International Man of Mystery-Pt. 2

In a previous post, I reported finding that my great-grandfather, James M Dobbs, Sr., had lied about his age on a passport application he submitted in 1918. He was going to the European war zone on behalf of the YMCA, the precursor to the USO. Travel during World War I required approval from the War Department, and the U.S. government was not allowing civilians over the age of 55 to go abroad. James was 59 years old at the time. So, on his passport application, with the help of a friend at the courthouse in Atlanta, he made himself five years younger.

Last night, I discovered two more unusual passport applications.

In the 1890s, James was a diplomat in the U.S. consular service, and in 1893 President Cleveland appointed him as consul general to Valparaiso, Chile. He and his first wife, Emma Hahr Dobbs, spent five years in South America. The first of two applications that I found last night was one that he, as consul general, issued to Emma while they were in Chile. The application was dated April 1896, and the stated purpose of the application was “protection.”

I guess that the passport was required for travel outside of Chile, but why does it say that the purpose is for protection and not merely for travel?

James was not relieved of his post until several months after McKinley was sworn in as president in 1897. By then, Emma had given birth to a son they named after James. It took the family nearly three months to return to their home in Georgia. Part of their journey was a 38-day sea voyage from Chile to Hawaii.

Hawaiian Star December 21, 1897

Shortly after arriving home, the baby died, and according to her obituary, Emma died suddenly that summer. The journey back to the States must have taken a toll on her and the child.

For some time now, I have been obsessed over a gap in my great-grandfather’s narrative between the years 1898 and 1901, and wanting to know how my great-grandparents met. In 1901, my great-grandfather remarried. He and my great-grandmother, Helen Spiegel, were inexplicitly married in Manhattan.

James was from Georgia, and Helen was from Dallas, Texas. As to their marriage in New York City, The only thing that I can figure is that Helen had a connection to that city through her mother, Sophia, who was born in NYC and died back in the 1880s when Helen was a child. Yet that does seem like a stretch, and I suspect there is another reason they were married in that city.

Besides his work for the U.S. government as a diplomat, I have seen James’ occupation listed as either “working for the railroad,” “engineer,” or as “farmer/teacher.” He worked for the Panama Railway in the 1880s, was part owner of a lumber company in Atlanta, Georgia, before his appointment to Chile, and in the latter part of his life, he was a teacher at the Georgia Military Academy in College Park, Georgia, where my grandfather attended school as a teenager.

James appears in every U.S. Census from 1860 to 1920, except I cannot find him in the 1900 Census. (The 1890 census schedules were destroyed by fire at the Commerce Department building in 1921)


The other unusual passport application I found last night is one from the year 1900, and while it does provide some closure to the nearly four-year gap, it also raises more questions than it answers.

Unlike the 1918 application that came with four pages of endorsements and affidavits, the 1900 application is a single page. A passport was issued to James M Dobbs on October 17, 1900, at the U.S. Embassy in London. Unlike the 1918 application, James does give a correct birth date and birthplace on the 1900 form of “July 4, 1859, at Marietta, Georgia”. He states that his occupation is an engineer, and this is consistent with an earlier passenger list from the 1880s.

He states that he left the United States on October 6, 1900, and is now temporarily sojourning in London. He says that he intends to return to the United States within two years and requires a passport for travel.

The only odd part about his application is that he states that his permanent residence is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That is inconsistent with everything I know of my great-grandfather.

At the bottom of the application form, there is a section labeled Identification with spaces for a witness to provide information and a signature. Instead of that section being filled out, the document has been written on it parenthetically (Letter from W. Edward H. Strobel, New York City.)

Now I am off to try and figure out who this Edward H Strobel is. Is he the New York City connection for whom I have been searching? For the answer to that question see International Man of Mystery.

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