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 . 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  and to Alcide Brown . 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.
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 . There was no doubt. I had found my great-grandfather and therefore my grandmother’s surname—Denton.
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  and 1870 census , 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 . 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.)
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.
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.
 Obsequies of Mrs. Joanna Brown for services September 24, 1973, Dr. M.L. Thomas, Pastor.
 Louisiana State Department of Health Certificate of Marriage File No. 22-476. Groom: Willie C. Frank; Bride: Joe Anna Dantan, December 17, 1953.
 State of Louisiana Certificate of Marriage State File No. 117. Groom: Alcide Brown; Bride: Joanna Dantan, February 25, 1969.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Louisiana State Board of Health Certificate of Death of Virginia Denton, October 16, 1929.
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