12 Ancestors in 12 Months, Maternal Side, My Family Tree

Month #7: Identity

Three years ago, I learned the identity of my great-grandfather, Paul Harrison Geer (or at least who I am pretty sure is my great-grandfather). Today I am going to do the best I can to outline his life as I never got the chance to meet him in the 11 years that our lives overlapped.

Paul Harrison Geer

Paul Harrison Geer was born on 21 September 1905 in Akron, Summit, Ohio. He was born at home to Clyde Ellsworth Geer and Gertrude Van Buskirk.

This was found on Ancestry.com in the Birth Card Index for the state of Ohio. Standard birth and death certificates did not begin in Ohio until 1908. Another index lists the home as 102 E York St, which is where the Akron City Directory for 1906 has Clyde and Gertrude living as well. These places were just around the block from each other.

Paul was only 3 years old when his mother died on 26 October 1908 of acute pneumonia. From there he was raised by his maternal grandparents, George Van Buskirk and Lydia Cunningham. Though Paul was not listed in the 1910 census in his grandparents’ home, he is not listed with his dad, Clyde, either. (It appears Clyde lived with his brother, Fred, and his family after Gertrude passed away). Paul’s older brother, George Ellsworth Geer, and his younger sister, Ruth Cloe Geer, were both accounted for on the 1910 census, my guess is that Paul may have just been missed. At this time the Van Buskirk’s lived in Akron at 745 Elma Street (this house no longer stands).

The photo that allowed me to figure out my DNA puzzle, was the headstone of George VanBuskirk, Lydia Cunningham VanBuskirk, Fred VanBuskirk, and Gertrude VanBuskirk Geer. This photo was taken by William A. Davies III and was found on FindAGrave. It was also selecting George VanBuskirk that lived a few blocks from where I presently live to research that helped to point me in the right direction.

Being an adolescent between 1910 and 1920 there is not a paper trail of documents to be found for Paul. In the 1920 census, he is listed as living with his grandparents still. They have moved to Lake Township in Stark County, Ohio, and live on Akron Canton Road.

By the 1925 Akron City Directory, Paul and his siblings began living with his dad, Clyde, and his second wife, Helen (they got married on 23 April 1921) at 71 Rosalind Court in Akron. He was a driver at this time, an occupation he would have later in life as well.

Paul Meets Mildred

But by living at 71 Rosalind Court I know Paul has now met my great-grandmother, Mildred Laura Dunbar as my 2nd-great-grandmother, Mazie Lorenia Warner, and her second husband, Samuel Randol, had lived at 75 Rosalind Court since moving to Akron in 1916.

This photo was taken from Google maps (as it would be a tad odd to get out of my car on a dead-end street to take photos of these homes, or maybe that’s just me). Both are still standing and according to the Summit County Auditor’s real estate tax website, these were the homes that both families lived in. 75 Rosalind is on the left, and 71 Rosalind is on the right.

I am not certain how long Paul and Mildred knew each other as it may have been prior to 1924 when Clyde and Helen are known to have moved into 71 Rosalind Court. I believe that Clyde Geer worked at Swinehart Rubber Company for an overlapping year with Samuel Randol, Mildred’s stepfather. I think the two men may have become friends, which may explain Clyde moving next door to the Randol/Dunbar household.

But even if it was by just sheer coincidence, Paul and Mildred became neighbors in 1924, and with my great-grandmother being sweet sixteen, I imagine that Paul was her first love. Fast forward a few years to 17 September 1927 and the happy couple gets married by Reverend Orris W. Haulman (a popular local minister) at the Grace Reformed Church when it was still located at 207 North Portage Path.

Found a copy of Paul Harrison Geer’s and Mildred Laura Dunbar’s marriage license using FamilySearch

After they married the Geers settled at the Randol’s former residence of 75 Rosalind Court (with Mazie and Samuel moving to 622 Carpenter Street, not far away). Their happiness was short-lived as Mildred filed for divorce on 15 January 1929.

Before I took my DNA test which is how I learned Paul was most likely my biological great-grandfather, I thought him to be this horrible person, that my great-grandmother was lucky to be rid of him. Now I hope my great-grandmother exaggerated as she just didn’t want to be married to him anymore. On the chance that what she stated was true, well, I like to think that Paul changed for the better over the years, and maybe he was just young and stupid.

Mildred’s reasons for her divorce are as follows (the below is quoted directly from the records I received from the Summit County Probate Court):

Page 1 of the divorce filing by Mildred Laura Dunbar to Paul Geer, I obtained from Summit County Clerk of Courts in October 2016

He “has been grossly neglectful of his marital duties towards her in that ever since March 1, 1928, he has wholly failed and refused to provide her with food or clothing or the other necessities of life and that she has been compelled to rely upon her own resources and her parents for sustenance and clothing” and “that the defendant has willfully wasted the real and personal property which they possessed at the inception of their married life and that he worked for a short interval at any one place and that he wasted his earnings in gamboling houses and other places of ill repute”.

The divorce record stated no children, and I don’t believe there was one in January when she filed as my grandmother, Alberta Lou Fleming was born prematurely on 2 October 1929. The story goes that Mildred was sent home from the hospital with my grandma and a hot water bottle and if she (Alberta) survived by morning for her (Mildred) to feed her. Lucky for me she lived.

Anyhow, I digress, I do not know how much of a preemie my grandma was, but I’m guessing Paul and Mildred had one more amicable night together before the divorce was final. That my great-grandmother married Albert Nank on 30 September 1929 and listed him as the father of Alberta on her birth certificate must just show how much she wanted Paul out of her life.

Paul Meets Juanita

I have been unable to find Paul in the 1930 census. He is single as the divorce from Mildred was final on 5 September 1929. He does pop up in the 1934 Akron City Directory working at Goodyear and living at 209 West Center. In 1937 he is still working at Goodyear but moved to 166 West Center. Then he marries Juanita Dodd on 30 December 1939, in a joint ceremony with his father, Clyde Geer, who was marrying Juanita’s mom, Stella Long, at the First United Methodist Church. (As a side note, it has always pleased me that Paul took an entire decade to re-marry. If he truly was guilty of all the things my great-grandmother accused him of in her filing for divorce, I like to think he learned his lesson).

The record of Paul Harrison Geer’s marriage to Juanita Dodd was found on FamilySearch

By the time the 1940 census came about, Paul and Juanita had moved to Detroit, Wayne, Michigan where Paul was working as an assembler in an auto factory, but by 1943 they have returned to Akron, living at 207 Carroll Street, #4 (no place of business is identified). By 1946 he and Juanita have a daughter and he is once again working for Goodyear, living at 571 North Summit. By the early 1950’s they have settled in Akron, living at 230 West South Street, and Paul has begun a career as a truck driver for Dixie-Ohio.

This was saved from Newspapers.com, the article is from the 5 April 1955 edition of the Akron Beacon Journal

I don’t find a whole lot of other information about Paul and his family. On 24 November 1960, he won tickets to see a movie at the Strand Theater, I wonder what movie did he see?

This was published in the 24 November 1960 edition of the Akron Beacon Journal, which I found using Newspapers.com

Two years later in December 1962, Paul’s father Clyde died of an acute myocardial infarction at the age of 82. Clyde had been living with Paul and his family for at least 6 years (the things you can learn using City Directories).

This was found on Newspapers.com, it is the 16 December 1962 edition of the Akron Beacon Journal

Twelve years later his brother, George, died in 1974, and then his sister, Ruth, in 1975. Paul lived to age 78, passing away on 27 February 1984.

Here is a shortened version of Paul’s obituary that ran on 28 February 1984 in the Akron Beacon Journal, I’ve cropped it so it does not include the names of the living. This was found using Newspapers.com

The photo in his obituary, and one other in that of his wife’s obituary, are the only 2 photos I have of Paul. You can read about my adventure in discovering through DNA how I figured out Paul was my great-grandfather here. After 3 years of composing a letter, I did reach out to Paul’s daughter to see if she could share with me what he was like as I’m quite curious. I mailed the letter out in early to mid-July and have not heard anything. To say I’m bummed is an understatement, but I understand. It took me 3 years to summon the courage to mail that letter to her simply because I was afraid of rocking her world. But to my knowledge, I don’t think Paul had any idea he had a child with Mildred. But it doesn’t lessen my curiosity at all.

But going back to that photo above, his cheekbones. My grandmother had those cheekbones. My cousin does as well, then again, she really looks like my grandma.

Here is a photo of my Grandmother, Alberta Lou Fleming. She had these taken some time in the 1990s. From my personal collection.

I’m still hopeful I’ll hear from Paul’s daughter, my half-grand-aunt. Not only did I ask what Paul was like, but Clyde, George, and Ruth as well. I want to know about all of them, I wish I could get answers about his mother, Gertrude, but that is pretty much a lost cause unless I come across another family historian who talked to people years ago.

I am gathering up names to do another genealogical visit to the Summit County Health Department to gather birth and death certificates, and Paul is on my list to discover what his cause of death was.

To finish this up properly my hubby and I went out to Greenlawn Memorial Park where Paul and his wife, Juanita are buried. It took us about 50 minutes to find his grave as the layout of section Y was a bit challenging, but for me worth it. You always get that feeling of closeness when you are near your departed relative, even if you never met them in person.

My own personal photo of the headstone of Paul & Juanita Geer from Greenlawn Memorial Park in Akron, Ohio, taken 12 August 2022

I’m glad I took the time to do this timeline about Paul Harrison Geer. From the comments on his wife Juanita’s obituary, they seemed like a very nice couple, which led to my coming around about him not being as bad as the divorce document states. In the end, isn’t being a good person what you want to learn about your ancestors?

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Maternal Side, My Family Tree

Week #10: Strong Woman

For this week’s topic in 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks by Amy Johnson Crow, it’s “Strong Woman” and from when I first discovered what were to me secret’s of my maternal great-grandmother, Mildred Laura Dunbar, she is the first person who popped into my head for this week’s challenge.

My First Big Discovery

When I began working on my family tree 3.5 years ago, one of the first things I found at the library using Ancestry Library Edition was that my great-grandmother had been married not once, not twice, but three times in six years time.

Now I will confess, this particular great-grandmother passed away when I was 8, almost 9-years-old and so I knew her but never had any chance to ask questions and get to KNOW her (though I do have great memories of her babysitting me often). When my mother would speak of her, it was as if she were a saint and could do no wrong.

So when I came home with my finds to tell my mother about how Mildred had been married 3 times, needless to say it didn’t go over too big.  Since my mother died my father has told me he is fairly positive my mother knew of my grandmother’s 3 marriages (we knew of 2) but because my mother had put her grandmother on such a pedestal, it was something she didn’t really want to speak of, and so we didn’t.

But it all depends on your outlook on things.  My mother was a person who saw things in black and white.  You either saw things her way, or the wrong way.  There were no shades of gray.  And this can be related towards my great-grandmother.  Some could look at her three marriages as very taboo – but to me when you hear the reasons for her divorces, I look at her as a very strong woman.

MildredDunbar

Mildred Laura Dunbar

Mildred Laura Dunbar was born on 15 March 1908 to Arthur James Dunbar (who died in 1912 of polio), and Mazie Lorena Warner in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, the county seat of Potter County.  In 1916, Mazie had remarried and she and her new husband, Samuel Randol, along with 2 of her daughters from her first marriage, moved to Akron, Ohio (her third daughtder, my great-great-aunt Myrtle married in 1914 and lived in Elmira, New York).

The Randol’s and Dunbar’s settled in the North Hill section of Akron (not far from where I live today) when my grandmother was 8 years old.  When Mildred was about 17 (going off the dates of the 1925 Akron City Directories) the Geer family moved onto her street.  Paul Harrison Geer would have been 20 years old when he moved in next door, and the romantic in me likes to think he was her first love (I have no actual proof he was).

My great-grandmother married Paul Geer on 17 September 1927.  The marriage, however, did not last long, with my great-grandmother filing for divorce 15 January 1929 for gross neglect, he apparently liked to gamble and visit houses of ill-repute.  The divorce was final on 5 September 1929.

On 30 September 1929 Mildred married for the 2nd time, to Albert Nank.  Three days later, Alberta Lou Nank was born but in 1933 she (Mildred) was once again filing for divorce from Albert for gross neglect, extreme cruelty and his aversion to do an honest days work (can I just say I love old-time divorce records).  This marriage was final on 27 May 1933.

On 5 August 1933 Mildred married her final time to Howard Fleming.  She had 2-sons with him and was married to him until he passed away at age 63 in 1972.  My great-grandma passed away 10 years later at age 73.

Her Strength

Where my mother may have been ashamed of my great-grandmother’s situation, I myself see a strong woman.  Women didn’t get divorced from men who weren’t treating them well in the 1920’s and 1930’s, let alone twice!  This just wasn’t done, so for her to stand up for herself, in my world, is incredible.

More Reading

If you are interested in learning more about Mildred’s story, I wrote up the results of my DNA test which revolved around Mildred, Albert, and my grandmother.  Click here for my post from last September, I Took a DNA Test & Figured Out a Mystery.