CGS volunteer Dick Rees handles the mail at the society, so it was he who first read McMaster's request. Dick spearheaded the research efforts of a small group that included Verne Deubler, Nancy Peterson, Vinnie Schwarz and Pat Smith.
William Harold Roberts was the son of John and Elfreda Seifert Roberts, born October 14, 1895, in San Francisco. No official birth record exists because the ledgers were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.
The team gathered data from all the likely sources and also contacted the Episcopal Diocese Archives, the Lick-Wilmerding High School, the San Francisco Historical Society and the San Francisco Public Library and their Sixth Floor History Center.
But "Look-up" volunteer, Pat Smith, hit pay dirt when she followed the "no stone left unturned" approach and found a listing for William Harold Roberts in the San Francisco probate index.
The estate file includes a typescript of a letter that Roberts wrote to his father on July 4, 1918 from France. After Robert's death in November of that year, the letter became his last will and testament.
Harold's letter was started in ink but was finished in pencil when his fountain pen went dry. It was in the closing sentences, in pencil, that Roberts indicated that if he died everything should be left to his father's sister, Ida May Zeile.
Roberts, who was unmarried, left a war risk insurance policy, probably standard issue by the Army. The "will" was challenged by family members when Harold's aunt filed for probate in 1924, two years after the death of Roberts' father. An article from the November 18, 1924, San Francisco Chronicle, "Will of Hero Hit in Court - Relatives Attack Letter Written on Battlefield Leaving Estate" describes charges of forgery and the fight for the money.
Ultimately, Ida was named the executor and Roberts' $8000 estate was divided among the living relatives.
Read the entire series:
- Part 1 — Searching for Harold Roberts
- Part 3 — Roberts' Battlefield Letter
- Part 4 — A Face for Harold Roberts
- Part 5 — A Hero's Final Resting Place