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Posts Tagged ‘Indiana’

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)

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One of the earliest divorces I found – one that would also impact my life – was that of my great-grandparents.  Joseph Napolean Wilt and Martha Jane Stern were married in Delaware County, Indiana on September 10, 1890.  Six children were born to this family – one son was either stillborn or died shortly thereafter.  My grandmother, Vesta, was the fifth child (the fourth who lived) and first daughter.  By the time she was ten – in 1908 – her parents had separated.  I am unsure when the divorce actually took place but it was before December 1909.  Martha had to send at least one of her sons, to her husband’s sister’s home for awhile as she didn’t have the income or money to support all of her children.  On September 19, 1908 she appeared in Judge J.H. Leffler’s Delaware County Court to appeal for child support from her estranged husband.  The judge granted her support for her three youngest children, Vesta, and her sister, Nellie, and brother, Clifford.  The judge signed a bench warrant for the arrest of Joe Wilt for non-support of children under the age of 14.  Family stories indicate that Joe really never did much to support his children and drifted from one place to another and one job to another.  What is known is that my grandmother and her siblings went for a long time before ever seeing their father again.

Martha married her sister’s widower, William Frank Clawson, on December 31, 1909.  Frank and (Margaret) Ellen Stern had six children – four dying as infants.  Between Frank and Martha, they raised their combined families together.  My grandmother used to call her step-siblings, “double-cousins”, which was a misnomer.  They were first cousins who ended up becoming step-siblings due to Frank and Martha’s marriage. 

Joe went on to marry Anna Park on July 3, 1912 in Clark County, Indiana.  They spent most of their married life in Lexington, Scott County, Indiana as indicated by the 1920 and 1930 censuses.  I have not found either Joe or Martha in any of the 1910 censuses of Indiana.  Joe and Anna had one son, Albert, born in 1917.  My grandmother did meet her half-brother once but he died in 1933 at the age of 16.  Anna died about 1942.  Joe went on to marry one last time to a lady named Susie (as referenced in his obituary). 

When Joe Wilt died in early January 1944 he was alone.  Susie had been staying in Kentucky and it was thought that Joe died from a heart attack.  Even though he hadn’t had contact with his children for quite sometime, Vesta and possibly her brother Clarence (who also lived in Indiana) and other brother, Jesse (living in Ohio), were able to attend the funeral. 

Many years later after my parents divorced, my grandmother was like a kindred spirit as she told me that she had gone through the same thing when her parents split up.  She had experienced many of the same thoughts and emotions that I had.  Witnessing first hand all the triumphs over the stigma of divorce that she had accomplished, I knew that my future would be okay.  Without ever knowing my great-grandparents, their marriage and divorce, and the affect that had on their daughter, made a profound impact on my own life.

Picture 1: Martha and Joe Wilt, sons: John, Jesse (baby), Clarence
Picture 2: Frank and Martha Clawson
Picture 3: Joe and Anna Wilt

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Back in the mid 1960’s during a reunion trip to Coshocton, my parents had discussed finding a house that my dad’s mother had grown up in (or was born in).  I don’t remember which one.  So we headed toward the country and rural areas and started looking for said house.  Apparently my dad had been there before when he was a boy.

We came across the dilipadated white house that to me seemed in the middle of nowhere.  There were lots of trees around it and the drive was rock and grass covered.  Sitting in the white Pontiac looking upon it, the house seemed rather sad.  Obviously empty and forgotten about, some of the windows were cracked and caked with dust and dirt.  Vines had found their way up onto the porch and the sides of the house.  Seemed that it had been empty for quite a few years. 

Mom mentioned that there might be things left inside.  I think she wanted my dad to take a look to see if it really had been the house he was searching for.  No dice.  I remember she and I starting up onto the porch when my dad told her not to go any further.  He was afraid that the porch wouldn’t hold us and cave in.  I think that’s when I started being a little frightened of front porches not built on a slab.  I always thought that as soon as I took that last step up on that porch that it would collapse and I would find myself underneath with all the rats and vermin.  That was another thing my dad cautioned about.  He was sure there were rats, snakes and who knows what else living in the house and amongst the grown up yard and vegetation.  So we never got to see the inside of that house. 

I was left to wonder all these years many things:  Was it my grandmother’s childhood home?  What did the inside look like?  Were there ancestral treasures to be found in there?  Who had been the last occupants and why did they leave?  How long had it sat empty when we came upon it?  What’s become of it since that time – at least forty years ago?  Unfortunately, I’ll never know unless by some serendipitous chance I come across it again which is very doubtful.

I was able to see the home my mother was born in and spent the first year of her life living in – located in Anderson, Madison County, Indiana.  When I was fifteen, my mom, sister, niece and I spent a week on “vacation”.  We traveled from Southwest Ohio to Indiana and toured the Connor Prairie Living Homestead Museum in Fishers, Indiana.  From there we went to Madison County and Mom pointed out the house as we drove by.  Again – we didn’t take pictures – although I have some of my mom as an infant showing parts of the house.   I do have a picture of the home my mom grew up in located in Greene County, Ohio.  Originally the home had been in Osborn (before it and Fairfield merged to form Fairborn).  Then as she explained, it was put on these big rollers and moved to Fairfield.  My aunt had thrown toys from the second story window.  Here’s a picture of that house with my aunt and my mom sitting in front.  I also have pictures of my maternal grandfather’s childhood home in Anderson. 

Departing Advice: Photograph and map out ancestral homes and land.  Take photos of the home you live in now and those that follow.  Check old city directories for information that might assist you in locating these homes or businesses.   Plot the locations of places lived on a map to see where your ancestors lived and migrated. 

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Katie before her accidentBorn on September 20, 1864 in Stoney Creek, a township of Madison County, Indiana, Katie Blazer, would barely remember her father.  Frank Blazer died when she was just five years old leaving her mother to raise three sons and three daughters under the age of 14.  Katie’s grandparents, John and Martha Goul, lived nearby and quite possibly her grandfather was her father-figure as she grew.

 

At the age of 19, on the Fourth of July, 1883, Katie married John Lafayette Johnson.  A wedding photo shows Katie standing next to her husband in the stereotypical picture of the times.  She was tall and thin with her black hair piled on top of her head.  Her dress was dark, probably the one good dress she owned.  Owing to the holiday, there were probably more family members and neighbors able to attend the nuptials.

 

The couple’s first child, Letis, was born almost four years later.  In childhood he developed epilepsy which caused horrific seizures and an “insane” quality to his behavior.  A mother watching her son spiral out of control would have lent a pall over the happiness of the family.  What gossip was spreading throughout the township and nearby towns?  Katie had a very difficult time conceiving another child, and Letis was 11 when his brother, Glen, was born.

 

The younger boy became the object of Letis’ violence.  He tried to cut off the younger boy’s ear and another time through a brick through the chicken coop.  His actions were most likely due to not being able to control the violence of the seizures and feeling as if he was being swept down into a whirlpool of despair.  Katie and John, obviously alone in what they were feeling and dealing with, placed Letis in the Indiana School for Feeble Minded Youth, hoping that their family life would find some normalcy. 

 

Eight years after Glen was born, the couple had the baby girl that Katie had always dreamed of having.  Unfortunately, Katie’s joy was short lived.  Mary lived only 7 months.  Their baby girl was gone – forever.

 

A few moths later a miracle came into their midst in the form of an angel appearing as a young, unwed mother.  The young woman had delivered a baby girl on the Interurban car in Fortville, Indiana.  At St. John’s hospital where she was taken after the birth, this girl saw Katie, who was visiting someone.  She pleaded with the dark-haired mother of two sons, to please raise her daughter.  The Catholic nuns allowed Katie and John to become the infant’s foster parents, although they never could adopt her.  The baby’s name became Eva – the baby girl Katie had waited for was finally hers. 

 

Five years after Eva arrived as their child, their first born son died at the Home of pneumonia.  Not only had they buried an infant daughter but now they had to bury their son.  Did they have immense guilt over his death or relief that he wasn’t suffering from the seizures and violence any longer?

 

Sometime between late 1921 and 1923, after her granddaughter, Mary, was born, Katie was driving a horse and buggy with her grandchild along side her when the buggy overturned.  The baby was fine but Katie broke her back.  Luckily, she wasn’t paralyzed but she had to remain bedridden in a back cast for a long time. 

 

While she was unable to move or get up, “gypsies” came in and cut off all of her long hair.  No one else was at home and able to stop them.  It’s unknown exactly what they wanted to do with it – other than sell it.

 

When Katie was finally able to get out of bed, she had a corset “cast” made that she wore to keep her back straight.  Unfortunately she wasn’t able to walk without the aid of crutches.  The granddaughter who was with her on that fateful buggy ride, remembers that when she and her older siblings got into mischief, Katie would charge after them waving her crutches around and sometimes connecting crutch to child.  Her body may have been injured but her spirit wasn’t.  It is told that she could move as fast as any football running back even on crutches.  She also didn’t let the fact that she was a woman in the early 20th century stop her from doing exactly what she wanted.

 

After being up and around for awhile, she applied for a driver’s license.  Apparently she was through riding in a buggy!  She fought and won the right to be granted her license and then drove from Indiana to Ohio to visit her brother.  She was a woman ahead of her time.

 

Not many years later, in the early spring of 1930, she and her husband moved to the small town of Fairfield, Ohio.  The town subsequently merged with the neighboring town, Osborne, in Greene County, to become the city of Fairborn.  They moved into the home of their son, Glen, and his family.  Possibly Katie knew what no one else did at that time.  That she was dying.  Stomach cancer was going to kill her as that buggy accident couldn’t.

 

As she lay in bed unaware of her surroundings during the last days or weeks of her illness, the story was told that downstairs off the kitchen, the door kept swinging open and shut.  When her son, Glen, or her husband would check to see if someone had come in, they found not a single person.  Locking the door and returning upstairs to the bedroom where Katie lay, it wasn’t long before the door began swinging open and shut again making a banging noise.  It was thought that the spirits of her deceased parents could be coming for her to take her to the world beyond the living.

 

Katie died a couple months after arriving in Ohio – May 20, 1930.  She was laid out in the parlor of the funeral home in Fairfield for the local relatives and friends to pay their respects before she was taken to the place she had called home, Madison County, Indiana.  There she was buried in Maple Wood Cemetery near her oldest son and infant daughter and where her husband would join her in eternal rest nine years and eight days later.

 

Katie lived and died on her terms – not those set down by society or her family.  She will be remembered as a strong and determined woman – a woman that her great-granddaughter wishes she could have met.

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Help Needed

I am in need of what books or articles to read that detail life in small Indiana towns in the early 1900s – specifically 1916-1921.  I have TONS of letters that my grandparents wrote each other while they were courting (Easter 1916 – December 1916) and then letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother while he was stationed at Kelly Field in San Antonio in early 1918 through his service in WWI in France.  My goal is to incorporate their letters into a book about them.

To give a more rounded view of their lives outside of the letters, I really need to study up on what small town Indiana life was like at that time.

Have you read a book that provides enough historical and “mundane” daily life information that would help me in my quest?  Or know of some articles – online, in a book, whatever – that would be of help to me? 

Please leave your ideas in my comments or send me a link to your website that might have information for me! 

Thanks so much!

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