Sunday, February 28, 2016

Finding Theodore Johnson, Part 3: Making Sense of Other Censuses

Note: See Part 1 here, and Part 2 here or, even better, start with this Wedding Wednesday. If not, you’ve been warned, you are jumping into the middle of a tornado of information!

Where things stand now, we believe that my great-grandfather Theodore Johnson changed his name from Steve Evans after an incident in Alabama, and that his parents were Steve and Laura Ann Evans (nee Scruggs, Strug, Screws, or something similar). I have Steve Jr.’s marriage record to my great-grandmother Beatrice Harris, and I am pretty certain that I have found him in the 1930 Census living in Majestic, Jefferson County, Alabama (near Birmingham), the same community as his future wife. Steve and Laura Ann have been named as the parents of several children on marriage and death records from 1933 – 1945, but they haven’t been found living together on any documents after 1918.

I don’t know yet what happens to Laura after 1918, but I do know what Steve Sr. is up to.

Steve Sr. appears as "Stephens Evans." Clearly the page was not scanned evenly when the original record was microfilmed, as the lines containing his and his wife's information appear super tiny!

The 1920 Census shows us that he’s living in Majestic, Jefferson County, AL, near Birmingham – the same community Beatrice and “our” Steve Jr. are living in ten years later. Steve Sr. is living in Majestic with a new wife whose name is obscured, but is short and starts with “El”. How do we know it’s our Steve Sr? The children: There’s an Anna June, whose name is new, but there are a Thomas and a Henry. Thomas’s age matched the Thomas whose death certificate lists Steve and Laura Ann as his parents (pictured in my previous post), and that Henry? Yep, same one who keeps popping up!

If we go back to the records, we find that Steve Sr. married a woman named Ella Smith in October of 1920 in Birmingham, so that’s how she ends up in the household. However, this doesn’t last long – I don’t know if they divorced or if something happened to Ella, but in January of 1924, Steve marries a woman named Florance Donovan. And it’s this family that we find in 1930:

Interestingly, Steve Sr.’s son and “our” Steve’s brother, Henry, is also listed as living in this household, even though we already know he’s listed in his sister Janie Mae’s home. Both homes are located in Jefferson County – he may have been traveling back and forth between the households for any number of reasons. Census takers were supposed to report who was residing in the home on April 1st of the Census Year, regardless of who was in the house on the day he or she actually came to visit, but different census takers did different things and it’s not unusual to see a person listed in two different households. In fact, check this out:

Steve Sr and Florence are actually listed twice in 1930, this second time with her daughter and granddaughter, as well as a boarder. Now they are in Majestic, so perhaps they had recently moved? In fact, maybe this is why we find Steve and Henry living in Janie’s home – maybe things were in flux at their own? And maybe this is why we find Marshall Evans living as a boarder in the house of my great-grandmother Beatrice, her sister Lillian and their mother Ardenia that year as well, and why there’s a Thomas Evans living as a boarder in that same community who seems to be “our” Thomas. Of course, by this time, Marshall is 19 and Thomas is 22, so both are of an age to be striking out on their own anyway.

So, what does all this tell us about our Steve Evans, Jr./Theodore Johnson? Well, it confirms that we’re following “our” Steve Sr through 1920 and 1930, and thus locates our Steve Jr.’s probable family as definitely being in Majestic, Jefferson County, AL. This makes it even more likely that the Steve Jr. we previously located in Majestic in 1930 is the correct one – not only is he near his future wife, he’s also near his father and several siblings.

But there are quite a few questions still on the table. You might be wondering, for example, why we don’t just get his birth certificate to clear things up. Well, we tried. My grandmother – Steve Jr / Theodore Johnson’s daughter – wrote to the Alabama Department of Public Health and received a letter back stating that they could not find a Steve Evans born to Steve and Laura Ann Evans between 1909 and 1919 in Montgomery County. It’s possible that the doctor or midwife who attended the birth simply didn’t report it – Alabama didn’t require registration of births until 1908 and compliance was spotty for several years. It’s also possible his birth was registered not in Montgomery County, but in a nearby county. Perhaps he filed a delayed birth certificate himself, when he was older. I’ll be exploring possibilities when I take my trip to Alabama in a few weeks, but I wish this was a cut and dry easy answer!

Other questions I have:

·         Why doesn’t Steve Jr appear in the 1920 Census? Steve Sr is, as are Thomas and Henry, so where is he?
·         Where is Marshall Evans before 1930? If he was born about 1911, shouldn’t he be around in 1920? One of Lillian Harris’ grandchildren told me that Marshall’s first name may actually have been William – is he the William Evans, born in 1913, for whom Steve and Laura Ann appear as parents on his marriage record? Or is there some other explanation?
·         In fact, where do the other children mentioned in Steve and Laura Ann’s household in 1910 – Jennette, Sarah and Jessie – go later on? Same for Anna Jane/June, who appears in 1920.
·         What happens to Laura Ann between 1918 and 1920? I haven’t found a likely marriage or death record yet.

I hope to make some progress with at least one or two of these questions when I head to Alabama. We’ll see what happens! In the meantime, my next post will be a simple timeline summarizing what I currently believe to be true about Steve / Theodore's significant life events.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Finding Theodore Johnson, Part 2: Using Family to Connect Theodore to Steve

Note: See Part 1 here, or, even better, start with this Wedding Wednesday.

So, per the above linked posts, I’ve been sleuthing off and on for years to connect Theodore Johnson, my great-grandfather, with Steve Evans, my great-grandfather. Same person, different names at different points in his life. Seriously, read the posts linked above if you haven’t already.

Okay. Records created around Theodore Johnson’s death give Steve and Laura Ann Evans as his parents (making him originally a Jr.) and give Montgomery, Alabama as his birthplace.* The informant was his son, Theodric Johnson. So, let’s find Steve and Laura in the records!

Here is the front of a World War I Draft Registration Card dated 1918 for a Steven Evans, born in August of 1878. He’s living in the city of Montgomery, in Montgomery County, Alabama as a farm laborer, and his nearest relative is none other than a Laura A Evans, his wife. So far, so good.

Where else do Steve and Laura Ann Evans come up in the records?

In 1910, there are a Stephens (sic) and Laura A. Evans living in Dooley, Montgomery County, AL. He is 28, she is 25 and they are both listed as farm laborers. There are 5 children listed in the household; unfortunately Steve Jr. is not one of them, even though he should have been 5 or 6 years old at the time. And the Census Enumerator (the person who collected the info) marked that Laura was the mother of 5 children, all 5 of whom were living, which doesn’t seem to leave room for a child who is living elsewhere. Still, census takers often got things wrong, so we can’t just discard this household. In any case, the living children are daughters Jennie M. (9), Jennette (8) and Sarah (7), and sons Thomas? (10) and Jessie (2).

After 1910, I can’t find the two of them in a Census record together, but this isn’t the last place they show up as a pair. In 1933, they are listed as the parents of Thomas Evans in’s Alabama Deaths and Burials Index, 1881-1974.

This index, through, was compiled by volunteers who pulled info from original Alabama records. (Note: I am unsure if this is the Thomas from the 1910 Census, as the age doesn’t match up, but you can also see that his age was edited on the original census record above. Age is often imprecise - if you do the math on Steve Sr.'s ages above, you'll see that it is off by 7-8 years between the two documents, but the other info makes me more confident that both documents are for the same man.)

We also find Steve and Laura Ann mentioned in four marriage records for their children:

  • Henry Evans to Annie Ruth Oliver in 1936
  • William Evans to Anna Belle Oliver in 1937 (mmhmm, two more brothers to two more sisters!)
  • Janie Mae Evans to Cleve Blackman in 1940
  • Janie Mae Dyle to James Smith in 1945

(Let’s note the different ways Laura Ann’s maiden name is spelled: Screws, Strug, and Scruggs. Let’s also note that, hey! we have a maiden name for her now!)

Are your eyes crossing yet? I hope not, because there’s more to add!

Remember the 1930 Census record that shows a Steve Evans, Jr. living not too far from Beatrice? Here it is again:

He’s in a household with a Janie M. Baker and her husband, James. He’s listed as James’ brother-in-law, meaning Janie M.’s brother. I’m almost certain he’s our Steve, because – you guessed it! - Janie M. Baker was originally Janie Mae Evans (or, as the 1910 Census above listed her, Jennie M. Evans). Note: I have official records for each of her marriages, but I'll share those another day to keep this post manageable.

I’m also pretty certain that’s our Steve because, as I’ve mentioned in the previous posts, there’s a Henry Evans in Janie Mae and James’ household (directly below Steve) who is also listed as James’ brother-in-law, meaning he is another of Janie’s brothers. This makes this the same Henry Evans as the one with Steve and Laura Ann as his parents on the marriage record above. And, as I told you, my Grandma told me that her dad Steve Evans/Theodore Johnson had a brother named Steve.

Okay, that’s A LOT for one post, so I’m going to let us both catch our breath. But essentially what I've tried to do here is identify Steve Sr. and Laura Ann Evans as a family unit and start to build a case for Steve/Theodore's relationship with them, mostly through their other children. I’ll pick this up next time by following our Steve/Theodore's dad forward through a few documents and discussing several of the "plot holes" I still have in my Steve Evans/Theodore Johnson timeline. 

*You might be asking yourself, "Why didn't she just apply for his birth certificate?" We did! And when I discuss my lingering questions in the next post, I'll include the results of this search and my thoughts.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Finding Theodore Johnson, Part 1

Recently I started to explore the story of my great-grandfather Theodore Johnson on this blog, starting with a Wedding Wednesday post on his marriage to my great-grandmother Beatrice Harris. If you read that post, you know that there’s something of a mystery surrounding my GG Theodore, including the fact that he changed his name to Theodore Johnson from Steve Evans, and, of course, centered on the question of why. But the name change in and of itself makes tracking him over time quite the interesting task, and that’s what I’m going to focus on in the new few posts.

As I previously said, GG Theodore’s daughter, my grandmother, is the one who confirmed that he had changed his name from Steve Evans to Theodore Johnson. She also told me that he had two brothers, and that their names were Henry and Marshall Evans.

Pause. Wait, no, FULL STOP. Where have we seen the name Marshall Evans before?

1930 Federal Census, Unincorporated Town of Majestic, Jefferson County, Alabama.
That’s right! He was one of the boarders living with Beatrice, her sister Lillian, and their mom Ardenia in 1930! And I said that was important before, right? That’s because one of the other things my Grandma told me is that two sisters married two brothers…Theodore and Beatrice, and Marshall and Lillian! Another post for another day…

Anyway, my grandmother also provided me with a page from her father’s funeral program. I’ve recently found the longer obituary, of which the biographical text from the funeral program was a snippet, published in the Bluefield (West Virginia) Daily Telegraph on October 29, 1986, as well as a notice of his passing published the day before.

From these documents, what we know about Theodore Johnson so far is that:

  • He passed on October 26, 1986
  • He lived in West Virginia for many years before his passing.
  • He was a retired coal miner and a member of the United Mine Workers of America
  • He was born in Montgomery, Alabama
  • He was the son of Steve and Laura Ann Evans

And, from the marriage record, what we know about Steve Evans is that:

  • He married Beatrice Harris on August 15, 1933
  • The marriage was in Birmingham, Alabama

I was able to get copies of two additional documents for Theodore Johnson: his Certificate of Death and his Application for a Social Security Number. The former confirmed information mentioned above, and also provided a birth date. The latter provided a different birth date and added the following:

  • He was born on April 15, 1915 or 1914 (Note: Beatrice Harris, his wife and my great-grandmother, was born on April 14, 1915. This is too similar to seem like a coincidence. Was this really his birthdate, or is it tied to his new identity? I don’t have any documents from his early years that specify a date, so I can’t say for sure.)
  • He was living in Powhatan Point, Ohio and working for the Powhatan Mining Co. on July 27, 1937.
  • He was probably not literate – his application is “signed” with an “X” and two witnesses signed to confirm that it was indeed “His Mark”

One thing I should also be able to get from this document is the name of his parents, as told by him in 1937, but unfortunately the Social Security Administration redacted (blacked out) this info when I requested the document several years ago, for privacy reasons. However, now that it has been over 100 years since his birth, I should hopefully be able to get a non-redacted copy. And really, it’s this information about his parents that I’m most interested in, as that will help connect Steve Evans to Theodore Johnson through a paper trail, using information Theodore himself provided. (He obviously isn’t the one who provided the info for the documents created relating to his death.)

Finally, we know that our teenage Beatrice Harris was living in a community called Majestic, near Birmingham in Jefferson County, Alabama, and so, too, was a teenager named Steve Evans, Jr, in a household with a woman named Janie M. Baker and another teenager named Henry Evans, among other folks. (Remember, my Grandma said her dad had a brother named Henry, and that documents mentioned above say Theodore Johnson’s dad was also Steve Evans, making Steve/Theodore technically a junior.)

Just from the paragraph above, you can begin to see how it’s possible to start pulling these identities together. My next post (posts?) will focus on drawing the link between the family of Theodore Johnson and the family of Steve Evans to show how I’m tracking Steve/Theodore through time. And because I know this is confusing(!!), I’ll end this series with a timeline of where he was and what he was up to, as I’ve done for others, to the best of my knowledge.

I know this was a longer read than usual – thanks for sticking with it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wedding Wednesday: Beatrice Harris to Steve Evans (aka Theodore Johnson)

Today’s post is inspired by the Wedding Wednesday genealogy blog prompt over at Geneabloggers.
Two Wednesdays ago, I posted the marriage record for my great-grandmother Beatrice Harris to her second husband, Raymond Montgomery West. This week, I’m focusing on her marriage to her first husband, Steve Evans. This is the man from whom I am descended, through their daughter, my grandmother.

If you knew my great-grandfather, or even if you just read the headline of this post, you might be thinking, Steve Evans? Who’s that? That’s what I was thinking, too, when I came across this marriage record several years ago:

Now, actually, my grandmother had given me something to go on already. She said that her father had changed his name to Evans because he’d gotten into some kind of trouble in Alabama. So, okay, he changed to Evans, this guy was an Evans, maybe we’re on the right track, but we’re looking for an absolute yes, here.

I let it go for a while, while I focused on other things. Frankly, I try not to pester my Grandma about genealogy things – she’s a busy lady and I don’t want to “wear out my welcome.” Sometimes I go hard and then need to give people a break!

But, I did eventually ask her one day, saying that I’d found this record – what did she make of it. Insert face-palm, because why didn’t I just ask her sooner?? "Yep," she said, "that’s my dad!" Me: "Where’d the Steve come from?" Her: "He changed his whole name! I told you what happened, right?" Turns out that the trouble he got into may have involved someone losing their life, necessitating him changing his whole name to stay out of trouble.

Let me be clear: This was a black man in 1930s Alabama we’re talking about. We don’t know the circumstances. We don’t know what, or if anything, actually happened. There is no judgment here, only a shred of memory and a willing listener/researcher. And it is a story I plan on researching. If I find anything, you’ll know! But it will be in the vein of information, not judgment.

Theodore Johnson, my father's mother's father.
Okay, so back to this record! My grandmother confirms that Steve Evans is indeed Theodore Johnson, or, I guess, that Theodore Johnson, was in fact, at one point in time, Steve Evans. So, what does this marriage record tell us? Most importantly, that Steve/Theodore and Beatrice were married on August 15, 1933 by Reverend C.W. Steward (or Stewart) in Birmingham, Alabama.

Interestingly, there are some inconsistencies on this document. For example, it says that Steve/Theodore is 22 years old and Beatrice is 21. But, if Beatrice was born in April of 1915, she was actually only 18 when the marriage took place. I’m pretty sure she was of a legal age to marry, so why the incorrect info? Other documents give Theodore’s birth year as 1914 or 1915, so why is he listed as 22? My guess is that at 18, he was considered underage and perhaps did not want to ask his parents for permission to marry. Maybe inflating both of their ages just made things easier?

In any case, according to available records, Steve/Theodore and Beatrice began building a family together even before they married in 1933 – five of her children born between 1931 and 1940 carry his name. And during this period the family moved – in at least 2 stages – from Jefferson County, Alabama to Powhatan Point in Belmont County, Ohio (along the Ohio River), essentially from one coal mining community to another. (In fact, it's likely they met in the coal mining town Beatrice was living in in 1930.) It was probably a tough life, and – perhaps because of this, or perhaps for other reasons – Beatrice and Theodore faced challenges in their relationship that, as we know, eventually led to their divorce sometime prior to 1947.

With help from family - and especially her sister, Lillian - Beatrice endured, even when times were hard. And we know that Steve, who was definitely Theodore Johnson by 1937, when he filled out an application to receive a Social Security Number, went on as well. He moved to West Virginia, where he continued to work in coal mining, was a member of Zion Temple AME Zion Church, and lived to the age of 71, before passing on October 26, 1986.

I have MANY questions about the life of Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson and it’s going to take a lot of sleuthing to find answers. Here’s one tidbit that I’m excited about: Remember I wrote above that Steve and Beatrice probably met in the coal mining town of Majestic, where we know she was living in 1930? The reason I believe this is the case is because, just a few pages away from Beatrice and her family in the 1930 census, there’s this:

That’s a 16-year-old Steve Evans, Jr living with a woman named Janie Mae Baker, with another teenager in the household named Henry Evans. Stay tuned for additional posts where I continue to piece together the story of Steve Evans/Theodore Johnson!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Census Sunday: Beatrice Harris in the 1930 Census

Seeing my ancestors and relatives in historical documents is really exciting for me. They were there, then, doing something! They existed not just to me and my family, but in some way, to the world. I love uncovering the layers of their lives.

The very first document that I found on my paternal great-grandmother Beatrice Harris was the 1930 Census, also known as the Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930 Population Schedule. Taken every 10 years and released to the public 72 years later, federal census records are a great way to track families and individuals over time. At their most basic, they tell us where people were living when, who they’re living with, where they’re from, and how old everyone is. Depending on the year, we can also learn what they do for a living, whether or not they can read or write, how many children they gave birth to, whether they are veterans (and in which war they fought), whether they own or rent their home, what they pay in rent, what they earned in the previous year, and more. Treasure trove of info.

Here’s a snippet from the page listing Beatrice in 1930.

So what did I learn?

Jefferson County, AL
First off, she’s living in the unincorporated town of Majestic, Alabama. Located in Jefferson County in north-central Alabama, Majestic was a coal town just north of Birmingham, which was a huge population center and major economic powerhouse in the South because of booming coal, steel and iron industries, supported by a thriving network of railroads.

Ardenia (Jackson) Harris and daughter Lillian
Beatrice is 16 years old and living with her mom, 33-year-old Ardenia Harris, and her 14 year-old sister Lillian. Ardenia – my grandmother’s grandmother – is married and has been since she was 16, but her husband (whom I would assume is still Solomon Harris, as they married in 1914) is apparently not in the household. Where’s Solomon? Ardenia’s obituary notes that he died before her – perhaps they were in Majestic because he worked in the coal mines and something happened to him while they were living in that community? She was remarried by 1935. Or perhaps he’s elsewhere in the community – while I’ve had no luck name-searching him in 1930, I’ll go back and browse page-by-page to see if he can be found that way.

In addition to the three women of the family, there’s also a baby in the house, Robert Johnson, listed as Ardenia’s grandson. He’s listed as only 4 months old! (While this census doesn’t specify, we know that this is Beatrice’s son, my grandmother’s oldest brother.) So that’s three generations in this one record!

But wait, there are other people in the household, as well!

Four boarders, men who rented rooms in the house and perhaps took meals cooked by Ardenia or her daughters, are living in the home. Given the absence of a husband, it seems this is how Ardenia was able to support her family and make ends meet. Well, hello there, entrepreneurship!

Census taker's notes on Ardenia's occupation and industry, 1930 Census.

There’s 44-year-old Will Austin, a widower from Florida, plus 20-year-old Lawrence Roy or Ray, 21-year-old Luzzill Ross or Rass, and 19-year-old Marshall Evans, all single and all from Alabama. All were coal miners. I wonder, was it fun and exciting for these teenage girls to live in the same building as these single men? Or was it scary and uncomfortable?

What else do we learn?
  • Ardenia is renting their home in Majestic, for $6 a month. This would be about $85 in today’s money.
  • Everyone in Beatrice’s family is listed as having been born in Alabama, as are all of their parents. In fact, the vast majority of folks in this community, black and white, were from Alabama.
  • Neither Beatrice nor Lillian had a job (at least one that they told the census taker about), but neither had they been in school at any point between September 1, 1929 and April of 1930. However, both girls, as well as their mom Ardenia are listed as being able to read and write. 

Interestingly, this is the only Census record that I can find for Beatrice. Since she was born in 1915 and census records are available up to 1940, I should be able to find her both in 1920 and 1940. But I haven't. Yet. But this just makes me even more grateful that I was able to find her in this one - it's an interesting snapshot of what her life looked like as a teenager, and it's a jumping off point for a few stories I'm going to be exploring later on.

Do you know anything about the family's life in Majestic, AL? Or where Ardenia's husband is? Please share! 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Talented Tuesday: Louis Shepherd, Bowler!

Today’s post is inspired by the Talented Tuesday genealogy blog prompt over at Geneabloggers.

Most stories you find on here about bowling are going to be about my Grandma Doris, who spent most of her life outside of work bowling, thinking about bowling, organizing bowling events, teaching kids how to bowl, or traveling to bowling tournaments. But, her husband, my Granddad Louis, was also a bowler.

He played on a men's team in Washington, DC that also included my Uncle Valton Reeves (the brother of the husband of Granddad's first wife Elnora Cooper's sister Lila Cooper - I know!). He wasn’t as deeply involved in the sport as Grandma Doris was, but their shared love of bowling was one of the lynchpins of their relationship. Together, they often drove here and there across the country to tournaments, taking the youngest two children (my mom and aunt) with them. And the kids remember more than a few evenings where they were responsible for dinner while Mama and Dad were at a bowling event.

Apparently Granddad had some success, too! Check out this picture of him (center) holding a trophy at one of his competitions.

I wish I had more details for this picture – where and when it was taken, for example, though I’d guess this is the 1960s – but this is a case of what you see is what you get. In any case, a tip of the hat to Louis Shepherd, bowling trophy winner!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Sad Farewell for Rose (Allen or Ellis) Sheppard

One of the tough things about genealogy is that sometimes you find out about sad things that happened to people that you care about. Happily, sometimes you find out that things turn out all right in the end, but other times that sad note is the one your research ends on. And even though you may have never met these people personally, you can’t help but imagine what they and the people around them must have felt when tragedy struck.

Such is the case with my great-great-grandmother Rose Anne (Allen) Sheppard, her husband Samuel, and their daughter Katherine.

Possibly an image of Rose, found with Katherine's papers.
Rose is one of those people for whom I wish I had more records. Between state and federal census records, I’ve been able to find out about her life in 1905, 1910, and 1915. The 1913 Salem, NJ Farm Directory gives me a little detail as well. Between them, they tell me that she was the wife of a farm laborer in Salem County, New Jersey. Given that the major local crops were corn and potatoes – Salem produced 939,775 bushels of corn, 1,303,088 of white potatoes, and 459,592 of sweet potatoes in 1910 – Samuel probably came home exhausted from back-breaking labor. Rose herself sometimes did housework “out,” meaning as a domestic, which is not surprising given the types of jobs available for black women in her era. Overall, the family was probably poor but not destitute – they never owned their own home or farm, according to the records, but they did own a Bell telephone in 1913, and Samuel always seemed to be employed.

They probably also valued education; while the 1905 NJ Census says that neither Samuel nor Rose could read or write, both the 1910 Federal Census and 1915 NJ Census say they can. They either already knew how in 1905 and the information was incorrect, or they put in the effort and learned. And Katherine was in school when she was 7 and when she was 12.

Rose had been born somewhere in Virginia, but how, when or why she arrived in New Jersey, I do not know. We don’t have her birth certificate. Records suggest that she married Samuel around 1905, but we don’t have their marriage record either. The records are pointing more and more firmly towards her having had at least 2 sisters and 1 brother; one sister, Bertha, was close by, also in Salem County, and another, Eleanor, wasn’t too far away, in Washington, DC. But, we can’t find the siblings living together in 1900, nor have I found any vital or census records of their parents – they exist as ghosts on their daughters’ paperwork at this point. And Rose herself was proving difficult to find after 1915. By 1920, her daughter Katherine had moved to Washington, DC.

So what had happened? Two guesses came to mind: 1) She had died sometime soon after 1915, or 2) She and Samuel had separated or gotten divorced, and perhaps she had remarried. Sadly, my first guess was true.

On July 26, 1916, this notice appeared in the local newspaper, the Salem Standard and Jerseyman:
From the Salem County Historical Society clippings file.

As you can see, Rose passed away on July 16, 1916, when she was just 34 years old. What happened? This is where it gets heartbreaking. Here is a copy of her Certificate of Death:

Note: This document gives her parents' surname as Ellis. Other documents suggest her maiden name was Allen.

Rose was 7 months pregnant when she died. In fact complications from her pregnancy may have led to her death. For two weeks before she died, she had been attended to by a doctor due to uremia, who noted that Rose had albuminuria. According to the National Kidney Foundation, albuminuria is when you have too much protein in your urine; it generally signals that your kidneys are damaged. The condition is linked to kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and also smoking.  

Uremia, according to WebMD, is “a serious complication of chronic kidney disease and acute kidney injury…It occurs when urea and other waste products build up in the body because the kidneys are unable to eliminate them. These substances can become poisonous (toxic) to the body if they reach high levels.”  Unfortunately, pregnancy puts an increased strain on the kidneys; if Rose’s kidneys had been struggling along due to diabetes or hypertension, her pregnancy may have been the thing that pushed them over the edge.

Some of the symptoms she might have experienced include: nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, confusion, seizures, abnormal bleeding, and shortness of breath. How horrible for Rose to have experienced any of this! How horrible for Samuel and Katherine to have witnessed her going through this, especially with Katherine being 12 or 13 at the time. Imagine them worrying about their wife and mother and about the baby she was carrying, and then having to bury them both.

Rose’s death certificate says that she was laid to rest in the cemetery of Mt. Pisgah, an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Salem. While other headstones do exist, there is no tombstone for Rose, and no formal records of interments at the cemetery.

What happens next for the family? In September of 1918, Samuel registers for the “Old Man’s Draft” for World War I. Luckily, the war ends on November 11th that same year; no records yet found suggest he was called to serve. As for Katherine, a handwritten note among family papers states that she moved to Washington, DC on Christmas Eve. She would live there for at least the next 22 years, most of that time with her aunt Eleanor. But why did she leave her father behind, or why did he send her away? Did he think she would be better off with his wife’s family? Was their relationship strained by sadness (or something else)? We may never know. We do know she kept up with her cousins in Salem, the Kilsons, and that her son, my grandfather Louis, knew and told stories about them to his children. But what about Samuel, Louis’s grandfather, Katherine’s dad, and my great-great-grandfather? I’ve got a record request out – if we’re lucky, we’ll learn more soon.

And hopefully his story, though of course it inevitably ends, has a happier ending than that of his wife Rose. May they both rest in peace.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Fun Finds on the West Family!

In yesterday’s Wedding Wednesday post, I introduced my great-grandmother Beatrice Harris’ second husband Raymond Montgomery West. Well, I really should be spacing out my blog posts more, but I think these next two records are so cool that I want to share them right now. Like, right now!

Check this out: This is the birth register for Jefferson County, Ohio, kept by the Jefferson County Probate Court.

"Ohio, County Births, 1841-2003," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 February 2016), Samuel West in entry for Carl West, 06 Dec 1889; citing Birth, Smithfield, Jefferson, Ohio, reference p 362, county courthouses, Ohio; FHL microfilm 900,039.

Look who it is – Ray West…and a brother, Carl! Both were born to Samuel West and Sallie Ray, who we saw named on Ray’s marriage certificate. Carl is the older of the two, having been born December 6, 1889. Ray followed along about a year and a half later, on April 16, 1891. How neat is it to see this written out?

But wait, there’s more!

So, Samuel West and Sallie Ray? Well, they got married on July 25, 1889. How do we know? Bam!

"Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 February 2016), Samuel West and Sallie Ray, 25 Jul 1889; citing Jefferson, Ohio, United States, reference p 450; county courthouses, Ohio; FHL microfilm 900,075.
They were married in Smithfield, Jefferson County, Ohio by a Minister of the Peace.

So, my West family, if your parent and my grandmother are siblings, this is the marriage certificate for your great-grandparents. And if your grandmom or granddad is the sibling of my grandmom, Sam and Sallie are your great-great-grandparents!

Not only that, but if Samuel West was 23 years old in 1889, that means he was born in 1863. Which means that he was...born during the Civil War!! (Sorry, I get a little enthused!)

Even though I’m not descended from the Wests, I still think this is super exciting!

P.S. Contact me if you'd like a larger digital version of the marriage document,  which will be easier to read, or just pull it from the web, using the link in the caption box.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wedding Wednesday: Beatrice Harris and Ray M. West

Today’s post is inspired by the Wedding Wednesday genealogy blog prompt over at Geneabloggers.

On this Wedding Wednesday, I am highlighting the marriage of my great-grandmother Beatrice Harris to her second husband, Raymond Montgomery West. Below is their legal marriage record from the Probate Court of Belmont County, Ohio, including their approved application for a marriage license and their marriage certificate itself. They were wed by a Justice of the Peace in St. Clairsville on September 23, 1947.

Note: This document gives Player as Beatrice's last name. This is the last name of her mother Ardenia's second husband, Tim, who had been married to Ardenia since 1935, when Beatrice was 20.

 A few things we know about Mr. Ray (as my Dad knew him):

  • He is 24 years older than his new wife, she having been born in 1915 and he in 1891. (23 years, 11 months and 29 days, if you want to be precise!)
  • He was a mill worker at the time of their marriage, and had spent much of his adult life working for iron and steel mills and the coal mining industry in the Ohio River Valley (Powhatan Point, OH; Moundsville and Weirton, WV)
My branch of the family is actually not descended from Mr. Ray – we are descended, through my grandmother, from Great-Grandma Beatrice’s first husband, Steve Evans (also known as Theodore Johnson – we’ll get to that in another post). But Mr. Ray fathered 4 children with GG Beatrice and they (and their descendents) are as much my family as anyone else! Mr. Ray is the only companion my father knew for his grandmother. He married my great-grandmother when she was the divorced mother of 6 children who were not his and in a difficult financial place. They remained together until his passing in 1971.

Family, do you have any pictures of Mr. Ray, or of Mr. Ray and Beatrice together? Any memories or stories you’d like to share about him and his personality? Please share!