Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Laborer


The third ancestor in my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project is my paternal grandfather, Ord Wehrly LeMaster (1906-1971).


Ord was born 30 September 1906 in Madison Township, Jay County, Indiana. His parents were Luman Cooper & Barbara Isabel (Wehrly) LeMaster(s).  He was the seventh son of thirteen children in the family.  

Ord's birth was judicially determined by affidavit in January 1942 because he was born before birth certificates were required in the State of Indiana.  This was likely done for the purposes of World War II draft registration or Social Security.

Ord was raised on the family farm and engaged in agricultural pursuits. In both the 1910 and 1920 census, he was enumerated in Madison Township, Jay County, Indiana outside of Salamonia on the family farm.

Hunting was also likely one of Ord's early pursuits. The only early surviving photo I have seen of him shows him after killing a bobcat.


Ord graduated from the eighth grade from Madison Township schools in 1921.  He is believed to have attended high school for some time at Fort Recovery, Ohio before joining the Army National Guard on 30 March 1923.  Ord served with the 151st Infantry Howitzer unit and the 139th Field Artillery.  He re-enlisted on October 25, 1926 and again on April 2, 1928. He was made Private First Class in July 1924 and Corporal in August 1925. For unknown reasons, he was reduced in rank to Private in January 1926 and made a Private First Class again in July 1928.  


The military units he served with saw active duty along the Mexican border. Ord returned home and graduated from Madison Township High School in 1928.  He was discharged March 15, 1930.  

He was living on the family farm on 8 April 1928 when he was shot near the heart by an unidentified chicken thief.  Newspaper accounts of the incident recounted how he returned home late one night and noticed the door of the chicken house standing open.  When he stepped towards the coop, a shot rang out.  A sack containing one chicken, evidently dropped by the thief was found near the scene.

At the time of the 1930 census, Ord was still living and working on his parents farm as a laborer. On 21 February 1932, Ord married Ruth Pauline Haley at the Mt. Zion Evangelical Church in Noble Township, Jay County, Indiana.

Ord and Ruth began raising a family in rural Jay County and times were hard.  In February 1939, a newspaper article recounted how fire had destroyed the families' home for the second time in three years.  Everything they owned in the world was lost, and they had to move in with grandma Ruth's parents.  My aunt Idola and uncle Paul still have memories of the fire and the house that was destroyed.

By the 1940 census, the family was renting a home in Portland, Jay County, Indiana, at 507 E. Main Street Apartment Two. Ord was listed as a laborer at the Sheller Manufacturing Company, yet at the time of the census, he had been unemployed for a period of 32 weeks. The 1941 city directory for Portland also shows the family living at 507 E. Walnut Street.


By the time my dad came along in 1944, the family of six were living at 1107 W. Water Street in Portland, which is where they lived the rest of their lives. 

Ord worked as a factory laborer for Delco Battery in Muncie, Indiana for several years.  City directories indicate he was in the case department, and his obituary mentions he was an inspector.  Dad has told me how when he was attending Ball State University, that he would sometimes get a ride to class with grandpa on his way to work.

Not a lot of stories have been shared by my dad or my aunts and uncles regarding their dad.  The impression I have is that he was a man of strong opinions and was a no-nonsense individual.

Ord died on 30 October 1971 in Bluffton, Wells County, Indiana while at Bluffton Clinic.  The cause of death was listed as myocardial infarction.  Burial was at the Mt. Zion Cemetery in Noble Township, Jay County, Indiana.

I have no personal memories of grandpa Ord to share, as I was just two when he passed.  The family stories are few, but he must have been a hard worker and stern disciplinarian.  I'm hoping I can collect more about him and understand him a letter better.






The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge was created by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small blog.  The premise is to write once a week about a specific ancestor – whether it be a story, a biography, a photograph or a research problem.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Dollmaker



The second ancestor in my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project is my maternal grandmother, Bonnie Mae (Lambertson) Wright.

Bonnie was born 18 February 1924 in Elwood, Madison County, Indiana at home at 1906 North F Street.  Her parents were Clemon Beals & June Kirk (Gilliland) Lambertson.  She was the third child of four and the oldest daughter.

Though her birth certificate clearly gives her middle name as "May", Bonnie used the alternative spelling "Mae" during her adult life.  I've found no evidence of a legal change, it was apparently a stylistic choice.


Ruby & Bonnie
Bonnie grew up in the house she was born which was just south of Callaway Park and the pool.  Bonnie and her brothers & sisters all spent a lot of time there working as lifeguards.  City directories show that they were living in that house through 1938.

In the 1939-40 period the family moved from Elwood to near Greentown in Howard County.  Bonnie's grandparents, Charles & Pearl (Beals) Lambertson were living near Greentown and that is likely why the move.  In an interview with Bonnie's sister, Ruby, she mentioned that her dad liked to have space for a garden, as the new place had 3 acres.


1938 freshman photo

The family moved back to Elwood, and Bonnie graduated from Elwood High School in 1941. The story I was told was that during the time she moved to Greentown, she took classes that put her ahead when she returned to Elwood and she was able to graduate in 1941, rather than 1942.

A newspaper story from 1938 mentioned a Halloween party that Bonnie attended with her future husband, Bill Wright.  I do not know if that was the first time that they met, but aunt Ruby told me that she would double date with her future husband, Bob.

Bonnie and Bill were married on 7 June 1941 in Elwood at the First Baptist Church by Rev. Sage.  Shortly afterward, they moved to Alexandria where Bill's family was from. At the time of their marriage, Bill was a factory worker and Bonnie had to have parental consent to get married, as she was only 17.

Her first child, my uncle was born in the spring of 1942 when they were living at 610 West Broadway in Alexandria.  The war was on and my grandpa enlisted together with my great-uncle Bob on 19 January 1944 in the U.S. Army, determined to become pilots.

A heart murmur kept grandpa from becoming a pilot, and instead he became a radio instructor.  One of my first genealogy interviews when I was a teenager was listening to grandma tell me about all of the various Army bases that she travelled to with grandpa with my uncle in tow.  I need to track down the notes, but I seem to remember her saying one time in Biloxi they were scared - must have been a fight between locals and servicemen or something.

Grandpa was always state-side during the war, and after his discharge he returned home and was soon employed at the local post office and Bonnie settled into being a housewife.  By the winter of 1946, they were a family of four when my mother arrived.

Bonnie and Bill were socially active in events in small town Alexandria with groups such as the Elks, the First Christian Church and school parent committees.

By the time I came along, Bonnie was 44 years old, and I was her second grandson.  She lost my grandfather 5 years later, becoming a widow at 49.  I cannot imagine how painful that loss must have been.  One of the ways she dealt with grief was the therapy of doll making.

Bonnie made a Raggedy Ann doll for her niece Vicki for a graduation gift. When Ruby took it to Guide Lamp in Anderson to show it off, people started putting in orders to have Bonnie make one for their kids and for nursing homes.



The dolls were 25 inches and each strand of hair was tied on by hand so that when the dolls were washed they wouldn't come apart.  She  made an estimated 500 of the dolls.

Bonnie enjoyed making dolls and couldn't stand to see a doll without clothes.  She loved to sew and would make matching clothes for my mother and her dolls when she was a girl. My mom still has examples of her handiwork.





As a youngster, I spent more time with Grandma Bonnie than my other grandmother because she lived closer. I can remember going shopping into downtown Alexandria at stores such as Danner's and going to the bakery to get one of their famous caramel rolls.

I remember walking over to her house after playing baseball at the Babe Ruth diamonds and hanging out. One story I remember was that she had a case of Bloody Mary Mix that she didn't want me to tell anyone about because she didn't want them to think she was a drinker.



One time she made me popcorn and I complained that it didn't have any butter on it.  She promptly went to the kitchen and brought back one of those squeeze bottles of butter and coated that popcorn so much so that it wasn't edible.  I learned a lesson that day not to complain.

When I started working on genealogy, I interviewed her about her family history for my Boy Scout merit badge.  She told me what she could about her heritage, and got me started on tracking down the mysteries on her mother's side of the family.

When I was a sophomore in high school, she became really sick with cancer.  I went with my mom & grandma to many of her visits at the Bluffton clinic.  She eventually became so ill that she had to move in with us.

Bonnie died 9 April 1984 at our house at R.R. 4 Box 328, which was rural Monroe Township, Madison County, Indiana.  I remember her passing like it was yesterday, though it was over 30 years ago.

I was glad I was able to spend some time with her asking her about her relatives.  I wish I could show her some of the things I've found that she probably didn't know about her heritage.


The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge was created by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small blog.  The premise is to write once a week about a specific ancestor – whether it be a story, a biography, a photograph or a research problem.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Postman



The first ancestor in my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project is my maternal grandfather, William Lee "Johnny Bill" Wright (1919-1973)

Bill was born 1 December 1919 in Monroe Township, Madison County, Indiana, just south of Alexandria.  His parents were Virgil Lee & Edna Muriel (Pierce) Wright. He was the only son and the middle of three children.

Though his birth certificate clearly states his name was William Lee, he was known as "Johnny Bill" to family and friends.  His first name is shared by his maternal grandfather, and his middle name was shared by his father.  His paternal grandfather was named John William.  In the 1920 census, he was enumerated as "John W.E.".

Bill was raised on the family farm and was active in agricultural pursuits.  Newspaper articles from the Alexandria Times-Tribune indicate he was a member of 4-H and raised gilts.  The family farm was the same one where I was raised, though by then it had ceased to be an active animal-farm.



In 1934, Bill was certified to attend high school after completing schooling in the Monroe Township schools through the eighth grade.  He would attend high school in Alexandria.

While in high school, Bill was a member of Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H, continuing to participate in agricultural activities such as corn shows, visiting stockyards and husking bees.  He became a member of the executive committee of FFA and was awarded prizes at the county fair.


Bill graduated from Alexandria High School in 1938 and continued to engage in agricultural pursuits. At the time of the 1940 census, he was still living with his parents, with his occupation listed as farmer.  I imagine he assumed he would continue in the family farm, but other forces were at work that would soon put him on a different path.

A newspaper story from 1938 mentioned at Halloween party that Bill attended with his future wife, Bonnie Lambertson.  I don't know if that was the first time they met but I do know that Bill's mother didn't approve of the match.  I had previously blogged about how my great-grandmother had already picked out the girl for him.

Bill and Bonnie were married on 7 June 1941 in Elwood, Madison County, Indiana at the First Baptist Church where Bonnie's family attended.  I believe that for a short time, they set up house in Elwood, but it wasn't long before they were back in Alexandria.

My uncle Terry was born in the spring of 1942, the same week that Bill's parents  purchased the home at 610 West Broadway in Alexandria that would be Bill and Bonnie's home for the rest of their lives.  Though Bill & Bonnie made the payments on the house, this purchase caused some consternation with Bill's older sister, as she thought her parents had a house bought for Bill and Bonnie.

Bill was working as an armature winder at Delco Remy in Anderson before going into the military.

Even with a young baby at home, there was a war on and Bill was determined to sign up.  He and my-great uncle Bob Walsh enlisted in the U.S. Army together  on 19 January 1944.  Supposedly, Bill's mother was so upset at this that she tried to get enlistment rescinded, even writing Congressmen to get him out.


Bill served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a LORAN mechanic & instructor. LORAN is short for long range navigation. He wanted to be a pilot, but a heart murmur kept him from being one.  The story Bonnie told me was that at each post, they would find the murmur and he would be under observation for a period.  I would newspaper mention of him being sent from a radio school in Racine, Wisconsin to Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois.  Bonnie told me of time in Biloxi, Mississippi as well.  Both Bonnie and my uncle Terry travelled with Bill at each assignment.

Bill was discharged 27 April 1946 from the separation center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  He returned home to Alexandria, Indiana.  According to his separation paperwork, he applied for an Indiana service bonus.  



Shortly after returning, he began working at the Alexandria Post Office, where he worked the rest of his life. Local tidbits mentioned in the Alexandria Times-Tribune mention "Johnny Bill" at the post office and his quips of humor.  He was known for doing crossword puzzles and reading the dictionary.  He was an avid fisherman, who often took the family to Lake Tippecanoe and later Silver Lake.  I didn't pick up the fishing gene, but my brother did, and still has some of Bill's equipment.



During this post-war period, Bill was active in the local Elks and the American Legion.  My mom came along, and Bill was active with the parents of Clarke Elementary and later the high school.  In 1962, he helped host the meeting of the local 3070 of Postal Clerks and was active in community affairs.

By the time I came along, Bill was 49 years old.  I was his second grandson.  However, I don't really have too many memories of him.  One memory I have is of me &  mom walking on the sidewalk in town and grandpa coming down the street in his pickup truck and taking us to his place.  Another memory I have is that he liked to keep Pringle's potato chips at his house hidden in a nail barrel that had been converted into a table.

Bill died of a coronary occlusion on 9 July 1973 at Community Hospital in Anderson, Madison County, Indiana.  He was 53 years old. According to his death certificate, he died at 12:44 a.m.  I have a vague memory of that happening, mostly feelings of panic, perhaps I heard the phone calls discussing what happened.  At the time of his death, I was four years old.

I wish I would have been able to know him.  I'm left to reading newspaper tidbits and stories passed on from others in order to get a picture of who he was.

The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge was created by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small blog.  The premise is to write once a week about a specific ancestor – whether it be a story, a biography, a photograph or a research problem.