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.

To start with, let me point out that Gilbert Hernandez was my grandfather Vernon C. Black’s (and his sister Anelia (Shearer) Hayes’) full first cousin. How did they lose track of him?

First, let me begin at the end, with Gilbert’s obituary, since this is the document that confirmed that my initial hunch about his surname was correct. Gilbert’s obituary was published on page 23 of the Saturday, January 15, 2000, edition of the North County Times (Oceanside, California):

So Gilbert turned out to be decorated war hero—a World War II veteran who served in both the Army and the Marines, and who was captured at Carregidor and spent 3½ years in a Japanese POW camp. He also had two additional brothers that Anelia didn’t know about, as well as three sons and at least three grandchildren. I haven’t yet reached out to his children and grandchildren, but hope to be able to do so.

Gilbert T. Hernandez was born in Manhattan, Kansas, on March 11, 1920. My grandfather Vernon was a little over 3 years old at the time, and Anelia would not be born for another 7 months. As discussed elsewhere in this blog, Ray and Lena (Edel) Shearer (Vernon and Anelia’s parents) had eloped against the wishes of Lena’s parents, and moved frequently in search of work for Ray. It was possibly a combination of being focused on their own family’s survival, and having a nomadic existence that led to Ray and Lena falling out of touch with Ray’s sister Anita. It’s also possible that Ray and Anita were not as close as we might imagine a brother and sister to be. Or perhaps they were in touch during this time, but after Ray and Lena separated and divorced, Lena and her children had no further contact with Anita. I can only hope that I find something in Lena’s papers or learn something from Gilbert’s descendants that explain how one just loses a first cousin.

Gilbert Thomas Hernandez was presumably named for his maternal grandfather (Gilbert Matthew Shearer) and his father (Thomas Hernandez).

On the 1915 census, a 20-year-old Ray and his 17-year-old sister Anita were living in Morland, Kansas, with their mother Mary Belle (Coddington) Shearer Stokes, their step-father Milton Burton (“Bert”) Stokes, and four half-siblings: 13-year-old Vernon Thomas Stokes, 12-year-old Zelia Faye Stokes, 8-year-old Glenna Irene Stokes, and 4-year-old Thelma Tracy Stokes. Bert and Mary Belle’s fifth and final child, Daniel Lewis Stokes, would not be born for another year and a half.

This is the last record I have of Ray and Anita being together and presumably knowing what was going on with each other’s lives. Ray would have been dating Lena at the time this census was taken in early 1915, and they were married on March 27, 1915. For the next five years they moved quite a bit (in at least Kansas and Iowa, and possibly also Missouri and Nebraska).

I do not yet know when Anita got married, but the 1925 Kansas State Census shows that she was married to a Mexican man named Tomas Hernandez, who had immigrated to the US in 1918 and was working as a “taylor”. Anita and Tomas have a son, Helbert (this census taker’s spelling leaves a little to be desired), who is 5 years old in 1925. So unless Anita and Tomas got married in Mexico, it appears that they were married sometime in 1918 to earliest 1920.

Anita and Thomas were in Manhattan, Kansas, when GIlbert was born, but had moved to Wichita, Kansas, by the time of the 1925 census. Judging from their neighbors on the 1925 census, Anita, Thomas, and Gilbert were living in an area of town inhabited predominantly by people who had been born in Mexico and immigrated within the past 9 years. Interestingly, the most common profession amongst the people on this census page is “Taylor” (tailor)—four of the heads of household on this page were noted as being tailors.

By the time of the 1930 US census, a 10-year-old Gilbert now has a 9-month-old younger brother, Thomas Hernandez Jr. The family is still living in Wichita. Gilbert and his family appear to be renting half of a house on North Main Street. Notably, Gilbert’s family is noted to be the only family on the census page to own a radio. It may seem a small detail, but having a radio in 1930 would have opened Gilbert’s eyes to the world beyond Wichita, Kansas. One very curious feature of the 1930 census is that Gilbert’s mother is noted as being a Mexican woman born in Texas named Sofia T. Hernandez. I have no doubts that this is indeed Gilbert’s family, but I have no ready explanation for why his Iowa-born mother Anita is listed as a Texas-born woman named Sofia. Perhaps the census taker misheard Thomas’ wife’s name, perhaps Anita was out of town and a friend or family member was standing in for her to help with the children, or perhaps they were not home and the census taker got bad info from a neighbor.

According to the 1940 US census, Gilbert was still living in Wichita in 1935. He would have been 15 years old in 1935.

By the time of the 1940 US census, a 20-year-old Gilbert had made his way out to California. He was living in Ventura, California, in a laborers’ village on the camp of the Citrus Association Packing House. His occupation is listed as picker on a “Lemon Ranch.” He was sharing a residence (noted as being valued at only $8, leading me to think it was a tent) with two Mexican-born men, 39-year-old Jesus Rey and 21-year-old Miguel Ortiz. While Jesus had worked 40 weeks that year and earned $400 (so $7.50/week), Gilbert had worked 8 weeks and had earned $84 (so $10.50/week). This, combined with the note that Jesus was head of household, leads me to believe that Jesus was probably steadily employed on the ranch year-round, and Gilbert was just an itinerant worker passing through for the harvest work. The census taker noted that Gilbert had only completed the first year of high school. As the Great Depression began when he was 9 years old and lasted until he was 19 years old, it is not surprising that he chose to drop out of school early, presumably to be able to find a job to help support his family.

According to his World War II enlistment record, Gilbert T. Hernandez enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Riley, Kansas, on February 17, 1941. He was placed in the Coast Artillery Corps of the Philippine Department of the Army. When he enlisted, he was again recorded as having completed only one year of high school.

One thing to note is that Gilbert enlisted in the Army a full 10 months before the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent rush of young American men to sign up to serve.

According to the National Archives’ World War II Prisoners of the Japanese File, 2007 Update, 1941-1945, Gilbert was serving as a Private in F Battery of the 60th Coast Artillery Regiment (AntiAircraft), as a part of the harbor defenses of Manila and Subic Bays in the Philippines when he was captured by the Japanese. His obituary more specifically states that he was captured while serving at Corregidor.

I have not yet been able to find any service records for Gilbert, and do not know the basis for his family stating that he also served in the Marine Corps as counter-intelligence. Gilbert was discharged from the Army on February 12, 1946.

Despite his having served five years in the Army during WWII—including 3½ years in a Japanese POW camp—Gilbert was required to register for the draft in 1946. This is his draft registration card:

Despite being a decorated veteran who served his country for five years, Gilbert found himself unemployed and back living with his parents in Wichita, Kansas.

On January 17, 1958, Gilbert married Margaret Catherine Gebhart in Las Vegas, Nevada. From what I can tell, Margaret found herself a widow at age 25 when her first husband died at the age of 40.

I’ll end my look at Gilbert here, as after this I get into the timeframe of Gilbert’s living children and grandchildren. I hope to contact them and learn more about Gilbert and his parents. If I do, and if I get their permission, I’ll continue Gilbert’s story.

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