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.
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.
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.
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.