Sunday, August 31, 2014

Getting Away from it All

You may recall that last week I introduced you to my great-aunt Signa Jackson in Mothers and Their Daughters. She is making a comeback this week. Signa grew up in and near Boston until she was about 18 when she moved to Chicago, another major metropolis.

A few years ago, my mother gave me several photos from her mother's (Signa's younger sister and my grandmother Dorothy) collection. I had barely begun looking into this part of the family and knew very little at the time. In that collection were a couple of photos that I found especially intriguing. The first was a photo of Signa standing all alone in the middle of, well, nothing:

Inscription: Signa Calif -
Signa was a city girl, through and through.  What was she doing standing alone 3,000 miles away from home and apparently away from all civilization as she knew it. Well, obviously she was not completely alone–someone must have snapped the photo.

The mystery became a little clearer when I saw this photo and its inscription:

It looked like the photo had been removed from a scrap book as it had bits of black paper stuck to the back, but most of the inscription was still legible:

Eureka! The handwriting on the back of this photo is clearly that of my grandmother's which helped me identify who the ladies were based on their relationships to my grandmother. I recognized "Aunt Jack" as Ethel Jackson, sister to Signa's father, Harry Jackson. You can read Ethel's story, or at least as much as I knew at the time, on my post The Real Aunt Jack. I had never seen the two ladies on the left and really had to do a little digging to identify exactly who they were. Since I knew what Signa's maternal grandmother looked like, and "Grandma" was not her, I came to the conclusion by the process of elimination that she was Signa's paternal grandmother Ida Estella (Whittemore) Jackson. And "Aunt Nettie" is none other than Ida's sister-in-law Annette Jackson who went by the name of Nettie since she was a child.

I also realized that the date on the back of the photo, June 23, 1922, was Signa's twelfth birthday. It seems that Signa's paternal relatives took her on a trip to California as a birthday gift!

But why California? There are so many other interesting destinations much closer to Boston. Traveling 3,000 miles seems a bit extravagant and overindulgent. It wasn't until six months ago that I found Nettie had married George Amerige in 1894[1] and moved to Fullerton, California by 1900.[2] Coronado Beach is a beautiful drive down the coast from Fullerton.

Now I understand why Signa was getting away from it all.

If you're hankering for more vicarious trips escaping the crowds, visit the Sepia Saturday blog. Speaking of getting away from it all–I will be away for the next couple of weeks so don't look for new posts from me for a while. Maybe you should try joining the Sepia Saturday fun. One thing these writing exercises have done for me is make me realize how much more research I could be doing on these relatives. My to-do list has grown immensely.

P.S. Did anyone notice the Eureka! above? Did you know that  California's state motto is Eureka...I have found it!?

Thanks for dropping by.

[1] "Marriages registered in the City of Malden for the year 1894", line no. 185, p 245, Amerige-Jackson, 1894; digital images, ( : accessed 19 Feb 2014); citing Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840-1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts
[2] 1900 U.S. census, Orange County, California, population schedule, Fullerton Township, enumeration district (ED) 141, sheet 25A, p. 49A (stamped), dwelling 582, family 582, Edward R. Amerige household; digital images, ( : accessed 31 Aug 2014); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623, roll 95; FHL microfilm: 1240095.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mothers and Their Daughters

The Sepia Saturday photo prompt features two Spanish ladies with their heads together, wearing mantillas and waving fans. They look like they may be mother and daughter.

I don't have any Spanish ladies in my family, but I do have a photo of a mother-daughter with their heads together. They are wearing cloche hats, probably from the late 1920s. The woman on the left is my great-grandmother Frances (Bye) Jackson, of whom I have written much about in previous posts. The woman on the right is her eldest daughter Signa, of whom I have written almost nothing. That is about to change.

Frances and her daughter Signa, c1927
Signa Aileen Jackson was born 23 June 1910 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was the eldest child of Harry Jackson and Frances Bye. Frances loved the camera and, as a result, I have many photos of her and her family. Signa seems to have been a favorite subject.

Frances and Signa, c1912-1913
One of my very favorites was this postcard of Signa sitting on a half moon holding her dolly. On the back of the postcard was written "Signa two-half years old taken in Boston."


Signa, who started going by the name of Jackie at some point, was an aspiring actress. I haven't been able to find any mention of her in the old Chicago newspapers, where she lived from about 1928 to about 1939, so I don't know what kind of acting jobs she was able to get. I do know that in the 1930 Census, she was a switch board operator at Illinois Bell Telephone. There are several glamorous head shots of her that seem to imply she was in show business. Signa wrote on the one below: "To my Buddy Boy From your Big Sister. Signa" Her Buddy Boy was their youngest, and only, brother Lee Jackson, who has been the featured in a few posts on my blog.
One of Signa's professional head shots.
 This photo, probably taken in the early 1930s, shows Signa with platinum blonde hair. This look was very popular in the 1930s in imitation of Jean Harlow. The photo below is the only one we have of Signa with the bleached blonde hair so I assume she didn't keep it for long. Which is a good thing because they used real bleach back then and it killed Ms. Harlow!

Signa and Frances, c1932
 Signa married Warren Pittenger in Chicago on 18 April 1931. They were divorced on 1 April 1939 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That same day, Signa and Paul Bedillion applied for a marriage license. They were married on 4 April 1939.

Frances took a trip to Pennsylvania to visit her daughter sometime in the late 1940s. Here is a shot of the two of them on their way to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, perhaps to do some sightseeing but more probably to do some shopping.
Signa and Frances, c1945
This final mother-daughter photo was most likely taken during that same visit to Signa's home in Pennsylvania. It shows that Signa inherited her mother's playful nature.
Signa and Frances, c1945
Signa never had children, which is a shame because I think she would have been a really fun mother. I hope to write more about her when I've done more detailed research. She has fascinated my for years.

If you're curious about what others had to say about fans, faces, national costumes, hidden meanings, or two women with their heads together, visit the Sepia Saturday blog and click on the Mister Linky's links.

Thanks for dropping by.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Soldiers' Mail

Joseph Kenedy Masterson, my grandfather, was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent to Europe in July 1918 as part of the American Expeditionary Forces. He was 23 years old.

Grandpa was born and raised in New Hope, Kentucky, a tiny farming town. Everybody in and around New Hope not only knew everybody else, but the chances that they were cousins were very high. Ken met and began courting Mary Ethel Peake of New Haven (six miles from New Hope) before being drafted into the military.

Grandpa corresponded with Ethel while he was away–she kept all his letters and postcards. He closed his first letter to her written from boot camp with "lots of love & kisses to my sweet little Wife" and addressed her as "Dear" and "Deariest" in all of his correspondence during the War. Although he tended to tease her about flirting with the French and German girls, it was obvious from his letters that he was lonely and was anxious to return home to marry her.

The postcard to the right was postmarked July 30, 1918. Notice he wrote a "K" (for Ken) on the soldier's sleeve and an "E" (for Ethel) on the woman's sleeve. Under the printed words of GOOD-BYE, SWEETHEART he wrote "Until this war is over over there." At the bottom of the card he wrote "From your little one Dear excuse writting [sic] as I am on the train and cant steady my arm." On the other side of the postcard, he wrote:
"Hello Ethel how are you. Well I am on my way but I don't know where. We just passed through Paducah & sure had a nice time there. The Red Cross girls gave us all the ice cream we could eat & the best of all they gave us there addresses & told us to be sure & write to them. haha"

The next card we see is a Safe Arrival notice postmarked August 1, 1918.

Every letter from that point on was reviewed and signed off by a censor.  Below shows that the censor approved this letter from January 15, 1919 by signing on the last page of the letter and on the envelope.

Knowing that his letters would be read by a stranger must have made it very awkward for Ken to express any tender feelings he had for Ethel. But on March 31, 1919, he expressed his concern that she would not wait for his return.

"...if the girls keep marring [sic] like they have been, there won't be any one left for me, for I know the next marriage I hear of, will be you. I am ...


"...looking every day for some one to send me the clippings saying you have gotten married, so then I know I will be out of luck. But dear, dont forget me, for I wont always be in this God forsaken country, I'll be coming back to you some day, or at least I hope so."
This letter was four pages long and across the top, one word per page, he wrote: "I'll Keep My Promise."

Ken was discharged from the Army on May 21, 1919 and, after a short visit home with his family, he went to Copley Township, Illinois, to work as a hired hand on a farm where he had often worked before being drafted. Ethel's father moved their family to St. Augustine, Illinois, in 1920, which brought them within 35 miles of each other. Ken would travel to St. Augustine by train and Ethel would come into town to spend the day with him. They were married on December 29, 1921.

I never met Grandpa–he died at the age of 48, when my father was ten years old. If it hadn't been for the Soldiers' Mail, we would not have known him at all.

Visit the Sepia Saturday blog to see other letters home from the front, or from school, or from summer camp.

Thanks for dropping by.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Not Wedding Wednesday or Wordless Wednesday

My PC's desktop wallpaper cycles through my family photos every few hours and this photo comes up randomly. Last Sunday, I was admiring it for the umpteenth time and decided that I would schedule a blog post for Wordless Wednesday; then decided that since it was a wedding photo I would post it for Wedding Wednesday and write something about the couple.

The photo has been annotated as "James Cecil and Minnie Peake, c 1915." As I looked at my family file for Minnie Peake, I noticed that I never recorded her marriage nor did I have any death info or children or anything for her! So, I set out to discover the family. The first thing I did was to check–they had a death certificate for "Mrs. James Cecil" in Kentucky. That must be her, I thought, and pulled up the image. But wait. Written above "Mrs. James Cecil" on the death certificate was "Mary Ella"! What??!?? I continued my online searches and found a marriage record on for Lorenzo Cecil and Ella Peak on 25 January 1915 in Louisville, Jefferson county, Kentucky.

Mary Ella Peake and Minnie Peake were sisters. Mary Ella was born May 1896 and Minnie was born January 1898. How did the wrong names get written on this wonderful wedding photo? It appears that whomever wrote on the back of the wedding photo married James Lorenzo Cecil to the wrong sister.

And is this other photo I have that is marked as Minnie Peake also her sister Mary Ella? She looks just like the bride in the wedding photo above.

I'm fairly certain that this family photo taken around 1905 has Mary Ella and Minnie labeled correctly (I added the names on the front for purposes of this blog post).

Mary Ella, who went by the name Ella, is in every census from 1900 to 1930, first with her parents John O. and Martha L. (Fogle) Peake, then with her husband James Lorenzo Cecil. She and Lorenzo had 10 known children. Lorenzo registered for the draft in 1917 but claimed total disability due to the loss of his thumb and index finger off his left hand. This disability did not seem to keep him from working as a house carpenter in 1920, nor from working his home farm in 1930.

But what became of the sister Minnie? The last record I find for her is in the 1920 census living with her uncle (my great-grandfather) Robert Damascus Peake in Trappist, Nelson county, Kentucky. She was 21 years old, single, and working as a public school teacher. She seems to have dropped off the face of the earth after that. Did she die? get married? whisked away by renegades and taken to their hide-away when the census taker came around? I may never know.

Instead of either Wedding Wednesday or Wordless Wednesday, it's Wondering Wednesday for me!

Thanks for dropping by.

Wedding Wednesday and Wordless Wednesday are daily blogging prompts from GeneaBloggers.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hot on the Trail

When I saw the image prompt for this week's Sepia Saturday challenge, I was dismayed. The image was a 1902 photo of a man arrested for False Pretences holding a placard with his name and the charges. As far as I know, I don't have any criminals or con man skeletons lurking in my closet. About the best I could come up with is a photo of great-uncle Lee (star of That's No Lady…) holding up a "Just Married" sign with his new wife standing on one side of him and his mother (of Great-Grandma was a mischief maker fame) on the other.

As I started to write the disappointing blog post, I remembered this newspaper clipping. I saw it in 2003, framed and hanging on the wall in one of my aunt's homes near Chicago. I have been unsuccessfully looking for the source in various newspaper archives ever since.
    "Vincent Heinz, 28 years old, and Steve Rubino, 30, were arrested yesterday by agents of the federal alcohol tax unit. They were charged with possessing and manufacturing untaxed alcohol after the agents raided a 200 gallon still in Heinz's home on Skokie road near Simpson Street, Skokie.
    "Heinz is a cousin of Theodore Heinz chief of police in Skokie, who recently testified before the grand jury investigating gambling in Cook County. Chief Heinz said he knew nothing of the activities of his cousin.
    "United States Commissioner Edwin K. Walker continued the case against the two men until Tuesday and released them on bond. Rubino lives at 3039 Lexington Avenue and operates a gasoline station at Washington Road and Dempster Street, Morton Grove."
Vincent Heinz was my grandfather. Based on his stated age of 28 years, this arrest happened between November 10, 1942 and November 9, 1943. I figured it was again time to try to find the newspaper in which it was published and fired a shot in the dark by sending an email via the Ask a Librarian feature at the Skokie Public Library. Jackpot! A copy of the clipping was in my email inbox the next morning. The article was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 30, 1941. It seems either grandpa lied about his age, or the newspaper reporter got it wrong.  

My mother, who would have just turned 8 at the time, remembers that the door to the basement in their home on Skokie Road was kept locked and they were told to never go down there. She also remembers some men with axes going down to the basement one night when she and her sisters were home with a sitter. 

I don't have any mug shots of Grandpa Vince, but here is one of him with wife number 2 a few years after the arrest. They are in a bar, probably the one that he leased in Chicago.
He must not have spent any time in prison because Mom doesn't remember him being absent for any length of time. She seemed to be as surprised as I was when seeing the newspaper clipping hanging on that wall 11 years ago. Even though Grandpa operated taverns his entire adult life, and apparently made his own alcohol which he presumably sold in those taverns, Vince never drank the stuff.  

Now that I know when this arrest was made, I am hot on the trail to find his arrest and trial records. This is going to be fun! It's an entirely new learning experience for me to obtain records from the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). There is a fascinating press release from 2008 that tells the history of ATF through the badge changes here. And a whole lot more history on their website here. I had wondered why anyone would make their own liquor after the Prohibition ended. Turns out that it was much cheaper because of the taxes levied on alcohol and that the reason it was illegal was the non-payment of those taxes. Sometimes I am stunned by my naiveté.  

Now skedaddle over to this week's Sepia Saturday blog to see the criminals, spies, con men, and others operating under false pretenses found in their families.

Oh, you're disappointed that you didn't get to see great-uncle Lee with his sign? Well, I wouldn't want that. Here it is. Isn't Grandpa Vince's arrest a much better response to the challenge?

Thanks for dropping by.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Great-grandma was a mischief maker

If the proverb "A girl unemployed is thinking of mischief" is true, then my great-grandmother Frances (Bye) Jackson had way too much time on her hands. I have lots of photos with her being mischievous. Here are some of my favorites.

This is probably where Frances got started with her funky photos. She is the young girl pulling the cart. Her mother, my 2xgreat-grandmother Julianna Bye is "driving". The young boy is Frances' nephew, Julian Tvedt. This photo is taken around 1900, most likely in Kennebunk, Maine.

Frances also kept up with the current fashions. This photo of her wearing knickers must have been quite scandalous at the time. Then she promptly turned around and grabbed her ankles to get a perfect shot of her bum. Obviously, the devil made her do it.

She must have gotten the idea for this one from her mother (see the first photo above). Frances is the one with the tire around her neck. 

Her playful nature continued into her golden years. Here she is riding her grand-daughter's bike, pretending to race their old dog. She was at least 60 years old in this photo. She wrote on the back "Just me, but I won the race."

Visit the Sepia Saturday blog to see how others responded to this week's challenge.

Thanks for dropping by.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

That’s No Lady…

Alan gave us this intriguing photo for this week's Sepia Saturday challenge and invited us to "go to the ballet, or the dancehall, or the theatre or anywhere you find lots of chiffon and over-dramatic poses."
What he doesn't tell us is that the ladies depicted in the photo are not ladies—they are all men! That is the theme I have chosen for my contribution to this challenge.

My grand-uncle Lee attended an all-boys school in Chicago from about 1938 to about 1941 when he enlisted in the Army. From all accounts, he was always a comedian and show-man, taking every opportunity to entertain those around him. The school put on a production where every single part was played by a male student. The family story says that Uncle Lee was so delighted with how well his costume and makeup turned out that he arrived at his mother's house in full regalia. She didn't recognize her own son!

This is the entire cast of that play. The back of the photo is written: "Lee Jackson - second from left - an all boys school – Chicago."
This is a photo of Lee about the same time. What do you think? Is he the 2nd from the left in the school play? He's got a really pretty face, especially with those nice full lips.
Visit the Sepia Saturday blog to see what theme others have chosen to answer this week's challenge.

Thanks for dropping by.