Josephine Sellers: A Wedding, A War, and A Pandemic

Several years ago, as I was sitting with my cousins after having eaten lunch, my grandpa brought a document into the room for me to look at.  It was a Certificate of Death for a Josephine Sellers Wiseheart.  Josephine was not a family name with which I was familiar.  Grandpa said she was Pap’s (his dad) first wife.

In 1918, there was an influenza pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people.  Josephine Sellers Wiseheart was one of these people.  She was sixteen and a half.  She and Sanford Wesley Wiseheart (Pap) had been married for almost a year and half.  For such a short marriage, it was certainly an eventful one.

I have no idea how they met or exactly when, I just know that Josephine was living with her parents and two brothers in Vincennes, Indiana in 1910, so they couldn’t have been in New Albany for more than seven years.  In any case, Sanford and Josephine were married by the pastor of Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church on July 20, 1917.  Josephine’s birthdate was listed as May 15, 1901, which would have made her sixteen at the time of their marriage.  She was born in Daviess County, Indiana.  Her parents were Charles A. Sellers and Maud Padgett.  Charles Sellers consented to the marriage.

Just four months later, the couple separated and Josephine filed for divorce, rather her mother filed for her because she was a minor.

New Albany Daily Ledger, 10 Nov 1917, p.4, column 2, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

New Albany Daily Ledger, Saturday, 10 Nov 1917, p.4, column 2, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Family legend is that Sanford, or Sandy as he was known around town, filed for divorce because he found out that Josephine had lied about her age.  I haven’t found any evidence that he ever filed for divorce.

On April 22, 1918, Sandy was inducted into the Army, having already filled out a draft registration card in June of 1917.  In August of 1918, he left for France.

In December of 1918, Josephine caught the flu.  Dr. Schoen attended her from December 2nd until her death on December 11th.  Her Death Record shows that she was married to a J. Wiseheart at the time of her death.  I’ve found no record of the divorce having gone through and I’ve found no record of Josephine ever having married again.  I believe that it was supposed to have been S. Wiseheart.

Floyd County, Indiana Deaths, Book CH-24, p.104, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Floyd County, Indiana Deaths, Book CH-24, p.104, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Her death record also states that she was born on May 24, 1902.  So, either she (and her father) lied about her age when she married or the clerk made an error.  Or, the death record is incorrect.  I’ve tried to find a birth record to verify the date to no avail.  I searched first in Daviess County, since that’s where the marriage record says she and her mother were born.  Then I searched Orange County, where her father was born, and Knox County where they lived before moving to New Albany.  I also searched the surrounding counties of Pike, Martin, Dubois, and Greene in case she had been born while they were moving from one place to another.  Lastly, I searched Floyd County, since that’s where they ended up.  No birth record.

Josephine was buried in Sandy’s plot at Fairview Cemetery on December 14, 1918 as Josephine S. Wiseheart.  Her father had her moved to the Sellers family plot in Holy Trinity Cemetery just two months later.

Fairview Cemetery, Volume VI, 1910-1919, p.127, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Fairview Cemetery, Volume VI, 1910-1919, p.127, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Her tombstone reads Josephine Sellers, 1902-1918.  I wonder if he moved her because she was posthumously granted the divorce or if he just really wanted her to be separated from Sandy even in death.  I’m keeping an eye out for any documentation that a divorce was granted, but everything I’m finding says that Sandy was a widower.

Such was the short, dramatic life of Josephine Sellers.  Even though I’m not directly related to her, I sometimes wonder about her.  What did she look like?  What was her personality?  Why did she marry at fifteen or sixteen?  What really happened to cause her to file for divorce?  When I think about her in terms of being my great grandfather’s first wife, it doesn’t seem so long ago, but looking at dates, it was nearly one hundred years ago.  These are questions to which I will probably never know the answer.

One thought on “Josephine Sellers: A Wedding, A War, and A Pandemic

  1. My maternal grandmother was born in New Albany, in 1898, I think. She had 7 sisters. Her father, George Soergel was a farmer I believe, and their farm was near the railroad tracks. My grandmother was named Bertha at birth, later changing her name to Dorothy. Three of her sisters died: Agnes, Mary, and one I don’t know the name of. The others were Julia, Esther, Edna, Viola. Her mother was also Esther, I think. Her maiden name was either Sparks or Jackson, I think. I’d love to know if you came across any mention of any of them. One address I saw was East Elm street. I think one of the girls died in the epidemic. Viola had badly burned her feet on the tar near the tracks, and there are stories of a healer coming by. My great-grandfather had collies on the farm. I think the girls worked in a garment factory at some point. I wish I could give you help, but I don’t know much else. Good luck with your search!

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