Monday, January 12, 2015

Dropping Bombs

Lucille and her mother Dell.
I love my grandma. She’s a calm, matter-of-fact, generally happy woman, who laughs easily. She’s ninety-eight years old, and she plans on making it to one hundred.

Grandma’s not a secretive person. I’ve spent time with her discussing her life and our family. And she’s willing to tell me her stories. Yet not too long ago, when I was asking her about family matters, she dropped a bombshell.

For years I’d known the general outline of Grandma’s early life.

My paternal grandmother, Verna Lucille Evans Shanower Cote—called Lucille—was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1916, an only child. Her parents, Joseph Edward Evans (1884-1943) and Adella Cecil "Dell" Grandy (1888-1974), divorced when she was just four years old. Lucille and her mother Adella moved in with Adella’s parents—Millard Curtis Grandy (1867-1941) and Bertha May Flora Grandy (1868-1942)—at their home in Cleveland. For the next few years, while Adella worked as a telephone operator, Lucille was basically raised—along with her aunt Helene Grandy (1907-1987) and first cousin once removed Elva Flora (1907-unk)—by her grandmother, Bertha.

The Grandy Family, l to r: Clayton Curtis Grandy, Verna M. Grandy Lundberg, Elma Helene Grandy Haylor Humes, Bertha May Flora Grandy, Grace L. Grandy Draper, Millard Curtis Grandy, Inez Irene Grandy Balcomb Kolinski, Adella Cecil "Dell" Grandy McElroy Evans Hundhammer.

So much for the outlines, but I wanted to get some detail out of Grandma. “How much did you see your father after your parents divorced?” I asked her.

Joseph Evans and Lucille, c. 1917.
“Oh, he came by once in a while,” Grandma answered. “He’d send a card at Christmas. But I didn’t see him again after he married his second wife and moved to California.”

Whoa! Hold on! Second wife? Moved to California?

My uncle, Lucille’s son, who happened to be in the room, did a double-take.

Trying to process this revelation, I said, “Grandma, I don’t remember hearing this before. Your father re-married and moved to California? I thought he was buried in Cleveland.”

“They shipped his body back,” she said.

This was news to everyone except Lucille—including my dad, who I phoned to tell soon after. Was this the first time in over seven decades that she’d bothered to mention it?

Maybe. She wasn’t keeping it a secret on purpose. Until I asked, there just hadn’t been any particular reason for her to talk about it.

But what did my great-grandfather Joseph Evans’s second marriage mean? Did my grandmother have half-siblings out there somewhere?

I started research.

Grandma’s information was right. She’s in her late nineties, but her mind is unimpaired. On October 29, 1930, more than a decade after his divorce from Adella Grandy, Joseph Evans married Elizabeth Prosper (1891-unk) in Cleveland, Ohio. I uncovered no children from this marriage, so no half-siblings.

Sarah Jane Hopton Evans and Jonathan Rapier Evans, c. 1940.
It’s unclear when Joseph moved to California. The 1940 census, ten years after his wedding to Elizabeth, lists him living in Cleveland with his Welsh immigrant parents, Jonathan Rapier Evans (1860-1944) and Sarah Jane Hopton Evans (1860-1948). But California death records confirm that he died three years after that, June 12, 1943, in Los Angeles. His body was shipped back across the country and buried in the Monroe Street Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Elizabeth Prosper, Joseph’s second wife, had been married twice before. Before 1910 she married Harry J. Damme (1889-1923) in New York and they had four children. First husband Harry died, leaving Elizabeth a widow. In 1923 she married a second time to Turkish immigrant Steve Totolidis (or maybe Fotolidis) (abt 1894-unk) in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Perhaps Steve Totolidis died, although I suspect he and Elizabeth divorced, leaving her single to marry Joseph Evans in 1930.

That’s all I know about Elizabeth Prosper Damme Totolidis Evans. One of her four children with Harry Damme, Harry John Damme Jr., had descendants, but I can’t find any who might be able to provide further details about Elizabeth.

After learning about the second marriage of my great-grandfather Joseph Evans, I asked my grandmother whether she had any other deep, dark family secrets that she hadn’t told anyone. She laughed and told me that she didn’t, that her father’s second marriage hadn’t been a secret, there’d just never been a reason to mention it before.

No more family secrets. Right.

While doing more genealogical research some time later I came across the marriage certificate of Lucille’s parents, Joseph Evans and Adella Grandy. No surprises there—but, wait! What was that listed with Adella’s information? A previous marriage? Whoa, another bombshell.

I immediately e-mailed my dad and my uncle. What was this about their grandmother Adella’s marriage to a Charles E. McElroy (1888-unk), who she’d divorced before marrying Joseph Evans? Did any of them know about it?


So my uncle asked his mother Lucille about this first marriage of Adella’s. Lucille explained.

After Lucille graduated from high school in the 1930s, a man she didn’t know paid a visit to her mother Adella. Lucille asked her mother who this stranger was. Adella explained that he was her first husband, Charles McElroy. Today Lucille suspects that if Charles McElroy’s visit hadn’t prompted Lucille’s curiosity, Adella would never have revealed to her daughter the fact of her first marriage.

Marriage record of Charles E. McElroy and Adella C. Grandy, May 9, 1911. Charles's first wife is listed as deceased. As always, you may click the image to see it larger in a new window.

My uncle told me that Lucille got a good laugh out of the idea that she’d kept this bombshell a secret on purpose. Actually, she hadn’t mentioned her mother’s first marriage to me simply because she’d completely forgotten about it.

(An aside: I should have discovered Adella’s marriage to Charles McElroy earlier. Another family researcher, a McNaughton cousin, had Adella and Charles’s marriage recorded on his family tree. I’d seen that information there, but I’d dismissed Charles McElroy’s name as being an error.)

Adella Grandy and Charles McElroy had no children together, so Grandma remains a single child. However, Charles McElroy was married both before his marriage to Adella on May 10, 1911, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and again after their divorce in October 1913.

Lorriane F. McElroy Pecka, 1927.
Who was Charles McElroy’s first wife? I can’t find her name recorded anywhere, but in 1906 a daughter was born from their union, Lorriane F. McElroy (1906-unk). When Lorriane married James Pecka (abt 1901-unk) in Cleveland on June 1, 1927, she listed her mother on her marriage license as Anna Voelker (1886-unk). But Anna Voelker was Charles McElroy’s third wife, not his first wife who was Lorriane’s mother. Charles's first wife was recorded earlier as deceased. But is that true? Was third wife Anna listed on Lorraine’s marriage license as a matter of convenience, since she was Lorriane’s step-mother? Or was Charles McElroy actually married to Anna Voelker twice, both before and after he was married to Adella Grandy? Who knows?

Another question remains. Why did Charles McElroy pay that visit to his second wife Adella after Lucille had graduated high school in 1935, more than twenty years after Charles and Adella had been divorced? Was Charles trying to re-ignite their relationship, despite the fact that his third marriage seems to have been intact? Lucille doesn’t know, so there’s little chance anyone does.

Aloysius "Ollie" Hundhammer.
After marriages to both Charles McElroy and Joseph Evans, Adella Cecil Grandy McElroy Evans married a third time in 1924, just after Lucille turned eight years old. I knew about this marriage to Aloysius “Ollie” Hundhammer (1894-1964), since there had never been any secret about it. Ollie moved his new wife Adella and step-daughter Lucille to Mentor, Ohio.

According to Lucille, Ollie was a mean man. He was also Catholic. My Protestant grandmother Lucille for decades looked unfavorably at Catholics, partly because of her mean stepfather Ollie. Ironically, however, following the death of Lucille’s first husband, my grandfather, Stanley Raymond Shanower (1917-1987), she married a Catholic, Rene Cote (1906-2002), as her second husband in 1990.

After the bombshell revelations about her parents’ marriages, I asked Grandma again whether there were any more family secrets that she was keeping. She laughed and told me no.

But she hadn’t thought her father’s second marriage was any big deal, much less a secret.

And she hadn’t even remembered her mother’s first marriage.

So who knows what other secrets she may hold?

Grandma and me, 2014.

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