Zula Ley: Little-Known Fact #3


Robert Earl Ley Sr. and Son

A very young Robert Earl Ley Jr. and his father, Robert Sr.

Secret Wedding for Zula Fisher & Earl Ley?

There are certain major checkboxes in the Genealogy-by-numbers game. Birth and death are the bookends. And, if a particular branch should bear fruit, marriage the node not-quite-in-between.

Know those dates and you’ve got the basic sketch of a life’s trajectory. But what’s behind a date? Pair it with a location and you start to have a story.

We’re born where our parents’ lives began to blossom, sometimes in the stomping grounds of previous generations, often in a new place, with new possibilities.

We pass away at the terminus of a hopefully long journey, the many bends and dips and peaks along the way often not documented as boldly, yet significant in their bearing on life’s course.

The place we’re married, now, that can be a waypoint with ties to our youth, the places where parents raised us; or to the place where we fell in love, got our starts; or even someplace random or dreamy in its romance, significant unto itself.

And of course the stories get deeper beyond mere dates and places. It’s more than mere rite of passage. A party, a reunion — and union — of relatives (some sober, some significantly less so), a crossing of a particular threshold, an adult declaration of commitment.

Yeah, I bet there’s a lot of stories tucked in there.

In my research, dutifully documenting these dates of significance for relatives on various branches of the tree, for those in Ohio in the early decades of the 20th century a particular place dots biographical records enough it begins to coalesce into an arrow pointing to … West Virginia. Specifically, Ohio and Brooke counties.

Today, we’ll take a look at Wellsburg, W. Va., county seat of Brooke, and an occasion in summer, 1917.

Wellsburg, ‘Gretna Green’ to Ohio, Pennsylvania Elopements

The official record reads that Robert Earl Ley and Zula Lucrece Fisher were married June 27, 1917. The place, with a little more digging, is Wellsburg, W. Va.

But the newspaper announcement of their marriage — and the timing some six months later — reveals a bit more.

From the New Philadelphia, Ohio, Daily Times, Dec. 19, 1917:

Wedding Announcement

Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Fisher announces the marriage of their daughter, Mary Zula Lucrece Fisher to Liet. Dr. Robert Earl Ley, son of former County Treasurer Charles Ley and Mrs Ley of East avenue. The marriage took place at Wellsburg, W. Va. June 27, 1917.

Dr. and Mrs. Ley wil spend their Christmas vacation in the East, after visiting relatives and college friends of Dr. Ley’s in Cleveland. They will be the honored guests at several social events while in Cleveland.

Mrs. Ley is a graduate of the New Philadelphia high school in the class of 1932. During the past two years has been teaching in the Dover schools.

Dr. Ley, is a graduate of Western Reserve Dental college and for the past year and half has been practicing in Dover.

Both Dr. and Mrs. Ley have a host of friends and relatives in New Philadelphia and Dover, and the announcement of their wedding will come as a surprise.

“The announcement of their wedding will come as a surprise,” OK! And to their friends in two cities at that. OK!

Also significant in the timing is that it’s not just six months after their nuptials, it’s just about nine months exactly before the birth of their son, my grandpa, Robert Earl Jr., Sept. 30, 1918.

Interesting, eh?

I am sure there are some stories in those intervals of six and nine months, respectively. The story of Wellsburg, though, is documented in a number of places.

Wellsburg served as a famous “Gretna Green” in the U.S. for its fortuitous lack of a waiting period before marriage. Thousands of couples each year crossed from Ohio and Pennsylvania to wed. As surrounding communities enacted longer waiting periods before couples could tie the knot, the flood increased — more than 4,000 couples were married before Christmas Day in 1933; the annual tide swelled to 10,000 by 1936. In 1937, the county responded to pressure from parents in Pittsburgh, among other municipalities, and toughened its laws.

So, Great-Grandma and -Grandpa were products of the time. But as it turns out, there’s another twist to this story.

 

John & Addie Fisher Family, New Philadelphia, OH

Great-great Grandparents John and Addie Fisher are front, center. Great-grandma Zula is front, left. Sister Alverna is front, right. In the back are brothers Byron, Clyde and Oscar.

Fisher Sisters Tie Knot on Same Day?

June 27, 1917 was a Wednesday. Wellsburg was a little over an hour away — 65 miles — down present-day 250E and 22E toward Pittsburgh.

Did 23-year-old dentist Earl and 21-year-old teacher Zula sneak off on a weekday alone to get hitched? As it turns out, probably they did not.

Although I could find no newspaper announcing the wedding of Zula’s younger sister, then 19-year-old Alverna, and 21-year-old Olin Abbuhl, family records on Ancestry.com all reported the same marriage day for the siblings. Curious. And could be wrong.

But diving for the actual records reveals this: at the top of page 238 in the Brooke County wedding registry you’ll see Earl and Zula; at the bottom of page 241 you’ll find Olin and Alverna. Although they recorded Earl’s age as a year older than he really was, only the inaccuracy for Alverna bears any legal implications. At 19, she fell two years short of the age requirements — though there was no checking. So the license records her age as 21.

The lack of a wedding announcement for Olin and Alverna — even their obituaries in 1962 and 1977 do not report their wedding date — leaves several possibilities. Were both sisters wed in secret? Were Olin and Alverna wed officially, with Earl and Zula deciding in the moment to also tie the knot? Not likely, due to Alverna’s (actual) age.

We don’t know the exact details now. But the facts of date and place certainly tell an interesting story.

 

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Zula Ley: Little-Known Fact #2


Ley Zula Robert Jr. 1918

A 1918 portrait shows my great-grandmother, Mary Zula Lucrece (Fisher) Ley, and her newborn son, my grandfather Robert Earl Ley Jr.

Zula Fisher, Aspiring Film Actress

One of the most striking portraits in my family’s collection is that of my great-grandmother, Zula Lucrece (Fisher) Ley, holding her infant son, my grandpa, Robert Earl Ley, Jr.

The portrait is made more poignant, certainly, by knowing the rest of their story.

How Zula, at 24, would die of influenza while pregnant with her second child, a daughter. And grandpa grew up for a time in the care of Zula’s parents, John William and Addie May, before rejoining his father and stepmother’s household years later.

Zula’s beauty and youth are all the more touching and tragic, knowing more details of her character.

A New Philadelphia Daily Times story from when she was 20 captures her foray into national beauty contests designed to screen test potential movie stars.

Zula Fisher Cracks 1916’s Top 100

From the front page, Tuesday, May 9, 1916:

The beauty and brains contest, a nation wide enterprise, which, under the guidance of the World-Equitable Motion Picture Corporation, has been running for he past eight months in the Photoplay Magazine, is drawing to a close. Lillian Russell, one of the judges, has made the first selection.

Miss Zula Fisher of New Philadelphia, one of the original candidates, was selected by Miss Russell and is one of the hundred who will enter the final elimination. The elimination is now going forward to select the eleven successful candidates.

Miss Zula Fisher, when the contest originated, was prevalied upon to send her photograph with the result that when the eight thousand likenesses were gone over she was selected as one of the hundred most likely film subjects by Lillian Russell. The contest called for an equal amount of brains and beauty. It was essential for the candidate to write a letter in her own hand-writing, stating her reasons for desiring to become a film actress. The applicants, or candidates were then grouped as to the section of the country in which they lived and two candidates from five different sections will finally be chosen. Lillian Russell, Sophie Irene Loeb, a noted New York society writer, William A. Brady, the famous theatrical manager, are the judges. There will be ten winning candidates from the United States and one from Canada.

The eleven successful young ladies will be taken to New York, a month will be devoted to teaching them the value of various dramatic angles, and then those who show proper interest and sufficient ability, will become permanent members of the World and Equitable stock companies, and at goodly salaries appear in films.

Lectures, theatre parties, studio lessons and a number of events are carded for the successful candidates and it is very likely that Miss Fisher, will be one of the successful entrants.

Pretty neat, eh? Considering the obvious beauty of subsequent generations of Ley girls (and presumably, Fisher girls, too), and a connection to a certain modeling aunt of mine, Heather Ley, Zula’s youngest granddaughter.

Would have been nice — awesome, even — to lay eyes on her contest photo, or her entry write-up. Alas.

A quick search of Photoplay magazines from the period reveals what we (probably) already knew: Zula didn’t make the cut. Seems the contest was done and dusted as early as February that year, but the magazine and film corp kept the public in suspense. How might life have changed for Zula — and us, her descendants — had her film dreams played out?

Thursday, another fun fact — and mystery — from her life a year or so later.

Fisher Zula Beauty Brains Photoplay Excerpt 1916

 

 

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Zula Ley: Little-Known Fact #1


Fisher Zula Clover bio 1913

Great-Grandmother Zula Fisher Ley’s 1913 high school senior class photo and bio from the Clover, New Philadelphia, Ohio.

Zula Fisher Lauded in Theater Role

Hey, hey, and happy 2016 to family and familiars.

Two things that keep me returning to genealogy — no matter the gaps between hits on the blog odometer — are the stories (confirming old ones, uncovering new ones) and the mysteries (solving an old one, unearthing a new one).

This week, by virtue of some spurts of research spawned by arctic temps here in the western outpost of Foutz- and Leydom, I’ve got some new tidbits to share.

Today we visit with a teenage Great-Grandmother Zula Lucrece (Fisher) Ley, circa 1913.

As a New Philadelphia, Ohio, high school senior, Zula was noted in her yearbook entry for her participation in basketball and the senior play. But a (remarkably) lengthy write-up in the Daily Times shared some interesting details of her role.

Subbed after Classmate’s Sister’s Death

“Real stars uncovered in playlet,” the headline reports, and the article goes on for a full, front-page column, then jumps to more on page 5.

Even my indulgent newspaper editors probably would have red-penned me to death were I to have pulled that almost a hundred years later.

We learn more about Zula’s role about 2/3 of the way down. From the Saturday, May 24, 1913 edition:

Miss Zula Fisher deserved much credit. Miss Fisher portrayed the part of Miss Mayne Hensel, leading lady in the junior class play. The part was to have been taken by Miss Martha Swearingen, but on account of the death of Miss Swearingen’s sister she was unable to take part. Miss Fisher was notified only Friday morning that she was to take the part and had only one day to prepare it. If one had not known, it could never had been told as she spoke her lines and acted as though she had been practicing a month.

A nice little nugget, in a story of otherwise merely contemporary value, that shines a little light on Zula’s budding character.

No surprise, then, that she grew into a local teacher well-known and beloved by pupils over the following years. And also sheds light on another surprising tid bit I’ll share Tuesday.

Till then….

Fisher family 2

Fisher family portrait, circa 1910. Front: Addie May & John W. Kids: Byron, Zula, Clyde, Alverna, Oscar.

 

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In Memoriam: Nellie Irene (Johnson) Fitzgerald


Johnson Leonard Virginia Nellie

A pic of the oldest Johnson kids — Leonard, Nellie and Virginia — about 1916.

 

Prayers and hugs for the family of Great Aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald, who passed away on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015.

Her house was always a site for extended family gatherings, full of stories and hugs and ample quantities of comfort food. She was the last surviving sibling in a family that numbered ten: seven brothers, three sisters. They knew hard times, hopping from house to house in the interval between wars. They knew personal tragedy in the loss of wives, brothers, daughters. They served their country and communities. They knit tightly with family and helped each other through.

I know Nellie was particularly proud of making it to 99. I know we all wish she had made it a lot longer than that. And we’re proudest of knowing her.

Below is a slide show of collected images from a life well-lived. And a copy of her obituary. Rest in peace, Aunt Nellie.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

NELLIE IRENE FITZGERALD

Nellie Irene Fitzgerald, age 99, of Uhrichsville, O., passed away on Thursday, November 19, 2015, at Hennis Care Centre, following a lengthy illness.

Born September 4, 1916, at New Philadelphia, Nellie was the daughter of the late Charles and Viola (Palmer) Johnson.

Nellie was a homemaker and a member of the Uhrichsville First Presbyterian Church.  She was a 4-H advisor for 20 years, a Girl Scout Leader, volunteer at the Food Bank, Deacon of the First Presbyterian Church and a member of Homemaker of Union Township.

In addition to her parents, Nellie was preceded in death by her husband DeLoyce P. Fitzgerald, who passed away on June 28, 1985; a daughter Rosann Fitzgerald Kohler; two sisters and 7 brothers.

Nellie is survived by her son Jerry (Rose) Fitzgerald of Uhrichsville and daughter Sara Fitzgerald of Ocala, Florida; 4 grandchildren Pauline Kohler, Parrish (Sharon) Kohler, Katy Fitzgerald and Megan (Jason) McElory; 5 great grandchildren Amanda (Dustin) Martyn, Zachary Kohler, Josh Kohler, Emmitt McElory and Isaac McElroy; 2 great great grandchildren Harley Kohler and Bear Martyn.

Funeral services for Nellie will be held at 1 p.m., on Monday, November 23, 2015 at Uhrich-Hostettler English Funeral Home, Inc. in Uhrichsville with the Rev. Mark Unrue officiating. Burial will follow at Evergreen Burial Park in New Philadelphia.

Calling hours will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., (two hours prior to services) on Monday, November 23, 2015 at the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Uhrichsville First Presbyterian Church, 633 N. Main St., Uhrichsville, O., 44683.

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A Visit with Great Aunt Nellie | Repost


Colt Foutz Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald

Colt and his great aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald at her home in March 2011.

Hugs & Hospitality in the Home of Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald

Great Aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald passed away Nov. 19 at age 99. This post, from March 2011, recounts a visit.

I was once a quite enterprising reporter, so I should have known better.

Presented with the chance to spend an afternoon chatting with my Great Aunt Nellie, 94 years young as of last September, I fumbled around with my laptop, spent a good half hour busying my hands consuming trail bologna and deviled eggs and macaroni salad and the like, and utterly failed to pop open a notebook and record our winding conversation with anything more reliable than my own noggin.

Which will have to suffice.

We spent the day chatting in her home, site in the summertime of many a family gathering, afternoons filled with sunshine and pickup softball games and plenty of food and lemonade. There was snow on the ground this time, and a chill in the air. But the atmosphere inside was cozy.

Nellie still lives at home, with some assistance throughout the day, and frequent visits from her son, who lives just up the road a piece. She was also kept company, during our visit, by a former daughter-in-law (I think?) and a great-grandson. So the house was filled with conversation, and I found Nellie to be as delightfully frank, and sweet, and feisty, and fun as I remembered.

Johnson Leona Miller

My great-grandfather Charles Johnson’s first wife, Leona Miller, died shortly after they were married.

The Tragic Tale of Leona Miller Johnson

Nellie has some trouble getting around these days. She greeted us from her easy chair, and moved about the house with the aid of her “horse” — her walker.

We began our visit by flipping through old photos — everything I had stored up in my Family History Master folder on my computer. She confirmed some of the old relatives I was wondering about, including some beauties of my grandma Erma (Johnson) Foutz as a young teenager (see below), and chuckled at ones of herself shortly after her wedding to DeLoyce Fitzgerald and especially at one of her as a baby, posed with older sibs Leonard and Virginia.

“Oh,” she said (of the photo at the bottom of this post), “I forgot to wear my socks that day!”

Nellie’s house is decorated with scores of old photos and mementos. She was kind enough to have copies made for me of a portrait of my grandmother as a baby, and of my great-great grandparents Palmer (which I featured in yesterday’s post).

In her current bedroom hangs a very unique portrait — that of my great-grandfather (her father) Charles Johnson’s first wife.

Leona Miller and Charles married shortly after Valentine’s Day, 1907. She was 23; he was 20.

According to family lore, and retold by Nellie during our visit, Charles, a coal miner, came home one day, perhaps as early as the week they were married, and found Leona on her hands and knees, scarlet-faced, scrubbing the floor.

As he knelt down to tend to her, Leona collapsed. She died shortly after.

Charles returned to the home of his parents (as noted in the 1910 census), and wouldn’t remarry until 1911, when he wed a girl from nearby Dennison, my great-grandmother, Viola Palmer.

“When you think about it,” I knelt down to murmur in Nellie ear, “it’s a sad story, but without Leona dying, none of us would be here.”

“Oh,” Nellie said, the whisper of a grin on her face, “I don’t know.”

There’s not a lot we know about Leona beyond her fate and the image preserved above. According to the New Philadelphia cemeteries department, she is buried in the same plot as my great-great grandparents Clement and Anna Johnson, but I found no marker to indicate such during my stop at East Avenue/Evergreen the next day.

Erma Johnson Foutz

This picture of my grandma as a very young teenager was taken in 1933, when she was not yet 13. Scribbled on the back: “Camp Birch Creek, F-60, Dillon, Montana. C. 15-1 C.R.R.,” which we’ve determined was a WPA-era camp at which her brother Joe was spending the summer. Joe’s name was also written on this picture.

A Big Sister’s Take on a Boy’s Grandma

The part of me that deeply misses my grandma Erma since she passed away in 2000, and yearns to be able to visit her again, really felt fulfilled by seeing Aunt Nellie again.

I remember the time I’d seen her before, after the funeral of my grandma’s second husband, Max, hugging Nellie felt a lot like hugging grandma. And yeah, I miss that.

This time around, I was full of questions. Things I wished I had asked Grandma, growing up. Or had paid more attention to her answers.

Nellie confirmed the many addresses in New Phila her family called home over a period of 25 years. These moves were logged in war records, censuses, and the certificates recording three of her brothers’ untimely deaths.

I also wanted to hear about how my grandmother and grandfather met, if she could fill me in. I’d read in the article detailing their marriage announcement that grandma was a secretary in the offices of the steel mill, where my great-grandfather Foutz and two of his sons worked from way back. But my grandpa only joined the mill later on, after he’d spent years as a sales agent for the local Ford dealership.

So, how, I wondered, did a girl from New Phila end up mixing with a boy from crosstown Dover, and one some seven years her senior at that?

“Oh, your grandma got around pretty good in those days,” Nellie quipped.

“Oh, your grandma was beautiful,” one of her visitors gushed. “And a very nice lady.”

How can an enterprising reporter hold up, in the face of comments both sly and complimentary?

Palmer homestead Scio Ohio

Another view of the old Palmer homestead in Scio, Ohio as it appeared in March 2011.

Tracing the Tree Back — Johnson & Palmer Roots

Nellie was keenly interested in some of the stops on my genealogy tour, asking about the state of the Palmer homestead, where her mother grew up and generations of the family farmed before that.

She was more interested, though, in how my parents were doing, and my wife and kids. “They should come and see me,” she said. And who could argue?

The visit ended much too soon. And I felt, not for the first time, that I’d already crammed way too much into three short days. And felt the weight, in leaving, of not knowing how soon my path would wind back her way again.

But in the work of honoring our ancestors, there are still volumes rich with information to mine.

Nellie had shared with her daughter, Sara (who in turn helps spread the word and get the family tree in order on Geni.com and Ancestry.com), the tale of her grandfather, Thomas Johnson, a Civil War mule skinner who died on a march through Mississippi in 1864. And there is limited info to go on past that, but a definite location to dig into — Guernsey County, where the Johnsons seemed to have first set up shop in Ohio.

Other connections of the family to the great conflict between the states include that of Anna (Burkey) Johnson’s father, Joseph Burkey, a soldier in Company B of the 126th regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Military records indicate he served from May 1864 through June 1865. I’ve visited his grave and snapped a picture there, but I’d love to hunt down a photo, and more info on his time in the war.

Meanwhile, Sara has traced the Palmer connection back through Harrison County farmfields and beyond, to the Balmers of 16th century Germany. A good, yawning gap of time to gape at, and wonder at all the ancestors — and their stories — in between.

Erma Foutz Miller Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald

Colt’s Grandma Erma and her older sister Nellie at his high school graduation, in 1994.

Johnson Leonard Virginia Nellie

A pic of the oldest Johnson kids — Leonard, Nellie and Virginia — about 1916.

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