Sunday, June 15, 2014

Signature Sunday: Robert Lewis (or Louis?) ROBBINS

Genealogy has this way of surprising you by undoing what you know--or thought you knew.

My paternal grandfather, Robert Lewis ROBBINS, was named for his mother's side, the LEWIS family. We always knew this. My father told me so.[1] My grandaunt, my grandfather's youngest sister, told me so.[2] My sister gave her youngest son the middle name of Lewis, because he was born on Grandpa's birthday, the first birthday after he passed.[3]

My grandfather was a wonderful man. Most of you would agree you had a wonderful man for a grandfather, but mine was special. I never knew anyone who didn't immediately fall in love with my grandpa's gentle spirit, his sense of humor, his work ethic, his homespun wisdom, or his incredible faith. He loved people, and people loved him. Little children especially loved him. He could perform magic tricks, ride a unicycle, and tell funny stories, you see. Neighborhood kids would knock on door of my grandparents' house, and if my grandmother answered, they would ask, "Can Mr. Robbins come out and play?"[4]

He was a hero. As a volunteer firefighter, he saved lives and homes. We were never allowed to play with balloons as small children, because grandpa had a sad story of a life he didn't save: a young child who sucked on a balloon until it popped, the force of the burst causing the fragments of balloon down the windpipe, suffocating the child.[5]

As a flight mechanic in the U.S. Army Air Corps, he saved the lives of the crew on his flight by disobeying the pilot's order to only fuel one of the plane's fuel tanks, in order to reduce weight of the transport. The plane was part of the Alaska Division, Air Transport Command which flew military supplies and mail from Canada to Alaska and then again from Canada to Minnesota and North Dakota. On that particular flight, the pilot got lost. He ran out of the fuel for the one engine. If Grandpa hadn't used his common sense that day and fueled both tanks, I wouldn't be here, nor would over 30 of my family members.[6]

He was definitely a LEWIS. He was on the short side, just like his mother, who was only four feet, eleven inches tall. He might have had the ROBBINS ears, but he had the LEWIS nose, just like my dad and my siblings do. He was inspired by his own Grandpa LEWIS, a quiet but spunky carpenter who encouraged Grandpa when he started his own business as an auto body repairman after the war.[7]

Originally from Michigan, the fingers Grandpa had frozen flying near the North Pole during the war could not handle the cold Midwest winters. When the children left the (ROBBINS') nest, he and Grandma started spending winters in Texas, where his brother and sister-in-law lived and where his own parents often visited (my great-grandfather also couldn't handle Midwest winters, having served in North Russia during WWI).[8] My grandparents eventually retired in Rockport, Texas, but always visited their children and grandchildren and later, great-grandchildren, in long road trips to Florida, Michigan, and Washington.[9] We mourned his loss when he passed away on 29 December 2003.[10] As a veteran, he was entitled to a free burial at a National Veterans Cemetery, and so he was buried at Fort Sam Houston.[11]

After he passed, I created a memorial page for him on Find A Grave,[12] and submitted a request for a photo of his tombstone, which was soon fulfilled:

Later, I found his listing in the Nationwide Gravesite Locator[13] for Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery, a Veterans Administration project:

What was this? His name was spelled wrong on the veterans website! The military had it wrong! Ugh!

After a few years of scratching my head and wondering what I could do to submit a request of change, I was given the following document[14] from my uncle:

More head scratching ensued. Now, I know this document above was not an original record of birth. At the time my grandfather was born, a certificate of birth was required to be filed by the attending physician or midwife, or in their absence, the father or other competent person, within 10 days of birth.[15] The birth was also recorded in Liber 10 on page 40 of the county birth libers (huge official record books).[16] This certificate was filled out by using the information in the liber. My guess is that the original certificate of birth was either lost by my family members, or was never actually issued to them when my grandfather's birth was recorded. You'll note that this copy was created on 3 July 1942, when my grandfather was getting ready to enlist in the Army Air Corps.[17] He would have had to have a record of his birth to show upon his enlistment.There are at least two errors in the above certificate: the first is that my great-grandfather's middle initial is given as "S." His middle name was Bryan [18], so likely the handwritten liber entry was misread. The second error is a corrected typo where my great-grandfather's last name was spelled "Ribbins." If there could be these errors, there could be more. Perhaps the clerk glanced at the liber entry and assumed the handwritten "Lewis" said "Louis," just as they mistakenly entered "Wm. S. Riobbins" for "Wm. B. Robbins."

This prompted my next question: did Grandpa acknowledge this spelling of his name? Did he really believe it was "Louis" rather than "Lewis"? Every other document I could find for him from his marriage record to his driver's license, every signature I found from his youth to old age, simply stated "Robert L. Robbins."[19]

Just a couple of weeks ago, my father brought by some documents for me to scan. They included his birth certificate and a Report of Change of Status and Address from the War Department[20], reporting the birth of my father so that my grandfather's family allowances could be upgraded. At the bottom of the document was the following:

So there was the answer to my question: Robert Louis ROBBINS did indeed acknowledge this spelling of his name. I still don't know if this spelling was intentional or accidental. Only a look at the county liber book to determine with my own eyes what was written there will satisfy me somewhat that it may have intended to be "Louis." It won't completely erase all doubt, as I don't know what the original certificate issued close to birth said (if there was one), nor do I know my great-grandparents' intentions.

Regardless, my grandfather was both a ROBBINS and a LEWIS. And genealogy will continue to send many surprises my way, which is part of the addiction of it all!


     1. Robbins family traditions regarding Robert L. Robbins (1920-2003), Miriam Robbins, compiler (privately held by M. Robbins [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington.
     2. J. Sanders, Tulsa, Oklahoma [(CONTACT INFO FOR PRIVATE USE),] to Miriam J. Robbins, private Facebook message, 28 April 2013, no subject; privately held by Robbins [(CONTACT INFO) & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington.
     3.  Robbins family traditions about Robert L. Robbins (1920-2003).
     4.  Ibid.
     5.  Ibid.
     6.  Ibid.
     7.  Robert L. Robbins (Coopersville, Michigan) to "Dear...Miriam...." [Robbins Midkiff]. Letter, 28 August 1991. Privately held by M. Robbins, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington. 2014.
     8. Miriam Robbins, "1. A Polar Bear in North Russia," AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors, 16 July 2007 ( : accessed 15 June 2014).
     9.  Personal knowledge of Miriam Robbins [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington. Robbins, the granddaughter of Robert L. Robbins, was a host of her grandparents on numerous visits.
     10.  City of Corpus Christi, Texas, death certificate no. 097490 (2003), Robert Louis Robbins; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Corpus Christi-Nueces County Health Department, Corpus Christi.
     11.  Ibid.
     12.  ---, Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 15 June 2014), photograph, gravestone for Robert L. Robbins (1920-2003), Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas.
     13.  United States Department of Veterans Affairs, "Nationwide Gravesite Locator," database, Nationwide Gravesite Locator ( : accessed 15 June 2014), database entry for Robert Louis Robbins (1920-2003).
     14.  Muskegon County, Michigan, certificate as to birth, citing county birth liber 10, page 40 (1920), Robert Louis Robbins; Muskegon County Clerk's Office, Muskegon.
     15.  Carol McGinnis, Michigan Genealogy: Sources & Resources, Second Edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2005), 49.
     16.  Muskegon Co., Mich., certificate as to birth (1920), Robert Louis Robbins.
     17.  Access to Archival Databases, "World War II Army Enlistment Records," database, U.S. National Archives & Records Administration ( : accessed 22 Apr 2005). Database entry for Robert L. Robbins, Army serial no. 16086708.
     18.  Michigan Department of Public Health, death certificate 129632, local file no 72-1749 (1972), William Bryan Robbins; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Lansing.
     19.  Robert L. Robbins signature, Michigan Driver License, bef. 2000; privately held by Miriam Robbins [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington, 2014.
     20.  Robert Louis Robbins signature, Report of Change of Status and Address from the War Department to Robert Louis Robbins, Army serial no. 16086708, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 20 June 1944; digital copy held by Miriam Robbins [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington, 2014.

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