Thursday, June 23, 2016


I am including my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks # 12 so you know who I am so excited to tell about.
WILLIAM MATHERS  “The Actor and Dancer”  #12  52 ANCESTORS 52 WEEKS
WILLIAM MATHERS/MATHEWS/MATTHEWS was born in May of 1890 in New York City.  His parents were James Mathers and Cecelia O’Brien.

This person is a mystery.  I found him in the census from 1890 to 1940.  William was first living with his parents in Manhattan and then after 1910 he lives with his grandmother, until she dies in 1933. He continued to live in that same house in Richmond Hill, Queens, New York in the 1940’s with his Aunt Katie Morris and cousin Bunny Morris.
William’s parents, James and Cecelia, are a mystery also.  I can’t find death records, census records after 1910, directories or cemetery listings for either parent.
William Mathers worked in the theater on Broadway, sometimes as a prop man but most times as an actor as indicated in the census.
My father remembers him practicing tap dancing in his room on a piece of plywood. 
Everyone in the family I have asked would say “Oh yes Willie was an actor” but no one really knew anything about him.  I have checked for death records and cemetery listings and have not found him.I looked at some “Variety” magazines for any mention of him in the theater but never found him. 

At the time of this blog in 2014 that was all I knew about WILLIAM JOSEPH MATHEWS.  This past week I searched again on for several people that I have very few documents for their files.  When I searched for WILLIAM MATHEWS a WW11 Draft Registration card was indicated to belong to him.  I almost passed it by, it was from Saranac Lake, in upstate New York.  All I ever knew was he lived in Manhattan and Queens most of his life.  He was a Broadway, dancer, actor and prop man.  But I took a look just because Ancestry hinted it might be him.
WOW!  It was definitely him.  He gave his occupation as actor and his closest relative Catherine Morris in Queens.  That was certainly his Aunt Katie Morris with whom he had lived with since the 1910 NY Census.  The only new thing about this Draft Registration document was that he was living at the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital in Saranac Lake, New York.

WW11 Draft Registration

WW11 Draft Registration Pg 2

I did some research on the hospital and found that it was for people in the entertainment industry who had contracted Tuberculosis (TB).  According to several books and articles I have read on the subject, the clean fresh air was supposed to help cure the body of TB.  They had special porches on all the houses (which they called cottages) all screened in with long deck chairs where the patients would lay all day. They were given very healthy food and when they were feeling up to it they would walk about the town for exercise.

Will Rogers Memorial Hospital – Saranac Lake
Originally National Vaudeville Artists Home 

 Gallos, Philip L., Cure Cottages of Saranac Lake, Historic Saranac Lake, 1985. ISBN 0-9615159-0-2

Some people might remember being asked at movie theaters to donate money to the Will Rogers Memorial Foundation to help the people in the movie and theater occupations.  After the hospital in Saranac Lake closed because of the vaccine for TB, they open another hospital in Los Angeles for the sick in the entertainment industry.

I called the Town of Saranac Lake Clerk’s office to see if WILLIAM MATHEWS died up there, but no he didn’t so I thought great he got cured.  The Clerk told me to call the Public Library because they might have some other documents about the hospital or WILLIAM MATHEWS.  The woman at the library was very helpful and looked through a lot of documents on the history of the hospital and the cottages.  She also didn’t find any indication he died in Saranac Lake.  She did find a patient card from the hospital indicating that WILLIAM JOSEPH MATHEWS did indeed have TB in 1946.  The Draft Registration was in 1942, so he was in the hospital for 4 years that I know of.

William Mathews
Former Address
94-39 111th St.
Richmand Hill, L.I.
Age—55 occupation _stage__hand__
Incipient? Advanced? Far Advanced?
T.B Pos. Present  P-3 Plus Absent
Has patient been instructed as to disposal of
sputum and all other means of prevention ?
Saranac Lake, N.Y.___6/24/1946
Geo Wilson
Attending Physician

I found all this information within a couple of days (after looking for him for 30 years) but still didn’t know when or where he died.

Father of William Joseph Mathews

In the meantime, I have been working on WILLIAM JOSEPH MATHEWS’ father, JAMES J. MATHEWS.  JAMES was my Grandfathers brother. My Grandfather was WILLIAM JOSEPH MATHEWS born in 1883.    I finally found JAMES J. MATHEWS death certificate.  He died in 1931.

Death Certificate#520 17 January 1931
 James J. Mathews
Family History Library Film #2169985

I noticed on the document that he is buried in ST. JOHN’S CEMETERY.  I was very happy because the cemetery has a web site and database to find exactly where the person is buried in the cemetery.  I searched on web site and he didn’t show up.  I called the cemetery and after several tries the women finally found him under MATTEWS instead of MATHEWS.  So I asked her if there was anyone else buried with him.  I always ask but most cemeteries want you to pay for the internment list.  This woman was wonderful.  She said a WILLIAM JOSEPH MATHEWS was buried with him and he was buried April 27, 1953.  What luck!  The father and son are buried together in St. John’s Cemetery. They are buried in Section 25 Row M Grave 99. The plot was paid for by JAMES J. MATHEWS’S second wife ANNIE.

I then searched for JAMES J. MATHEWS marriage certificate to ANNIE.  They were married in 1920.  The very important information on the certificate to me was the line that indicted JAMES was widowed.  I have never been able to find his first wife, mother of his son, WILLIAM JOSEPH.  I found them in the 1900 census and then she isn’t in any after that.  I was wondering did she die or did they get divorced and she remarried.  This death certificate gives me information so that I can, I hope, find her death certificate. 

Marriage Certificate#4285 1 October 1920
James J. Mathews & Annie Keehn
Family History Library Film#1644063

I am very excited about these documents and information.  The only thing left to get is the Death Certificate for William Joseph Mathews.  It will take a while I have to send to the New York City Health Department for the document.  I wonder if he did get cured of TB and died of something else or was it the TB.  When I do receive the document I will blog about the information on the certificate.

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