Home movies: Kansas mid 1950s

For today’s post, I’d like to share another home movie that my father Keith Black digitized and that I recently found on his computer.

This home movie is from the mid 1950s (probably 1954 or 1955) and captures Keith Black as a teenager, with his younger brother Gary Black, and their parents Vernon Black and Dorothy (McMurry) Black. This film documents the same trip that was documented in Dorothy (McMurry) Black’s photo album that I wrote about in this post.

I’m hoping that family members (especially my uncle Gary and my Kansas cousins) will help me to identify many of the people and places shown in this film. Please leave a comment below if you can help me identify anyone or any locations.

I’ll write up additional details here as soon as I have them.

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So, you don’t legally exist?

Imagine that you were born in a rural area to poor parents in the back room of your rented house. Your parents moved a lot, and they never told the county officials that you were born. So no birth certificate was ever registered. And then your dad leaves your family when you’re five years old, leaving your mom alone with you and two younger siblings. You’re upset about that and change your last name to that of the kind man who married your mother and stepped into the father role in your family. But for whatever reason, you and your family don’t make the adoption legal, nor do they inform the county or state officials of the name change. And then for unknown reasons, you decide to change your middle name, too, from the traditional Dutch Cornelius to the hip, modern “Curtis.” And again, no government agencies are informed. We’ve all been there, right?

This presents no problems for you for most of your life. You get your Social Security card, you enlist in the Army and serve in World War II, you pay your taxes, you work until your early 60s and you’re beginning to think about your retirement. And then you apply for your Social Security retirement benefits and discover that—poof—you have no proof that you are who you say you are.

What do you do now? Continue reading

Puzzling out Ray Shearer

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, 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

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to family and friends near and far! Today’s post is a selection of Christmas cards (actually Christmas postcards and one Christmas telegram) that were received or sent by ancestors and relatives from the early 1900s until the mid-1940s.

I wish you all a joyous Christmas—hearts filled with good cheer, bellies filled with good food, homes filled with family, and a future filled with hope and good tidings for everyone.

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Will the real Lewis Black please stand up?

Lewis Black? photo #3My adoptive great-great-grandfather Lewis Black took on the air of an almost mythical ancestor when I was young. No one I’ve ever known knew Lewis personally (he died in 1901), but everyone seemed to know things about him and have things inherited from him. There’s no question he was a real person—I’ve got loads of research to back that up—but I’ve started to wonder if everything I’ve seen and heard about the man can truly be traced back to just one man—Lewis Black.

I started to suspect this a couple of decades ago, when any question I had about the original owner of any of several heirlooms from our Kansas roots was met with the same answer: “I’m pretty sure that belonged to Lewis Black.” And then came the photos.  Continue reading

To Kansas in 1941 (part 1)

Dorothy enters WyomingIn 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.

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The fate of Ruth Black’s “soddy”

1905?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.

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The unexpected life of Ruth Tucker Black

My adopted great-great-grandmother Ruth Jane (Tucker) Black lived most of her adult life in a humble sod house in Jewell county, Kansas. Like nearly all of the citizens of Jewell county at that time, she was not born there, but immigrated from elsewhere. I had thought that Ruth was born in Ohio, as that was what she (and later, her son Frank) reported on numerous federal and state censuses. Oddly, though, I was never able to find a record of Ruth before she was married. Thanks to my cousin Sharon Black, that’s no longer the case.

Earlier this week Sharon sent me a couple of stories that she found in the course of her research. One of these is an utterly charming recollection of a woman named Winnie Bonecutter Riemensnider, who took Ruth as her adopted grandmother. Winnie’s mother died when Winnie was only a year and a half old. Winnie (born Winifred Alice Bonecutter on January 8, 1896) was 54 years younger than Ruth, and when Ruth died on February 15, 1915, Winnie was only 19 years old. Clearly, however, the two had a close and abiding relationship.

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Back to their Kansas roots

1953?- Entering KansasToday’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!

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More clues about Ray Shearer

1908-12-25 postcard backMy paternal great-grandfather Ray Shearer continues to prove a mystery.  I’ve never seen a photo of him, and until today I’ve found only a single artifact associated with him: a letter he wrote to his son on July 2, 1932. Today I found three more objects associated with Ray, as well as an unidentified photo postcard that might be of Ray, his sister, and their mother.

The first postcard was postmarked December (25?), 1908, from ___dyville, Iowa (possibly Braddyville, Iowa), and was from Ray’s aunt Cynthia. Cynthia is Ray’s father’s older sister, Cynthia Anne Shearer Maxwell (1863–1926). Ray’s father died traumatically when Ray was less than 2½ years old, of injuries suffered from a fall off of a roof onto a stump.

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