Bette Hults grew up without a father and with a mystery.
Where was her dad? Why had he disappeared without a trace?
Now 93, she spent much of her life looking for the man identified on her mother’s marriage certificate as Rex Clayton. That central mystery likely sparked her lifelong interest in genealogy.
Hults, who lives in Everett with her 71-year-old son, Dan Hults, has volumes of family-tree information. She has paperwork and pictures related to her mother’s kin, and the ancestry of her late husband, Thomas Hults. He died in 1990.
She has learned that several ancestors came to the New World on the Mayflower. Yet there were always questions about Clayton — the dad she never met. Now she has answers, thanks to astonishing results of an Ancestry.com DNA test.
“A couple years ago, she did the Ancestry.com DNA thing,” Dan Hults said. For $99, she requested the kit and sent off a saliva sample. “You just spit in a bottle,” Bette Hults said Friday.
Results include information on ethnicity and potential relatives, who are identified through DNA matching to others who have undergone the test. People can choose whether or not to have their identities shared.
“All these cousins popped up,” said Dan Hults, who in August went to California with his mom to meet new-found family members. “They really are her cousins on her father’s side,” he said.
That’s not all Bette Hults learned. Those cousins are all related to George Harpley Pidd. That is the real name of Bette’s father. He used a fake name — Rex Clayton — when he married her mom, Fannie Mae Janes, on April 3, 1922. And he left before Bette was born in November 1922.
“He was someone who wasn’t the most scrupulous of persons,” Dan Hults said of his late grandfather. Pidd was 71 when he died in 1968 in Cupertino, California.
How unscrupulous? Google searches tell a tawdry tale. They turn up old newspaper articles about Pidd, a soldier based at Camp Lewis in Pierce County, now Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
In 1918, according a Tacoma Times article, Pidd was sentenced by court-martial to life imprisonment and dishonorably discharged from the Army. He had been found guilty of beating taxi driver Lawrence Berquist “into insensibility with a gas pipe for the purpose of robbery,” the Evening News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, reported in 1919.
The robbery netted about $10, and the 1919 article said Pidd testified that “his wife wanted money to go to Portland.”
There was more surprising news in that 1919 article. Pidd, it said, “is a free man.” His sentence, the article said, “was declared invalid because Pidd’s wife had testified against him.” It said he couldn’t be tried again on the charge by the court because of a technical violation of the law.
Pidd’s wife, the Hultses learned, was Mirth Woodall Pidd. They believe she was 17 when she married him in 1917 or 1918. They haven’t found divorce records. Pidd was likely still married to his first wife when, as Clayton, he married Bette’s mother in 1922 in Nebraska.
Bette’s mother was able to divorce him in his absence. She remarried several times, Bette said.
Dan and Bette Hults have an inkling why her father may have used the fake name for a while, but then went back to being George Pidd.
He turned up as Pidd in the 1930 Census, when he was married to another woman, Elsa, and worked as a carpenter in San Francisco. Their research found he went by George Pidd in voter registration records and a city directory in Santa Clara, California, until his death.
They believe, but don’t know, that Pidd could have been charged in the robbery and assault by Pierce County prosecutors, despite his military sentence being invalidated. Doing some math — 1918 to 1922 — they figure he may have used the Clayton name as he waited for a five-year statute of limitations to run out.
Dan Hults, who worked in child support enforcement for the state before retiring, said it would have been easy back then to establish a false identity. According to the Social Security Administration, the first Social Security number wasn’t issued until late 1936. A driver’s license hasn’t always been accepted as an ID card. In some states, licenses didn’t even have photos until the 1980s.
Pidd’s disappearing act apparently didn’t bar him from employment in the 1920s. Bette Hults said her mother told her Clayton was working as a special watchman for a railroad when she met him.
Both mother and son said their newly discovered family knew nothing about Bette, her mother, or Rex Clayton.
All the same, the Hultses were warmly welcomed by a cousin in Downey, California, and by other relatives. “It was quite a trip,” Dan Hults said.
Bette Hults is glad a mystery is solved, but it’s hard knowing what she does about her father. Even her own identity is a bit of a puzzle. Until marriage, she was Margaret Bette Clayton.
“Mom,” her son asked the other day, “what’s your maiden name now?”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.