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Barbara Hartman Brown

April 21, 2012

Barbara Hartman Brown

Barbara Hartman Brown is my daughters’ 3rd great grandmother (great-great-great grandmother) on their father’s side. Some people may even wonder why I bother to write about a woman who went missing over 150 years ago. I’m starting with Barbara for two reasons. The first, obviously, is that I have a personal interest in the story. I have a nose for mystery. I don’t like unsolved mysteries or loose ends. The second reason, and more important, is I am writing about Barbara to illustrate the fact that when a person go missing the void left in the family never goes away even after generations. A rift is created when a person goes missing and the only way to fix the rift is to get the answers the family is looking for.

When I talk to the families of the missing, one of the biggest complaints I hear is that other people wonder why the family just can’t “move on” or “get closure.”  When a person goes missing, there is a huge hole created in the family. There can be no healing, no moving on, no closure without answers.  It’s as if a family is lost in a sort of suspended animation. Maybe today they will get the answer they are looking for, maybe tomorrow, maybe before the holidays.

Crystal Moore, a woman whose mother disappeared in 1971, explained at the 11th Annual Missing Person’s Day in Albany,New York the difference between what we “feel” happened to our missing loved one and what we “know” happened. Family and friends of the missing, particularly those with family members missing a long time hear, “Don’t you think they are dead?” There is a huge difference between thinking a person is dead and knowing it.

Of course, Barbara Hartman Brown is dead. But the questions still remain. How did she die? Where did she die? Was she murdered? Did she leave of her own volition? If she did leave on her own why did she leave and why did she never contact her children? If she didn’t leave of her own volition, who is responsible for her disappearance and, possibly, her death? Only by answering these questions can a family truly heal, find closure and move on.

So, here is Barbara’s story. Maybe you have a clue to where Barbara went. Maybe you can help solve a 150 year old mystery and bring answers to a family that has waited for generations for closure.

Somewhere between 1860 and 1870 Barbara disappeared. (I do believe the date is 1863 but I am still doing research. Barbara appears on the 1860 census but not the 1870.)  Barbara, her husband, John A. Brown, and children lived on German Street in the Rondout Area of Kingston,New York. John, an immigrant from Germany, had been a prosperous blacksmith. Barbara, seventeen years his junior, had been a “mail order” bride from Germany. However, they seemed a happy, well-adjusted and prosperous family.

The house that Barbara Hartman Brown disappeared from on German Street as it appears today.

According to family stories, John arrived home one day to find all the children clean and fed, the baby in a high chair and Barbara gone. His children were unable to provide any answers to their mother’s whereabouts indicating she had just “gone out.”  His first inquiries were around the neighborhood. No one could report anything out of the ordinary. A few people had seen Barbara about her daily errands but no one reported anything odd in her behavior.

John would spend most of his savings and the rest of his life looking for his wife. He placed ads in the Kingston Freeman. He hired the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency to look for his wife. Pinkerton claimed to have followed her trail to New York Citywhere it went cold. However, no proof this could be conclusive because no photos of Barbara were available.

As his search widened, his family slowly fell apart. Having no mother to care for the children, he started to bring the younger children to his blacksmith shop.  His youngest son, Ed, just a toddler at the time was kicked in the head by a horse and was permanently brain damaged. The oldest son, Sebastian, felt he was a burden on the family. He ran away and became a mule boy on the canal.  His father had to turn his search from his wife to his son. He eventually found the boy in Chicago. Sebastian running away was a turning point for John. He knew that he had to dedicate himself to his family and do everything he could to keep them together.

John always believed Barbara’s family knew where she was.  He remained friendly with his in-laws his whole life, even supporting a brother-in-law financially. He hoped that sooner or later, they would give him a clue to his wife whereabouts. When his daughter, Mary, died at age 20 he hoped his wife would finally come home. But that was not to be.

John never heard from Barbara or had one clue as to where she was.  Even after John’s death, his children were never to find out of her whereabouts. The children hoped that once their father had passed away their mother might come forward to explain her mysterious disappearance. She did not.  Her disappearance remains a mystery to this day.

John is laid to rest in Saint Mary’s cemetery in Kingston,New York. For a long time, there was an empty plot for his wife’s remains. It wasn’t until after his death that another family member was buried in the empty grave.

What I think happened is that Barbara Hartman Brown boarded a boat to New York City on that day 150 years ago. She was probably accompanied by another person, maybe a man. When she got to New York, she assumed a new identity. She may have stayed in the United States or returned to Germany. But I don’t know what happened to Barbara Hartman Brown. I would love to give my daughters the knowledge of what happened to their great-great-great grandmother.

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