VIRGINIA ANCESTOR JENNINGS

Walter Lee Jennings is my maternal ancestor. I recall family members sharing oral histories about Walter Lee. I never saw a photograph but heard a description of him, tall and with a thick mustache. 

Before he grew a mustache, he grew up as a Virginia farmer with his 12 sisters and brothers on his parents’ land. Walter Lee was born on October 18th in 1879, in Halifax County. His father, Orange Jennings, registered Walter’s birth with his wife, Mary. County Birth registries are very similar to birth certificates. The registry provides birth date, full name, an ethnic description, gender, type of delivery: live or stillbirth, place of birth, and the father’s full name (if the parents were married). Virginia began issuing vital records, birth and death certificates around 1912.

I stumbled across this lead for the Virginia birth registries while researching on Our Black Ancestry.com. The site is similar to FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and Ancestry websites that maintain genealogical documents and an opportunity for members to connect with distant relatives.

As a young man, Walter married his teenage bride, Elnora. The couple ventured away from their farm labor community for the ironworks companies.  Walter became a Steel Mill worker in Pennsylvania.

A fellow researcher and author, Lander Anderson Jr. retrieved this record for me at the Halifax County Courthouse in 2019. Halifax County, VA 1901, Walter Jennings and Elnora Freeman’s marriage license.

Local Philadelphia history states Midvale Steel employed many African American workers during the 1890s through the 1920s. There isn’t any evidence that points that he was an employee at Midvale. However, Elnora delivered their firstborn son, Noel, whose name later changed to Frank, in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania’s birth registry confirms Walter Lee’s occupation.

I accessed this record at local Family History Center of the Church of the Later Days Saints. It’s a printout from a microfilm roll.
“Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906”

The family relocated to an Ohio border town called Youngstown, near Pennsylvania. Walter continued to employ himself in the Steel Mill industry. His work commute was the Sharon Line electric car. The electric “car” he rode to work is not like the Hybrid fuel/electric vehicles you see on the roads today. The Sharon Line was like a city bus whose route began in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Walt’s former home location on Regis Street is part of the historical African American Community called Sharonline.

How Great-grandpa completed his enlistment card tells a lot him. He is into the details and he goes by Walt. This Military World War II enrollment card is available on Fold3.com

Walt became a widower, a single parent of three children, Frank, Adele, and Lee, after Elnora’s death in 1908. Walter returned to his family’s farm for his parents to raise his children. He married again four years later in Michigan and continued to live in Youngstown without his children. The marriage to Margret Cobb produced his youngest son, Walter Roy, who went by Roy, and Uncle Roy’s son shared a photograph with me.

While visiting my Cousin Becky, she suggested that our cousin may have a photograph of Walter Lee. I found an address and mailed a card introducing myself and including family photos. In exchange he sent me this photograph. His Grandparents Walt and Mags were in a wedding party.

My family described him correctly. Don’t you agree? I was so excited to receive this photo and show my mother a photo of her Grandfather. She never met him.

Walt remained a Steel Worker until the day he died. He collapsed on the job of a heart attack at the age of 68. His daughter, Adele, age 58, and sons Frank, age 71, and Lee, age 69, suffered the same ending. If you are a Walter Lee Jennings descendant reading this entry, be mindful of our medical history of heart disease.

Thank you, cousins Walter, Rebecca, Carolyn, Aunt Eleanor, my late Uncle Arthur, and my mother. I could not have shared our ancestor, Walter Lee Jennings’ account without you.

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Walt was one of a few of his 12 siblings to leave their hometown.

Are you an Ohio or a Virginia Jennings descendant? There are Pennsylvania and D.C families as well. Please comment below.

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5 Comments

  1. Additional: I believe Walter Lee Jennings‘ Mother was the daughter of one of the family members on the Robert E Lee Plantation in Virginia? That is how you line up in my links on Ancestry. Com. Can you check to see who were Walter’s parents and grandparents? The Mulatto’s off that Lee Plantation were tall (at least 6’2”) and very light in complexion and some of their off springs even being only 50% European have crossed the color line. That’s the case in my family.
    Still digging 2
    Freddie
    Sent from my iPhone

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    1. Thank you for your comment. Mary Adams was Walter’s mother. Jim and Coley Adams were her parents. The 1870 census enumerated the family in Halifax county. Unfortunately, I haven’t arrived in my research to the plantation where they were enslaved.

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  2. Thanks cousin TaMara for all of the deligent research. I will search all of the family photos I have to see if there may be additional photos. The history and documents really resonate as I grew up and spent many decades living on the Sharon Line before leaving Youngstown 20 years ago. I know my Grandfather Walter Lee had quite a few nephews that also moved to and lived in the Youngstown area and worked in the Steel industry back in the day. I recall as a child and young man when some of those cousins would pass on, relatives from Virginia would travel to Youngstown for the services. Walter Lee passed before I was born, but I recall visiting his grave site at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Youngstown with my father (Walter R.) several times. My father would always tell me what a good man and father Walter Lee was.

    Walt ( Grandson of Walter Lee)

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