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.
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.
In the family stories I was told about my father’s father’s father Ray Z. Shearer, Ray was always portrayed as poor, but he was a very capable, mechanically minded man who worked for a bunch of different garages as mechanic, drove a truck for a while, and even raced dirt track race cars. The details in these stories were thin, but consistent. I was under the impression that the most important parts of his work history were included in this brief overview. I figured that if he had been involved in something grand—for instance, let’s imagine that he established and ran his own business, that he advertised it extensively in the local paper, that he built a custom race car in that business, and that he then watched as his business was lost in a tragic accident that made headlines—well, that surely would have merited a mention in the brief story of Ray’s working life. Right?
So imagine my surprise when I found an advertisement in the August 1, 1919, edition of The Palco News (of Palco, Kansas) for The Star Garage—open day and night, Ray Shearer, proprietor. How had no one managed to remember such a big deal, especially for a man of apparently rather modest means?
After finding this 100-year-old ad, I did a deep dive and looked for any and all mentions of The Star Garage in local papers. What I found was nearly 60 mentions of Ray Shearer and/or The Star Garage in The Palco News between January 30, 1919, and March 19, 1920. Most of these are ads belonging to one of several advertising runs in the newspaper, and just a couple mentions are actual news pieces about Ray or The Star Garage. But even the advertisements have stories to tell.
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.
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.
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 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.
My 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 →
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.