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!

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