Sunday, May 22, 2016

Will the real Harry Meals please stand up?

Oh boy, do I have a mystery on my hands!  And the farther I get into this, the more mysterious it becomes.

To start from the beginning, my husband’s paternal grandmother was Ethel Theresa Reussing.  All of his grandparents were gone by the time we started dating, except for Ethel, so I might feel a little closer to her since she was the only grandparent of his I ever met.  I also had the pleasure of meeting her younger sister, May Reussing.  They were the only two children who survived into adulthood of Cecilia (Gorham) and Carl Wilhelm Reussing.

One of our most treasured wedding gifts was a gift from Aunt May and from what I’ve learned, she was quite ‘famous’ for her beautiful grape trivets.  And since I don’t have many photos to share for this post, I thought I’d share a photo of the trivet - the grapes are actually made around bottle caps!

Ethel’s oldest grandchild and I have been researching and sharing information on the Reussing family for the last few years.  This family was in San Francisco during the earthquake in 1906 and there is so much to learn about them and how they survived the event.  Because the San Francisco Public Libary will do obituary lookups rather quickly, I decided it was time to look for an obituary for Carl Reussing who died in 1919.  SCORE!

Carl Reussing Obit
San Francisco Examiner
Monday, December 1, 1919

But wait – who are the two children mentioned?  Mrs. H.P. Ast (yep, that’s Ethel) and Mrs. C.H. Biesel (WHO?).  May was married to Harry Grant Meals and we’d always known her as May Meals.  So who was C.H. Biesel?  Was May married before she married Harry?

We went back to the records we had saved and reviewed everything again.  May and Harry’s first child was born in 1922 so we knew they were married in 1922.  So just what was up?

Here’s what we know about Harry.  He was born 13 Jun 1893 in Pennsylvania.  By 1900, he was in Alleghenny, Pennsylvania with his mother, Ella, and a new family she had with Edward McDonald and was listed as step son.  Okay, makes sense.  Harry’s father must have died somewhere between 1893 and 1900 and Ella had remarried.

By 1910, he was in Pittsburgh with the same family only now was listed as Harry McDonald.  I know that’s not uncommon for a step child to be enumerated with the same last name as a step father so it doesn’t set off too many red flags.  Unfortunately, we have been unable to find Harry or May in the 1920 census – where were they?  And what happened between 1910 and 1922 when their son, Robert H. Meals, was born?  And from that point on, there are several references to Harry and May, together with both Robert and his younger sister, Barbara, born in 1930.  So where did C.H. Biesel fit in to this story?

Back to reviewing all of the records.  And that’s when it hit me, Harry Meals’ U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Form!

Harry Meals Interment

Look closely at the name!  It was typed as Charles H. Biesel, crossed out, and Harry G. Meals was handwritten in!  And you can see it is him because it shows his widow as May Meals but under Remarks it says “Name legally changed to Meals, Harry G.  NOK wants MEALS on headstone”.  WHAT????

And then I found this.

Charles Biesel Interment

A nearly identical form with the name Charles H. Biesel clearly shown with the same reference to Harry G. Meals.  So Harry and Charles were the same person?  What the heck is going on?

And to add even more clues to the Harry/Charles mystery, I found both Charles H. Biesel and Harry G. Meals listed in the California Death Index.  And not only are they both listed, they are both listed with the same date of death and same social security number.  Cue the Twilight Zone music!

What’s really sending shivers down my spine is that while I was preparing this blog post this afternoon, I noticed a message in my ancestry account.  I’d forgotten that I’d sent a message a month or so ago to someone who was a DNA match with my husband and she had responded back to me.  Wanna know who she is?  HARRY MEALS’ GRANDDAUGHTER!  Is that music sounding louder?

And just to confirm that Harry is interred as Harry Meals, here is his headstone from Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California, where he is buried with his wife, May (Reussing) Meals.

Harry Meals Headstone
So now what?  Where do I go from here?

* No, I already asked Harry's granddaughter and she has never heard the name Charles Biesel before.


  1. Oh my goodness!! This is one of those mysteries sure to keep you awake at night. What about court records? Would there be court records associated with his name change that might reveal a "why?"

    I can't wait to see what you are able to find out.

    1. I hope I am able to find something out - the suspense is killing me!

  2. Witness protection program? I would look for news reports to see if Charles Biesel had done something to be ashamed of.

  3. Have you tried Fold3 or requested the military records for both names? That might help resolve the mystery!

  4. Fascinating!!!

    This won't help, most likely, with that part of the mystery, but do you know what all of the "organizations" are that Carl belonged to from his obituary? To find out more about him, you might learn more about those organizations & what records they might have.

    Happy hunting!