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.
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.
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.
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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