Monday, June 6, 2016

Mystery Monday: Who Is Liontly Banks?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a really interesting book by Bill Bryson called One Summer: America, 1927. In it, Bryson – who is seriously my favorite non-fiction author anywhere ever – basically presents a snapshot of the United States in the Summer of 1927 highlighting not just significant people and events but also the sometimes surprising connections between them. Imagine, in this one summer:

  • Charles Lindbergh made the first successful non-stop flight across the Atlantic between New York and Paris,
  • Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run and set a record that wouldn’t be broken until 1961,
  • Carving began on Mount Rushmore,
  • Prohibition – and bootlegging, and organized crime – were running full steam ahead,
  • Television as we know it was publically debuted,
  • Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were sentenced to death and executed for a robbery and murders they almost certainly did not commit, sparking protests and riots around the world,
  • The first feature-length talking movie was released in theaters,
  • Finance officials from Europe and the US met and made a decision that would lead to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression,
  • and so much more!

It was a pretty significant summer - especially in retrospect - and the book really is fascinating. In fact, it made me wonder, what was my family up to in 1927?

At the same time, on Sunday evening, I realized that I haven’t written a Mystery Monday post in a while, despite having many mysteries in my genealogical files. And, because the first person I think of when I think “mystery” is my maternal great-grandmother Katherine, I turned to her files. Well, guess what she was up to in the summer of 1927? Getting hitched!

And therein lies the mystery. We know the name of her husband – Liontly Banks – but that’s pretty much all we know about him! Who the heck was he??

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. We know that Katherine Shepherd and Liontly T. Banks were married on July 5, 1927 by the Reverend John C. Mosley. The marriage was solemnized at 413 21st NW in Washington, DC, the home that Katherine and her son Louis had lived in with Katherine’s aunt Eleanor (Allen) Petite and her family since at least 1920. Here’s the record:

Liontly is listed as being “of Washington, DC” and he is 34 years old. The document also says this is his first marriage. That’s not a ton to go on, but thankfully there’s a pretty robust collection of extant city directories for DC. Looking through those, we find the couple in 1929. Only. He’s listed as Lionly (minus the “t”) and their residence is 1318 22nd Street NW, Apartment 4. He is working as a waiter.

By 1930, Katherine’s back to living with her aunt Eleanor Petite, according both to the city directory and the census. Though her last name is Banks, she’s listed as single. She lives with Eleanor until Eleanor passes in 1933.

1930 Census for Katherine (Shepherd) Banks in Washington, DC.

As for Liontly, where does he go after 1929? And where was he before 1927? Darned if I know. There’s a Linley Banks in the city directory for 1927 (the year they got married) and he’s a waiter, but we can’t be sure it’s him. He’s living at 2619 K Street NW. In 1924, there’s a Leontly Banks living at 505 S Street NW. He’s a tailor. Is this him? Can’t say for sure! And there’s a Loney Banks in 1930 living at 1512 Caroline NW and working as a waiter, but, again, can we be sure it’s him? No. There is no listing of him in other years in DC directories that I have found.


The only other document I have – and I’m not certain this is him – is a 1918 World War I Draft Registration Card for a Liontly Banks. His home address is Charles City, VA; he’s a machinist’s helper working in Newport News, VA; and his nearest relative is his mother, Mattie Banks. He’s also 37 years old, which would make him 46 when he marries in 1927, as opposed to the 34 which is written on his marriage document above. So, inconsistent. Just to be safe, I searched multiple census years for a Mattie Banks in or near VA with a son named Liontly (or a similar name) with no luck.

My last clue is the 1940 Census. It lists Katherine Banks and her son Louis Shepherd as boarders in a home in Southeast DC. She is listed as widowed.

I wrote a few years ago to the DC Department of Health to see if they had a record of his death between 1928 and 1930. Nope! They suggested I check Maryland and Virginia as well. Maryland’s records are online up to 1944. No Liontly (or variation) Banks. I still need to check VA.

So, in summary

  • 1881: Born? Uncertain identity.
  • 1893: Born?
  • 1918: Liontly Banks (37, machinist’s helper) in VA. Uncertain identity.
  • 1924: Leontly Banks (tailor) in SW DC. Uncertain identity.
  • 1927: Linley Banks (waiter) in NW DC. Uncertain identity.
  • 1927: Liontly Banks (34 yrs) marries Katherine Shepherd in NW DC.
  • 1929: Lionly (waiter) and Cath Banks in NW DC.
  • 1930: Wife Katherine is no longer living with him. No sign of him in city directories
  • 1940: Is deceased?

It’s possible that Katherine was something called a “grass widow,” a new term I learned at last month’s genealogy conference that refers to a woman whose husband has abandoned her. They often said they were widowed to avoid the embarrassment of abandonment or divorce. Perhaps Liontly lived a long life somewhere where I just haven’t found him yet.

Who knows? But, I’ll keep searching!

Ideas, suggestions, etc? Let me know in the comments!

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