Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Four Wives of Homer Woodland

Homer Floyd Woodland (1898-1959) lived a life marked by chaos and change. He was not one of my blood relatives, but two of his four wives were. Homer's first wife was the sister of my great-grandmother. Homer's second wife was the sister of my great-grandfather. Researching their family lines was how I first learned of Homer. The secrets of his fractured life still reverberate down the generations.

Homer Woodland's Parents
Ellis Doty and Alta Lucinda Flowers Doty Woodland.

Homer Woodland’s mother was Alta Lucinda Flowers (1870-1929). Alta was clearly not my blood relative, since her son Homer wasn’t. But I have a connection by marriage to Alta separate from my connections to Homer. Alta’s first husband was Ellis Doty (1861-1895). Ellis Doty's fourth cousin three times removed was Aaron Doty (1807-1843). Aaron Doty married Polly Grandy (abt 1805-1838). Polly was my five times great-aunt. So that’s my connection to Alta.

The common ancestor of both Ellis Doty and Aaron Doty was Edward Doty (1599-1655), passenger on the ship Mayflower. Edward Doty was a six times great-grandfather of Ellis Doty and he was a great-great-grandfather of Aaron Doty. During the Mayflower's Atlantic crossing Edward Doty was a servant of Stephen Hopkins (abt 1580-1644), who also happens to be connected to me by marriage.

After the death of Alta's first husband Ellis, she married William Henry Woodland (1866-1931) in 1897. According to Woodland family stories William's relationship with Alta was very violent. Nevertheless, William and Alta had six children—Homer Floyd Woodland was their first—and remained together until Alta’s death in 1929. William died of dropsy two years later. Alta and William are both buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Painesville, Lake County, Ohio, where so many of my relatives are buried.

Homer Woodland’s Birth

Homer Floyd Woodland was born on September 27, 1898, in Madison County, Ohio—I think. Different sources report different locations for his birth. Censuses report that he was born in the township of Pike in Madison County. One of his marriage licenses says he was born in Rosedale, an unicorporated community in Pike Township. The evidence seems to weigh most heavily toward Rosedale as Homer’s birthplace. Another source reports the community of Lafayette in Madison County's nearby Deer Creek Township as Homer’s birthplace. Yet another source claims the village of Perry in Lake County, Ohio. But I suspect these are incorrect.

Homer was born into a household that already had one child, the daughter of Alta and her first husband Ellis, Elsie Ellen Doty Slee (1894-1974). Elsie Doty was a half-sister to Homer Woodland and they spent parts of their childhoods together. Homer’s five younger brothers and sisters were born over the next twenty years. Homer was married to his first wife by the time his youngest sister Catherine E. Woodland Skiba (1918-1996) was born. Despite this difference in age, as adults Homer and Catherine spent time together. Yet Catherine’s obituary has no mention of Homer, although it mentions the rest of their siblings. Is this omission evidence for Homer’s fragmented life or a simple oversight?

Homer Woodland’s First Marriage

The five Salo sisters. Ida Justiina Salo Woodland  is on the top right. My great-grandmother, Edla "Edna" Salo Hietanen, is seated at lower left.

On June 30, 1917, Homer enlisted in the National Guard. Less than two weeks later he married Ida Justiina Salo (1894-1967) in Lake County, Ohio. Homer was still a minor at nineteen years old and his father had to register his consent to the marriage.

Homer Woodland and Ida J. Salo Marriage License, 1917.
Ida, at twenty-two, was the elder partner in the marriage. Her parents, Isakki Salo (1854-1908) and Helvi Serafiina Saaminen Salo (1860-1907), had both passed away in the first decade of the twentieth century. Ida was their youngest daughter, and in 1910 she’d been living with her second eldest sister, Edla Susanna “Edna” Salo Hietanen (1884-1961), and brother-in-law Matti “Matt” Hietanen Jr., (1883-1921) my great-grandparents. (You can read about Matti's suspicious death here.) By the time of her marriage, however, Ida was working as a housekeeper, location unknown

Homer and Ida’s daughter Dorothy Helmi Woodland Gray (1917-1992) was born less than five months after their marriage, so it looks like Ida conceived out of wedlock. Knowing my family history in similar cases, I think Homer and Ida were probably pressured by family members to marry in order to save face within the community of Fairport Harbor, Lake County, Ohio, Ida’s birthplace. The Helmi portion of Dorothy's name probably came from Ida’s next older sister Helmi Sofia Salo Lahti (1890-1961).

One family researcher records that Homer and Ida also had a son, Dennis Woodland. But I can find no confirmation of Dennis’s existence.

Homer in uniform, Cleveland lakefront, 1917.
Homer fought in World War I with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. He was a private first class in the 166th Infantry, 42nd Division. He fought in the Champagne-Marne campaign, July 15 to 18, 1918. During the Aisne-Marne campaign of July 18 to August 6, 1918, he was slightly wounded. Then on September 21, 1918, he was severely wounded. He was discharged honorably on February 25, 1919, with a fifteen percent disability.

While Homer was overseas something prompted Ida to send him a “Dear John” letter, and on July 15, 1921, they were divorced. Within a few years Ida married her second husband, Lawrence E. Armstrong (1898-1976). Ida and Homer’s daughter Dorothy lived with the Armstrongs and took their last name as her own. Ida and Lawrence had two children, Jean Armstrong Gilcrest (born abt 1927) and Robert F. Armstrong (1929-1998). In 1942 Ida and Homer’s daughter Dorothy married Delmar Anson Gray (1918-1944). They had a son in 1943. Delmar died in battle while serving as first Lieutenant with the US Army Air Corps 385 Bomb Group, 551 Bomb Squadron in World War II, leaving Dorothy a widow. She died decades later in 1992. Her son seems to still be living.

Homer Woodland’s Second Marriage
Cecelia F. "Selfa" "Celia" Hietanen Woodland (1902-1925).

Sometime in the second half of 1921 Homer married his second wife, Cecelia F. “Celia” Hietanen (1902-1925), who was still in her teens. Celia was the daughter of Matti Uhmusberg Hietanen Sr. (1859-1915) and Liisa Kristiina Herttua Hietanen (1861-1943), my great-great-grandparents. Celia’s brother was my great-grandfather Matti Hietanen Jr., husband of Edna Salo and brother-in-law of Homer Woodland’s first wife Ida. (Above I mentioned Matti Jr.'s questionable death.)

Homer and Celia had no children. At age twenty-three Celia died of pulmonary tuberculosis, April 15, 1925. Although Homer and Celia made their home in Cleveland, Ohio, Celia died at the home of her mother in Painesville, Ohio. Two days later she was buried in Painesville's Evergreen Cemetery. According to the account of her funeral most of her living siblings and their spouses attended, along with other relatives. But there’s no mention of her husband Homer, her in-laws who were both still alive, or any of Homer’s brothers or sisters, most of whom lived in Lake County or close to it. Why didn't any of Homer's family attend his wife's funeral? Were Homer and Celia estranged by the time of her death? It seems likely.

Homer Woodland's race car in the 1920s.
Incidentally, Homer’s occupation was listed as “Driver” in city directories of both Columbus, Ohio, in 1914 and Cleveland in 1925. But what did “Driver” actually mean? The race car that Homer owned in the 1920s might be a clue. But he was also a bus driver in 1928.

Homer Woodland’s Third Marriage

Fayme E. Smith (1898-1965) was Homer’s third wife, a daughter of European immigrants Peter N. Smith (1860-?) and Victoria Sonnie Smith (1867-?). Like Homer, Fayme had been previously married. On December 31, 1919, Fayme wed Robert D. Britt (abt 1898-1965), but they were divorced by 1926 when Marceau Carr became Robert's second wife. Robert and Fayme may have been divorced as early as 1920 when Fayme was living with her brother William E. Smith and his family in Cleveland. In 1921 she was working as a stenographer and listed under her own name, not a husband’s, in the Cleveland city directory.

Homer Woodland and Fayme Smith Marriage License, 1928. Notice it only records one of Homer's two previous marriages, the one to Celia, since the wife is deceased. Is this an oversight or more evidence for Homer keeping secrets?

Homer married Fayme on October 13, 1928. They had no children. By 1930 Homer was living as a roomer, evidently separated from Fayme, but still married to her. Fayme was living without Homer in the household of another of her brothers, Walter J. Smith. By the end of 1930 they were divorced. In 1940 Fayme was living, still single, in the household of yet another of her siblings, her sister Amelia H. Smith Frey. I don't think she ever married again before her death on January 8, 1965.

Homer Woodland’s Fourth Marriage

Helen Gertrude Croyle (1908-2008) was Homer’s fourth wife. They married on December 24, 1930, in Helen’s hometown of Kittanning, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. Homer and Helen lived in Cleveland, Ohio, and had two children, a son Dale Edward Woodland (1932-2010) and a daughter who’s still living. Whatever problems had led to Homer’s previous divorces didn’t seem to adversely affect his marriage to Helen. They remained together until Homer’s death on November 8, 1959.  About 2005 Helen left Ohio for South Carolina where her daughter and son-in-law live. She passed away on August 6, 2008, at the age of ninety-nine.

Helen Gertrude Croyle Woodland, Dale Edward Woodland, Homer Floyd Woodland, and the daughter born to Helen and Homer, at home in Cleveland, Ohio, 1941.

After Homer died, Helen shocked her daughter with the news that Helen had been Homer’s fourth wife. I recently contacted that same daughter and shocked her again by asking about her half-siblings Dorothy Woodland Gray and Dennis Woodland. She had heard only a vague mention of a single half-sibling and now assumes that meant Dorothy. Dennis, if he existed, remains elusive. Dennis may instead be Dorothy's son, not her brother.

[Update, August 8, 2013: I have confirmation that Dennis is the son of Dorothy Woodland Armstrong Gray and Delmar Anson Gray, not Dorothy's brother. There was no Dennis Woodland born to Homer and Ida Woodland.]

Homer Woodland’s Legacy

Homer F. Woodland initially captured my interest when I realized he’d married two of my great-great-aunts, already sisters-in-law when each married him. But in digging deeper, I found Homer and his multiple families even more interesting. He was clearly a man who kept secrets, even from close family members, a habit, I suspect, that may have contributed to his divorces. Even his daughter could be shocked by newly revealed information nearly half a century after his death. That makes me wonder what secrets Homer may have left that have yet to be uncovered.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting these blogs, Eric. I love reading them, especially since some of the people you write about are also relatives of mine.