top of page
  • Writer's pictureKristin Wenger

The Mysterious Miss Mamie

The Mystery

Mamie’s mother died just weeks after the little girl's fourth birthday. Her father, in desperate circumstances, placed his five young children into orphanage care. Separated from her siblings and her parents, Mamie Hornberger lost everyone and everything she knew at the tender age of four in the fall of 1908.

In 1910, she was listed as an "inmate" in the Lancaster County Children’s Home.

The only census to ever record Mamie Hornberger (last name on this image)

And then, according to her father, she disappeared under “mysterious circumstances” and was gone without a trace.

This news article states that Mamie Hornberger was still "missing" in 1930.

What happened to Mamie after the age of six?

Why was her father unable to find her?

*Disclaimer: I am not including all of my normal source citations at this point because this research is still very much a work in progress. I intend to write Mamie’s entire story with citations once I complete additional research and include DNA evidence.

The Challenge

Women can be notoriously more challenging to research than men, partially because of the change of surname upon marriage. In this case, the challenge was complicated because Mamie’s given name was changed upon her adoption at age six. Not only that, but I discovered that her surname changed at least five times throughout her life.

Revisit Your Research

Mamie’s story provides an excellent example of two reasons why we should revisit our research:

1. You will be evaluating the records you already have through the eyes of a more experienced genealogist than you were when you initially found them.

2. New collections are constantly being indexed or digitized, making record sets more accessible. In this case, I found that the county archives recently added some new indexes, including this one:

A quick trip to the archives and I had the original book and records in my hands.

The archivist was kind enough to offer to bring out the original adoption papers which provided much of the same information, but also included signed statements from both Monroe and the directors of the children's home (also known as the Home for Friendless Children).

This last page indicates that Monroe knew that his daughter's adoptive father was named Samuel King. So when Mamie became a young adult, why couldn't he find her?

Pieces of the Puzzle

The adoption documents gave me the missing pieces of the puzzle to continue the search. Mamie’s adoptive parents were Samuel F. and Mary A. King. At age six, Mamie Hornberger was renamed Cora Mary King. In short order, I discovered several challenges which would have made it difficult for Monroe to locate his daughter with the information and communication methods available in the 1920s and 1930s.

1. The Kings moved to Philadelphia, a much larger city than Lancaster.

2. Samuel King died in 1922, leaving only Mary (an extremely common name).

3. Cora did not keep the King surname for very long.

The Plot Thickens

By the time she was fourteen, Cora was pregnant. Close to her 15th birthday, in either July or August of 1919, she gave birth to a daughter. The January 1920 census record below contains several errors (Cora’ age and middle initial; Mary C. is listed as the Kings’ daughter rather than granddaughter); however, it did provide one very important clue.

Note the Kings, Cora, and baby Mary (highlighted)

The baby’s father was reported to have been born in Michigan. That allowed me to narrow down the males in Philadelphia with the surname Walters until I found the likely father candidate: Frank I. Walters.

It appears that Frank and Cora soon moved to Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania. Here is an example of them living at the same address in a 1923 city directory.

Mamie’s Many Men

Frank and Cora did not stay together. Her life took many twists and turns. Cora/Mamie was such a challenge to trace because there were so many changes in her name and her closest family members. Throughout her life, these were her identities (at least the ones I’ve found so far!)

  • Mamie Hornberger (daughter of Monroe C. and Lizzie (Frankfort) Hornberger, Rothsville, Lancaster County)

  • Cora Mary King (adopted daughter of Samuel F. and Mary A. King, Lancaster City and Philadelphia)

  • Cora M. Walters (Frank I. Walters, Philadelphia and Reading)

  • Cora M. Keim (Robert R. Keim, Reading)

  • Cora Long (Earl D. Long, Reading)

The Constant

There were lots of women named Cora in Philadelphia and Reading. As I searched for her in city directories, how could I be sure I had the right one?

The middle initial M certainly helped. But no matter how many times her surname changed, there was one thing that remained consistent in Mamie's adult life: her occupation as a “looper.”

What exactly was a looper, you ask?

Occasionally, city directories will list employers in addition to occupation. Here, in 1947, I hit the jackpot.

I even found a 1948 Camp & McInness hosiery ad that gives the exact address where she worked as a looper in Reading when her name was Cora M. Keim.

More Mysteries to Unravel

In the challenging case of Mamie/Cora Hornberger King Walters Keim Long, I’ve pieced together much more of her life than I had last spring. But following the trail of her adoption paperwork has only led to another mystery. What became of her baby daughter?

According to that 1920 census record, Mary C. Walters was born in late July or early August 1919 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Of course, Pennsylvania does not release birth records until 105 years have passed, so obtaining official records will have to wait. After trading messages with a fellow family historian who is a direct descendant of Monroe, I would venture to say that this mystery might be solved much sooner - thanks to DNA. Privacy of the living is essential, so the rest of this story is not mine to tell.

The many mysteries of Mamie Hornberger continue...


bottom of page