Finding Frank (my search for a Medal of Honor winner)

FrankBart         MOH         FrankJBart2


After publishing my last two blogs, both on actors, I wanted something different. I began researching a potential candidate for my next one. This was Frank J Bart, a WW1 Medal of Honor winner who closely rivals Alvin C York for the extent of medals earned. In the end I was unable to find enough to make me truly happy but it was interesting anyway.  

When I first got started on him there was no personal history on him other then his birth and death dates, his grave location, and the numerous accounts of the actions that earned him his medals. Frank’s MOH Exploits   It was already known that he was born in New York City and began his enlistment in Newark, New Jersey. With these barest of details I began his tree and got started. 

Right off the bat I found his headstone application. In the block for birth it had the date 15 April 1875. Someone had noted in it that it should be 1883 and then someone had scratched that out and re-entered 1875. Headstone App – Front   Headstone App – BackI had already seen his tombstone and it says 1883. Frank’s Tombstone

So what was going on? Through deeper online and newspaper searches  I discovered numerous accounts of the fact that he lied about his age to get in. In most of these cases it is because a person was too young, but Frank was too old, supposedly about 42 at the time. After being told he was too old, he then went to a barber and got trimmed up, cleaned up, and some nicer clothes. Next he goes to a different recruiting station and says he is 33. Since his new “birthday” was 15 April 1883, being 33 doesn’t make sense unless he tried to enlist right when war was declared during the first week of April 1917. Regardless, off to war he goes. Lying About Age

Frank’s enlistment officially began on 1 May 1917. From there he ended up in Company C, 9th Infantry, 2nd Division. The action in France that earned him the Medal of Honor happened on 18 October 1918. There are many accounts of it online. Here is just one example: Battle Account

The story I linked to earlier regarding the lying about his age also mentioned that he had been a waiter before the war. Using this, and assuming his true 1875 birth year (since he had no reason to lie), I found a 1910 Census with a Frank Bart of the exact right age living in Newark. He was boarding with a young, recently married couple and a widow with two children. It also shows that he was born in New York, his father was from England and his mother from New York. His occupation is a waiter at a hotel and that he has worked all year. Here’s the link. You’ll find him near the bottom (more on this in updates below): 1910 Census

Frank was awarded his Medal of Honor on 16 January 1919 and then honorably discharged as a Sergeant on 13 August 1919. For the next three years or so there are numerous newspaper articles about him. Here are just a few:  Article 1   Article 2   Article 3   Article 4

Next I went searching for him in the 1920 Census. After repeated attempts I gave up, assuming this was because it was during the time that the news stories had mentioned he had been unemployed for 15 months and he’d probably been homeless for a good portion of it. That left the 1930 Census to go to next.

In the 1930 Census I found him in Union City, New Jersey with a family named Conway. Frank’s age matches his real birth year and now he says both parents are from New York. His occupation is now a clerk. If you read some of the news articles you’ll remember he was given a clerk job in the early 1920s. The big thing in this census is that he is listed as a brother-in-law. This was the lead I’d been looking for. With this I began paying attention to the family in this census. 

The head of the Conway family was Albert, who was 56 years old, born in New York, and whose occupation was shipping. His wife, Josephine, was 53 and her parents were both from Germany. Based on the question asked of them about what their ages were when married, they must have gotten married about 1896. They have a son named Elmer who is 15 years old and was born in New Jersey. The part that bothered me was that if Frank was truly Albert’s brother-in-law, then the fact that Josephine said her parents were from Germany probably eliminated Frank from being her brother since he had said his were from New York. That left one possibility, that he had been married to Albert’s sister. Regardless, I went ahead a did some quick checking and determined that Frank and Josephine were in no way blood-related. That left Albert. 1930 Census

At this point I had to create another family tree just for Albert’s family. When I had been checking out Josephine earlier I had found her and Albert’s marriage. They had indeed been married in 1896. Fortunately, this gave me their parents names. Albert’s parents had been Augustine Conway and Mary Bartholomew. Here is the screenshot of the marriage transcription:  Marriage

With this information I went in search of Albert’s earlier life, hoping to find any sisters especially. Unfortunately, other than the marriage, the 1900 Census was the earliest I could find him. Nothing panned out whatsoever prior to 1900. Albert and Josephine also had other children but none of them resulted in any leads. One thing of note in the 1900 Census was that he claimed that both of his parents were from Ireland. I found plenty on him after 1900, including his exact birth date, which was 25 February 1874. Then I got to Albert’s 1940 Census.

In 1940 Albert is still in Union, New Jersey. He is now 66 and for some reason is unable to work. Josephine is there and Elmer is still living with them and now works in the aviation field. Then there is Frank, again. He’s still with them and still a clerk. However, now he is listed as a brother to Albert. That’s when it dawned on me that in one of those earlier news articles where they were giving speeches, they were calling each other brother. Maybe then, Albert and Frank were some kind of fraternal organization “brothers” and that’s where this “relationship” was coming from.  1940 Census

I have a daughter that I trained in genealogy a few years ago and she turned out to be quite a natural at it, although with four young children now she has little time for it. After explaining it to her she mentioned that maybe they were half brothers, on the assumption that their mother had remarried. Although it was possible, I doubted it due to the fact that the boys were only 14 months apart in age. It was more possible she was correct though, if one or the both of the brothers were using incorrect birthdays. It didn’t really matter anyway if I couldn’t find their earlier life documented anywhere.

I went back to rechecking everything and went back to my first document, the headstone application to see if I missed anything. That’s when I noticed the name of the person who submitted the form. It was none other than Elmer Conway. This got me excited again so I decided to just do some Google searching and if nothing else came up I was going to end the research and delete the tree. Nearing the end of my patience I came across something at some kind of WikiTalk site. It was a small posting to it from back in 2011. 

This post was written by someone who says he is a great grandson of Albert. He claims that Frank was the younger brother of Albert Michael Conway and that both were from Ireland. They were raised in a Catholic orphanage and transferred to one near Schroon Lake, in Essex County, NY. The priest there rented them out to the local farmers, who were abusive. This prompted them to run away to New York City (a very long way from Schroon Lake) when Albert was 13 and Frank was 7. He then goes on to relate about the lying Frank did to get in the Army, but adding that Frank got the name Bart from a clothing store in West New York, NJ (More on the Bart name in the updates below). After this he pretty much backs up what I’ve told you here so far. He does give a little more information, in that Frank lived with Albert until Albert died in 1947 and then Adele in 1957 (who is Adele?) and finally lived with Elmer for the rest of his own life. Also, Frank’s medals are now owned by a descendant of Albert’s down in Florida.  The WikiTalk post

Doing genealogy as long as I have I know that in most cases family lore tends to be wrong, misconstrued, or exaggerated. Curious though, I tried researching again the early years part of it and came up totally empty-handed once again. I was also troubled by the six year age difference given in the Wiki post. What was correct, the 6 year one or the 14 month one? Also, what about that 1910 Census where I found Frank as Frank J Bart, who was a waiter in Newark? Had he already changed his name for some other reason or was this just a coincidence and I had the wrong guy? 

More to follow I hope…..

Update 29 Dec 2017:  I was delighted to recently be contacted by family and he enlightened me on a few things. Frank and Albert did end up in the orphanage and did leave it. They didn’t go straight to New York City. They moved around in lived in a few different places. So far though, I still cant find them during that time but I’ll keep trying. Another thing we talked about was where the Bart name came from. He actually got it from the famous outlaw known as Black Bart. Lastly, later in life he legally changed his name to Bart.

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Thanks for stopping by! -Ray

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