Covering genealogy, family history, historical events and places, and anything else related!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

52 Ancestors: Week 41 "Colorful": John Reynold Gatlin

I have many colorful ancestors and collateral relatives. It would have been hard to choose just one to focus on this week, but since I already wrote about many of them in previous 52 Ancestors posts, I have chosen one I have not yet profiled for the 52 Ancestors Challenge.

John Reynold Gatlin was born on 10 April 1889 in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee. He was the son of my 2nd-great-grandparents John William Morton Gatlin and Sarah Claire "Sadie" Dyer.

Nashville, Tennessee City Health Department, Division of Vital Statistics. Affidavit for Correcting a Record. File #224, John  R. Gatlin. 10 August 1942. Tennessee, Delayed Birth Records, 1869-1909 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Tennessee Delayed Birth Records, 1869–1909. Nashville, Tennessee: Tennessee State Library and Archives. 

As a young man, he joined the United States Navy. I have not yet discovered the date of his enlistment. Although he is listed at his parents' address in the 1910 Nashville City Directory, he was not in their household when the 1910 United States Census was enumerated, and I could not find him elsewhere. He was probably in the navy at that time. If, as he later stated, he was in the navy for six years, he had probably enlisted several years earlier.

On 7 July 1911, John and his brother William got into a fight. They were in Bloomington, Indiana, where their sister Mary Florence (Gatlin) Pate was living. George Alexander, who witnessed the fight while sitting on his front porch, went inside and came back out with his gun. One of the brothers shot at him, and he was seriously injured. The Gatlin brothers were pursued by the police.

 Indianapolis Star, 8 July 1911, page 1

John claimed that he had been the one who had shot George Alexander. I wonder if he was trying to protect his brother William, who was a convicted felon.

Indianapolis Star, 9 July 1911, page 16

By 1912, John was in Charlestown Naval Prison in Boston, Massachusetts, serving time for desertion.

 From Department of Correction Indiana State Prison records for William Gatlin, 1912.

 From Department of Correction Indiana State Prison records for William Gatlin, 1912.

By October 1914, he was out of naval prison and was living in Chicago, Illinois, where he was working as a bookbinder. On 1 October 1914, he, a man named Charles Harris, and two men that Harris knew began driving from Chicago to Bloomington, Indiana. John planned to visit his sister. As they approached Lafayette, Indiana, the three other men beat John, stole a diamond stud and $103, and threw John out of the car.

Indianapolis Star, 3 October 1914, page 4

William K. Wells, John's brother-in-law, was the owner of the car. At the time of the incident, John's sister Mary Florence was married to Downie Campbell Pate, and his sister Anna was married to Frank Joseph Smith. John was probably married to William K. Wells' sister, but I have not yet determined who she was.

On 7 October 1916, John was at Frank Morilli's saloon at 537 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois. He and several other men were causing trouble, and Morilli threw them out. John tried to go back inside the saloon, but Morilli shot him in the right leg.

Chicago Tribune, 8 October 1916, page 4

John's World War I draft registration card stated that his occupation was "ruler" but he was unemployed, that he was single, that he was an ordinary seaman in the U.S. Navy for 6 years, and that he had been dishonorably discharged.

World War I draft registration card, John R. Gatlin. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library microfilm.

In 1920, John was living in a rooming house in Chicago which was owned by Harry R. Arthur. He worked in a factory as a paper ruler. A 21 year old woman named Ermer Gatlin was listed underneath him. Although the relationship given (Roomer) was to the head of the household, she was probably John's wife. Both were listed as married in the census.

On 16 April 1923 in Cook County, Illinois, John married Pearl L. Charles. Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. 

In 1930, John lived in Chicago with his parents and his brothers Walter and Bruce. He was listed as married, but his wife was not in the household. The census record states that John was 18 years old when he first married. This may have been his marriage to the sister of William K. Wells, or he may have had yet another wife. He was working as a printer in a shop.

I think that the two items below probably refer to John and his wife Pearl. Although the marriage date is slightly off, it is close. John's sister Mary Florence (Gatlin) Pate lived in Bloomington, Indiana, and his sister Anna was living in Detroit, Michigan. I have not yet been able to locate any information about the child.

Logansport Pharos-Tribune (Logansport, Indiana), 22 January 1931, page 9

Logansport Pharos-Tribune (Logansport, Indiana), 24 March 1931, page 3

At the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, John was living with his brother Walter and mother Sadie. The handwriting is difficult to read, but it looks like his occupation was night watchman at City Yard.

On 9 December 1940 in Chicago, John married Mrs. Kathleen Culberson.

Cook County, Illinois marriage license and return, John R. Gatlin and Mrs. Kathleen P. Culberson, 9 December 1940.

This marriage apparently did not last long. On John's World War II draft registration card, he listed his mother as the person who would always know his address.

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration), for The State of Illinois; State Headquarters: Illinois; Microfilm Series: M2097; Microfilm Roll: 95. U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. 

John died in Chicago on 13 July 1945. He fell on a public sidewalk and fractured his skull. Since he lived such a colorful life, I wonder if there was more to the story. Perhaps he had been drinking. Maybe someone pushed him, although since his death was ruled an accident, it probably did not look like someone intended to kill him.

Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Statistics. Coroner's certificate of death. John R. Gatlin. Filed 19 July 1945.

John was buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery in River Grove, Cook County, Illinois.


  1. Goodness! What a colourful life, indeed. Very impulsive behaviour he was showing, eh? I found myself wondering how the child he and Pearl had, managed in life, after all this. Perhaps it was good that John left the home after not many years.

  2. Oh yes, very! I hope the child managed OK. I am still trying to find out more about him or her. Many of John's relatives led colorful lives too. His brother William served several prison sentences and was shot to death in Joliet. His brother Henry (my great-grandfather) was a bigamist. His paternal grandfather was tried for an ax murder. His mother's half-brother was sentenced to death for killing a police officer, but he committed suicide before he could be executed. Thanks for reading and commenting!