Closet relics spur genealogy project to solve mystery of Shasta pioneers

At some point in the life of each person, there is an almost primordial instinct to find out about one's ancestors.

For Paul "Ernie" Foster, 58, of Sedona, Ariz., that moment arrived in 2003 while cleaning out a bedroom closet forgotten since high school.

The engraved Masonic sword belonging to his great-grandfather John Henry Foster set Paul Foster on a journey of discovery that culminated last weekend with the inclusion of his great-great-grandparents, Jacob and Adeline Forster (John Henry Foster's parents) on the official Pioneer Plaque list of the Shasta County Historical Society as two of the earliest founders of Cottonwood.

"What started out as a question of where to put some family artifacts turned into an all-consuming passion and a mission for me," Paul Foster said at the conclusion of a nearly six-hour picnic and family gathering Sunday, Aug. 16, that included more than 100 people ranging in age from two weeks to 87 years.

Folks traveled from as far away as Massachusetts to join the gathering, said Paul Foster.

Along the way, a family mystery was solved, he added.

For 123 years, most members of the Foster clan thought that Jacob Forster, when 58, had been murdered in El Paso, Texas, while scouting for land on which to start a new cattle operation. He had sold the Forster Hotel in Cottonwood in 1883 and reportedly set out with $8,000 cash with which to buy some land for raising cattle.

Jacob left behind his wife, Adeline, and their five grown children, his brother John Forster and a sister-in-law, Mary, and their nine grown children.

One of his sons, a railroad agent, set out on his father's trail in 1886 and returned a year later with "confirmation" of the rumored murder, the Shasta Courier newspaper reported in 1887.

But a newspaper story dated April 1893 included a short account of a visit to the Anderson and Cottonwood areas by a "Jake" Forster some seven years after Jacob Forster's supposed "obituary" had been printed.

That tiny article caused Paul Foster to dig a bit deeper.

It turns out that Jacob Forster, at 57, took the better part of his cash earnings after selling the Forster Hotel, which he and Adeline had built in the 1850s, and a 23-year-old woman by the name of Ida Frates, to the Fort Worth, Texas, area of Tarrant County.

Census records from 1900 show that Jacob Forster had moved to Texas in 1884 with his wife Ida Frates and the couple had a four-year-old son, John Jakob Foster.

Jacob Forster died Aug. 10, 1901, in Tarrant Co., Texas.

© 2009 Anderson Valley Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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