Monday, May 31, 2010

Lola's youngest brother William

With all the brick walls I've been running into with my search for Lola, I began a few weeks ago to focus hard on her youngest brother, William. With the help of information available on line (, Google, Facebook, etc.) I began to look for the families of his wives. Simultaneously, I posted to Rootsweb message board, looking for information on his first marriage in 1926 to Myrle, in the hopes of finding her family members. I knew they married in San Francisco in 1926 and that she was granted a divorce in 1936 (Los Angeles Times archives).

I am lucky enough to have what is known as a 9/80 work schedule. That means I work 9 hour days, Monday through Thursday and 8 hours on Friday. The following week follows the same 9 hour days Monday through Thursday with that Friday off. So, every other Friday off. I have spent nearly every off Friday this year at the LA Registrar Recorder's office or at the Orange County Clerk's office searching vital records. Vital records contain tons of information such as witnesses to marriages, informants and burial information on death certificates. Addresses are also included, which is helpful when you're me and trying to locate people living in the hopes of gaining information.

So, on one of my trips to research the vital records, I found informants, witnesses, and from the post to Rootsweb, learned that Myrle died in 1938. The short version, I did pull Myrle's death record when I made my last frantic trip to the Recorder's office and William was the informant. I did learn the names of her parents, but have yet to find any living relatives for her.

I did, however, find living relatives for William's second (Edith) and third (Ann) wives. I found these people via google searches for obituaries (and with the help of friends) and on Facebook. I composed my thoughts and sent email/messages and did hear back. In one case, I was able to find a living relative that suggested we meet in person. My sister and I did have the opportunity to meet with Ann's nieces last Saturday. I have left a message for Edith's nephew via his son and look forward to hearing back from him.

The picture here is of my great uncle, Bill (aka William in this blog) and his wife/widow Ann. She was his third wife. He out lived his first two wives. Bill and Ann married in 1961. They were so happy. The picture was taken Christmas 1963. Ann wrote on the back "Christmas 1963 - Look at my Bill; ignore me"!

I was so happy to meet Ann's nieces and get stories and the picture. Bill had a cabin in Running Springs and a boxer named Dutchess. Next - I am now hoping to hear back from the nephew of Bill's second wife. It is so cool to find people that knew him. I'm so sorry that I never had that chance. I wonder what he'd think knowing that there are three great nieces that he never knew looking for him, looking for him, hoping to learn about him and his life. He passed away in 1977.

Ann was how we imagined her to be - tall, glamorous, kind,beautiful, just to name a few attributes. We have felt a great connection to Ann as she was his widow, but she was also buried next to him almost twenty years after he passed. She was a wonderful woman from a wonderful family.

What's so cool here is that less than one year ago, I didn't even know about William and now I've found out quite a bit about him. There are still many things I need to learn, but the fact that I've learned what I have and now have a picture of him is so amazing.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lola and the Ghost Whisperer

This past Wednesday, I got home from work and turned on my computer. Yahoo is my homepage and one of the top stories was about CBS canceling Ghost Whisper. I saw that and was really annoyed as that is one of the few TV shows on CBS today that I like. I actually feel that television is for the most part pathetic with their "reality" shows (not reality at all and totally scripted without the expense of paying actors). I also noticed a few other shows I like being cancelled from CBS and did notice they all are "thinking" shows. This morning when I got up and turned on the TV, oddly enough CBS had paid programming running rather than local or network news. I assumed it was to get money to make up for the shows they are cancelling.

But back to last Wednesday. When I saw Ghost Whisperer being cancelled I was not only annoyed by the show being cancelled but by the thought that my grandmother, Lola, just doesn't appear to me the way ghosts appear to Melinda on the show. While I was contemplating that, I had a recollection of a dream from the week before where I was talking to Lola (mind you, I didn't see her; it was more of a "knowing" thing) and she told me that what I was looking for was available to me on line or in my possession. As I remembered this dream, I was immediately drawn to Red's funeral book and began looking at the names of guests and of those that sent flower arrangements.

The second name on the flower arrangement page was Lola and Charlie Cox! I thought, "really"! Could it be that she was released from Norwalk State Hospital and married and lived a nice life (like Susan Sarandon's grandmother did on Who Do You Think You Are?)? I kind of got my hopes up and let my "creative" mind run away with the story. I had the brief feeling that my grandmother went on to live a nice life without her son and husband, free from the confinements on a mental hospital in the 1930s, and for a moment, I was happy for her.

This finding led me back to the Internet to search for Lola Cox. I found her. According to the Social Security Death Index, she was born in 1891 or so (not the year I assume my grandmother was born), but she was born in Illinois and her middle initial was "L" (my grandmother's middle initial on every document I've found to date). The zip code that her last social security benefit was paid was 90044. Well, that just happened to be the zip code her brother William lived and died in. I couldn't focus on anything other than pulling that death certificate!

Thursday morning came and I went to work. I decided the suspense was too much and decided to take a long lunch and drive out to the Los Angeles Registrar Recorder's Office to pull that death certificate. Much to my dismay, it was not my Lola. Her parents were not my great grandparents, nor was the informant anyone I could identify. This was just another cold lead. I returned to work feeling let down and hot (my car A/C doesn't work and it was a warm day filled with gridlock on the LA freeways).

I was so distraught that I decided to call the California Department of Mental Health. I spoke with someone that I had spoken with about a month ago. She reiterated to me that fact that when someone dies in the State system, there is a death certificate, but it is not public record due to privacy issues. (Maybe this is the case with Lola as I cannot find anything on her beyond 1932.) She also suggested I contact someone from the California Memorial Project that is NOT the person I have tried on several occasions to contact via phone and email, to no avail. Actually, the very nice woman I spoke with at Metropolitan / Norwalk Hospital was not even aware of this project, a project that Norwalk is involved with.

So, I cannot find my grandmother after 1932. I know she somehow landed in Norwalk and not a single individual or State organization gave a shit about my dad, the child left behind because of this, and I am banned from getting any information unless I get a court order. This is really, really pissing me off. Privacy laws, I get, but there is no way in hell that Lola is alive today or no way that she was EVER allowed to sign a piece of paper allowing her records to be turned over to anyone. She was admitted during an ugly time in the history of our system; one that the employee I spoke with from the State admits was horrible. A time when just about anyone could legally admit someone on pretty lame grounds. Yet, knowing this, I cannot have access to my grandmother's records without a court order! Something that baffles me is how to obtain a court order. A court order, from what I've learned from attorneys, is a document required for litigation, yet the hospital does not use the term "litigation". The whole thing gives me a headache.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tear down that wall, Lola

Why, Lola, are you so elusive? Why is it that you are the only one from your family that I was aware of, yet since my almost one year of rather intensive research, I have found your parents and siblings and the family of your siblings, but not you? How can it be that you were born, had a life, married, had children, had tragedy (your father abandoned your family when you were young, you were farmed out because your mother couldn't afford to take care of you and your siblings, your brother died, your baby brother was sent out of state, you married a "skirt chaser" that ultimately left you, your first born child died at 4 years old), shunned your maternal responsibilities, landed in a state hospital, and then just vanished?

Why is it that I cannot find any sign of you after your appearance in a 1932 city directory, living with Red? Why is it that my dad's long time friend was told you were sickly and died when he was young boy, yet my dad told me the last time he saw you was at the urging of his first wife?

I have so many questions that need to be answered. I have, with the help of others, found obituaries for Lola's mother, Effie; her sister, Bessie; and her brother, George. I know when her brother William passed and have seen his grave, but cannot yet find an obituary. I know more about William's life than the others and have been able to establish contact with living members of his wives' families. I am excited to know that I will finally get to see pictures of him, and that one of these family members who is still living, was a young fellow when William married his second wife. My fingers are crossed and I'll be contacting him soon.

There is something kind of scary, yet exciting about reaching out to total strangers. I compose my thoughts and have either made phone calls or sent email/messages, hoping for the best, while not knowing how this would be received. I have been lucky thus far, although I'm pretty sure my phone call must have been rather shocking!

My self-imposed job for this coming week is to re-establish contact with the California State Department of Mental Health. I did speak to an employee of this office about a month ago, asking if I really did need to obtain a court order (per the State Hospital) so that I could gain access to my grandmother's hospital records. This State employee suggested I follow the the direction of the hospital.

I have talked with attorneys I know, an employee of the Los Angeles County Registrar's office, and a few others, and all are in agreement that a court order is only required in cases of litigation and that I'm possibly being given bogus information. I have also called the Los Angeles County Superior Court two times for information and guidance, but to no avail. My first call was greeted by an operator that didn't know how to help so she suggested I call a number for the court archives. I did and got a voicemail. I left a message and have yet to hear back. I have called since, but got the same message and didn't see the point in leaving any more messages. The second time I called the court, the first operator didn't know how to help so she transferred me to another employee. This employee quickly offered zero help and told me to contact an attorney. I can't believe these employees are completely unable to offer guidance in the system they work for.

I have also been checking message board postings on Rootsweb for Metropolitan State Hospital, and have found that I'm not the only one experiencing such difficulty. I do know that there are privacy laws in place, but I feel that I have every right to know what happened to my grandmother - why she was in, how she landed there, what happened to her there, if she ever got out or if she died there and was then buried in some sort of potter's field. I know she was in the system during a time when it was rather common and easy for women (in particular) to be committed to "mental" hospitals by their husbands. Generally, this would happen because of a fight or because the hubby wanted to play without the hassle of a divorce. History shows that many women experiencing the "joys" of menopause were considered "insane" and institutionalized. Unruly women were as well. For an idea of this, one only needs to watch the movie The Changeling.

I have been told by the State Mental Health employee that the reasons for once being admitted to the hospitals and the types of treatments used back in the earlier part of the 20th century, would never be the case today. Leads me to believe my suspicions are correct - admittance by spouse or possibly anyone. Admittance could have been due to "irrational" behavior brought on by possibly "the change of life". Treatments for such "crazy" behavior could have been shock treatment or worse. It surprises me, really, when I consider the fact that it just wasn't all that long ago when this was the norm. My understanding is that this continued through the 1960s or 1970s.

While I was driving my mom home yesterday, we began to rehash what my dad told her about the day he came home from school and his mother was gone. She believes at the time, Red had left Lola and my dad. What she remembers is that he told her he came home from school and no one was there. Things were in disarray. Apparently, a neighbor saw him and paid him a visit. The neighbor told my dad that "they" took his mother away to a hospital. I asked my mom if "they" bothered to help my dad (he was probably only 14 or 15 at the time) and she didn't think so. Her feeling was that children weren't as "precious" back in the 30s as they are now. I'm not yet sure if this was the beginning of my dad's life living on his own, staying with the families of friends that were willing to take him in, no matter how brief or long. I do know that I am more determined than ever to do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this. Stay tuned as this will surely being a bumpy and winding road.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Who's your mother, William?

As I've mentioned before, Lola had siblings. One that has intrigued me since I've learned about him is her youngest brother, William. William was born in Joliet, IL in 1901. Sometime between his birth and the 1910 Census, Lola's father, George, apparently abandoned his young family, leaving his homemaker wife and five children to fend for themselves. This caused his homemaker wife, Effie, and her five children to fall into "the system" at the time. All six members of the family lived in the homes of others, working either as servants, domestics or farm hands for board. They were in various towns in Illinois, with the exception of the youngest, 8 year old William. He was in Iowa.

Naturally, the detective in me can't stop wondering how an 8 year old ended up in a differnt state than his mother and his siblings. What is the connection? Was there a connection? Was he just a small child with the good fortune (or some might think misfortune) of landing on an Orphan Train, in the hopes of a loving family and a better life? I don't yet know that answer, but am determined to find out. Again, I'm intrigured by William's story, just as much as I'm intrigued by Lola's story. At some point, the older couple William was living with, adopted him. They already had three older children that by 1910 were no longer living in their home. These three children were all born in Germany prior to the family immigrating to the US.

I have thus far been to the Los Angeles County Registrar's office three times in search of vital records and once to the Orange County Clerk's office for the same. In those three trips, I did find most records in regards to William that I wanted. William had three wives, outlived at least one, and died in Los Angeles in 1977. His death certificate lists his adoptive parents, Henry and Etta.

He married his first wife in 1926 in Alameda County. He and his wife lived together then in Los Angeles (I found them in city directories) until she filed for, and was granted a divorce in 1936. I found her living alone in that same city in 1936, and then lost track of her. She may have remarried, changing her last name, thus making the search a little challenging. I am going to attempt to obtain both their marriage certificate and their divorce record. I'm not sure if these records might hold clues, but you never know.

William married his second wife in Los Angeles in 1942, and this was his longest marriage. Sadly, it ended with her death in 1959. I pulled that record and was more than pretty suprised. Most vital records indicate a place of birth, father's name and place of birth and mother's name and place of birth. This particular record was no different. It listed his city of birth (good so that I now know where to go for his birth record), his father and his mother. He listed his adoptive father, Henry, from Iowa (Henry was from Germany) and as his mother he listed not his adoptive mother or what I've always felt was his birth mother, but rather a name that didn't make sense (although I could identify these names). He listed the first name of his "adoptive" sister and Lola's married name as the last name! My jaw dropped and I said out loud, "what the hell?".

William's third marriage in 1961, actually listed Lola's parents (and the parents I always felt were his birth parents), George from Germany and Effie from Pennsylvania. When you are looking for answers, these documents are invaluable. Mind you, they are old, but they contain names of witnesses and/or survivors (depending on the document). In my experience, once you have these names, you can search for them.

I am happy to report that I have found survivors and have reached out. This is truly exciting. Where they may not hold answers to Lola, they may very well hold answers to William. I am so thankful right now. I have been lucky enough to connect with family; something I have not had a lot of growing up on my father's side. What I find so sad, is that I could have have known him and the family in life. He died when I was a teenager. Unfortunately, my dad never told us about him. I can't hold that against my dad, as I have absolutely no idea what it must have been like for him, being a child in a horrible situation. I only wish he could have found peace with that part of his life while he was still alive. This indeed, is turning into a great and exciting adventure.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Rest in peace, Dad

On Saturday April 30, 2005, my nephew Bill married his girlfriend DeEtte. On Sunday May 1, 2005, my sisters (Nita and Carol) and I went to visit my dad. He was in failing health and couldn't attend the wedding although he really wanted to. I took photos at the wedding and shared them with my dad via my laptop. He couldn't get over how "good looking" all the kids were. We had a very nice visit and met with a hospice worker (my dad was ready). He had his favorite sandwich for lunch that day (Italian sausage) from Subway. Carol picked that up for him. At this point in his life, he was so very frail and in a wheelchair.

After that nice Sunday visit, my sisters and I left. We later learned that the hospice people delivered a hospital bed and set it up in my parents' room. On Monday morning, May 2, 2005, I was getting ready for work. My mom called and told me she couldn't wake my dad up and that she had called the hospice nurse. I went through the stages of denial I had read about. I began to rationalize his probably being over medicated or something; anything but the obvious. I knew he was ready and I told him it was OK and that I loved him and was OK with his decision. We had that conversation he a few weeks earlier on my birthday of all things. His hanging on in pain with zero quality of life wasn't really a good thing. I had previously assured him that he wouldn't have to worry about my mom; that we'd take care of her as best we could.

I don't think we ever told DeEtte how much he liked her. They never met, but she always sent him photos and cards. He loved getting those and would always call to tell me about them. I should tell her how I appreciate that, as I don't think I ever have. He always said it would be a shame if Bill let her go. You see, my dad grew up lacking a family and that was really the one thing he strived for. I only hope that as annoying as I was as a teenager, I somehow contributed to his having what he wanted. He was tough on us, but he was also easy on us and we could always get a laugh out of him.

Oddly enough, he always enjoyed it when our friends were over at the house. Now, I can't begin to imagine myself enjoying a house full of teens! He offered opinions, but never judged too harshly. If he didn't like what we were doing or thought we were acting "stupid", he let us know. He made us take responsibility for our actions, but also helped us develop. He never accepted our opinions if we couldn't back it up with reason (he probably secretly did, but made us work for it nonetheless). He didn't have much more than a high school education, but would constanlyt correct us at the dinner table when our grammar was bad or if we used slang that he didn't find proper.

My dad and mom taught me to never "judge a book by its cover". Actually, I do just that with murder mysteries books and wine bottles, but NEVER with people. My parents were also big believers in never judging someone until you “walk” in their shoes, and I have grown up with that philosophy. I am truly thankful for that. Maybe that is why I am now so determined to learn about my dad's mother, a woman he grew to pretty much despise because of his childhood. Because of him, I want to know about her and what circumstances contributed to her being the mother she was. When we mentioned wanting to research her to him when he was alive, he said he’d never talk to us again if we did. Obviously, this was a deep wound that was beyond my grasp.

My dad had long time friendships that he maintained and cherished throughout his life, and I got that from him. I, too, have been blessed with these friendships and have learned from him the importance of that. I have also learned from him (and my mom) that we all do the best we can and must move forward, trying not to be paralyzed by the past. That may have been his greatest gift to me, as I know he did struggled with his own past. I wonder what he might be doing now and how he might be presenting himself. I imagine that the hell that was his childhood and the anger he held has now dissipated. I imagine he has come to terms with his parents and is at peace, feeling youthful and well, and hanging out with the big players from his life, including our dogs, Puddles, Goldie and Jasmine (his main girls)!

His friends and the people he cared about stretched the gamut. He had childhood friends, new friends, young “biker” friends, you name it. All were welcomed in his life. I miss my dad, yet at the same time, couldn’t imagine him still hanging on in so much pain. I had to learn to let go of that selfishness. Although others were disturbed by his choice to go to hospice, I accepted it. It was his decision and I had to respect that. He had, after all, gotten to the point where he prayed to be taken in his sleep. This was from a man that was not “religious”.

I miss my dad and think about him daily. I hope he is now at peace and I look forward to the day I can see him again. I really do wish, though, that I’d get some messages to help me in my research. You know, I sleep every night, just like “Medium” does, but don’t quite have the same dream patterns. From what she’s told me, my mom does. She sees him in her dreams holding framed pictures, trying to tell her something. I wish I knew what that was. I am my father’s daughter and just as stubborn and determined. I am confident I’ll figure it out!