1873.

Recently I came across an announcement of Tom’s death in a newspaper that the years of research had not previously found. The San Francisco Chronicle reported his death on January 30, 1938 in a page 14 article entitled “Knox, Alameda County Civic Leader, Expires.” On January 31st the Oakland Tribune ran a similar article and on February 1st, the San Francisco Chronicle followed up with an article about the funeral arrangements. The articles gave the name of the funeral home where the arrangements had been made – “the Grant D. Miller chapel, 2850 Telegraph avenue, Oakland.”

A Google search found that the funeral company was still in existence, now as the Grant Miller Mortuary, and operating from the same address in Oakland. The mortuary’s website provided an email address and following a quick exchange of messages, the mortuary sent me the family funeral records (for a small fee, well, actually not quite so small once the currency exchange rate was factored in).

When Tom died in 1938, his widow Amy made the arrangements with the mortuary. The funeral record provides Tom’s date and place of birth, date, place and cause of death in addition to his occupation and the address of the family residence. In addition to the organist and singing of the two hymns, the record details that the funeral was held on February 1st, 1938 at 3:30 p.m. A car was to pick up the family at their 300 Elwood Avenue residence at 3:00 p.m. The cost of the funeral, including the size 6/3, model number 17 casket, was $132.41 (about $2,250 in today’s dollars).

When Amy Knox subsequently passed away five years later in 1943, the arrangements were again made through the Grant Miller Mortuary. There was no singer hired for the funeral service however Mrs. McClusky, whom I believe to be the same organist from Tom’s funeral then identified as ‘Mrs. McC’, played the organ. A limo was dispatched to pick up the family from their 300 Elwood Avenue home at 2:00 p.m. on November 23rd, 1943, the day of the funeral. The service began at 3:00 p.m. An interesting note in the funeral record for Amy is that no hearse was available to transport the casket after the funeral service so an ambulance was used. Cost for this funeral was $249.91 (or about $3,450 in today’s dollars).

Although funeral records may not contain a lot of new genealogical details, they do provide an additional layer of family history allowing us to observe how our ancestors dealt with one of life’s more troubling and difficult occasions, saying farewell to a loved one. And these records may be available for the asking (and the paying of that small (?) fee).