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52 Ancestors – Orval Jerrain Maffit, A Short Life with a Tragic End

Orval Maffit-6 months, 1910

Orval Jerrain Maffit, 6 months old, 1910

Orval Jerrain Maffit is my great-granduncle.  He is the fifth child and third son of Seth Maffit & Emma Esther Jerrain, my 2nd great-grandparents.  His oldest sister and brother both died as infants, so he grew up as the third child and second son.  He was born 12 May 1910 in Chicago.1 2 3  Five months later he was baptized in St. Anne, Illinois on 21 October 1910.4

At some point after Orval’s birth, his family moved from Chicago to Montana where they tried their hand at dryland farming.  The exact date of this move is in question.  Family records indicate the move occurred between 1911 and 1913.  Emma was most certainly in Chicago on 21 October 1910, when Orval was born, and in Gildford, Hill, Montana on 1 June 1913,5 when her next child, Hope Estelle was born.  Seth, on the other hand, had to have arrived in Montana prior to 13 August 1910 as his first land patent for the family farm was dated 13 August 1915.6  Regardless of when the entire family had moved to Montana, Emma seemed to have a certain amount of mobility as she is back in Chicago 23 November 1913, for Estelle to be baptized.7

These photos all fall in the window of time in question.  I wish I could get my hands on the originals to see if there are any additional clues.  The first two appear to be taken by a photographer in a studio.  I’m leaning toward both of them having been taken in Chicago.

Hilan, Maynard and Orval Mafifit in carriage - Chicago

l-r:  Hilan Thorne Maffit, Maynard Seth Maffit, and Orval Jerrain Maffit

Orval, Hilan, Emma and Maynard Maffit - Chicago- abt 1913

Back, l-r:  Orval Jerrain Maffit, Emma Esther Jerrain; front, l-r: Maynard Seth Maffit, Hilan Thorne Maffit, about 1913

This photo is very interesting.  The note at the bottom indicates the photo was taken on Sunday, the 9th in 1913 and is addressed “to pa”.  I know that Emma was in Chicago in November of 1913 for Estelle’s baptism.  The 9th of November 1913 fell on a Sunday and may very well be the date this photograph was taken.  The outerwear seems appropriate for November in Chicago.

Hilan, Orval & Maynard Maffit, 1913

l-r: Hilan Thorne Maffit, Orval Jerrain Maffit, Maynard Seth Maffit; The note at the bottom indicates the photo was taken Sunday, the 9th in 1913 and is addressed “to pa”.

Hilan, Orval and Maynard Maffit - 1913 in Chicago

l-r: Hilan Thorne Maffit, Orval Jerrain Maffit, Maynard Seth Maffit

Then this photo was taken on Friday, 21 November 1913, just two days before Estelle’s baptism in Chicago and as such, was most likely taken in Chicago.

Grandma Maffit & Hope Estelle Maffit

Hope Estelle Maffit and her mother Emma Esther Jerrain, 21 November 1913.

 

By May 1917, the children were attending Hingham School in Montana.

 

School House 1937

Maffit children and their classmates, May 1917, Hingham School

 

In 1920, the Maffit family was still living in Hingham, Hill, Montana.  There were now eight living children.  Orval was nine years old and listed on the census as having no occupation.8

Orval’s sister, Estelle, compiled several notebooks of family records.  In those records, she shares some details about the move from Chicago to Montana and additional moves that followed:

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1923 was a big year for the Maffit family.  The farm was sold at auction in July,9 and Emma’s father, John Baptiste Jerrain, visited the family in Great Falls.  Here he can be seen with Orval and Jackie.

Orval Maffit, John B. Jerrain, Jackie Maffit

l-r: Orval Jerrain Maffit, John Baptiste Jerrain, Jacqueline Unity Maffit, John was their maternal grandfather, 1923.

Orval Maffit

Orval Jerrain Maffit

Hilan remembers, “that Orval was always on the move and didn’t want to stay on the farm.  He wanted adventure, so Seth and Emma gave permission for him to travel to visit Emma’s relatives.”10

This fateful trip would end badly for the Maffit family.  From the family book entitled Family Tree:  John Baptiste Jerrain & Esther Estelle Therrian,11 comes this compiled information about Orval that was written and reviewed by the grandchildren of Seth & Emma:

“When he was a teenager, he went back to St. Anne’s to visit relatives.  Later he visited Shirlee Jerrain’s family in Elmhurst.  Shirlee’s, father John A. Jerrain, was Emma’s brother.  Shirlee remembers Orval staying at their house in Elmhurst for awhile.  Emma sent a message that he was to come home because a new baby had been born into the family.  Money had been sent so he could buy a ticket and ride on the train.  The family was notified that Orval had decided to ride the rails and was killed in a fall from the train.  The family believed there was foul play in his death as his wallet was missing.  Our family records show that Orval was buried in the Jerrain family plot in St. Anne’s Church.”

Newspaper accounts12 from this time add additional details:

“TRAIN VICTIM IS IDENTIFIED AS LOCAL BOY

Youth Killed in Minneapolis, Son of Seth Moffit, 708 Eighth Avenue North

Orville Moffit, Great Falls youth who was killed Friday at Minneapolis when he fell under a freight train on which he was attempting to catch a ride, was Saturday evening identified as the 16 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Seth Roffit, 705 Eighth avenue north.

The boy whose age was reported in press dispatches as 22 years, was running beside a freight train in the Minneapolis yards in an attempt to catch a ride towards Great Falls.  He collided with a derrick used in sewer excavating and was thrown under the cars and instantly killed.

Young Moffit was accompanied by another youth of about his age, who said that he had been traveling about the country with the Great Falls boy for several weeks. Through letters carried in Moffit’s coat, the address of his parents was learned and they were notified of the accident by Minnesota officers.

The boy, according to Mr. Moffit, who is employed at the Anaconda company’s smelter, was born in May, 1910, at Chicago.  He attended the grade schools of Great Falls for several years and was recently employed by the Rainbow hotel as a bell boy.

“Orville,” said Mr. Moffit Saturday night, “left Great Falls in June and visited in our former home at Chicago with relatives.  He also made visits to other relatives in the middle west and worked in the harvest fields.

“I was informed by Minnesota authorities that the boy with him at the time of the accident said they had travelled together for several weeks, but I know that this is not so.”

In addition to his parents the boy is survived by four brothers, Maynard, Everd, Lorado and Dale Moffit, and four sisters, Hyland, Estelle, Marjorie, and Jacalyn Moffit.

The body will be taken to Chicago for funeral services and interment.”

 

These photos of Orval’s funeral were part of the Maffit photo collection found on a CD my Grandma kept in her private papers.

Orval Maffit's funeral

Orval Maffit's funeral in St. Anne-Grandpa 1st in line

Orval Maffit's funeral #2jpg

 

Emma buried three of her twelve children before her death in 1945.  No photos remain of her first two children who died as infants.  However, there are several photographs of Orval including this one that was said to have been kept on Emma’s desk.

 

Orval Maffit-picture was kept on Emma Maffit's desk

 

It has faded with time, but I wonder if it was her favorite photo of Orval?

As a genealogist, I regularly find families who suffered the loss of children.  But every single time my heart aches for the parents of those children.  Especially the mothers.  Learning details about those precious children and telling their stories feels like a gift for the mothers and fathers who had to say goodbye too soon.  ❤️

 

 

 


  1. I have inherited a small collection of typed genealogy records created by my great-grandmother Estelle Duval and her mother Emma Maffit.  There are three thin binders – two blue, one green, and a white pocket folder.  Each book and folder is very similar to the others. 
  2. Duval, Mrs. Frank. For Deane Alice Duval: Your Relations, Health Record, Birth Information, Wedding Anniversaries, Death, Dates and Causes. 1938. 
  3. Boone, Ardis M. “Father Charles Chiniquy’s Ledger, 1851 : First St. Anne Catholic Church, Christian Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, Second Presbyterian Church of St. Anne.” Father Charles Chiniquy’s Ledger, 1851 : First St. Anne Catholic Church, Christian Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, Second Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, by Charles Paschal Telesphore Chiniquy, Kankakee Valley Genealogical Society, 1851, p. 101. 
  4. Boone, Ardis M. “Father Charles Chiniquy’s Ledger, 1851 : First St. Anne Catholic Church, Christian Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, Second Presbyterian Church of St. Anne.” Father Charles Chiniquy’s Ledger, 1851 : First St. Anne Catholic Church, Christian Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, Second Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, by Charles Paschal Telesphore Chiniquy, Kankakee Valley Genealogical Society, 1851, p. 101. 
  5. Presbyterian Historical Society; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; U.S., “Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970”; Book Title: Session/Register 1887-1923; Accession Number: Vault BX 9211 .I30608 I42, image for Estell Hope Maffit, baptism 23 Nov 1913, image 182 of 228, line 534; accessed through “U.S., Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 January 2016). 
  6. A paper copy of Seth Maffit’s Land Patent, dated 13 August 1915, from family records. 
  7. Presbyterian Historical Society; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; U.S., “Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970”; Book Title: Session/Register 1887-1923; Accession Number: Vault BX 9211 .I30608 I42, image for Estell Hope Maffit, baptism 23 Nov 1913, image 182 of 228, line 534; accessed through “U.S., Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 January 2016). 
  8. 1920 U.S. census, Hingham, Hill, Montana, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 129, page 1A (handwritten), dwelling 10, family 10, lines 37-46, Seth Maffit household, digital image, Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 June 2018); original source data NARA microfilm publication T625_971. 
  9. A paper copy of a Sheriff’s Deed dated 7 July 1923, from family records. 
  10. Jones, Peggy. The John Baptiste Jerrain and Esther Estelle Therien Family Tree. 2004. 
  11. Jones, Peggy. The John Baptiste Jerrain and Esther Estelle Therien Family Tree. 2004. 
  12. “Train Victim is Identified as Local Boy,” Great Falls Tribune, 10 October 1926, p. 6, col. 5; digital images, Newspapers.com, (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/20190883/great_falls_tribune/?xid=637 : accessed 18 May 2018). 


32 Comments

Dear Emma, What should I call your oldest son? Love, Amberly

 

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A family record typed by Hope Estelle Maffit Duval.  Older data came from her mother Emma Esther Jerrain Maffit.  There are multiple copies of this record that all list Chesterfield Jerrain Maffit with these dates.

 

Dear Grandma Emma,

Thank you for leaving family records that your daughter Estelle, my great-grandmother, typed up.  They are so helpful!

But here’s the deal – your second child and first son?  You gave him two, sort of three, different names.  I don’t know what I should call him.

In all of the family records Estelle typed up, she listed him as Chesterfield Jerrain Maffit.  But there are no birth or death records for a Chesterfield Jerrain Maffit.  There is a birth record for an Orin Maffit and a death record for an Orrin Seth Maffit.  But guess what?  The dates on those records don’t match the dates you list for Chesterfield.  Not exactly.

Your daughter typed up a birthdate of 5 January 1905, and a death date of 21 March 1905, for Chesterfield.  (For a while, I was extra confused because a family member had mistyped from Estelle’s record and gave a death date for Chesterfield of 20 January 1905.)1  Orin’s birth date was 5 January 19062 and his death date was 23 March 19063.  Those dates are so similar that I really struggled with whether or not Chesterfield and Orrin were the same child.  I actually have both children in my tree because I did not want to leave out any of your precious children – and what if you really had two sons born on the same day a year apart who died one year and two days apart?

But just a few weeks ago, I found my first record for Chesterfield.  I was soooo excited!  The record is Chesterfield’s baptism record4.  It reads this way:

“350   Name: Chesterfield Seth Maffit    Parents: Seth and Emma    When Born: January 1st ” [ditto marks for 1906]    When Baptised: ” [ditto marks for Mch] 23rd ” [ditto marks for 190-, the last digit in the year is cut off, the index indicates 1906]”

This is the first record that ties the two boys together.  It brings the dates for Orrin with the name of Chesterfield, just with the middle name of Seth instead of Jerrain.  I think Orrin and Chesterfield are the same boy.  Am I right?

In the 1910 census5, you are listed as the mother of four with two living.  If you really had both Orrin and Chesterfield, those numbers should be five with two living.  You wouldn’t forget a baby that you buried, would you?

So, did you name your first son Orin, baptize him as Chesterfield Seth, then list his name as Orrin Seth on his death record, and then decide to call him Chesterfield Jerrain in your family record?  Or is there something else going on?  Did you name him Orin, decide to go with Chesterfield and then after he died, your brother-in-law William, who was a doctor and the informant for your son’s death (and birth), listed his name as Orrin Seth on the death record without consulting you?

The baptism record also brings up other questions for me.  The baptism record for Chesterfield lists his date of baptism as 23 March 1906.  He was the only child baptized that day, a Friday.  That is the very day that Orrin Seth died of acute fermental diarrhea.  Did you know that he was going to die?  Was this an emergency baptism?  What must that day have been like for you?  A cloth diaper disaster, the impending death of your second child, your second child to die… how did you get through that day?

Grandma Emma, I want to represent your story, and family, accurately.  I think I can merge Orrin Seth and Chesterfield Jerrain.  But am I right?

With Much Love,

Amberly, your 2nd great-granddaughter

 

 

Dear Readers,

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this one.  Merging those two boys will be mighty difficult for me.  I would hate to erase someone’s existence from my tree.  But on the other hand… it seems like they are the same person.  What do you think?

Love,

Amberly, the girl over here trying to sort everything out correctly

 

 

Happy Monday, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could figure out a way to send letters to the past through some special time-traveling-bank-style-pneumatic-tube?  And then get answers to our questions from that same magical tube?  I would sooooo get in line to do that!  😉

 

 

 

 


  1. Chesterfield Jerrain Maffit has an entry in the Family Tree on FamilySearch.  It shows my username as having submitted the data but my I am fairly certain that my sister did that.  I may have been the one to link him to his parents early on and that may be why my username shows there.  You can view him here:  https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/MV9B-FTM 
  2. “Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922,” index, FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NQRD-DLP : accessed 07 May 2014), Orin Maffit, 05 Jan 1906; citing Chicago, Cook, Illinois, reference 10380, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1,288,111 (film accessed 06 May 2014 at BYU). 
  3. “Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1922,” index, FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/N7WT-332 : accessed 07 May 2014), Orrin Seth Maffit, 23 Mar 1906; citing 2896 Archer Ave, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, Cemetery, cn, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1,239,737 (film accessed 06 May 2014 at BYU). 
  4. Presbyterian Historical Society; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; “U.S., Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1907″; Book Title: Session/Register 1887-1923; Accession Number: Vault BX 9211 .I30608 I42, image for Chesterfield Seth Maffit, baptism 23 March 1906, image 170 of 228, line 350; accessed through “U.S., Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 January 2016). 
  5. 1910 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, Chicago Ward 5, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 286, page 3B (handwritten), dwelling 39, family 54, lines 93-96, Seth Moffit household, digital image, Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 May 2018); citing FHL microfilm 1,374,257, original source data NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 244.