Monday, August 23, 2010


Bessie was Lola's older sister. They were about a year or so apart. As usual, I was hitting non-stop brick walls in my search for my grandmother, and decided to focus some of Bessie. She was born in Illinois in 1893. I haven't been able to find much on Bessie yet; here's what I have so far.

In 1900, she was living with her family in Joliet, IL. By the 1910 census, she was a teenager living as a border with a family in Decatur.

In 1920, she was married to a man named Ben and living in Greenville, IL. Ben appears to have been from a large family, having brothers William, Horace (father of Grace) and Charles (father of Lillian), plus several sisters. I found Ben's WWI Draft Registration where he indicated that he was married and living Greenville, IL. That was June of 1917. So, I'm assuming they married around 1914 - 1917 (a marriage certificate I'll have to locate).

Then, there is the 1930 census. Bessie is a patient at Alton State Hospital! So, naturally, I wonder what was up with that! Why was not only Lola in a State hospital in California, but her sister was in one in Illinois. Why was Bessie a patient there and for how long? I did some message board research and found that the State of Illinois is about as difficult to deal with as California when it comes to obtaining these records even though it was SOOO long ago and the "patients" are long gone. Some interesting advice that was on the message boards was that some people had success (not from the hospital) but rather from obtaining the probate files. I'm going to try to obtain Bessie's probate records. Maybe these will tell stories.

Bessie's mother, Effie, died in 1931 in Decatur, IL. Bessie was mentioned in Effie's obituary as a surviving daughter, wife of Ben and living in Greenville, IL. Besides that, the other thing I found on Bessie was her death in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and her brief obituary. According to the obituary, she was the wife of Ben and, among her many survivors were her two nieces, Lillian and Grace (see above). She died in a nursing home in Peoria, IL in 1976.

I found that I could order Bessie's death certificate (it was more than 20 years ago) as a "genealogy copy". I got that certificate this past Saturday. Most death certificates I've seen indicate the number of years the person lived at the "residence". In Bessie's case, not so. I hoped to find out how long she had been in that nursing home. A few other "interesting" things on her death certificate were her date of birth and name of her parents. Now I realize that a death certificate is only as accurate as the informant, and in Bessie's case, the informant was an employee apparently from the "Mortuary Records".

So, Bessie's d/c listed her date of birth as May of 1894. All censuses Bessie was on indicated her DOB as July of 1893, including her social security death index. But not the d/c. Actually the birth year of 1894 is more in line with Lola. Lola, from what I have found so far, was born around October of 1894. The other odd thing was Bessie's parents. They were correctly identified as George and Effie, however neither had the correct last names. George's last name on Bessie's d/c was Lola's married last name and not his last name! Effie's last name (which should have been her maiden name) was an incorrect version of her last name when she was married to George.

This got me wondering what the heck was up. Earlier this year when I went to the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder's office to the marriage records of their brother William (aka Bill), I found that he had listed his mother also with Lola's married last name! That was in 1942. Bill did have an adopted sister who died in Los Angeles in 1941, and her first name and that of Bill's "mother" were the same.

A few other earlier things I found and cannot be certain they are relative to my great aunt. Bessie's husband Ben (as mentioned above) had several brothers, one of them being William. I found William's 1942 World War II Draft Registration and he listed a "Mrs. Bessie" as the person who would always know your address". I also found that William died in 1944 and I ordered his death certificate. The informant was his wife, Bessie. Hmm. So, was this my Bessie, or was that just a common name and these two brothers just happened to be married to women named Bessie. The widow on William's death certificate did not have a birth year similar to my Bessie; the "widow" Bessie was younger. Again, another reason to get my Bessie's probate records.

A few final notes - I have yet to find Ben's death. I totally believe he is dead, as he was born well over 100 years ago. Also, I have been able to track some of the family of Bessie's above mentioned nieces, Lillian and Grace. I did reach out to one of Lillian's descendants (or so I believe) but haven't yet heard back. I have just yesterday found one of Grace's descendants via Ancestry (I believe this person to be Grace's great grand daughter) and will now reach out to her. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that either she knows something, or can put me in contact with someone who does.

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