A French tourist in Lebanon, Kansas?

Today’s post is a short one. I want to share an enigmatic postcard that I found among my grandfather Vernon C. Black’s childhood memories. The postcard itself is a charming artifact, but it presents so little information that I may never be able to resolve most of the questions I have about it.

In September 1932, when he was 15 years old and had just graduated from the eighth grade, Vernon received a postcard from Bruz, a small town in southeastern Brittany, France. The postcard appears to have been sent by a Monsieur Rivière, but it is just signed “M. Rivière,” so might be from a man or a woman whose name starts with an “M”. The postcard is written in French by a person whose handwriting indicates s/he was educated in Europe.

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Vernon discovers his dad has died

In my quest to learn about my biological great-grandfather Zygonia Ray Shearer (who understandably went by the name “Ray”), I’ve written several posts over the past couple of years (see here, here, here, and here). Despite my investigative digging, I still know almost nothing about who Ray was as a person. Today’s post won’t shed much light on Ray, but it will help understand how his son—my grandfather, Vernon C. Black—dealt with the death of his father.

As I have a good amount of extra time on my hands on account of the mandatory shelter in place orders stemming from the coronavirus pandemic (I still have to work from home, but I save over two hours of commute time per day), I’ve decided to start digging through the family history letters and postcards I’ve digitized but not yet written up. There’s a goldmine of information in this correspondence.

Today’s post is about one of these initially overlooked letters—actually two letters. These letters are from just before Christmas 1937. Vernon was 21 years old and had apparently borrowed money from his mother to strike out on his own, traveling across the western U.S. to find work and his future. Shortly before he wrote these letters he landed a door-to-door magazine sales job that I’ll discuss in a later post.

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Vernon gives Richard Bearden’s backstory

For several years in the mid to late 1950s my father Keith Black and my uncle Gary Black had a foster brother named Richard Bearden. You may remember him from the post I did on my family’s visit to the opening day of Disneyland in July 1955. Where he came from before joining our family and where he went to after leaving our family have been a mystery to me. My grandparents never spoke of Richard to me other than saying “oh, yeah, that was Richard Bearden” when I asked who the mystery boy in the photo was. Keith and Gary had little to say about Richard. The unanswered questions have bothered me ever since I learned about the existence of this foster uncle (?) of mine.

Who was Richard Bearden? Who was his birth family? How did he come to be a foster child in our family? What was he like? Where did he go? Why does no one talk about him?

I recently found a letter from Vernon Black to his mother and stepfather Catalina and Frank Black, dated February 13, 1955, that answers many of these questions. Vernon realized that his parents would have just the same sorts of questions I have had. Understandable questions, I think, when a new family member suddenly appears. For today’s post I’d like to share that letter with you.

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Clarence H. Bailey in World War I, part 4

This is the fourth and final post of this series. In part 3 of this series of posts, I covered Clarence Humphrey Bailey’s time in World War I from when he left Colombey-les-Belles, France, through his hearing the last shots fired before the Armistice, until he celebrated Christmas in Mayen, Germany, as part of the Army of Occupation. In this, the conclusion of Clarence’s World War I story, I’ll present his journey from Mayen back to the United States.

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Clarence H. Bailey in World War I, part 3

In part 2 of this series of posts, I covered Clarence Humphrey Bailey’s time in World War I from when he left Camp Lewis in Washington until he arrived in Colombey-les-Belles, France. Until this point, Clarence had been seeing the war from well behind the front lines. He had experienced bombs dropped from German airplanes and being shelled by German artillery, but he had not yet been in the front line trenches or gone “over the top” to charge towards the German front lines. Until now. In part 3, I’ll present Clarence’s journey from Colombey-les-Belles, France, through his hearing the last shots fired on Armistice Day, to his Christmas spent in Mayen, Germany, as part of the Army of Occupation.

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Clarence H. Bailey in World War I, part 2

In part 1 of this series of posts, I covered Clarence Humphrey Bailey’s time in World War I from when the U.S. entered the war until the end of his training at Camp Lewis, Washington. In part 2, I’ll be presenting his cross-country rail journey to Camp Merritt, his transatlantic voyage to France, and his journey east across France to Colombey-les-Belles.

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Clarence H. Bailey in World War I, part 1

Clarence Humphrey Bailey was the uncle by marriage of my grandmother Dorothy Ruth (McMurry) Black. He married his third cousin, Dorothy M. Bailey, who was my grandmother’s maternal aunt. I was lucky enough to get to know Clarence somewhat when I was young, as he lived until late 1982, when I was 16 years old. When I was 13, we bonded over our love of Shakespeare (mine was shallow—I had just discovered Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet; his was deeper—he read the bard while serving in World War I). That said, I regret not getting to know Clarence better. Despite he and his wife Dot only living two hours away, I only remember visiting him about a dozen times in my life. To my teenaged self, he always appeared intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful, and sensitive. Now that I’m learning more about him by reading the many letters he sent home, I realize my teenaged impression was spot on (although there is a lot more depth to the man than I would have guessed as a teen).

This series of posts represents my first attempt to present all of the documentary evidence for Clarence’s life from just before until just after World War I. There is almost certainly additional documentary evidence to be found, and when I do find it I’ll post an update.

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Happy Pi Day!

In honor of National Pi Day (March 14th), I’d like to present a letter that my great-great-uncle Clarence H. Bailey wrote home to his mother while serving in Europe during World War I. He cut out an illustration of a pie, pasted it to a sheet of paper, and wrote an ode to his mother’s pies around the margins.

Unfortunately, the one-page masterpiece is undated, but it was found among a bundle of letters that Clarence sent to his mother Belle Jarbeau Bailey during the Great War. It’s amazing how war seems to focus a young man’s thoughts on home-cooked pies.

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WWI letter from a forgotten admirer

As I was going through and organizing a series of letters home from my great-great-uncle Clarence H. Bailey while he served in Europe in World War I, I came across one letter that was not from him. Instead, it was a letter to his future wife from a man named Byron O. Seeburt.

Rather than set the letter aside and focus on Clarence’s letters, and risk Byron’s letter being forgotten or lost with time, I’d like to briefly spotlight it here. Perhaps by doing so, Byron’s descendants or family may one day find it.

Byron’s letter is a century old, having been written on December 17th, 1918. The letter itself is just three pages of cursive writing in ink on ruled paper, held together in the top left corner by a straight pin.

In his letter to Dorothy Bailey (“Dot”), Byron refers the Spanish Flu epidemic, to trench warfare, to time spent with Dot and her friend Olive in Tacoma, and to all the food that a home-sick American soldier dreams about in the trenches.

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Gilbert Hernandez

While re-reading Anelia Shearer’s letter to me from 1994 (the subject of my previous post), I realized her letter is due for an update. In preparing to write that update, I’ve been trying to do additional research on some Shearer descendants that to the best of my knowledge haven’t received any research attention.

One such person is my great-grandfather Ray Shearer’s only full sibling, his sister Annetta Fern (“Anita”) Shearer. In her family history of the Coddington, Shearer, and Stokes families, Anelia (Shearer) Hayes had only the following brief lines about her, her husbands, and her son:

I and others have tried to find more information, but it seems no one has been able to go further than this. Until today, that is. I decided to test my hunch that Anelia (or whomever Anelia got this information from) got the name “Horandez” wrong. My first guess as to the correct name (“Hernandez”) turned out to be correct, and I’ve now learned quite a bit more about Anita’s husband and son.

Normally I don’t write about cousins unless there’s a compelling story to be told, and with Anita’s son Gilbert Hernandez, there definitely is. I don’t know all the details yet, but I’ll share with you what I’ve learned so far.

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