Sunday, August 28, 2011

Claude Harrison Abbott (1915-1978)

I don't remember meeting my husband's Uncle Claude (although I suspect that he was at our wedding), but when I look at family photos from my husband's family, I sometimes catch my breath for a moment - in some poses, he looks exactly like an earlier copy of Greg. Several months ago, as keeper of the family history memorabilia, I received a box of bits and pieces from his life....

Oldest brother of my husband's father, when Claude was born, the family still used horses for labor on the farm. Women still wore floor length dresses. This picture, taken when he was almost 4 1/2 years old, feels like it's definitely out of another time and place.

Since Claude was over a decade older than my father-in-law, there aren't many stories of his childhood floating around any more. By the time Bill was old enough to really get to know him at all, Claude had left home to join the military.

Only one small story, of an incident in his high school years, has survived. As I related in "Tough Times Helped Shape Tough People in Depression-Era Oklahoma," Claude had gone to a meeting one night in a near-by town, driving the family's only car. When he returned, he forgot to drain the radiator. The water froze in the radiator, the car engine was ruined, and the car remained unused and unusable in the barn for the rest of the Depression. I can barely imagine how upset his parents were....

That story almost seems like an anomaly, since most of the other things I know about Claude point to a highly responsible person - but, then, it was from his high school years!

The photo below is Claude's senior picture from Shamrock High School. He was the vice president of his graduating class...of 19 students.

In 1935, about a year after he graduated from Shamrock High School, Claude joined the U.S. Army Air Corps at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where he served in the 1st Balloon Squadron for 3 years as a truck driver and mechanic. During this time he met, and became best friends with, a young sailor named Tom Graham.

As his obligated time began to wind up, Claude fell in love with and married Virginia Ruth Jones. The marriage occurred in May, 1938...but Claude and Virginia kept the marriage a secret from his superiors in the military. He wasn't planning to re-enlist.

Plans changed, though, and when Claude did try to re-enlist 6 weeks later, he tried to do so as a married man, which required written permission. His commanding officer, Maj. Ira R. Koenig, of 1st Balloon Squadron, supported his application, listing 20 points related to why Claude should be allowed to re-enlist. Among the points made were Claude's "excellent" service, "excellent" character, his "excellent" probable future value to the service, his "exceptionally good" ability to handle his own finances, the "excellent" standing in the community of the applicant's wife, and his "apparently far above the average" sense of responsibility (as it would apply to a family). Claude's military pay was listed as $30/month. Virginia Ruth was said to be making $90/month as a public school teacher and she had no dependents.

A brief reason was given for the clandestine marriage, "Private Abbott did not contemplate re-enlisting and made this fact known to the undersigned [Maj. Koenig]. He was expecting connections with the Cameron College Athletic organization which did not materialize." (Cameron University is in Lawton, Oklahoma. Presumably this is an athletic organization of the precursor to that school.)

Major Koenig sent the request up the chain of command. The commander of the School Troops Division, Lt. Col. D. B. Howard, approved the petition and passed it on again.

However, the Commandant of the Flight Artillery School did not agree. Based on the fact that Claude's monthly pay was less than $50/month and that he had married without permission, his request was denied. "The fact that the wife is working and receiving compensation should be considered, but experience has shown that such compensation can not be counted on as continuous and permanent." It was expected that Virginia Ruth would be getting pregnant and would not be able to continue working as a school teacher, since in those days teachers were not allowed to continue working once their pregnancy began to "show."

After being unable to re-enlist, Claude worked for several years in the Lawton, Oklahoma, area at the Stephens brothers' Texaco filling station and at Ozmun Wholesale grocery. Lawton, Oklahoma, was the area where he and Virginia Ruth had met and married, and her parents lived very nearby in Cache.

There's another brief story I like about Claude and his young wife from this time in their lives. Vergie, Claude's mother, had been very deaf since she was relatively young [18 or 19 years old? or in the Flu Epidemic of 1918? There is debate on the subject.]. At any rate, Vergie caught the flu and the resulting infection caused her eardrums to perforate and her hearing to become quite poor. For Mother's Day in 1941, Claude and Virginia Ruth gave Vergie a hearing aid and, for the first time in over 20 years, she could hear reasonably well again. This hearing aid had a huge battery pack that Vergie had to strap to her leg, while the receiver was on her chest. For most of the rest of her life, it was common to see Vergie answer the phone "upside down," with the mouthpiece at her mouth and the speaker aimed downwards at her chest. Although she eventually tried to transition to more modern types of hearing aids, she always came back to the type with the chest receiver, as these seemed to work best for her.

On October 14, 1942, with the U.S. fully committed in WW II, Claude re-enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Shortly thereafter, he became an aircraft mechanic after completing training at the Enid Army Flying School.

A sign of VERY different times: On March 16, 1943, Claude received written permission to spend one night (5 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning) in a local hotel with his wife of almost 5 years, Virginia Ruth. I'm not sure I would have believed it if I hadn't seen the paperwork to prove it!

According to a small newspaper clipping from the Lawton Constitution, dated October 28, 1945, Claude received his wings and the rank of flight officer after completing 6 months of training as a B-29 engineer at Hondo, Texas. The photo below is from this general time frame.

To the left, the snapshot shows Claude and Virginia Ruth in Sacramento, California, in 1947. I don't know why they were there, but presumably it had something to do with Claude's career, as he is in uniform. It's one of the few photos that I have of the two of them together.

Eventually Claude completed a career with the Air Force, retiring in 1962 as a Master Sergeant. During his years with the Army Air Corps/Air Force, he served in Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and West Germany. Virginia Ruth worked as a school teacher, but they were unable to ever have children of their own.

Virginia Ruth wrote poems to "her Claude" occasionally. One was in his wallet when he died. I have few photos of the 2 of them together, though. I suspect that Virginia Ruth kept most of those after Claude died. She lived many more years and our family was not notified right away when she passed on, so I have no idea where those photos have gone. I do really wish that I had one.

After his retirement, Claude joined Graham, Inc., a pest control company owned by his old best friend, Tom Graham, in Oklahoma City. He served as a corporate officer, being assistant vice-president when he died of esophageal cancer in 1978.

Since Claude H. and Virginia Ruth (Jones) Abbott left no children of their own, I wanted to share what I know of their story with others. Their names bring a smile to the faces of those who knew them - and I can't think of a much warmer legacy than that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

George Washington Abbott...

...or, as I think of him, "GW," was born about 1838 in Indiana to John and Ellender Abbott. John and Ellender had been married on Christmas Day, 1815, in Alexandria, Kentucky. They had quite a few older children: Susan, Mary, Catharine, Ellen, William, James, and Edward. (A younger sister, Margaret, completed the family when she was born in 1842.) The family had only moved to Indiana about a year before George was born.

The family was still in Ripley County, Indiana, when the 1850 census was taken and George was 12. By then his older sisters had married and moved out of the house.

By 1857, however, the John Abbott family had moved to Tazewell County, Illinois, and on October 30, 1857, John deeded 40 A. of land to son George W., in exchange for $1 and the promise to care for his parents "during the full term of their natural lives." George would have been about 19 or 20 at the time.

On March 17, 1859, George married Martha A. Barr. In January, 1860, their son Edward was born.

On February 11, 1860, George and Martha sold the 40 acre tract he'd been given by his father for $700. This obviously upset his father. In June, 1860, John Abbott sued George and the man who'd bought the land to get the land returned to him. The case dragged on for about a year, but the land was eventually returned to John Abbott.

Also in June of 1860, about the same time that John pressed the suit against his son George, the 1860 census puts Ellender, George's mother, living with George and Martha and their son Edward. (This is the only mention of Edward, so presumably he died as a young child.)

On July 18, 1861, George and Martha's second son was born, John William Abbott.

In August, 1862, Allen Henry Abbott, their third son, was born.

There is reasonable evidence that another child was probably born around June or July of 1864.

However, in September, 1864, George Washington Abbott married Lucinda A. Dancy in Peoria, Illinois, right across the river from Pekin. In January, 1866, Martha sued for divorce from George, stating abandonment of her and their 3 small children. Further testimony in the case stated that George was " in...Peoria in open state of adultery with some woman...." There was an attempt to give Martha legal custody of the children, but the clause was struck out and no further mention of the children was made in the divorce documents.

Four years later, on July 18, 1870, Martha Abbott was living as a domestic servant with two children, Charles (6) and Minnie (2), in the home of Charles Walker and his family in Pekin.

Meanwhile, on August 3, 1870, George Washington Abbott was living in southern Missouri, with his wife Lucinda and his sons, William (7) and Allen (6). He was working at a sawmill. His rights to vote had been denied.

Interestingly, there is a second marriage record for George and Lucinda, witnessed by William Rounsville, Police Magistrate, in Peoria, Illinois - dated May 13, 1873. Presumably the first marriage was determined to be null and void, since George was still married to Martha at that time.

Despite being married twice, things didn't go too well for George and Lucinda's union either. In June 1879, Lucinda petitioned for divorce from George in Jasper County, Missouri.

The last we know of George, there was a daughter born to him and Laura C. C. (nee Dickson) Abbott in Jasper County, Missouri, on October 28, 1884. Laura was listed as 24 years old, born in Arkansas, and with 2 prior children. George's occupation was listed as "engineer."

Where and when did George die? We have no idea. Did his marriage to Laura last longer than his marriages to Martha and Lucinda. We don't know that either. Nor have we been able to chase down Charles or Minnie Abbott, or George and Laura's daughter.

It's a sad story. It's not surprising that major parts of it were omitted when telling youngsters about their ancestors. What was George like? Presumably he must have been charming - his parents gave him their farm, and he convinced 3 women to marry him. Living up to his responsibilities appears to have been a problem for him, though. We'll keep searching - who knows what we'll find to further flesh out this all-too-human ancestor.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Family Myths - The Roving Father

One of the double edged swords in chasing family history is the family myth. None are coming to mind on my family's side, but Greg's family has a couple that we are still chasing down.

The myth that seems central to his father's family is the story of George Washington Abbott. As I understand this family tale....

"George Washington Abbott married Martha around 1860 and had 4 children in Pekin, Illinois. At some point he packed up the two eldest, John William (Greg's ancestor) and Allen Henry, and left his wife and 2 younger children behind in Pekin. He traveled south and west, eventually leaving his two boys with a farm family in southeast Kansas and disappearing.

"He came back a few years later to borrow a team of horses. He let his boys know that he had remarried in Arkansas, then he disappeared again. A couple years later, his widow came by to return the borrowed horses, but John William figured that she needed them more than he did, so he let her keep them."

John William was, understandably, not too fond of talking about his father, so this is all that had been pieced together by the family in the 1970's. John William had passed away many years before, so it wasn't possible to ask him for further details.

This myth took some serious work to penetrate and we don't have all the details yet, but like so many family tales, it turned out to be mostly far as it went. A lot of the messiest details were omitted in constructing the myth, but they add context and reason and understanding, if not pride. There's a bit of bigamy, apparent shiftlessness, and at least 2 divorces involved. I guess every family has at least one black sheep. I'll continue filling in the story in increments, as it's rather long and complicated. Who knows? Maybe someone will read this and help me fill in the details that we don't know yet....