The topic for this edition of Carnival of Genealogy is:
INDEPENDENT! Do you have a relative who was feisty, spoke their own mind, was a bit of a free spirit? Anyone who most people might consider a “nut” on the family tree but you know they really just followed a “different tune?”
I’ve spent quite a bit of time going through my family files looking for someone who I think fits this description. There are two people who come to mind immediately – my great-grandmother and my mom – however, I’ve already written posts about them and felt the need to expand my search. My only challenge is writing about someone who still has living children. I don’t want to offend anyone nor write something that will give too much information. With that being said, I hope to not only portray this person in a way that will honor their memory but possibly encourage surviving family to reflect more fondly about this person.
Eva was born to an unwed mother on an interurban car in Fortville, Indiana, on October 2, 1910. They were taken to St. John’s Hospital where the young mother pleaded with a woman to take her infant daughter and raise her as her own. The mother wasn’t able to care for her baby and knew that letting her go was in the best interest of the child. Katie and John Johnson took her in and raised her practically from birth on just as their own child. They were never able to adopt her but gave her their last name. She was 12 years younger than their youngest son, Glen, and the daughter that Katie had prayed for.
Eva was a very strong-willed child – following the beat of her own drummer. She liked to imitate her favorite screen star - Clara Bow – in dress. Apparently Eva was unaware that she wasn’t the birth daughter of Katie and John until years later yet perhaps there was something inside of her that made her go “searching” for whatever it was that would give her peace. Since she was so much younger than Glen it was as if she was an only child without benefit of really strong family bonds a closer-in-age sibling might have yielded her.
When Eva was a teenager, she married and her son was born in 1929. After her foster mother, Katie, died, Eva began searching for her birth mother. As a fairly new mother herself, it is possible that she was searching for that parent-child connection in order to understand her own standing as a mom. A woman saw a notice printed in a magazine and recognized Katie’s name as the woman she had given her daughter to. The woman, Clara Badgly Grennells of Chicago, got in touch with an Indiana newspaper and requested that her appeal to meet Eva be printed.
There are conflicting stories that Eva did meet her birth mother and learn the name of her biological father. Another story is that Eva’s birth mother died prior to their meeting but that she did meet her father.
Eva’s relationship with her husband was not all glamour, champagne and happily-ever-after. It is reported that she was always searching for something – many times in the arms of someone else. She and her husband split up and divorced and when Eva was in her early 40s, discovered that she was pregnant. The specter of what lay ahead of her would surely be weighing on her mind: an older mother, a single mother, a mother of a grown son, a woman who had limited income. Any number of reasons would have aided her in her decision to give up her daughter – just as she had been given up. It was only many years later before Eva died, that she would be reunited with her grown daughter.
I wish I could have met this woman – my grandfather’s younger sister – as she lived for many years after his death. Whenever the family discussed his relatives, we all knew he had a younger sister but I truly think that they had fallen out of touch many years earlier. It isn’t known who stopped communicating. Possibly it was a bit of both. Knowing my grandfather he would have talked and talked until he was blue in the face about “straightening up” and flying right to her. As independent as she seems, Eva probably decided to do what she’d always done – dance to her own music and “if all you’re going to do is lecture me, I’m not listening anymore.” Theories that are probably closer to the mark than not.
It seems rather sad to me that no one contacted her – or knew where to reach her – when my grandfather passed away. We never sought to visit her when we were in Indiana. I hope that in her later years, she finally found what she was searching for. Life is really rather short in the grand scheme of things and family ties – no matter how strained or tenuous – should never be broken. She left this world almost the same as she entered – alone and unwanted – except by those who truly did wish to be a part of her life – her foster parents and her only daughter. Rest in peace, Eva.
(For information on Clara Bow go to The Clara Bow Page)