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 :-).

Tracing my Family Roots

I can’t believe I’m actually doing this – writing my first blog post on my family genealogical research blog. I’ve wanted to write a blog, but really didn’t know how to write a blog, if I had enough information for the contents of a blog, or if I had what it takes to be a true blogger.

For the last ten years I’ve considered myself to be a family historian. I’ve been able to trace both sides of my family to at least the late 1700s. I have over 5,000 people in my family tree. However, I still have some puzzles left to solve. I think that as we get older, we start thinking about our mortality. I was already in my forties when the ancestry bug hit me. It was as if my ancestors were speaking to me, pushing me to become serious about capturing my family’s history.

Now, I admit, I had been procrastinating. This was primarily because one of my first cousins had already crafted a family tree for my mother’s paternal side. From his work, I thought that my work was done. However, when I really thought about it, I realized I had big gaps in my history. I was missing information from my mother’s maternal side. I had no information on my father’s side.

The catalyst into this genealogy effort for me was my father. He died when I was sixteen and I had no clue about his family aside from knowing his mother, brother, and half-siblings when I was small. I didn’t know his father’s name. I didn’t know what my paternal grandmother’s maiden name could even possibly be. (Little did I know at the time that none of my aunts and uncles knew their mother’s maiden name either! Finding my grandmother’s maiden name was one the first genealogy puzzles I solved. That story will have to be in a future blog post.)

I started attending family reunions and I found that most events had very little formal ancestral information. That gave me even more incentive to dig into my family history. At one point, the thought crossed my mind that I may have been too late. A lot of the older relatives were now deceased. I kicked myself for not asking the questions that could have quickly moved my research forward. However, ‘when you know better, you do better,’ so I had to just move on.

We scheduled a visit to go to Lake Charles, Louisiana to rendezvous with my mother who would also be visiting Louisiana at the time. Prior to this trip, I had committed myself in my mind that I was going to trace my family lineage on both sides. I had only mentioned this in passing to my husband. I hadn’t done any heavy lifting in getting to document the history of my family. It was also around this time that my ‘family tree’ star cousin informed me that his computer had crashed and he had lost all of his research that he had been working on in the last few years. I was more determined than ever to really get started. While there in Louisiana, I took the opportunity to go to my home town of Ville Platte and visit with a couple of my aunts and then I was determined to spend the night at my uncle Felton Frank’s home in Eunice. The following day, we went on to Lake Charles, to my uncle Alsen Jason. That trip I had a pad and pencil everywhere I went. I was given names, pictures, and stories I had never heard. At one point, my uncle Felton said “Tammy go through all those pictures and take whatever you want.” It was during that trip that I got the only known picture of my great-grandmother, Victoria Leday! At that time, I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see both of my uncles. Each of them died the same year, months from each other.

Here’s my uncle Alsen Jason II of Lake Charles, La.

75Alsen Jason Jr

Here’s is my uncle Felton Frank of Eunice, La.

98a Uncle felton close up

Here’s is my great-grandmother Victoria Leday, who lived in Ville Platte, La. all of her life.

96victoria leday

I know it was my ancestors that were telling me to do it now. I try never to miss a family history opportunity. I try to take pictures of everybody, even pictures of pictures. Some of my relatives have made comments that I asked too many questions, but these relatives have been the same ones showing off the genealogical print outs that I periodically send to them. I’m on the right track, and I pray that my ancestors will continue to send me on these genealogical quests. I have to close more gaps, but I’m in a good place to know who I am through my family history.

Why I do genealogy? The simple answer is this: I do genealogy so I can know my ancestors’ names. It is said that if you remember the names of those who have gone before you, they will live and never be forgotten.

This blog traces my ancestors primarily in southwest Louisiana in and around the town of Ville Platte. The surnames included in this family are as follows: Jason, Ruben (Rubin), Joseph, Snowden, Antoine, Frank (Franks), Denton, Bibbs, Lede (Leday), George, Johnson, Fields, Bales, Jones, Lavigne, Tisenot (Tezeno), Lafleur, Laviolette, and Lasonde.