The Name of my Great-Grandmother Is Found!

It has been awhile since I’ve posted in my blog.    This year 2015 has been really difficult, filled with a lot of sorrow and loss.  My mother, Ella Mae Jason-Frank, passed away September 29, 2015, after battling declining health over the last few years.

Ella Jason-Frank

Ella Jason-Frank

She was a big supporter of my genealogical pursuits, and, as I’ve written in a previous post, she really wanted me to find out more about her maternal grandmother.

Amazingly, one month after my mother’s death, I found my great-grandmoterh’s name, almost as if my mother’s first task in heaven was to jumpstart my research.  One of my first cousins, a fellow researcher, alerted me that the website familysearch.org had recently added the marriage license of [E]stella Ruben and Rodney Williams.  On the license, my grandmother’s mother is listed as Eva Laughtin:

Stella Ruben marries Rodney Williams

Stella Ruben marries Rodney Williams

Stella Ruben and Rodney marriage license

Stella Ruben and Rodney marriage license

So: Eva Laughtin from Mowata, Louisiana.  Laughtin?  Not a familiar name to me.  I’m sure there are a lot of different spellings for this surname and below are a few variations:  Lotten, McLaughtin, Lawton, and,  Lawtin.  Mowata is a small town outside of Eunice.  Family lore has it that Eva, my great-grandmother was from Mowata.   Do any of you have any Laughtins in your family?  Any connection to Mowata?  I would love to hear from you.

 

Happy searching!

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Where Are You, My Grandmother’s People?

After my last post, I had to take a break from writing.  I was too high from my last find and I didn’t know where to go for my next blog post.  So, over the last month I’ve decided I’m ready to continue the adventure.  Let me start be saying this is a mystery and I need help!

Growing up, I remember my Mother making comments about her mother, Estella Ruben, who we called Momí Stella. Unlike other people who have a hard time getting information for their elder relatives, my mother has never had any problem sharing.  She always was willing to share family lore, often unsolicited.   My mother was known for telling these enthralling stories—well, at least they were enthralling to me.

One story that comes to mind is one my mother told me when I was young.  When my mother was about 5 years old, she went to a local “roots worker” to ask her if she could fix up something to heal her sick mother.   My Mother said Momí Stella had been crying and crying, in obvious pain.  My mother laughed as she continued, “Mama was a drinker back then, and she would cry when she would get drunk.  The roots lady knew my mother wasn’t sick, but had been drinking and she just told me that she would come by later to check on my Mama.”

“Momí Stella used to drink?  I had no idea.  Man, I would have never known that.” My grandmother lived a pretty wholesome life from my point of view – I never saw her drink.

“Yes, Mama kept us spotless, we had food to eat, she made sure we went to school, and she was a very attentive Mama.  But, when she would have bouts of crying spells I thought she was sick.  I didn’t know until later that she cried like that when she had been drinking.”

While cooking one day, my mother told me “Momma didn’t know her mother—not even her own mother’s name.”  From my mother I learned that Momí Stella’s mother died shortly after she was born.   My mother Momma said “my grandmother had other children and after she died, my grandfather, Gabe, sent her other children back to Mowata to live with my grandmother’s family”.

Estella Ruben

Estella Ruben

My grandmother died in 1974.  According to my Mother, before Momí Stella’s death, she had attempted to try to find her siblings.  She wasn’t successful and we, at this point, don’t have any leads to finding this part of my family.  My grandmother did not even have a birth certificate. On her death certificate, her mother is listed as unknown.

Once I started being serious about genealogy, I knew this was one of the family mysteries I wanted to solve.  Over the years, my mother would repeat this story from time to time.   She would also ask if I had found any information yet on Momí’s missing siblings.

Bringing back together this long-ago torn family and enabling my mother to connect with aunts, uncles, their children, their children’s children is one of my greatest prayers.  Maybe someone reading this blog post can help me.

So, let me sort out the information I do know about my grandmother’s family.  Born July 9th, 1905 in Elton, Louisiana, Estella Ruben, was the daughter of Gabriel “Gabe” Ruben.  Gabe, per his death certificate, was born in Ville Platte, Louisiana in 1876.  On the 1880 census, I found Gabriel listed as the 4-year son of Lastie and Ellen Ruben.  Also listed are Gabriel’s sisters, 8-year Louisa and 2-year Lovenia.

1880 US Census - Lastie Ruben

1880 US Census – Lastie Ruben

Lastie, appears to have been the son of John and Jane Rubin.  Lastie had a brother named John Ruben files [junior] who married Ernestine Zenon Tomy (Thomas) on February 6, 1869 in Saint Landry Parish, Louisiana. [Opel. Ct. Hse.: Mar. #5224]

As I continued to look at census records, genealogy enthusiasts know that most of the 1890 US census records were by a fire, so the 1900 census are the next set of records available.  Unfortunately, I’ve not yet been able to find Gabriel in the 1900 records.

On the 1910 census, I not only picked up the trail of Gabe, it also is the first census on which I find my grandmother [E]stella.

So at the time the census was taken, April 1910, Estella is noted as being 4 years old, which means she would be 5 on her next birthday of July 9th.  As, mentioned earlier, Momí Stella did not have a birth certificate so 1905 could be accurate, although her obituary listed her birth year as 1906.  The census shows that Gabe and his wife, Eliza, have been married for 5 years and that Eliza had given birth to one child who is alive at the time of the census.

Finding, Gabe, Eliza, and Estella on the 1910 census made me think I had not only found my grandmother, Estella, but I had possibly found her mother, Eliza.  That seemed to be the only conclusion.  Then, what of the story about the death of my great-grandmother and her children being sent to Mowata?  Was that just a myth?

1910 US Census Gabe Ruben

1910 US Census Gabe Ruben

My grandmother had a younger sister named Martha Ruben. On the 1920, Martha, 13, along with my grandmother [E]stella, 14, are both shown with Gabe and Eliza. If Martha is only a year younger than Estella, why isn’t she on the 1910 census in Gabe’s household?

1920 US Census Gabe Ruben

1920 US Census Gabe Ruben

Tragically, Martha dies almost 4 years later of cardiac dropsy, which is edema due to congestive heart failure.     At the time of her death, the death certificate says she was 14, giving her a birth year of around 1910.  Martha’s mother’s name is illegible on the document and I’ve been unsuccessful in making out the full name.  The last name looks to me to be “Antwine”.  What do you think is the name?

Marth Ruben's Death Certificate

Marth Ruben’s Death Certificate

So maybe Eliza is the birth mother of Momí Stella, but I don’t think so.  At the age of 14, my grandmother would have known the person listed as Liza on the 1920 census.  Assuming Liza is the same as the Eliza that is on the 1910 census, it is unlikely my grandmother would have said that she did not know her mother if in fact Liza (and Eliza) was her mother, right?

There’s also a discrepancy with the age of Martha.  The 1920 census, it has that she is 13, which means that she was born around 1907.  However, her death certificate have that she was 14 when she died in 1924, means that her birth date was about 1910.

On a World War I draft registration dated September 12, 1918 I found Gabe’s significant other as Eliza Harrow.

WWi Draft Registration Gabe Ruben

WWi Draft Registration Gabe Ruben

The trail ends and I still have no information on who could be the mother of Momí Stella.  I welcome your ideas on where I should look next to try to solve this mystery.

Jason Family of Ville Platte, LA –  Brick wall knockdown

The Jasons, like most of the families in Bayou Chicot and the surrounding area, were farmers, and each of the Jasons had a brood of children, ensuring their family’s presence in future generations. That’s how I was going to start part two of my Jason’s blog post. However, with my recent big find, that part of the story will have to wait!

I started doing family research hoping to learn more information about my ancestors, including finding out who held my ancestors as slaves. For several years now, I’ve been visiting the archives in both Opelousas and Ville Platte.  Opelousas is the parish seat for Saint Landry, whereas Ville Platte is the seat for Evangeline Parish.   Established in 1805 and, once, much larger Saint Landry Parish has since been carved up, forming separate parishes, including Evangeline Parish, which was established in 1901.

I remember how nervous I was going into the Opelousas archives for the first time.  It was daunting, seemingly insurmountable. I was doing something that was important for my family, something that my ancestors were pushing me to do, but I didn’t even know where to start.  And, I was alone.  So, I took that step in.  There were hundreds upon hundreds of huge books that weighed easily 25+ pounds spread across the room.  No one offered to help me.  No one pointed me to the starting place.  I didn’t even know that I could do a search on the computer that was in the archive room.  There were just these books, walls and walls of big books.  Saw sections labeled marriage records, probate and succession records, notarial records’, conveyances, miscellaneous records.   I ventured into reading one of the succession records – everything was in French.  Okay, this is not going to work, I said to myself.  I have to get some information.  I took a deep breath and that’s when I decided just to start with the marriage licenses and see if I can pull licenses for the people I did know.   I just started looking up surnames, and if I recognized a given name I would get a copy of the marriage license. Simple as that.

In discussing family ancestry with others, it has been my Jason family members who have had the most interest, and it’s with the Jasons that I also have the most passionate fellow family researchers.  One of my researcher-cousins, Patricia, connected me to Moses Jason’s sister Hannah and their father Godfrey Jason.  Patricia is a descendant of Hannah and she made me aware of the 1870 and 1880 census, which showed Moses and Hannah living as next-door neighbors.

Through the years, they were proud and close knit family, often living in clan clusters a rocks-throw from one another.  That’s a tradition that’s persisted. When my family moved from Louisiana to California in the 1970s, for the first year, we lived with my uncle near the San Francisco Bay. The next year, we moved—right next door to my mother’s first cousin. Researching enslaved persons can be challenging – one reason being the propensity of slavery to split families and possibly sell family members to unknown or faraway plantations.  Another reason is that ‘slaves’ had no surnames, so when do typical genealogy research you’re looking at both the given name and the surname.   So if you don’t know the name of the slave ‘owner’ it can be difficult to find your ancestors under slavery.

Per the 1870 census, Godfrey Jason was born in South Carolina and this same researcher-cousin surmised that Godfrey Jason may be one and the same as ‘Old Uncle Godfrey’ mentioned in the book Old Families and Tales of Chicot; or Miss Emma’s Memoirs , where Godfrey is noted as a slave owned by the Griffith family. Using the censuses, I was able to find Moses’s and Hannah’s other likely siblings: Winifred, Phoebe, and Temperance, also known as Tempy.  In this family, as in other enslaved families, it was common to name children after their grandparents and their parents siblings. This was used as a code. It helped implicitly connect families, even if they were sold and separated. Moses named two of his daughters, Winifred and Hannah; Winifred named one daughter Temperance; two of Tempy’s children were named after her sisters Phoebe and Winifred; Godfrey Tatman, found in the 1900 census, is potentially Hannah’s son—named him after her father, Old Uncle Godfrey Jason.

Three or four years after my researcher-cousin first mentioned Hannah to me, I pored through census records to find links to her brother, my direct ancestor. In 1900 and 1910, Moses Jason who was living in the same household with Tempy and her family.  Then, I had no idea who Tempy was. In 1900, Tempy and Moses are living in the household of a John Brown and his wife Harriet.  Tempy is listed as John’s mother-in-law, making her Harriet’s mother.  Moses is listed as John’s brother, which I thought was a mistake. I wasn’t able to pinpoint the relationship between John and Moses until the 1910 census.  On this census, Tempy King is listed as the head of household, living with several people, including her brother, Moses Jason.  King was probably Harriet’s last name, too, I thought.

Moses Jason 1900 Census  Moses Jason 1910 census

 

Using Rev. Donald J. Hebert’s Southwest Louisiana Records (SWLA) CD, a couple of significant marriage references, I found out a couple of things:

  • Temperance Jason [Jacena] married Warren King on April 2, 1870
  • Harriet King married John Brown March 30, 1891.

The Louisiana Death records on FamilySearch shows that Tempy passed on March 29, 1921, had a deceased spouse named Warren King… and that her father was Godfrey Jason!  Unfortunately, no mother is listed.

Familysearch.org Louisiana Death Index entry for Tempy:

Tempy Jason Death entry

I traveled with my cousin Geraldine to the Opelousas court house, doing computer index searches and surveying marriage licenses. Then, I decided I wanted to look up sale records. MY ancestors were bought and sold. There may be a record of it. I remembered what Patricia said, about Old Uncle Godfrey and the Griffith family. So, we looked up in the vendor/vendee index several of the conveyance records for Griffiths slave transactions.  Two of these references broke down the slavery brickwall.

Per the conveyance document recorded December 17, 1833, Daniel Ferguson received nine hundred dollars from Isaac Griffith in exchange for a negro male slave, age 36.  The slave’s name was Godfrey.  My great-great-great-grandfather!

Godfrey Jason slave doc 1833

My excitement continued when I found, in another document dated April 18, 1848. Marie Ann Ferguson [Furguson], wife of Isaac Griffith, is transferring ownership of several slaves to her daughter Hester Griffith, wife of C. D. Tatman. These slaves were a negro male named Warren, 28; a negro woman named Tempy, 23; children  Bob, 6, Henry, 4; Louis, 2; and Rachel, infant.  The children are listed as only Tempy’s children, but Warren may indeed be the father.  Not only had a found a daughter of Godfrey, but it so happened to be the one daughter where I had proof per the death certificate that Godfrey was her father.

tempy and warren slave doc

I did not have Bob, Henry, Davis, nor Rachel in my tree, prior to finding Godfrey and Tempy in the slave records.  However, on the 1870 census in the domicile right next to Warren and Tempy, we find Henry [one of the children on the Tempy slave document] and his wife, Isabella, living with several of Henry’s siblings—including Harriett!

Henry King, wife and siblings living next to Mother and Father (Tempy and Warren)

Henry King, wife and siblings living next to Mother and Father (Tempy and Warren)

Daniel Ferguson, born in South Carolina in 1774, was the fifth son of Moses Ferguson and Elizabeth Lively.  In South Carolina, Daniel married Esther (Hester) Peak(e), where five of their  eight children were born; the remaining being born in Bayou Chicot. Their daughter, Mary (Marie) Anne Ferguson, married Isaac Griffith in 1815 and their daughter, Hester, married Cornelius D. Tatman in 1842.  More than likely, The Ferguson, Griffith, and Tatman family records may hold additional documentation on my enslaved family members.  Information obtained using this link: http://dna.cfsna.net/GEN/USA/SC/Moses_Ferguson_and_Elizabeth_Lively.html. Here are a couple of entries on the family from Rev. Donald J. Hebert’s Southwest Louisiana Records entries:

  • CLARK, Elisabeth – native of this parish (major daughter of dec. John & Marie STEVENS)  m. 13 July 1830  Daniel FERGUSON – native of South Carolina (major son of Moses & Elisabeth LIVELY)  Wits: Francis D. SMITH, James MORGAN, Uriah FERGUSON, Edward FAHEY.  Fr. Flavius Henri ROSSI (Opel.Ch.: v.1-B, p.558-B)
  • GRIFFITH, Hester   m.  15 Dec. 1842  Cornelius D. TATMAN  (Opel.  Ct. Hse.: Mar. #5)   W

With these findings, I expect that it will lead me to find other enslaved relatives.  Recently, I’ve been in contact with a number of DNA cousins that have known ancestors only in South Carolina and are not aware of any connections of ancestors in Louisiana.  Wouldn’t it be great if I would be I able to trace my Louisiana family to our long ago- separated South Carolina family members, once again uniting them?  That’s a wonderful dream…and, dreams do come true.

Happy searching!

Jason Family of Ville Platte, LA – Part 1

Back in 2011, I was the lead coordinator for the Jason Family reunion in Ville Platte.  On July 9th, 250 people from around the country converged in that small, southwestern Louisiana town. This event provided a unique opportunity; my family had lived in the area for at least 200 years.

The Jason clan’s patriarch and matriarch are Godfrey Jason (who was born in South Carolina around 1797) and his wife Laura, (who was born in Louisiana circa 1810).  The Jasons made their home in the Bayou Chicot area of Saint Landry Parish.

Godfrey and Laura were legally married December 31, 1869, though Laura died of dropsy (edema) a short time later, in April 1870.  It’s unfortunate that she did not live to be counted on the 1870 census.  That year is monumental for those of us that conduct African American genealogical research because the 1870 U.S. census is the first on which formerly enslaved persons would have been mentioned by name.

 

Godfrey and Laura Jason Marriage License pg 1

Godfrey and Laura Jason Marriage License pg 1

Godfrey and Laura Jason Marriage License pg 2

Godfrey and Laura Jason Marriage License pg 2

Godfrey and Laura Jason Marriag Licence pg. 3

Godfrey and Laura Jason Marriag Licence pg. 3

Although, Laura wasn’t on this census, we’re able to glean a little information about her from the Federal Mortality schedule.  At the time of her death, Laura was sixty years old.

Laura Jason 1870 Federal Mortality Schedule

Laura Jason 1870 Federal Mortality Schedule

I often wondered how Godfrey made his way from South Carolina to Louisiana.  I’m sure it was an advent of slavery, but did he get sold with his parents?   How old was he when he left?  Did he leave any of his close relatives tolling in South Carolina?  Or, was he sold as a slave alone, without any family? At least I know, after his wife’s death, Godfrey, a Southern farmer, wasn’t living alone.  According to the 1870 census, eight other people are living in the household from 31-year old Phebe Jason to one-year old Robert Jason.  All members of the household have the surname Jason, but the 1870 census doesn’t clarify any relationships.

Godfrey Jason 1870 US Census

Godfrey Jason 1870 US Census

What we do know is that Godfrey had at least four children: Winifred (1827), Moses (1830), Hannah (1832), and Temperance (1839).  Laura isn’t definitively the mother of all, if any, of the children, but it’s feasible.

I’m a descendant of Moses Jason. My first cousin’s research had substantiated our connection to Moses and we kept busy finding our fellow Moses’ descendants.   With information from my first cousin’s research, he had traced our family to our two times great-grandfather, Moses Jason (abt. 1830).  However, in 2009, I started collaborating with descendants of Hannah and I learned she was the Moses’ sister and I was told that Godfrey more than likely was the father of both Moses and Hannah. Making this connection was my first breakthrough for tracing family to the 1700s.

I want to continue in the next few posts talking about the Jasons and some of the genealogical finds.

Happy searching!

My Grandmother’s Name?

Momí Joanna

Momí Joanna

 

Momí Joanna, my paternal grandmother, moved to our house when her youngest son threatened to kill her. This son, my uncle Albert, had two daughters he named Judy and a liked to drink. He was known to some as a fighter, always in trouble. One day, he was picking on a much smaller man with the last name of Doucet.   Doucet slashed at him with a razor. Uncle Albert had to be rushed to the hospital with long cuts across his entire body and suffered significant blood loss.  His body rejected the blood transfusion.  He had been given the wrong blood type.

This all happened in the 60s. My mother Ella, along with my father and Momí Joanna went to visit him when he was in the hospital. Only my mother was allowed to see him. Although Ella begged him to see his mother and brother, he refused.

He always blamed Momí. For everything: for the drinking, the fighting, and the hospital bed. When he was growing up, Momí was too soft. He’d get into trouble, with neighbors or with the law, and she’d just give him a pass. “I know that wasn’t my Albert,” she’d say after he was caught with another boy stealing a bike. “I’m not going to touch him. I know that wasn’t him.”

On some level, Uncle Albert wished she had scolded or hit him when he was young.  Maybe he thought if she had, he would have turned out in a better way.

“No,” he told my mother. “I don’t want to see her. I hate her.”

Shortly after, Uncle Albert died.

That was not my experience with Uncle Albert.   He was to me a comforting soul.  He would watch me and my youngest sister while my mother, his sister-in-law, worked in her beauty shop.  I remember him lifting me and sister up into the tree and we would jump into his waiting arms laughing and giggling.  He was my protector and with him I had no fears.

There is one image that comes to mind when I think of Momí Joanna.  I must have been about 4 years old when she came to live with us. I picture her in our house. She is matter-of-factly squeezing my mother’s breast.

“Oh, no, girl, that’s drying up. That is drying up.”

My grandmother had nine kids.  She was a breastfeeding expert. Everyone called her Masistah. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned the reason why she was living with us. Her youngest son had threatened to kill her.

Momí Joanna was born November 18, 1906 and passed away September 20, 1973. [Per Social Security she was born November 18, 1907.] In her obituary, she’s listed as the daughter of a Mr. and Mrs. Silas Daniel [1]. At first, I took the obituary at its face value. Then, one day, my mother mentioned in passing that she did not think Daniel was my grandmother’s true last name.

Over the years, I had heard many names that were said to be my grandmother’s surname: Danner, Daniel, Dante, even Fontenot. I was intrigued. What was my grandmother’s full name?

This research started about 2003. My father, Welton Frank, had already died. So, first, I asked my father’s eldest brother Felton. He suggested Daniel and Dante, but he didn’t really know. I followed up to ask my father’s other siblings: they offered their ideas, but they, too, were unsure. I even asked if they would look at their birth certificates. I had no takers. Reading this, I would imagine you’re thinking, “How can a child not know their mother’s full name?” Well, that was my thought, also.

Uncle Felton did give me a hint on my grandmother’s paternal side: he told me about Uncle Charlie, who was a paternal uncle of my grandmother. Both my mother and my older sister also mentioned an Uncle Charlie. His face was disfigured after being burned badly in a cooking fire accident. He lived primitively, in a log cabin in the woods, possibly in the Bayou Chicot area.

I created a list of known facts about Momí so that I could get to her last name:

  • Father’s name was Silas.
  • Mother’s name was Victoria Leday (Lede).
  • Race would probably be listed as Colored, Negro, or Black.
  • Silas had a brother named Charlie (Charles).
  • Last name may start with a “D”, possibly a “Dan?”.
  • Family most likely lived in and around Saint Landry Parish.
  • Her birth was November 18 in the year 1906 or 1907.
  • She was born, lived, and died in Ville Platte, Louisiana.
  • She had very little schooling.
  • She was married at least 3 times, maybe 4 times: Chester Frank (my grandfather), Horace Ardoin (not sure they married), WC Frank, and Alcide Brown.

So, next I started searching the census the 1910 for a Joanna Daniel, Silas Daniel, and Charles Daniel; this yielded no results. I also looked at the 1900 census to see if I could find anything on Charles or Silas. Still, I could not find anyone who could be my family members.

In March 2008, when I visited the archives in Ville Platte, Louisiana, and obtained copies of two of my grandmother’s marriage certificates, for her marriages to Willie C. Frank [2] and to Alcide Brown [3]. On the license for her marriage to Frank, my grandmother’s typewritten name is listed as Joe Anna Dantan. On the other license, her type written name was listed as Joanna Dantan. However, in both cases, the actual signatures look different from the typewritten names. On the first license the signature looks like Deonton and it looks like Danton on the second license. The first license listed Charlie Denton as a witness.

WC FrankJoanna DentonML

I took another look at the 1900 census, concentrating on Silas and Charles. I still didn’t get any results using the surname Deonton, Dantan, or Danton. I then narrowed the focus on Uncle Charlie and began using search wildcard “*”, I searched for “Charles Dan*”, “Charles Din*” and “Charles Don*”. Still nothing.

Then, I entered “Charles Den*”. Across the screen was the name “Charles Denton.” I selected the record.

In 1900, Charles was the 15-year old son of Samuel and Virginia Denton. He had several siblings: Junis, William, Richard, Caroline, Corinne, and most interestingly a 20-year old brother by the name of Cylus Denton [4]. There was no doubt. I had found my great-grandfather and therefore my grandmother’s surname—Denton.

Charles Den* Census

Charles Den* Census

From, this 1900 census find, I was led to other censuses and found more information on Silas, his siblings, his parents, and grandparents. Silas and Charles were the sons of Samuel and Virginia Denton. I traced back to the 1880 [5] and 1870 census [6], I found that Samuel was the son of Moses and Maria Denton.  Samuel had typhoid fever and passed away on September 28, 1926.  Virginia Denton passed away October 16, 1929 of acute indigestion [7]. Her death certificate lists Charlie Denton as the informant (the person who provides information on the deceased, which may include the name, date and place of birth, and address.)

Virginia Denton Death Certificate

Virginia Denton Death Certificate

Sam Denton death certificate

Sam Denton death certificate

In 2010, I found the marriage license of my paternal grandparents.  [See previous post.]  The names were spelled, let’s say, differently.  Also, obtained a copy of Silas’ death certificate where I learned that additional information on Silas.  His nickname was ‘Buster’.  He had remarried and was living in St. Mary Parish.

Silas Buster Denton draft

Silas Buster Denton draft

Silas Denton Death Certificate

Silas Denton Death Certificate

I took a DNA test recently and matched with an unfamiliar cousin. Together, we are now exploring the possibility of our connection through Samuel Denton.  Just think, if I had not followed the call of my ancestors, I would not have looked into identifying my grandmother’s ancestors and her name may have forever been lost.

With this research effort, may my grandmother’s name always be remembered: Joanna Denton.

Notes:

[1] Obsequies of Mrs. Joanna Brown for services September 24, 1973, Dr. M.L. Thomas, Pastor.

[2] Louisiana State Department of Health Certificate of Marriage File No. 22-476. Groom: Willie C. Frank; Bride: Joe Anna Dantan, December 17, 1953.

[3] State of Louisiana Certificate of Marriage State File No. 117. Groom: Alcide Brown; Bride: Joanna Dantan, February 25, 1969.

[4] 1900 U. S. Census, Census Place: Ward 5, St Landry, Louisiana; Roll: 581; Page: 28A: Enumeration District: 59; FHL microfilm: 1240581. Charles Denton and Cylus [Silas] Denton.

[5] 1880 U. S. Census, Census Place: 5th Ward, St Landry, Louisiana; Roll: 470; Family History Film: 1254470; Page: 325C; enumeration District: 043: Image: Samuel Denton, head of household.

[6] 1870 U. S. Census, Census Place: Ward 3, St Landry, Louisiana; Roll: M593_530; Page: 110A; Image: 225; Family History Library Film: 552029. Image: Samuel Denton.

[7] Louisiana State Board of Health Certificate of Death of Virginia Denton, October 16, 1929.

No part of this document can be reproduced without the written authorization of the author.

Finding Chester Frank

My father, Welton Frank, didn’t know his father.  In my last blog post, I talked about Uncle Felton and the last time I saw him.  It was during this trip that he provided me with information about my paternal family.  Uncle Felton said that he only recalled meeting his father twice. The last time they saw him, Welton was 10 years old.    Uncle Felton had no idea when my grandfather, Chester had died.

Felton Frank and Welton Frank in the 1950s

Felton Frank and Welton Frank in the 1950s

My uncle went on to tell me the names of Chester’s immediate family.

“My grandfather’s name was Eve,” he said. Eve. I thought he had misspoken and had just told me his grandmother’s name.

“And what was your grandfather’s name?” I asked.

My uncle looked at me like I had a hearing problem. He said it again. “Eve.” I wrote the name down as is, although I was still confused. It wasn’t until later that I realized that he wasn’t saying “Eve,” the common female English name, but “Yves”, a typical French male name. Chester’s mother was Ozelia Bibbs.

Uncle Felton said that Chester had several brothers that he could recall: Clifton, Gilbert, and Johnny.  Only Chester and Clifton had the same mother and father.  Uncle Felton said that Johnny Jones was not his real name.  Uncle Felton, though, could not remember his original first name, but he knew Johnny’s surname was ‘Bazile’.   Clifton and his descendants use the surname Franks, whereas Chester and his descendants use the surname Frank.

Apparently, ‘Uncle Johnny’ had gotten into some kind of a dispute with some white people and was threatened with death, so he fled Louisiana.  According to Uncle Johnny’s obituary he moved to Orange, Texas in 1945 and moved back to Louisiana under his assumed name in 1980.

I used the census records, his obituary and death record to try to figure out Uncle Johnny’s real name.  Per his obituary, Uncle Johnny was born in 1904.  The U.S. 1910 census record for Ozelia Bibbs, listed several sons, including a son named Robert who was born about 1904!    Uncle Johnny’s only son was also named Robert Jones. Based on this information, I think we can assume that Robert is Uncle Johnny’s original name.

Uncle.Johnny Jones

1910 Census Record for Ozelia Bibbs and sons.

1910 Census Record for Ozelia Bibbs and sons.

Chester Frank 1910 census_Ozelia Bibbs typed

From the 1910 census, I also got the approximate 1909 birth year of my grandfather.  So, on the U. S. 1930 census, I searched and found several Chester Franks that were born in Louisiana, but only one born in 1909.

Chester Frank 1930 census_3 records

He was living in Beaumont, Texas with a cousin, Joe Antwin.   I did not know of a relative named Joe Antwin (a variation of Antwine and Antoine.)  Since Antoine is a common name in southwestern Louisiana, I figured it was feasible that this could be my relatives. I believed this was my family. I just had to find the link.

Chester Frank 1930 census_ Antwin record

Chester Frank 1930 census_ Antwin TYPED

Chester and Joanna, my father’s parents, were married December 12, 1925 in Ville Platte, Louisiana.

Chester Frank_Joanna Denton marriage pg1

Chester Frank_Joanna Denton marriage pg1

Chester Frank_Joanna Denton marriage pg2

Chester Frank_Joanna Denton marriage pg2

This 1930 census record details a Chester who is Black, male, born in Louisiana, and widowed.  If this is the right Chester, it’s interesting to note that he and my grandmother, Joanna, never divorced and she was very much alive at the time this census was taken.  She didn’t remarry until 1953 and she died in 1973.  Around the time of this census, my grandmother was cohabiting with another man with whom she had seven children.  So, I guess my grandparents, for all practical purposes, were ‘dead’ to each other and their relationship with each other may have attributed to the estrangement between Chester and his sons, Felton and Welton.

It’s important that a family historian know the migration patterns of the family in which they are researching.  During the 1940s on through the late 1960s, many residents of southwest Louisiana, including St. Landry and Evangeline Parishes, migrated   overwhelmingly to Texas and California.  Migration cities included Beaumont, Houston, Port Arthur, Los Angeles, Richmond, San Francisco, and Oakland.   Knowing that Beaumont was a common migration point for people from Ville Platte made it even more feasible that this could be a record of my relatives.

Well, my ancestors really wanted me to make the link and soon I would have my answer to my questions on Chester and his relation to Joe.

I try to visit my eldest sister at least twice a year, since she has moved back to our home town of Ville Platte.  My visits also allow me opportunities to do first-hand research at the local courthouses. During one of my visits to my sister’s home, I was rummaging through my father’s documents, which had been in my sister’s possession since our father’s death in 1978.  In these documents I found a genealogist’s treasure—obituaries (funeral programs).  I was giddy as I ran to my sister to tell her what I had found.  I asked and she was okay with me taking the obituaries home with me.   Once I was home and able to look through my find, I located something.  Buried in the stack of obituaries was one for a Joseph Zena Antwine.  Had I found Joe Antwin?

Picture of Joseph Zena Antwine taken from his obituary.

Picture of Joseph Zena Antwine taken from his obituary.

Chills hit my body.  This is usually a sign from my ancestors to let me know I’m on the right track.  I felt in my bones this had to be the same Joe Antwin from the 1930 census record.

To help me make a quick connection, I called my Dad’s first cousin who is the daughter of Clifton Franks, my grandfather’s brother.  I had met her for the first time in 2004 at my Uncle Felton’s funeral.  She was able to confirm that Chester and Clifton did have a cousin named ’Zena’ (pronounced Zay – na), but she didn’t know how they were kin.

I received the Texas death certificate of a Chester Frank who died in Beaumont, Texas on Oct 9, 1938. This confirmed for me – this record was of my grandfather.  He died of congestive heart failure at the age of 30.  This information was also corroborated by the marriage license of my paternal grandmother, Joanna Denton.  On her second marriage license, she indicated that her first husband, Chester Frank, died in 1939 (off by one year) in Beaumont.   Through further research, I was able to ascertain that Joe Antwine and Chester Frank were first cousins.  Chester’s mother, Ozelia Bibbs and Joe’s mother, Henrietta Bibbs were sisters.   Henrietta was married to Joe’s father, Moses Antwine.

Death Certificate of Chester Frank

Death Certificate of Chester Frank

I found Chester and I continue looking for other ancestors!  Happy searching :-).

Tracing my Family Roots

I can’t believe I’m actually doing this – writing my first blog post on my family genealogical research blog. I’ve wanted to write a blog, but really didn’t know how to write a blog, if I had enough information for the contents of a blog, or if I had what it takes to be a true blogger.

For the last ten years I’ve considered myself to be a family historian. I’ve been able to trace both sides of my family to at least the late 1700s. I have over 5,000 people in my family tree. However, I still have some puzzles left to solve. I think that as we get older, we start thinking about our mortality. I was already in my forties when the ancestry bug hit me. It was as if my ancestors were speaking to me, pushing me to become serious about capturing my family’s history.

Now, I admit, I had been procrastinating. This was primarily because one of my first cousins had already crafted a family tree for my mother’s paternal side. From his work, I thought that my work was done. However, when I really thought about it, I realized I had big gaps in my history. I was missing information from my mother’s maternal side. I had no information on my father’s side.

The catalyst into this genealogy effort for me was my father. He died when I was sixteen and I had no clue about his family aside from knowing his mother, brother, and half-siblings when I was small. I didn’t know his father’s name. I didn’t know what my paternal grandmother’s maiden name could even possibly be. (Little did I know at the time that none of my aunts and uncles knew their mother’s maiden name either! Finding my grandmother’s maiden name was one the first genealogy puzzles I solved. That story will have to be in a future blog post.)

I started attending family reunions and I found that most events had very little formal ancestral information. That gave me even more incentive to dig into my family history. At one point, the thought crossed my mind that I may have been too late. A lot of the older relatives were now deceased. I kicked myself for not asking the questions that could have quickly moved my research forward. However, ‘when you know better, you do better,’ so I had to just move on.

We scheduled a visit to go to Lake Charles, Louisiana to rendezvous with my mother who would also be visiting Louisiana at the time. Prior to this trip, I had committed myself in my mind that I was going to trace my family lineage on both sides. I had only mentioned this in passing to my husband. I hadn’t done any heavy lifting in getting to document the history of my family. It was also around this time that my ‘family tree’ star cousin informed me that his computer had crashed and he had lost all of his research that he had been working on in the last few years. I was more determined than ever to really get started. While there in Louisiana, I took the opportunity to go to my home town of Ville Platte and visit with a couple of my aunts and then I was determined to spend the night at my uncle Felton Frank’s home in Eunice. The following day, we went on to Lake Charles, to my uncle Alsen Jason. That trip I had a pad and pencil everywhere I went. I was given names, pictures, and stories I had never heard. At one point, my uncle Felton said “Tammy go through all those pictures and take whatever you want.” It was during that trip that I got the only known picture of my great-grandmother, Victoria Leday! At that time, I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see both of my uncles. Each of them died the same year, months from each other.

Here’s my uncle Alsen Jason II of Lake Charles, La.

75Alsen Jason Jr

Here’s is my uncle Felton Frank of Eunice, La.

98a Uncle felton close up

Here’s is my great-grandmother Victoria Leday, who lived in Ville Platte, La. all of her life.

96victoria leday

I know it was my ancestors that were telling me to do it now. I try never to miss a family history opportunity. I try to take pictures of everybody, even pictures of pictures. Some of my relatives have made comments that I asked too many questions, but these relatives have been the same ones showing off the genealogical print outs that I periodically send to them. I’m on the right track, and I pray that my ancestors will continue to send me on these genealogical quests. I have to close more gaps, but I’m in a good place to know who I am through my family history.

Why I do genealogy? The simple answer is this: I do genealogy so I can know my ancestors’ names. It is said that if you remember the names of those who have gone before you, they will live and never be forgotten.

This blog traces my ancestors primarily in southwest Louisiana in and around the town of Ville Platte. The surnames included in this family are as follows: Jason, Ruben (Rubin), Joseph, Snowden, Antoine, Frank (Franks), Denton, Bibbs, Lede (Leday), George, Johnson, Fields, Bales, Jones, Lavigne, Tisenot (Tezeno), Lafleur, Laviolette, and Lasonde.