X. Ackley? Exactly
by Robert I. Sackett

I’ve had tremendous success uncovering ancestors from my mother’s side of the family, but my father’s family had always been a dead end, so to speak.

My father, Henry Ackley Sackett, who went by the name Harry, died in 1999. We knew his dad’s name was Henry, and his dad’s dad’s name was Orsemus. We knew that Henry had been a silhouette artist and traveled to carnivals with our dad and that Henry had spent his final days in the Oregon State Mental Hospital. We knew my dad was 13 when he and his father were separated, but we didn’t know when Henry died.

Last spring, I found a record for Orsemus in the 1860 census from Otsego County, New York. He had a spouse, Geraldine, two other children (perhaps not his own), and a 10- to 12-month-old son named Henry. But that Henry Sackett never appears in another census.

More searching turned up a death record for a Henry Sackett in eastern Oregon in 1938. I had just enough information to track down a death certificate, which confirmed the names of Henry’s father and mother and revealed that my own father had four much older siblings.

Armed with that death certificate, I got copies of Henry Sackett’s records from the Oregon State Mental Hospital in Salem. I learned that Henry and Harry had gone to Portland in 1925 so Henry could cut silhouettes at Oaks Amusement Park; that Henry was arrested for vagrancy and two months later was committed to the Oregon State Mental Hospital; that both Henry and my father felt this was a great injustice; and that my father ended up with foster parents in Marshfield, Oregon.

Henry spent three years in the hospital before being transferred to another one, this time in Pendleton, Oregon. Records indicated that at this facility, his care and environment were improved—he was said to have spent much of his time reading and playing cards. Henry had a stroke in 1933; by 1936 he was bedridden. He died in 1938.

Last summer, I sat down with my father’s scrapbook/ photo album that was compiled for his 80th birthday. Inside I found my father’s birth certificate, where his father’s full name is noted as Henry Ackley Sackett, Sr. But in a newspaper clipping regarding the funeral of Orsemus, Henry is referred to as X. Ackley. I was puzzled.

A few months later, I was reading some of my father’s old letters when I stumbled upon one in which my dad notes that he met an old acquaintance of Henry’s, the sister of cartoonist Homer Davenport. She also refered to Henry as X. Ackley, convincing me that my grandfather must have used this as a “stage” name. It wasn’t until I read it through many times that I realized its humor: X. Ackley = Exactly. At that moment, I realized X. Ackley Sackett had a twinkle in his eye … just like my father.

I found X. Ackley Sackett in the 1910 census in Washington, D.C., with his profession listed as “Silhouettist.” And last week, I acquired two silhouettes from eBay: profiles of two women with hats. On the back of each is stamped X. Ackley Sackett. My grandfather has finally come home.

Robert I Sackett 'X. Ackley? Exactly', Ancestry Magazine, May/June 2008, 51.