My Grandmother’s Name?

Momí Joanna
Momí Joanna

 

Momí Joanna, my paternal grandmother, moved to our house when her youngest son threatened to kill her. This son, my uncle Albert, had two daughters he named Judy and a liked to drink. He was known to some as a fighter, always in trouble. One day, he was picking on a much smaller man with the last name of Doucet.   Doucet slashed at him with a razor. Uncle Albert had to be rushed to the hospital with long cuts across his entire body and suffered significant blood loss.  His body rejected the blood transfusion.  He had been given the wrong blood type.

This all happened in the 60s. My mother Ella, along with my father and Momí Joanna went to visit him when he was in the hospital. Only my mother was allowed to see him. Although Ella begged him to see his mother and brother, he refused.

He always blamed Momí. For everything: for the drinking, the fighting, and the hospital bed. When he was growing up, Momí was too soft. He’d get into trouble, with neighbors or with the law, and she’d just give him a pass. “I know that wasn’t my Albert,” she’d say after he was caught with another boy stealing a bike. “I’m not going to touch him. I know that wasn’t him.”

On some level, Uncle Albert wished she had scolded or hit him when he was young.  Maybe he thought if she had, he would have turned out in a better way.

“No,” he told my mother. “I don’t want to see her. I hate her.”

Shortly after, Uncle Albert died.

That was not my experience with Uncle Albert.   He was to me a comforting soul.  He would watch me and my youngest sister while my mother, his sister-in-law, worked in her beauty shop.  I remember him lifting me and sister up into the tree and we would jump into his waiting arms laughing and giggling.  He was my protector and with him I had no fears.

There is one image that comes to mind when I think of Momí Joanna.  I must have been about 4 years old when she came to live with us. I picture her in our house. She is matter-of-factly squeezing my mother’s breast.

“Oh, no, girl, that’s drying up. That is drying up.”

My grandmother had nine kids.  She was a breastfeeding expert. Everyone called her Masistah. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned the reason why she was living with us. Her youngest son had threatened to kill her.

Momí Joanna was born November 18, 1906 and passed away September 20, 1973. [Per Social Security she was born November 18, 1907.] In her obituary, she’s listed as the daughter of a Mr. and Mrs. Silas Daniel [1]. At first, I took the obituary at its face value. Then, one day, my mother mentioned in passing that she did not think Daniel was my grandmother’s true last name.

Over the years, I had heard many names that were said to be my grandmother’s surname: Danner, Daniel, Dante, even Fontenot. I was intrigued. What was my grandmother’s full name?

This research started about 2003. My father, Welton Frank, had already died. So, first, I asked my father’s eldest brother Felton. He suggested Daniel and Dante, but he didn’t really know. I followed up to ask my father’s other siblings: they offered their ideas, but they, too, were unsure. I even asked if they would look at their birth certificates. I had no takers. Reading this, I would imagine you’re thinking, “How can a child not know their mother’s full name?” Well, that was my thought, also.

Uncle Felton did give me a hint on my grandmother’s paternal side: he told me about Uncle Charlie, who was a paternal uncle of my grandmother. Both my mother and my older sister also mentioned an Uncle Charlie. His face was disfigured after being burned badly in a cooking fire accident. He lived primitively, in a log cabin in the woods, possibly in the Bayou Chicot area.

I created a list of known facts about Momí so that I could get to her last name:

  • Father’s name was Silas.
  • Mother’s name was Victoria Leday (Lede).
  • Race would probably be listed as Colored, Negro, or Black.
  • Silas had a brother named Charlie (Charles).
  • Last name may start with a “D”, possibly a “Dan?”.
  • Family most likely lived in and around Saint Landry Parish.
  • Her birth was November 18 in the year 1906 or 1907.
  • She was born, lived, and died in Ville Platte, Louisiana.
  • She had very little schooling.
  • She was married at least 3 times, maybe 4 times: Chester Frank (my grandfather), Horace Ardoin (not sure they married), WC Frank, and Alcide Brown.

So, next I started searching the census the 1910 for a Joanna Daniel, Silas Daniel, and Charles Daniel; this yielded no results. I also looked at the 1900 census to see if I could find anything on Charles or Silas. Still, I could not find anyone who could be my family members.

In March 2008, when I visited the archives in Ville Platte, Louisiana, and obtained copies of two of my grandmother’s marriage certificates, for her marriages to Willie C. Frank [2] and to Alcide Brown [3]. On the license for her marriage to Frank, my grandmother’s typewritten name is listed as Joe Anna Dantan. On the other license, her type written name was listed as Joanna Dantan. However, in both cases, the actual signatures look different from the typewritten names. On the first license the signature looks like Deonton and it looks like Danton on the second license. The first license listed Charlie Denton as a witness.

WC FrankJoanna DentonML

I took another look at the 1900 census, concentrating on Silas and Charles. I still didn’t get any results using the surname Deonton, Dantan, or Danton. I then narrowed the focus on Uncle Charlie and began using search wildcard “*”, I searched for “Charles Dan*”, “Charles Din*” and “Charles Don*”. Still nothing.

Then, I entered “Charles Den*”. Across the screen was the name “Charles Denton.” I selected the record.

In 1900, Charles was the 15-year old son of Samuel and Virginia Denton. He had several siblings: Junis, William, Richard, Caroline, Corinne, and most interestingly a 20-year old brother by the name of Cylus Denton [4]. There was no doubt. I had found my great-grandfather and therefore my grandmother’s surname—Denton.

Charles Den* Census
Charles Den* Census

From, this 1900 census find, I was led to other censuses and found more information on Silas, his siblings, his parents, and grandparents. Silas and Charles were the sons of Samuel and Virginia Denton. I traced back to the 1880 [5] and 1870 census [6], I found that Samuel was the son of Moses and Maria Denton.  Samuel had typhoid fever and passed away on September 28, 1926.  Virginia Denton passed away October 16, 1929 of acute indigestion [7]. Her death certificate lists Charlie Denton as the informant (the person who provides information on the deceased, which may include the name, date and place of birth, and address.)

Virginia Denton Death Certificate
Virginia Denton Death Certificate
Sam Denton death certificate
Sam Denton death certificate

In 2010, I found the marriage license of my paternal grandparents.  [See previous post.]  The names were spelled, let’s say, differently.  Also, obtained a copy of Silas’ death certificate where I learned that additional information on Silas.  His nickname was ‘Buster’.  He had remarried and was living in St. Mary Parish.

Silas Buster Denton draft
Silas Buster Denton draft
Silas Denton Death Certificate
Silas Denton Death Certificate

I took a DNA test recently and matched with an unfamiliar cousin. Together, we are now exploring the possibility of our connection through Samuel Denton.  Just think, if I had not followed the call of my ancestors, I would not have looked into identifying my grandmother’s ancestors and her name may have forever been lost.

With this research effort, may my grandmother’s name always be remembered: Joanna Denton.

Notes:

[1] Obsequies of Mrs. Joanna Brown for services September 24, 1973, Dr. M.L. Thomas, Pastor.

[2] Louisiana State Department of Health Certificate of Marriage File No. 22-476. Groom: Willie C. Frank; Bride: Joe Anna Dantan, December 17, 1953.

[3] State of Louisiana Certificate of Marriage State File No. 117. Groom: Alcide Brown; Bride: Joanna Dantan, February 25, 1969.

[4] 1900 U. S. Census, Census Place: Ward 5, St Landry, Louisiana; Roll: 581; Page: 28A: Enumeration District: 59; FHL microfilm: 1240581. Charles Denton and Cylus [Silas] Denton.

[5] 1880 U. S. Census, Census Place: 5th Ward, St Landry, Louisiana; Roll: 470; Family History Film: 1254470; Page: 325C; enumeration District: 043: Image: Samuel Denton, head of household.

[6] 1870 U. S. Census, Census Place: Ward 3, St Landry, Louisiana; Roll: M593_530; Page: 110A; Image: 225; Family History Library Film: 552029. Image: Samuel Denton.

[7] Louisiana State Board of Health Certificate of Death of Virginia Denton, October 16, 1929.

No part of this document can be reproduced without the written authorization of the author.

Finding Chester Frank

My father, Welton Frank, didn’t know his father.  In my last blog post, I talked about Uncle Felton and the last time I saw him.  It was during this trip that he provided me with information about my paternal family.  Uncle Felton said that he only recalled meeting his father twice. The last time they saw him, Welton was 10 years old.    Uncle Felton had no idea when my grandfather, Chester had died.

Felton Frank and Welton Frank in the 1950s
Felton Frank and Welton Frank in the 1950s

My uncle went on to tell me the names of Chester’s immediate family.

“My grandfather’s name was Eve,” he said. Eve. I thought he had misspoken and had just told me his grandmother’s name.

“And what was your grandfather’s name?” I asked.

My uncle looked at me like I had a hearing problem. He said it again. “Eve.” I wrote the name down as is, although I was still confused. It wasn’t until later that I realized that he wasn’t saying “Eve,” the common female English name, but “Yves”, a typical French male name. Chester’s mother was Ozelia Bibbs.

Uncle Felton said that Chester had several brothers that he could recall: Clifton, Gilbert, and Johnny.  Only Chester and Clifton had the same mother and father.  Uncle Felton said that Johnny Jones was not his real name.  Uncle Felton, though, could not remember his original first name, but he knew Johnny’s surname was ‘Bazile’.   Clifton and his descendants use the surname Franks, whereas Chester and his descendants use the surname Frank.

Apparently, ‘Uncle Johnny’ had gotten into some kind of a dispute with some white people and was threatened with death, so he fled Louisiana.  According to Uncle Johnny’s obituary he moved to Orange, Texas in 1945 and moved back to Louisiana under his assumed name in 1980.

I used the census records, his obituary and death record to try to figure out Uncle Johnny’s real name.  Per his obituary, Uncle Johnny was born in 1904.  The U.S. 1910 census record for Ozelia Bibbs, listed several sons, including a son named Robert who was born about 1904!    Uncle Johnny’s only son was also named Robert Jones. Based on this information, I think we can assume that Robert is Uncle Johnny’s original name.

Uncle.Johnny Jones

1910 Census Record for Ozelia Bibbs and sons.
1910 Census Record for Ozelia Bibbs and sons.

Chester Frank 1910 census_Ozelia Bibbs typed

From the 1910 census, I also got the approximate 1909 birth year of my grandfather.  So, on the U. S. 1930 census, I searched and found several Chester Franks that were born in Louisiana, but only one born in 1909.

Chester Frank 1930 census_3 records

He was living in Beaumont, Texas with a cousin, Joe Antwin.   I did not know of a relative named Joe Antwin (a variation of Antwine and Antoine.)  Since Antoine is a common name in southwestern Louisiana, I figured it was feasible that this could be my relatives. I believed this was my family. I just had to find the link.

Chester Frank 1930 census_ Antwin record

Chester Frank 1930 census_ Antwin TYPED

Chester and Joanna, my father’s parents, were married December 12, 1925 in Ville Platte, Louisiana.

Chester Frank_Joanna Denton marriage pg1
Chester Frank_Joanna Denton marriage pg1
Chester Frank_Joanna Denton marriage pg2
Chester Frank_Joanna Denton marriage pg2

This 1930 census record details a Chester who is Black, male, born in Louisiana, and widowed.  If this is the right Chester, it’s interesting to note that he and my grandmother, Joanna, never divorced and she was very much alive at the time this census was taken.  She didn’t remarry until 1953 and she died in 1973.  Around the time of this census, my grandmother was cohabiting with another man with whom she had seven children.  So, I guess my grandparents, for all practical purposes, were ‘dead’ to each other and their relationship with each other may have attributed to the estrangement between Chester and his sons, Felton and Welton.

It’s important that a family historian know the migration patterns of the family in which they are researching.  During the 1940s on through the late 1960s, many residents of southwest Louisiana, including St. Landry and Evangeline Parishes, migrated   overwhelmingly to Texas and California.  Migration cities included Beaumont, Houston, Port Arthur, Los Angeles, Richmond, San Francisco, and Oakland.   Knowing that Beaumont was a common migration point for people from Ville Platte made it even more feasible that this could be a record of my relatives.

Well, my ancestors really wanted me to make the link and soon I would have my answer to my questions on Chester and his relation to Joe.

I try to visit my eldest sister at least twice a year, since she has moved back to our home town of Ville Platte.  My visits also allow me opportunities to do first-hand research at the local courthouses. During one of my visits to my sister’s home, I was rummaging through my father’s documents, which had been in my sister’s possession since our father’s death in 1978.  In these documents I found a genealogist’s treasure—obituaries (funeral programs).  I was giddy as I ran to my sister to tell her what I had found.  I asked and she was okay with me taking the obituaries home with me.   Once I was home and able to look through my find, I located something.  Buried in the stack of obituaries was one for a Joseph Zena Antwine.  Had I found Joe Antwin?

Picture of Joseph Zena Antwine taken from his obituary.
Picture of Joseph Zena Antwine taken from his obituary.

Chills hit my body.  This is usually a sign from my ancestors to let me know I’m on the right track.  I felt in my bones this had to be the same Joe Antwin from the 1930 census record.

To help me make a quick connection, I called my Dad’s first cousin who is the daughter of Clifton Franks, my grandfather’s brother.  I had met her for the first time in 2004 at my Uncle Felton’s funeral.  She was able to confirm that Chester and Clifton did have a cousin named ’Zena’ (pronounced Zay – na), but she didn’t know how they were kin.

I received the Texas death certificate of a Chester Frank who died in Beaumont, Texas on Oct 9, 1938. This confirmed for me – this record was of my grandfather.  He died of congestive heart failure at the age of 30.  This information was also corroborated by the marriage license of my paternal grandmother, Joanna Denton.  On her second marriage license, she indicated that her first husband, Chester Frank, died in 1939 (off by one year) in Beaumont.   Through further research, I was able to ascertain that Joe Antwine and Chester Frank were first cousins.  Chester’s mother, Ozelia Bibbs and Joe’s mother, Henrietta Bibbs were sisters.   Henrietta was married to Joe’s father, Moses Antwine.

Death Certificate of Chester Frank
Death Certificate of Chester Frank

I found Chester and I continue looking for other ancestors!  Happy searching :-).