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Friday, February 07, 2014

Found ONE... Arthur E. Diggs Sr.

I am still on a frantic journey to chase down heirs of Harrison Diggs – a former slave of the third University of Missouri President William W. Hudson.  In collaboration with my Cuz, Linda Hardiman-Palmer; we ran into a few snags which are chronicled in two previous blogs: “How Did You Find That? Phyllis Violeta Diggs Draffen Wallace and “Is That Our Arthur E. Diggs…?

As I mentioned previously,  over the past 6 months we have accumulated quite a bit of documentation on the Diggs families of Columbia, Missouri.  Using –we’ve stock-piled and organized every single piece of paper to date.  At the moment – our cyber-storage for Diggs research is holding about 362 files.

Despite our ability to amass records fairly successfully – one major challenges has been trying to clarify and sort out the family of Harrison Diggs including his parents, his brothers Henry Diggs, Silas Diggs, and Beverly Chapman and a sister Sally Knolly from other DIGGS families.  

There was another Diggs family in Columbia headed by Burrell Diggs (d. April 8, 1917) who was from Fayette, Missouri (Howard County).  Burrell's parents were Phillip Diggs and Mary Foy.   The record below says: "Married by the undersigned justice of the peace of Moniteau Township Howard County, Missouri on the 17th day of December, 1865 Phillip Digges to Mary Ann Digges (colored)..."
Children listed: Burrell (25 years old), Sarah (23 years old), Phillip [Jr] 21 
John 18, Charles 15, Willie 13, Nellie 8  and George 5
David W. Street JP witnessed Jan. 5, 1866 C. H. Stewart, clerk.
State Historical Society of Missouri
Gentry, North, Todd Collection 10049 #231

Burrell also worked as a janitor at the University of Missouri.  His obituaries are interesting? Here is a transcription of a small obit that ran in the University Missourian..  Old Time Negro Dies -- Burell Diggs a negro known by many persons in Columbia, died at his home, corner of Ash and Second Streets, Tuesday evening.  Diggs was 72 years old.  He had lived in Columbia for 40 years.  He was known as a typical old-time slave darkey. 

Versus the obituary on the right -- I found this in file via the The Historical Society of Missouri -- the publication source is not referenced.
 University Missouri, April, 30, 1914. 
There was also Duke Diggs who was a prominent businessman in Jefferson City, Missouri from Boonville (Cooper County, Missouri). He and his wife Estella Branham-Diggs helped establish and build the Jefferson City Community Center. The center opened its doors in 1942 for the purpose of serving the needs of the city's black population. 

Additionally, Duke Diggs had four brothers who I also researched looking for clues to potentially confirm a kinship connection with the other DIGGS families. His brothers were: Marion, Arthur (Ugghh another ARTHUR), Charles and Nathaniel.   However, as far as we can tell (at least for now); Duke Diggs was neither related to Burrell Diggs nor the family of Harrison Diggs.  I also identified at least three Black Diggs families in Cooper County, Missouri – and my Wilson ancestors from Bunceton have a kinship tie to one of these Diggs lines.  I will revisit the Bunceton and Boonville DIGGS families in a future blog research report.

But for the purpose of my upcoming  presentation (which has now been postponed from Tuesday, February 11 to Monday, February 17, 2014 at 7:00 PM) – I’m going to focus on Harrison Diggs and other people of color who were former slaves  and/or had ties to the University of Missouri.  As far as I can tell, Harrison was the only member of his family who worked at the University of Missouri, served in the Civil War, and left a substantial trail for us to bumble around on -- because he had 10 kids and lived into the 19th century dying in 1927. We got hung up several times because Harrison and his siblings used similar names for their children.  We’ve had particular trouble sorting out the Annies and Arthurs.

The Annies
While sifting through the giant deed books at the Boone County courthouse – we were surprised to find an adoption record for a child one year and seven months old named Ruth –a daughter of Annie Diggs.  The adoption was recorded in deed book 150, pages 366-367 on July 31, 1916.   Emmaline Williams, daughter of Tunsil Rogers and Winnie Henry; adopted Ruth.  

We think Ruth was Harrison Diggs’ granddaughter – but we can’t prove it.  Harrison’s daughter Annie Diggs was twice married.  She lived briefly in Chicago then returned to Columbia, MO after the death of her husband William Taylor.   She then married Sterling Smith on September 17, 1908; and had one child with him named Sterling Smith Jr.  Sterling Smith Sr. was also a witness in the Civil War pension file of Harrison Diggs. 

Sifting through and sorting out the Annies was a convoluted nightmare.  I worked on it during the day and Cuz stayed up late into the evening until the wee hours of the morning – trying to figure it all out as well.  

We spent weeks theorizing WHICH Annie or Anna Diggs it could be?  Was it the one in Hannibal; or the daughter of Harrison’s brother Silas who also had a daughter named Annie?   We argued day and night each presenting our version of a potential scenario of which Annie was Ruth’s mother.  At one point I went to the courthouse and pulled EVERY Annie/Anna Diggs marriage record I could find -- trying to find answers.  The marriage records helped sort out the Annies (kinda) but we still didn’t find any concrete connection as to the identity or which Annie Diggs was Ruth’s mother.  Ruth William’s obituary is rich with details such as she attended Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri and Northwestern University in Chicago.  Her attendance at Northwestern is important to note – because at that time the University of Missouri did not allow Black students to matriculate into the institution.  The University of Missouri began accepting women in 1867 -- but it didn't accept it's first Black student Gus T. Ridgel until 1950!  Ridgel was also the first black student to graduate from MU.  

Ruth Williams' 1941 death record left us stumped. Her sister Ora Williams was the informant who listed only Annie Diggs as her mother.  

The Arthurs
In sorting out Arthurs in my last post, I teased out what we found on Edward Diggs and decided that he was not related to Harrison Diggs in any way.  Nancy Draffen-Brown -- shared with me a death record for Edward Diggs  that her mother Nancy Draffen obtained sometime in 2001.  Like us – she was seeking answers about her family.  However, at the end of that report, I included a new piece of information from the estate file of John S. Diggs; which I retrieved from the Missouri State Archives.  I hadn’t realized that the probate index for Jackson County, Missouri was online.  So I sorted through the index looking for files that we may have missed.  The Missouri State Archives holds estate files up to case number 100,000.  John Diggs estate file is 413474.  Excellent!  That meant I would be leaving with the file that day!

Finally things appeared to be coming together!  John Diggs lived in Kansas City at 2316 Montgall St.   He died in 1934 and his estate was filed in the Jackson County, MO probate court and administered by his brother Homer Diggs.  The most important page in the probate record is anything that lists ALL the living heirs.    The December 31, 1934 probate record page 2 notes the following:

Homer Diggs (brother) Kansas City, Missouri
Anna Simons or Simms (sister) Ottumwa, IA [Ugghhhh ANNIES!]
Arthur Diggs (brother) Omaha, Nebraska
Mazie Diggs (niece) Kansas City, Missouri
George Diggs (nephew) Kansas City, Missouri
Willie Seals (nephew) Excelsior Springs, Missouri

Oh joy, oh joy, oh joy! [Think --Cocoa Puffs commercial].. that's how happy I was -- how gleeful Cuz and I responded to seeing Arthur Digg’s name listed.  So of course, I wanted to find him right away on the census. Nope.. not that easy.  

But I did find him listed in on the Omaha City Directory – and the surprise was the OTHER DIGGS that was listed. Charlotte Diggs -- she was the wife of Rev. James Silas Diggs -- who married Arthur E. Diggs Sr. and Bettie Smith. 

Cuz and I just about lost it YIPEE... we were making MORE progress.  In the meantime, while I was getting the records from the Missouri State Archives in person; Linda had requested an estate file on Roscoe Diggs by mail.  This case was also probated in Jackson County Missouri beginning November 7, 1913 case #13044.  
Roscoe Diggs died October 17, 1913 and was killed in a street-car accident and the Metropolitan Street Railway Company was sued for negligence therefore causing Diggs’ death.  We could not find the court case; but the probate record told us what we needed to know.

Page 1233 lists the following heirs in the estate of Roscoe Diggs:
Betty Diggs (mother) Sturgeon, Missouri
Arthur E. Diggs (father) Omaha, Nebraska
Arthur E. Diggs (brother) 1829 Flora Ave, Kansas City, Missouri
We’re talking pay dirt here – Cuz and I were pretty dog-gone happy!

Arthur E. Diggs and Betty Diggs renounced their right to administer the estate of their son and M. J. Dowling was appointed the administrator.  

The estate had no assets and the court recovered a $1,000.00 settlement from the Metropolitan Railway Company.   The attorney received HALF of the settlement – which was $500 (I’m not even going to go into the disco-fit aka adult temper-tantrum I threw -- when I read that portion of the document.  Each of the heirs received a share of the balance.   

It appears that Arthur E. Diggs Sr., waived at least a portion of his residual distributive share of his son’s estate in favor of his former wife Mrs. Betty Diggs.

Cuz sent out requests for obituaries and death certificates in Nebraska for Arthur E. Diggs Sr.  We also requested a file for a Lawrence Diggs that we saw listed on the Omaha city directories – but he turned out to not be a relative.  

The Omaha Public Library reference librarian told us they could not find obituaries for Arthur E. Diggs or his 2nd wife Lucy Diggs who died July 30, 1936.  We used the data from their burials to request obituaries.  It’s possible they were not found because the dates were for their burial not the actual death dates.  We have re- submitted our request because we now have an actual date of death for Arthur E. Diggs Sr. 

Additionally, I've written to the Douglas County Historical Society inquiring about research assistance to locate a potential probate file for Arthur E. Diggs Sr.   I spoke to a clerk at the Douglas County Probate Office who told me that I would need to come there and look in the big book downstairs (myself) if I wanted to know if Arthur's  name was listed. She wasn't willing to go look for me -- this was even after I told her I lived in Columbia, Missouri.  I will be following up with Douglas County Historical Society soon.  

Arthur E. Diggs Sr.was buried in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Omaha, NE.

His 2nd wife Lucy Diggs was buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery.

The record of burials is available electronically (pdf) due to the hard work of a community project called Project Prospect 1981: A Youth Investigation of Blacks Buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery, Omaha, NE.   The research for the cemetery project was conducted by the Girls’ Club of Omaha and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington DC.  

Ok.. so let's wrap up this portion of the chase.
We found Arthur E. Diggs, Sr.  HOORAY! He was: 

  • Grandfather of Phyllis Diggs
  • 1st husband of Bettie Smith Diggs
  • Father of Roscoe and Arthur E. Diggs Jr
  • Brother of John Diggs
  • Son of Silas Diggs

Silas Diggs and Harrison Diggs were brothers!  Bingo!  We got one (Arthur)!

But guess what?  We still have ONE MORE ARTHUR DIGGS to discuss!

Stay tuned or come to my presentation at the Daniel Boone Regional library branch on Monday, February 17 and you’ll find out.


Traci L. Wilson-Kleekamp