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.
Today’s post is not only about a new mystery photo I just discovered. It’s also a reminder to double-check anything possibly related to family history before throwing it out. You never know what might be hiding within unless you check thoroughly.
From about the mid 1970s to the late 1980s, my father and grandparents accumulated a number of faux vintage photos and frames. I don’t know whether they were fans of the style or whether that’s just the way that the stores they frequented marketed their frames. In any case, they accumulated piles of these that I later inherited and am still going through.
What I mean by ‘faux vintage’ are generally stained and sometimes artificially distressed oak frames with matted black-and-white or sepia-toned prints behind glass. And to add a layer of realism, my grandmother and father were both heavy smokers for periods of their lives, so the glass and frames were coated with a nicotine patina that made them look like they had been hanging in an old house for decades. But when you turn over these faux vintage frames, their modernity becomes a little more apparent. Relatively clean cardboard is held in place by shiny staples that were hastily and asymmetrically placed during mass production. Remove the cardboard and you find that the antique print is just a modern print on thin, glossy paper.
In a recent post, I shared photos from two trips to Kansas in the mid-1950s that my grandparents Vernon Black and Dorothy (McMurry) Black made with their kids, Keith and Gary. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing some photos I just discovered of a much earlier trip back to see Vernon’s family, a trip taken in 1941.
This morning I was going through an old photo album that my grandmother Dorothy (McMurry) Black put together in the early 1940s. I had quickly skimmed through it a few years back and made a mental note that it was a photo album of their wedding and of their newborn son Keith. When I went through it today, page by page, I discovered that, sandwiched between the pages devoted to those two events, there were several other “chapters,” each documenting an adventure of the newlywed couple.
One of these adventures was their cross-country road trip back to Kansas in May, 1941. They had been married for about five months, and this may have been the first time that Dorothy got to meet Vernon’s family. It was certainly the first time she saw where he had grown up.
Another of the finds that my cousin Sharon Black sent along to me earlier this week is a newspaper account of Ruth Black’s old sod house. I had heard tales of the old sod house from my grandparents, Vernon and Dorothy Black, and I have several artifacts from the sod house that they brought back with them from various trips to Kansas in the 1950s through 1970s.
It’s always been a hope of mine to one day see the old sod house, but as I don’t know of any living person who’s been inside the old sod house, or even knows where the sod house is, l figured that the old family house has long since returned to the earth. The following transcription of a 1932 newspaper article that Sharon sent to me appears to support this unfortunate conclusion.
Today’s post isn’t so much a post as it is a visual travelogue. While scanning hundreds of loose negatives that once belonged to my grandparents, I’ve found about 40 photos that appear to document two trips that Vernon Black and his sons Keith and Gary (and probably his wife Dorothy, too, although she doesn’t appear in any of the photos) made from California back to Vernon’s childhood home in Kansas.
For those of you who didn’t previously know about these trips, please enjoy the photos. For those of you who either went on the trip or were among those who hosted and/or visited with the Black family on their travels, please spill all you know about these trips in the comments section below. Whether you remember details of the trips, can recognize any of the Kansas relatives in the shots, or can help fill in the story of these trips, please share that information with the rest of us!
Ruth Jane Tucker is my step great, great grandmother. She married Lewis J. Black, a civil war veteran, and they had four children, including Frank W. Black. Frank Black was the mature, abstinent, hardworking, soft-spoken blacksmith that my great grandmother Lena Edel married after Ray Shearer left her and her three young children to fend for themselves. While not my biological family, I consider Frank Black and his parents to be just as much as part of my family and heritage as if he were my biological great grandfather.
Five months before she married Lewis Black in February, 1864, Ruth Tucker got a letter from William A. Brown, a friend of hers who was serving in the Union army in the Civil War. This letter was clearly important to her, as she kept it all her life. On her death, it passed to her son Frank Black, and on his death it passed to his widow, Lena Edel. When Lena died in 1978, it passed to my grandfather Vernon Black. On his death, it passed to his widow, Dorothy Black, and on her death it passed to my father. As I’m the family historian, my father did me the favor of not making me wait until his death to take possession of this wonderful letter.