It seems odd to me that while I’m able to trace my family back on dozens of lines more than 400 years, my own patrilineal great-grandfather—my father’s father’s father—is nearly a complete mystery to me. I would normally begin an exploration of his life by saying that his name was Ray Shearer, but even that is a bit of a mystery. While many people called him Ray, more often than not, he referred to himself as Zyionyi Ray Shearer. As with many of my difficult-to-research ancestors, I keep setting aside his information, waiting for some hint or help to emerge, as they so often do.
And so it was with Ray. Just this past week I got an unexpected letter from my cousin Peggy R., who’s a cousin on my Shearer side. Her great-grandmother was Ray Shearer’s mother—Mary Belle (Coddington) Shearer Stokes. Peggy’s grandmother was Ray’s younger half-sister, Zealia Faye Stokes, and Zealia apparently was very interested in preserving family stories and history, and she passed much of this on to Peggy.
Today’s post could not have been written without Peggy’s help. Thank you, Peggy! Continue reading →
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.
From what I’ve heard, my grandfather, Vernon Black, didn’t get much from his biological father—not even his surname. Vernon’s mother, Catalina Edel, divorced Vernon’s biological father, Zyonia Ray Shearer, when Vernon was only 5½ years old “on the ground of gross neglect of duty.” On several occasions, my grandfather even denied that Ray Shearer (the name his father went by) was his father. In his later years, my grandfather was somewhat more forthcoming about his biological father, but it was clear that Vernon held onto a lot of resentment for Ray.
I’ve never seen a picture of my great-grandfather Ray Shearer, nor do I know of any items that once belonged to Ray. What little I know of Ray I learned from my grandfather’s sister, Anelia (short for her given name of Anna Cornelia) Shearer. She was just a little over a year old when Ray left the family, but she kept his last name and kept his memory alive.
I’ve been going through a stack of papers and letters from my grandfather’s teenage years, and I found one envelope that was particularly worn out and discolored (as compared to the relatively clean envelopes that contained letters from Vernon’s friends and girlfriends). When I removed the letter contained in the worn envelope, I was surprised to see that it was a letter from Ray to Vernon, dated July 2, 1932, when Vernon was 15½ years old.
My grandfather, Vernon Curtis Black, was named Vernon Cornelius Shearer at birth. I don’t know why he stopped using Cornelius (his maternal grandfather’s name), but I have a fairly clear understanding of why he changed his last name. When Vernon was only five years old, his biological father, Ray Shearer (born Zyonia Ray Shearer), was given an ultimatum by Vernon’s mother Catalina: he could sober up and stay with the family, or he could continue to go out drinking with his friends and flirting with women. Ray chose the latter option, and Vernon never saw his biological father again.
As the ancient proverb states, however, there are always two sides to every story. Ray was apparently a friendly, outgoing man who had his own childhood scars—he also lost his father, Gilbert Michael Scherer, when he was only about five years old. According to Vernon’s younger sister Anna Cornelia (“Anelia”) Hayes,
“Gilbert Shearer was building a home in Missouri. He was working on the roof when he fell off across a tree stump, bursting his abdomen open. He fell from his house while shingling his roof. He was taken to a sanatorium, but died four days later. He was buried in Edmond Cemetery, 4 miles north of Powersville, MO.”