137 Years Ago Today

On December 21, 1875, one hundred and thirty-seven years ago today, Theodore Frelinghuysen Stearns (1844-1930) married Anna Eliza Backer (1854-1919) before a Justice of the Peace in Alameda Co., California. Both were living in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland in Alameda Co., California.

Marriage Certificate of Theodore Stearns and Anna Backer

Following their marriage, Theodore and Anna moved to Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon, where they four children between 1885 and 1891: Maudena, Vena, Theodore, and Curtis. Theodore and Anna’s marriage did not last much longer after 1891. Theodore, according to statements Anna made when she filed for divorce, “willfully and without cause deserted [Anna Stearns] on October 2, 1901; and has ever since remained away from [her], and that [he] treated [her] with cruelty and inhumanity, thereby rendering [her] life burdensome.” Anna’s request for a divorce was granted, and their marriage was “dissolved” on November 7, 1902. Both Anna and Theodore remarried following their divorce.

Photo of Theodore and Anna Stearns in Portland, Oregon
Photo of Theodore and Anna Stearns in Portland, Oregon

Theodore Frelinghuysen Stearns (1844-1930) and Anna Eliza Backer (1854-1919) are my 3rd great grandparents, and were the parents of Maudena Elizabeth Stearns (1885-1936) who married George Edward Kernan (1884-1960).

13 thoughts on “137 Years Ago Today

  1. This is an interesting post. If I’m dong the math right they were married for more than 25 years before the divorce. There were so few divorces back then–so things much have gotten really bad.

    I hope they both had happy second marriages.

    1. From what I have been told, Theodore was not a very nice person. It seems she was able to get a divorce only after he abandoned her–I have not made a study of it, but I wonder if that was one of the only reasons that was accepted for a woman to file for a divorce back then. As for their second marriages, Anna’s seems to have been. I’m not sure about Theodore, but he was married to his second wife until her death, and then he remarried after that to a third wife.

      1. Who was the third wife? I think that he went to live with grandfather. Could you please give me the third wife’s name? Thanks

      2. Hi Ann. In the past when we corresponded, you told me that Theodore was married to Anna Eliza Backer, Agnes McClelland, and then a Rachel Becky after Agnes died. I have no information on Rachel, however.

      3. I looked through my genealogy and the name Rachel Becky appears on my grandfather’s death certificate as his mother. He was Earnest Theodore Stearns, son of Theodore F. and Annie Backer. It says the information was given by a Dr. so I don’t know if he had told the doctor that or if his second wife had given the information. More likely his wife. I am sorry if I told you otherwise before.

      4. After Agnes died Theodore F. came to live with my grandfather until his death. There was no third wife.

  2. I tend to think of divorce as something that arose mid-century but obviously not the case; interesting experience from your own family.

    I found a find a case doing Find-a-Grave photos recently I found intriguing. I found the grave of a woman who died in 1941; her 60’s; in the state hospital. Generally that would mean she was indigent but someone paid for a headstone for her. I was intrigued by the note on her death cert that said the location and age of her husband was unknown. Doing a little digging I learned he was 13 years her junior- somewhat unusual when then married around 1910. They had three children when he was in his early 20’s, she in her mid-30’s and then he left. He is buried in Michigan; she in Phoenix.

    1. When I started researching my ancestry, I was basically of the same mind as you. I was surprised to find that divorce possible, even in the 1700’s. It seems, though, that women were less able to file for them. That is interesting research you did. I have older men marrying younger women, but not many older women marrying younger men. In fact, I cannot think of an instance at the moment. It’s interesting that these two have ties to Michigan, where you are from (right?), and where you currently live. 🙂

  3. My name is Ann Blake Hill and I am the great granddaughter of Theodore Freelinghison Stearns and Anna Eliza Backer. I have her Bible, pictures, etc. My mother was Dora Stearns Blake daughter of Earnest Stearns. The story always told my Anna was that she was an illegitimate triple brought out of England by a nurse. My mother remembered her getting letters from England and the pretty stamps on the envelopes. Theodore was indeed not a nice man and beat Anna and later when he was older my mother said if you got too close to him he would try to hit you with his cane.

    I have searched for Anna for about 25 years and cannot find out who her parents are. The earliest I have her is her marriage record from Oakland, California in 1875, which is 40 miles from my house. She is 21 and I am beginning to think that her maiden name might not have been Backer and possibly she had been married previously. The Bible was sent to her in 1890 something (would have to look) and had previously belonged to a Richardson McCulley in Buffalo, New York. How she ever knew him I have never found out. I have a two foot picture of her in my gallery in a antique convexed frame and I pass her many times every day. She is one of four of my ancestors that I cannot find parents of. Another grandchild of hers Bernice Aldridge went to England to try to find out about her and there was no birth record found. They said if she was indeed illegitament it could be filed under anything.

    1. Hi Ann. It is good to hear from you. You and I have corresponded via email several times in the past–I’m William Kernan. My line is through Theodore and Anna’s daughter Maudena, who married George Kernan. I have wondered if Backer was actually her maiden name or if she had been married before. The only other clue we have is the individuals who are stated as her parents on her death certificate. Although they are not her biological parents, they are the best clue to her past. Do you have any details about them? I have attempted to find out more using their names, but I cannot seem to find her on Census records prior to a certain point.

      1. I think that you are referring to Jno and Anna Creswell which Jonathan Tice gave as her parents. I don’t think he knew who her parents were. Although it would have been strange to just pull names like that out of the air. I have looked on the England Civil Registration under Creswell but could not find anything. One thing I did think of was to look and see if they still have the marriage APPLICATION for her marriage to Jonathan Tice. The application she herself probably would have given the information on. I also am beginning to think that when she gave her name as Anna Eliza Backer on her first marriage to Theodore F Stearns in Oakland in 1875 that maybe she had been married before. I did check and they no longer have the marriage application in Oakland for 1875. The Bible does says Backer though. It was filled out by either Maudena or the other daughter (her name escapes me now). There are mistakes in what she wrote at the front of the Bible and it was all written at the same time which most likely was from memory. Another thing I am thinking about is Richardson McCulley the person that had owned the Bible. For someone to send a Bible to Anna from New York, he must have had some close connection. Richardson Mc Culley was a mariner from Ireland. He was older. I wonder if she met him on the ship of if she possibly stayed in the same rooming house that he did at one time in New York.

        The lady is such a mystery. I have searched and searched for her on census records and passenger lists but found nothing before 1880. It was rumored that she came out on a Mormon ship and I have search those but found nothing. They also say that she spent some time in Utah with Mormons. So many rumors. The earliest that I know for a FACT about her is she was married in 1875 in Oakland. The rest is all hearsay. But my mom and Bernice all heard the same things from her.

        I love your blog (is that what it is, I am not very computer literate). I think that there is a good chance someone might come along and have some information that we do not have. If you find out anything please let me know and I will do the same.


  4. William,

    Would you please contact me concerning the Bible of Anna Eliza Backer Stearns Tice.

    Ann Blake Hill

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