52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Week 9: Disaster

52 Ancestors in 52 weeks:  Week 9 Disaster

I am taking part in the 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge By Amy Crow Johnson. After a couple of weeks where I was unable to take part, I am jumping back in with this week’s topic, disaster. Many of my ancestors experienced disasters of varying degrees during their lifetimes.

I chose a small-scale disaster in the grand scheme of the world but one that had a profound effect on people near and dear to me. The death of my paternal grandfather. His name was Jay D. Fulkerson. I never met him. He died 3 years to the day before I was born.

Jay photo
Jay

Jay died of an accidental death at the age of 47. It was May 11, 1976. Jay was working his job operating a street sweeping machine for the city of Flint. He stopped to check to do a check of the machine and while trying to remove a jam the machine malfunctioned. The machine slammed shut on the neck and shoulders of my grandfather and killed him.

When he died, he left a wife, 3 sons aged 23, 21, 18, and a 9 year old daughter.

The life of Jay

Like so many kids born during the same time period, my grandfather didn’t have an easy early life. He was born 11 February 1929 just months before the stock market crash and start of the great depression. Even prior to the collapse of the economy he didn’t come from a privileged family. On his Father’s side, his dad was an orphan. Both of paternal grandparents died within 4 months of each other while his father was a teen. On his mother’s side, the level of dysfunction was high with his maternal grandparents divorced and the extended family at the center of a strange murder plot. It was into this world that Jay Dee Baker was born. The only child of Willie Baker and Lily Weatherspoon.

Life only got rockier for Jay from his rocky beginning. His father was a mean drunk. The marriage of his parents devolved. Lily and Jay left Willie and the next several years are a mystery. One sparse clue about his life during the time is this photo labeled Jay 1935. A few photos appear from during the time period with no date. The only clue to who the photo holds in several cases being my grandfather’s distinct ears.

Jay Fulkerson as child
Jay with unknown girls

In 1937 Lily shows back up in records. Using an alias, she married a second time. I am not sure the circumstances which led to my great grandmother meeting her second husband. He was a widower living in Flint, Michigan and several years her senior. They married in Indiana and built a life together in Flint. From that point on Jay seems to have a vastly improved lot in life. His stepfather was glad to take on the role of Father and the two were close. Eventually, Jay was adopted by his stepfather, Moman Fulkerson, and his surnamed was legally changed to Fulkerson.

Lily and Jay

From his humble beginnings, Jay seemed to have lucked out into a charmed life. He went onto graduate high school and meet and marry a local girl, my grandmother. Pictures of the two of them together show a couple very much in love.

At the time of his death Jay and Loree had been married for almost 27 years. The arrival of grandchildren was blessing the family with a new generation and Jay looks every bit the excited grandpa in photos. It was all cut short with the tragedy that struck that spring day in May 1976.

Jay and Loree

For the world it was just one small tragedy. A moment in the newspapers quickly forgotten as the world went on. For my family it was a disaster that it would never recover from. Perhaps it was something simmering under the surface bound to happen, or maybe it was just the stress of the events, but from that point on there would be fractures in my family that could never be repaired.

I grew up being very aware of the fact that my birth was a day of distinction in my family, and not just because it was my birthday. It was the day of my grandfather’s death. The day disaster struck.

I cannot recall my grandmother and great-grandmother ever being in the same place at the same time in my lifetime. They both lived until I was an adult. Holiday gatherings were spent not together in one place remembering times gone by but instead separated. It was as if in death the two women who were the most momentous in my grandfather’s life battled over his memory. They have both been gone for years and years now. The family they left behind is distant and frayed as the result of battles none of us even had a part in.

The death of my paternal grandfather was not a disaster on the global scale. It was just a small tragedy easily forgotten by most but for my family it proved to be a disaster.

Photograph Mysteries

Inevitably, anyone who studies genealogy will find themselves feeling like they need to be a jack of all trades in all things historical. Photographic history, military history, immigration history, clothing history, even transportation history at some point in time will come into play when doing research. Our ancestors were just one small cog in the world they lived in. Understanding the time they lived in helps drive effective research by knowing where to look and what records may exist.

Photographs are often one of the greater genealogical mysteries researchers face. For me they can be my greatest challenge and my greatest joy. I love seeing faces from generations ago and spotting resemblances to modern relations. Often times it seems the identity of the subject in the photographs have been lost to the sands of time. We are left trying to ponder and decipher clues that may help us eventually identify the faces with the names and times that belong to them.

A relative of mine has the originals of several photos which even years later manage to frustrate me. I can loosely speculate the origins of the photos but a definite identification may be lost.

group a close up
I estimate this photo to be before 1920. The gentlemen in the back with the dark coat has ears and a hairline which remind me of my great grandfather, Moman Harold Fulkerson. What do you think?

mysterygroup
This photo looks to be around a decade after the earlier photo. The dark haired lady in the back row looks like she could be the same younger woman in the front of the previous photo.

These photos may never be identified. They are from an album that belonged to my great grandparents, Moman Harold Fulkerson and Lillie Mae Weatherspoon. Many of the photographs predate their marriage and some of them are of the family of his first wife. I would estimate most of the photos to be from around 1920 to 1940. These three photographs have stumped me. I suspect they are either members of the Fulkerson family from the Owensboro, Kentucky area or the Sublett family from the same region.

Close ups of two photos. The one on the left is a known photograph of Moman Harold Fulkerson at age 39. The one on the right has similar head shape and ears. What do you think?

Close up photos of the dark haired lady. They both have similar builds and would likely be of the same age. What do you think? For today this is a mystery that remains unsolved.

Gretna Green Weddings

Genealogical research is a fun adventure. Decades into the hobby, I still frequently find myself discovering new terms and learning new things. Gretna Green is the term I learned recently.

Gretna Green is a town in Scotland that was famous for being a runaway wedding destination. The town gained its reputation when English marriage laws prohibited marriage under the age of 21. Younger English couples crossed the Scottish border and the first town they arrived at was Gretna Green, Scotland.

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Historic image of Gretna Green Scotland By This image is available from the National Library of Scotland under the sequence number or Shelfmark ID Blaikie.SNPG. You can see this image in its original context, along with the rest of the Library’s digital collections, in the NLS Digital Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33984166

The term Gretna Green came to be associated with any locale that drew residents from nearby areas to skirt more restrictive marriage laws where the couple lived. Las Vegas, Nevada is a modern day Gretna Green. Various places served as Gretna Green locations at different periods. Angola, Indiana was a popular Gretna Green destination for residents of Michigan.

The first time I encountered a Gretna Green marriage was when I located the marriage license of my Great Grandmother and her second husband. I searched for that record for years before I finally discovered it. When I looked at the information provided it was no shock I had such trouble. My Great Grandmother provided details that were less than honest and they married far from the city they lived their lives together in. Overall, I found it rather easily considering the details she provided.

 

Normally I would discard the incorrect facts as a case of poor record keeping. In this instance, I am certain the details recorded were as my Great Grandmother provided them. The details she provided, and the reality of the situation as ferreted out by actual supporting documents and records, tell the rest of the story. I have little doubt my Great Grandparents married in Angola, Indiana to avoid too many unwanted questions about their…primarily her…past. Indiana law required them to both be over the age of 18 and unmarried. No documentation was required to prove the facts as presented were accurate. Good thing, she could not have provided documents to prove the facts she provides unless she made them!

Couples had various reasons for Gretna Green weddings. Some like my Great Grandmother had a history that she was trying to escape. Others may have been just looking for the excitement of eloping, or just avoiding family involvement in the ceremony. Whatever their reason Gretna Green weddings have been a genealogy roadblock challenge to overcome since the dawn of time.

Wednesday is for Weddings

Weddings are a gift to the genealogist

Marriage records are invaluable when performing pre-1850 genealogical research on female ancestors.  Prior to 1850 only heads of households were listed on the census.  Locating that elusive 200-year-old marriage record could make all the difference in the quest for great-great grandmother’s name.

Here is a favorite wedding day photo of mine.  The photo is from May 28, 1949 when my paternal grandparents, Jay Dee Fulkerson Jr and Loree Jane Ashley, were married in Flint, Michigan.  Pictured with the new couple are both sets of parents.

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Left to Right: Moman Harold Fulkerson, Lilly Mae Weatherspoon, Jay Dee Fulkerson Sr, Loree Jane Ashley, Sarah Eckler, Myron Ashley

Prior to this photo I had never seen a photo of my grandmother’s parents.  In fact, my grandmother’s father, Myron Ashley, pictured on the right with a cigarette in his hand died the year after this photo was taken.  His wife, Sarah Eckler, and my grandfather, Jay Dee Fulkerson Jr, both died before I was born.

During early periods in history, marriage was one of the few instances in a woman’s life when her full birth name might be recorded on documents.  In lucky cases a bride’s parents may also be listed in the marriage record.  Frequently, in the case of someone who was married more than once it can be a puzzle trying to locate each different surname, and surname changes are the cause of more than a few brick walls.  Tracking down every marriage, and searching out not only maiden names but other possible surnames is a vital part of tracking maternal lines.

Frequently locating those marriage records can be a tricky endeavor because couples would travel to another area to get married.  Other vital records searches are simplified by the fact they were typically recorded in the county or state where the person lived.  Marriage records can be located in places the couple never resided.

My grandparents were from West Virginia and Michigan; they married in Angola, Indiana.  Yet another set of grandparents further back in my line, both born and buried in Michigan, they married in Canada.

Tips while researching marriage records

  • Always begin with searching for marriage records using the groom first; his surname was more likely to stay the same and if her surname is unexpected you know to look for other possible marriages.
  • Don’t limit the geographic region of your search, people have been eloping forever.
  • Marriage records can provide the bride’s maiden name….but not always… remember women changed their surnames, sometimes more often than we realize.
  • Don’t disregard a record merely because both spouses don’t match.  Dig deeper to see if it is truly different people or if there is more to the story.
Here is the marriage record of Lucy Bell Brown and Dallas Finley Shuck.

 

finlucyshuck

There are two things that could make this record tricky to locate.

  • First, Dallas Finley who is listed only as Dallas F Shuck commonly went by the name Finley during life.  You had to realize that his legal name was Dallas to locate this record.
  • Second, Lucy was a widow when she married Finley so her last name is recorded as Jamison instead of her maiden name of Brown.

 

Till Death Do Us Part…. Or Not

On the flip side of the wedding coin another valuable source of information can be divorce records.  While it’s easy to think of divorce as a modern-day habit, it happened more often than we realize in history.  Ancestry.com has a wealth of historical divorce records on their site.  Tracking down divorce records can make all the difference between accusing great grandpa of being a bigamist or realizing he might have had a few personality flaws that made him hard to live with.

My great-great-great grandfather, Leming Eckler, kept the marriage and divorce clerks of Michigan busy late in his life.  I have found several marriage and divorce records for him dating from 1858 to 1907.  As a male ancestor his surname never changed making following his trail possible.  If he had been a female ancestor it would have been nearly impossible to follow the trail of rapidly changing names.

Divorce records also help to do something few other records do; they paint a more human picture of the person being researched.  Most historical records show basic vital stats while divorce records might show character flaws such as abandonment, cruelty, or failure to support.  They may not reveal some of the more flattering details of a person but it’s another way to see a new perspective on an ancestor’s personality.

From start to end weddings leave a trail to be followed

Marriage and divorce records can hold bits of information that can be vital to putting together the lineage puzzle.  Locating marriage and divorce records can be challenging but the reward for success makes it  worth the time investment.

 

Source Information

Ancestry.com. Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867–1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics.

Ancestry.com. Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Michigan. Divorce records. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Lansing, Michigan

“West Virginia Marriages, 1780-1970,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FTHY-MZQ : 4 December 2014), Dallas F Shuck and Lucy Belle Jamison, 1926; citing Nicholas, West Virginia, United States, , county clerks, West Virginia; FHL microfilm 495,646

http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_view2.aspx?FilmNumber=495646&ImageNumber=474