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 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

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.

Elnora Freeman Jennings

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

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 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.

Abstracted marriage registry Halifax County, VA 1901 Family History Center

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 shared that her nickname was “Mags.” She gave birth to my Grandfather’s youngest brother, Uncle Roy in 1916.

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

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Finding Obituaries

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.

I several documents told Elnora’s story. My Amazon Affiliate program has the tools to stay organized!

Special Thanks to the Ohio Genealogy Society and Stacey Adger for their time in locating the news articles and burial records.