Friday, November 8, 2013

Embracing Edna

My paternal grandmother Edna Mae Vandelia Frances Parker was born in 1910 to Ethel and Felix Parker of Danville, Illinois.  I really thought searching for her would be easy, boy was I wrong.   Little did I know how many Edna Parker’s there actually were in Illinois.  Thank goodness, my father sent me a copy of her death certificate and obituary.   I now had the names of her parents (or so I thought) and her birthplace.   I could not find her in anything with John and Ethel as parents.   I called my mom, she told me that my great-father’s name was Felix not John (as listed on her death record) and Edna was raised by her grandmother.    

Edna 1910
Armed with this new information (the correct names), I went back to the “drawing board”.  Touchdown!  I found a nine year old Edna in the 1920 census (page 25) living with her grandmother Josie, a cook and her aunts Emma, Helen and Ruth.  

Source Information: 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT. USA: Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Where are her father Felix and her mother Ethel?  When did Edna go to live with her grandmother and why?  Did she and her mother go after Felix left to serve in the war?   Felix's 1917 WWI registration card lists a wife and 6 year old child (WWI Draft Card).  He is claiming exemption from the draft because he is their sole source of support  whom he is claiming to be their sole support thus claiming exemption from the draft.  Is this Ethel and Edna?  All signs are pointing to yes but further research needs to be done to confirm.  

I found Felix in the same 1920 census (page 18) as Josie (Edna's grandmother).  (1920 census ).  Felix is 31 years old listed as married and working as a miner in a coal mine.  Also living in his house are Florence Hamilton, 25 year old divorcee and (his housekeeper) and her 5 year old daughter Lillian.  Why are they living with him but not Edna?  Again, where is Ethel?  

An interesting discovery on Florence, she is in the 1910 census listed as an inmate in the Illinois Home for Girls in Geneva City (census).  The state training school for girls was established in 1893 to reform wayward girls ages 10 to 18.   There is some really interesting information out there about the "school".   Here is a video from YouTube about the school (Geneva School) and a few other fascinating articles about the school: and

Goodness, I didn't mean to get side tracked.  I am finding that as I research one person, I always seem to branch off in another direction.  

Edna 1918

Edna married Judge Allen on May 28, 1925 in Monroe County, Indiana. She was 14 years old and Judge was 25 years old and divorced.  Here is their marriage record from Familysearch. ( 
marriage record)

Finding that information led to more questions (which I know is the norm during genealogy research). Why did they run away to Indiana to get married?  I do know that Judge was living in Indiana in 1920 with his first wife.  So when and where did Edna meet Judge?  Did his job (janitor for the rail road) in Bloomington, Indiana take him to Danville, Illinois (2 hours away)?   Why was Edna's birth year is listed as 1904 when she was actually born in 1910?  Edna was actually 14 years old when she married 25 year old Judge.    

My beautiful Grandmother Edna
(year unknown...for now)

Edna and Judge had six children Fatima, Constantina (Connie), Judge Jr, Christina (Chris), Drew and Derrick. 

Left to right: Dad, Chris, Drew and cousin Pee Wee

In 1930, Edna, Judge and their two children Fatima and Connie lived in East Chicago, Illinois.  Also living in the house was Virgil Allen listed as a brother-in-law, a nephew Jack Hunter and a boarder Walter Johnson.  Judge's occupation was listed as a janitor in a steel mill.   I am curious about this household because both Judge and Virgil list their birthplace as Louisiana when I other reports have Judge's birthplace a Mississippi.  So I will do more research on this later.  

1930 Federal Census
Source Information: 1930 United States Federal Census (database on-line). Provo. UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002

By 1931, my grandmother was 21 years old.  She had been married for seven years and had just lost one of her two children.  Her daughter Fatima (1925-1931) passed away in January after a lengthy hospital stay.  As a parent, I cannot image what it's like to lose a child.  My heart still breaks for her. 

In 1940, Edna, Judge and their daughter Connie were living in Detroit, Michigan.  On this census, Judge's birthplace is recorded as Mississippi which now leads me to believe Edna answered the census questions in 1930.  I say this because on their marriage license Judge's birthplace is also listed as Louisiana.  Judge's occupation here is a cement finisher for the city.  

1940 Federal Census
Source Information: 1940 United States Federal Census (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2012

My grandfather Judge passed away in 1955.  I didn't know much about him and until recently, I've never seen a picture of him.  I asked my father about him and he said no matter the situation, his father was always positive.  Kind of like the person who is thankful for having a glass to put the liquid in never sees it as half empty or half full.  As far as I can remember my dad has never said a bad word about anyone.  I remember him always saying, “If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all”.  I plan on sitting down with my father to learn more about his father.   

Grandma Edna and Grandpa Judge
(I love this picture of them)

My first memory of my grandmother Edna was of her in the kitchen cooking.  She was a great cook and she made best pound cake and macaroni and cheese.  I still marvel at her cooking techniques.  I don't remember her ever using measuring cups.  She measured everything with her hands.  One time she tried to teach me but unlike her, I could not stick my hand into the flour and come out with exactly a cup.  

She always sat in the living room in a recliner next to the window.   We spent a lot of time looking out the window.  There was a playground across the street but she rarely let me go there because she didn't think it was safe.  My grandmother was the nicest woman; she had such a kind heart.  She always put everyone else’s needs before her own.

Grandma Edna by the window!
In junior high, I had an assignment for my civics class which was to write about the Depression and WWII.  She was one of the people that I interviewed.  This is her interview.  Her words exactly as she said them.  This is not meant to offend anyone only explain her life during that time. 

     “Well there was a depression in 1931.  There was no food so we had to go to the soup line.   They would allow everybody to come and get some skim milk to drink and carry home with you and they would allow each person so many stamps to get meat with.  The only meat that you could buy was horse meat, and thank God I never had to buy it.  There just wasn't any work for people to do and very few people could get help from the welfare.  We had no money to buy no clothes with.  We wore what we had.  Some of the kids had no shoes to wear and had to go barefoot in the summertime.  I worked for a dollar a day, eight hours for a dollar a day.  Some of the men were making six dollars a week.  I cleaned house, I worked for white people, Jews mostly.  They work you to death.  They set the clock back on me.  So when I get out of there and I see a clock, the clock was much faster than the clock where I was working.  They didn't want to give me car fare.  I had to pay my own car fare.  They had streetcars then.  Car fare was six cents then.  You had to work hard too.  Do all the washing, ironing, scrub the floors, wash the walls, clean the steps, clean bedrooms, I did the whole house.  They weren't prejudice then as some people are today.  I got a job at a bakery.  I would make pies.  The woman I was working for was telling the people she was making the pies.  The Jews would give you a lot of junk.  Something they didn't want and it wasn't worth wearing.  I was so ashamed that when I got outside and pass an alley, I would throw them in the alley, as poor as I was.  Sugar was five cents a pound and bread was ten cents a loaf.  The thing I remember most about the war was that there was a big parade at the end.  There were a lot of people sitting in the street watching the parade go by.  We use to entertain soldiers in our home”. 

Letter from Grandma Edna
I joined the military when I was 23 (1985).  It was the first time that I have ever been apart from my family.  I wrote letters whenever I could and my grandmother wrote one to me that I've kept all these years.  When I decided to frame it, I spilled something on it and ruined the letter.  I am heartbroken, it is the only note I have from her.  I hope to one day be able to restore it.  She always looked out for me and I love her just as much today as I did then.  The one thing that stands out  from this note is the fact that she is cautioning me about running up my phone bill.  I smile when I think about that, she was always thinking of someone else. When I would go weeks without calling she would forget my voice.  I would call, say hey and start talking.  She would say a very slow hello and was always polite until she realized that she didn't recognize the voice.  Then she would ask so sweetly "who is this".  I would always say grandma it's be Bernita.  She would laugh and say "oh, I thought you were some white lady selling something".  We would just and then carry on with our conversation.

I found a picture of what Grandma's house on Helen Street and the once thriving playground across the street looks like today.  It was destroyed by a fire.  The house next door to the left is completely gone.  We use to sit on the porch and talk to the lady that lived in the upstairs unit.  The playground use to have a swing set, merry-go-round and I believe a jungle gym.
Photo courtesy of Google Maps

                                                                                               Photo courtesy of Google Maps

   My beautiful Grandma Edna

       Grandma Edna surrounded by Mama Rose and my mom 

I was able to scratch the surface using Ancestry and FamilySearch but now it's time to dig a little deeper.  I have so many unanswered questions about my grandmother Edna's early years, her mother and the circumstance leading to her being raised by her grandmother.  I guess the "fun" part begins.  I will be searching for birth, divorce and death records to confirm some information as well as asking my family.  I am looking forward to this challenge and can't wait to expand on Edna's story.  I will update this post when I get new information.  

My grandmother was an extraordinary, kind and loving woman, not a day goes by that I don't think about her and miss her.  She also appears in my dreams or are they just memories that come about when I'm dreaming.  May she forever rest in peace.  Rest in heaven Edna.

Source Information: U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, Operations Inc, 2006. 

Clai, Rudy. (2012). The Hauntings of the Geneva Bad Girls School.

GenevaHistoryCenter. (2011, Jul 20).  GHC Minute: Girls School: Geneva, IL.  Retrieved January 12, 2014 from

"Indiana, Marriages, 1780-1992," index, FamilySearch ( accessed 08 Nov 2013), Judge Allen and Edna Parker 28 May 1925.

Oberg, Dave (2010). Beware the Girls' School Ghosts.