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!

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