My mother introduced me to my maternal Great-grandmother Elnora Freeman Jennings in 1976. It was a 1908 Memorial portrait, a casket photograph. As creepy as a photo of a dead person sounds, I am glad my Great-grandfather Walter Lee Jennings agreed to have the picture made of his wife. She was pretty. My mom looks like her. Matter of fact, their hair was styled the same that day in Afros. Grandma Nora was a head of her time, a “Naturalista.”
Memorial Portraits were common back in the day, but Grandma Elnora’s is the only one I saw in my family to have one made. I think her husband decided to have the picture made so their children would remember their mother. When she passed their children were young. Frank was turning seven, Adele was five years old, and Arthur, who went by his middle name Lee was only 18 months.
The Youngstown Vindicator Newspaper issue November 11th, 1908 reads “Mrs. Jennings dead.” The death announcement included her cause of death, Typhoid Fever.
The cause of death surprised me. The story I heard was that she died on an operating table.
I am familiar with Typhoid Fever disease. In third grade, I gave an oral report on Typhoid Mary, a New York Cook, Mary Mallon infected 51 people from 1907 – 1915. Three people died as a result. There was an epidemic in Philadelphia in 1906. Elnora gave birth to Frank in that city in 1901. Maybe my Great-grandparents lived Philly for a few years.
Typhoid Fever is contracted through contaminated food or water. During this time, people did not use or prepare food with the healthy practices that we use today. We wash fruits and vegetables before eating, and do not eat food at room temperature. The disease is related to Salmonella poisoning. In 1914 an Army doctor developed a Typhoid vaccine that became available for the general public six years after Elnora’s death.
Before becoming a mother and a wife, Elnora was the seventh child of Henry and Hannah Freeman in Halifax County, Virginia. Her mother Hannah Palmer Young died in 1892. Elnora was eight years old. Her father remarried. The 1900 census record shows Henry with his new bride, Rebecca Hamlet, daughter, Elnora, twin daughters Martha and Mary, and stepson Aron Hamlet. Elnora’s six older siblings no longer lived at home.
Even though my mom looks like her, my mom is not her namesake. Her sister is. I learned that a namesake doesn’t share the exact spelling of the honorary person’s name. I ran into research challenges online. My aunt spells her name E-l-e-a-n-o-r like former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. When I typed Elnora’s name like my aunt spells her name, a birth registry for Nora appeared on FamilySearch.org. I thought to dismiss the hint, but I read the entire entry. I recognized Great-grandpa’s name and my Grandpa’s name included on the 1907 Ohio Birth Registry. Then I accepted the document as proof of Elnora’s existence.
The next document I found for Elnora is when she married her husband on March 5th, 1901. Her marriage registration does not list her parents, only Walter’s. I wonder if her father approved of her choice. Their oldest son, Frank was born nine months later on December 25th. Grand Uncle Frank’s birth registry shows his name a Noel. I guess Elnora felt the Noel fit due to the holiday. Uncle Frank didn’t keep Noel as his first name. Records show Uncle Frank using the letter N as his middle initial. The N is not for Noel, but Nora.
The birth registry included Elnora’s birth place as Virginia. This detail also confirmed that this entry was my family. Grandpa Lee would share stories about growing up in Virginia. After Elnora passed Walter Lee’s parents Orange and Mary Jennings raised Uncle Frank, Aunt Adele and Grandpa Lee on their Halifax County farm. Walter Lee remained in Youngstown working the steel mills.
The steel mills is what bought Elnora and Walter Lee to Youngstown, Ohio. The Youngstown city directories give three different addresses for the young family from 1906 through 1908. In 1906 they lived at 478 Andrews Avenue. The second address in 1907 was on 1401 West Federal Avenue. Then in 1908 they resided at 1856 West Federal Avenue, her last home.
Walter Lee remarried in 1912 to a Canadian woman of African descent named Margaret Cobb. Family members I interviewed described “Mags” as a person with respect of persons. She practiced colorism. Visitors with brown skin had to enter their home through the back door. Mags gave birth to my Uncle Walter Roy in 1916. She came into the marriage with a daughter.
I mention Grandpa Walter Lee’s second marriage because many relatives believe that’s his only marriage. They never heard the name, Elnora, their direct ancestor. Without her, many of us would not be here.
Elnora Freeman Jennings Never Forgotten Never Forget
There are online services that have historical newspapers databases. Some are free and some have a fee. I always try free first when searching for obituaries.
- Google search
- books.google.com for Jet Magazine archives
- Visit the local library where your ancestor lived to look through microfilm.
- Free trials to Genealogybank.com or newspaper.com.
Special Thanks to the Ohio Genealogy Society and Stacey Adger for their time in locating the news articles and burial records.