I was fortunate to know most of my grandparents. On my father’s side, I did not get to know his mother; she died when I was just a baby. His father remarried, and it was his second wife that I knew as my Grandma. Once he died though, she moved away to be closer to her children from a previous marriage, and our family didn’t keep in touch with them. On my mother’s side, I was very fortunate to have both grandparents alive to see many milestones in my life. They were able to see me graduate from high school and later from college. While they didn’t get to see me marry the first time (since I eloped), they did get to be there to see me get married to my present husband. My grandfather died later that year. My grandmother, now in her 90’s, is still with us.
I only ever met one of my great-grandparents. My grandmother’s mother, Thenie F. Whittaker Lawson, had come to Michigan to stay with the family for a time. I was about eight or nine, and somehow, she intimidated, even scared me a little! She seemed much sterner than the smiling image of her daughter above, and I don’t remember her talking much. When she did talk, I don’t remember understanding her much. She mumbled and muttered much of the time. She was in her 80’s at the time, and was probably the oldest person I had ever seen at that time.
I remember the day that she died. My Mom and Grandma had gone with her to the store (Yankees, I believe, but it might have been about the time they were taken over by Zodys). I didn’t go into the store with them; I stayed out in the car (that was back in the days when people left their kids out in the car without fear of them being abducted or overheating). What I remembered was the ambulance coming, sirens going off and lights flashing. I don’t remember much after that other than going home. I didn’t know what had happened to my great-grandmother until later. She had a heart attack while in the store.
In trying to go back into Thenie’s history, I thought it would be easy. After all, Thenie is a rather unusual name. However, I didn’t realize how many twists and turns I would take with the name Whittaker! It didn’t take me long to realize that this again, might be a journey that would not be the straightforward path I had thought it to be.
For example, here are some of the variations of Whittaker that I found on my initial searches:
And, as to Thenie being helpful because of it being unusual? I failed to take into account how census takers can mangle a name. And, in this case, I feel they did more than just that.
I had to make some educated guesses with these records, and I believe they all are showing the same family group. However, there is still a possibility that I could be wrong. Judge for yourself.
If you think that’s bad, let’s go back to 1910.
Now, here’s also where family lore and census data start to butt heads. My great-grandmother did have a twin whose name was Mary. However, family lore stated she died as an infant. Yet, here she is, almost an adult! The lone son listed here is named Vetery. My great-grandmother had a brother named Vetter.
When I saw my great-grandmother listed here as Othena, somewhere in the back of my mind I could hear someone, in a voice very much like my grandmother’s saying to the census taker, “Now let’s see, we have a Sarah, a Mary, and a Thenie….”
When you get to 1900 though, things really start to get wonky:
OK, now the family has their last name listed as Whitacre. Thenie has now changed into Venie. The twin Mary is still there, and the birthdate is shown as May 1891 (which is the month and year of my great-grandmother’s birth). However, there is a big difference in ages between the Rebecah here and the Rebecca of 10 years later. I do notice though that the 1900’s Rebecah has 9 children of which 5 are living. The 1910 Rebecca has 10 children of which 5 still live.
The big problem I had here was the mystery of the youngest child. ‘Vetery’ who was listed as being about four years younger than the twins (and was listed as a son), had disappeared! In his place was a daughter named “Legie”, born in June of 1896 (which is, coincidentally, when my relative Vetter was born).
Talk about a roller coaster ride! I felt like I was zigging and zagging all over the place with these records. Just when I thought I would find something that would tie everything up neatly, a wild curve sent me whirling into a spin!
Ancestry.com has the option of saving items you aren’t sure tie into your family tree to a ‘Shoebox’ so that you can review them at a later time. I thought for sure that the 1900 and 1910 US Census records I had found would be in my Shoebox for a long time. Then, one day, I decided to do a search on Vetter Whittaker trying to see if I could find out more about him, and I stumbled across this record that I think ties it all together:
So, Vetter’s first name was Leige. To me, this tied Vetter into the Legie that was listed in 1900. Their birth dates were the same month and year. They had somehow entered the gender wrong! Could it have been that the census taker wasn’t paying attention and copied information from the previous line. Had he made an assumption, thinking that Legie sounded like a girl’s name? I know that I’ve seen pictures of very young children, both boys and girls being dressed very much alike. If this boy got any hand-me-downs, they likely came from his sisters. Could the census taker have put down ‘daughter’ without asking anyone what the gender of the child actually was?
It was about this same time that in my journeys out in cyberspace that I came across the website www.findagrave.com. Find A Grave has contributors around the world that update, maintain, and add to the list of over 75 million grave sites. Searching the records is very easy, and you can sometimes find a great deal of information. Vetter was one of the first people who I searched for. Not only did I find him listed, but someone had actually taken pictures of his grave marker! Even more exciting was the fact that a piece on the head stone contained a picture of Vetter and his wife!
Eventually, I ran out of steam on this line as well, and so, I turned away from looking into my side of the family tree entirely and began to journey into my husband’s ancestral past.