Genealogy: Finding Your Family – Using A Local Genealogical Society to Solve the Mystery of James Hugh Platt


James Hugh Platt (Jim) was the second child of James Gordon and Susan Taylor Platt. He was born February 5, 1909 in Akron, Ohio. His mother died when he was 4 ½ years old and he and 2 of his siblings were fostered out to local families. His youngest sister who was 4 months old at the time of their mother’s death was given to his father’s Aunt Maggie who lived in Akron to raise. His father James remarried in 1918 when he was 9 years old.

His stepmother was Jane Waugh Oliver Smailes. James and Jane had one child John Edward Platt. She brought 5 children to the marriage as one of her children had died at aged 2. Jim eventually moved to Elkhart Indiana where he married Ruby Leas in 1929.

My father John Edward told me that his half- brother Jim had spent time in prison for “Union activity”. Following is the result of some recent research with the Elkhart Indiana Genealogical Society. On February 27, 1937 James was arrested by the Elkhart Police and questioned in connection with an attempted bombing of the Henry Transfer and. Storage Company of Elkhart. Police stated that Frank Henry, the owner of the company, had resisted attempts to unionize his business, prompting the attempt to intimidate him. At the time, two bombs were found on the floor of the garage, the fuse of one bomb had burned but the cap was faulty so there was no explosion. His accomplice was Tony Piedmont of Elkhart.

They claimed that they were innocent. However, when given a Lie Detector test the results indicated that they were lying. In addition, fingernail filings of both men revealed that there were bits of dynamite in the dirt removed. At this time both men confessed to Lieutenant August Johnson of the Elkhart Police.
James declared that he conceived the crime as a means of “upsetting” Frank S. Henry, head of the company, and changing his mind about employing union men.”Tony Piedmont declared that he had been hired by Platt to do the job, and that the was alone when he tossed sticks of Dynamite into the building through a broken window.

A year or so prior to the incident, the Henry Company had been experiencing trouble with some of its employees and discharged all those who were members of the union. Platt had been identified with the Elkhart No. 24 Teamsters Chauffeurs and Helpers Union since 1933 and was their business agent at the time of the incident. On April 9, 1937. James and Tony Piedmont were sentenced to two to fourteen years each in the Indiana State Reformatory. I do not know exactly how long he served but he is found in the 1940 Census living on Myrtle Street Indiana with his wife Ruby.

The above information was compiled from news articles in the Times (Munster, Indiana), The Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Indiana), The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana) and The Reporter Times (Martinsville, Indiana) newspapers by the Elkhart Genealogical Society As my father has been gone many years and there are no other family members alive who might have known about this incident, I would have never been able to resolve this mystery without contacting the people in Elkhart. As you work on some of the more elusive problems in your family history, do not forget to contact historical and genealogical societies that are located in the area of your mystery.

Here in Jamestown, the Hall House holds many records that are not available online. They also have volunteers who can help you to locate newspaper articles and other resources that may help you to in your research.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to and visit Janet’s own web page.