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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 12 May 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:

img006

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).