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?

Maternal Side, My Family Tree

My Warner Family – Mazie

As most of the world is resigned to stay home and be in isolation, I finally have found my genealogy groove. And though I normally try to partake in Amy Johnson Crow’s fabulous challenge 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks, I find myself struggling with the recent week’s prompts.  So I think I’ll focus on a specific surname in my family, and I’ve chosen the Warner’s (I suddenly have the Animaniac’s theme going through my head, if you have never watched this outstanding cartoon brought to us by Steven Spielberg you really should, I discovered it in college and it is one of the greatest animated shows ever, if I do say so myself). I figure this can be the first of many tributes to my Warner clan and could possibly get me to find out more about them.

Mazie Lorenia Warner

The last of my line of Warner’s was my great-great-grandmother Mazie Lorenia Warner.  I know I’ve spoken of Mazie before because she is one of my favorite relatives on my mother’s side of the family.  She was born on 21 July 1877 to Winfield Warner and his wife, Orienta Gustin in Potter County, Pennsylvania. She had 3-sisters: Cymanthia Lencretia, Jeanette, and Catherine “Cassie” Belle.

MazieWarnerSig
Mazie Lorenia Warner – no idea when this was taken (another project!)

Mazie was one of my first successfully solved puzzles.  Just getting her name correct was one of my first obstacles as every document I found seemed to be something different – Mazie, Magie, Daysa (still trying to figure that last one out), but then my mom clarified it all for me (she was going off memory as Mazie passed away 2 years before my mom was born).

Mazie married my great-great-grandfather, Arthur James Dunbar on 2 Jan 1894.  To this marriage came 4-children with the 3-girls surviving: Myrtle Iona, Merle Winfield (he passed away at 8 months), Ina Mae and Mildred Laura (she is my great-grandmother).

On 18 Dec 1912 Arthur died of polio (adult onset).  A few years later Mazie married a second time to Samuel Randol, in 1916 they moved to Ohio and this is how this portion of my family settled in Akron. Oddly enough the area of Akron where they settled is not far at all from where I live with my own family.

Mazie and Samuel had a son, Richard LeHoty, but he passed away when he was 5-months old.

Because my library (Akron Summit County Public Library) has digitized the local city directories, I have been able to follow where Mazie and Samuel lived from 1916 until Mazie passed away in 1945.  Mazie has come across as a loving soul, always taking her daughters in when their marriages failed (or at least that is how I assume her to be as my own great-grandmother returned home more than once and Mazie even let her and her third husband live with them for a bit when they first got married while I assume they saved up for a house – I have nothing to confirm these stories because my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother have all passed).

At one point in time Samuel and Mazie ran a store on Howard Street, and I believe it was called SJ Randol’s according to the 1924 city directory, and back in the 1920’s Howard Street was the place to be.  According to a lady my parents’ were guardian’s of, Clara Mueller, she claimed that you could find things at the shops on Howard Street that you couldn’t find anywhere else.

SJRandol Store
SJ Randol Store, circa 1924

Samuel passed away on 16 Oct 1938 in Decatur, Illinois. He was a truck driver and wasn’t feeling well and passed away after he had been “ill for a week over a complication of diseases” according to the 17 Oct 1938 edition of the Decatur Herald.  This made me sad to learn of Samuel’s death. The 1937 City Directory is the first where my great-grandmother, her husband and my grandmother finally moved into their own home, which gave Mazie and Samuel basically 1-2 years to finally enjoy life together.

Mazie continued to live alone until 1943 where she moved in to her old house which is where her daughter, Ina lived with her second husband, Ralph, and her daughter, Almeda. She passed away there on 19 May 1945.

080-MazieWarnerRandol-BobBergen-ThelmaBessieBergan
Mazie and her nephew, Bob Bergan, and his wife, Thelma Bessie circa 1942.

I drive down Howard Street every day when I go to and from work and I look to the spot where the store stood that Mazie and Samuel ran.  I look to the abandoned lot with just a very slight portion of a brick wall standing that would most likely been the back of their store, and wonder what it would have been like to know her, if she ever looks down on me and is happy to know that I am making sure my family doesn’t forget her and her legacy.

Genealogy, Maternal Side, My Family Tree, Paternal Side

Giving Your Ancestors a Life

A big difference between my husband and myself is how we relate to our families.  He has just started, so maybe I shouldn’t judge him so harshly, but he views his ancestors as names on a screen.

Names on a screen!

Then there is me, I sit there and though they may initially be names on my tree (I will confess my aunts, uncles and distant cousins I do refer to as filler people until I get to know them a little better), I enjoy finding out what I can on them, where they lived, how long, did they marry.  I especially try to find out as much as I can on the little ones.  You know, the ones who pass away before they ever have a birthday, I fear they may be the easiest for time to forget.

The more I research my ancestors, whether it be government documents, city directories, or newspaper articles, I enjoy getting a sense of who they are.

Harold Fairhurst – My Grandfather

Within the last few weeks Newspapers.com was free for a few days and I so enjoyed learning new things about my relatives.  One article that ran in the Akron Beacon Journal on September 17, 1964, referred to when my grandfather, an area golf pro, hit a hole in one.  It was interesting as when I had found it my Aunt Debbie had relayed how he had hit one and won a years supply of Pepsi. He had only hit a hole in one once, so this had to be the time.

The_Akron_Beacon_Journal_Thu__Sep_17__1964_

When I threw my grandfather’s name to find articles about him I was floored when I saw how many hits I received.  My mother had always told me he was a golf pro, but I never realized he held course records in my hometown and was a semi-serious contender.

Alberta Lou – My Grandmother

I found out some interesting bowling information on my mom’s mother too!  I knew my grandmother was on a bowling league but I never knew she was on a league of women bowlers where you had to bowl a 600 series.  My uncle (her son) he gave me the information after I found and shared the following article with him.  It was posted once again in the Akron Beacon Journal on March 14, 1971.

The_Akron_Beacon_Journal_Sun__Mar_14__1971_

Orienta Gustin Warner – My Great-Great-Great-Grandmother

I learned some juicy information about my relatives too.  Again, visiting my mother’s side of the family, this time it was my great-great-great-grandmother, Orienta Gustin Warner who is mentioned in the following article from the Potter Enterprise that ran on February 11, 1904, along with her daughter, Jeanette Warner (Nettie) my second great-great-aunt.

The_Potter_Enterprise_Thu__Feb_11__1904_

Real-life stories of your ancestors help to put them into perspective far more than just dates and names on a computer screen.  The aforementioned Orienta Gustin Warner lived here in Akron, Ohio for the last 6 years or her life.  She passed away at 644 Carpenter Street and I’ve driven past the house, which is less than 5 minutes from my own home.

I’ve used Google to see what all the houses look like (most are still standing, some have been torn down). Once I figure out locations for homes in other areas I plan on doing the same.  This is when technology is at it’s best.

Samuel & Mazie Randol

By using the city directories, I saw how my great-great-grandmother let her daughters move in with her when their marriages failed, I saw her and her husband, Samuel, finding a new house to live in while her daughters stayed in their old one with their new husband, and I saw the pattern repeat. So to me, this shows me Mazie was truly a good person, going out of her way for her girls.  And taking them back in when they needed help and support (and yes, after a while I got a little judgy as I think Mazie and Samuel might have had 2 years alone before he passed away in 1938).

Speaking of Samuel, my father gave me a box of mementos that belonged to my mother’s side of the family. He had no need for them after my mom passed last year, so about 2 months ago he handed the photos off to me.  Inside the box was the book from the funeral home from when Samuel Randol passed away.  He was a trucker when he died in Decatur, Illinois.  He apparently became ill, went to the hospital, and died within a short period of time.  I’ve not ordered up his death certificate yet, I may have difficulty as he is not a blood relative and I think Illinois laws may be a bit more strict than they are here in Ohio. Anyhow, never had I seen so many names in a book of those who visited the funeral home as those who paid their respects to Samuel.  I was dumbfounded.  To me, it’s further proof that he and Mazie were good people.

Ralph Reed

To be fair I’ll throw in the black sheep of my dad’s side of the family.  In the early months of my going to the library and using Ancestry Library Edition to search about my family, I came across the following death certificate for my second cousin twice removed.  His name is Ralph Reed.

RalphReedDeathCertificate

Notice his cause of death?  Electrocution by Legal Execution.  I used a link using my library’s resources which has an academic version of Newspaper Archive on their website.  It’s nice as I was able to use it for free from home using my library card number.

Turns out Ralph and his friends decided to rob a company payroll office one day when companies still paid with cash.  Problem was they beat the cash there, decided to rob the office workers and Ralph shot the one worker in the back (yes, the headlines were man murdered for $60).  They drove off in their getaway car but nearby some telephone repairmen were fixing a wire and watched exactly where they drove off too.  Ralph was sentenced to death while the others had life in prison.  I don’t think the punishment held for all of them though, as I believe at least 2 may have been released (I’ve not thoroughly researched them yet, I will need to take a day to travel to the Ohio History Center in Columbus to find out more details. In 1948 the accused were tried, sentenced and put to death all within a years time.  On May 4, 1949 Ralph was electrocuted. Below is his photo (courtesy of the Ohio Pentitentiary in Columbus, Ohio).

RalphReed-PrisonPhoto

Resources to Use

Maps, probate records, newspaper articles, city directories, all these useful sources can help provide background information on your ancestors.  Even if you can’t find stories directly about them, you can see where they lived using old maps, you can find out what the weather was like reading articles about the area, and if they fought in wars, even if it wasn’t their personal account, reading the diaries of others fighting in the same war can give you insight as to what they went through.

So take the time to search through newspapers, you can get a subscription to such sites as the aforementioned Newspapers.com, GenealogyBank.com or visit the free Library of Congress website ChroniclingAmerica.org to see if you can find some information (trust me, sometimes they just pop right out, other times you have to go through lots of names to find what you are looking for).

Check out your library to see if they give you access to resources such as Newspaper Archive that I mentioned previously.  Sometimes you can get access to library editions of other searching tools such as MyHeritage or Fold3 as well.

Government Records

Government records work too – the census gives you where your ancestor is at a specific point in time, probate records can illustrate how their life was at the end and who their relatives are/were, if they are males registrations for wars come in handy as it lets you know next of kin, eye color, height, any interesting marks (such as scars, birthmarks, etc), all of this can give you a better indication of who your ancestors were.

So now I’ve given you more reasons to analyze those documents you’ve found to find out the story behind the story of your ancestors.  It’s worth going the extra mile because they become far more memorable when you have a story to tell than if they are just a name on the screen.

Have you found out anything interesting about your family?  Share with me in the comments below.