Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Two Family Birthdays on December 29th

"Two?" you say. Why yes, two. Of course 29 December [2009] was Betsy's birthday--certainly a milestone birthday, but I was taught never to divulge a woman's age--at least not for the living... but the other, also a woman, would have been 130 years old on the 29th--and she is certainly not living. But first, a very happy, slightly belated, birthday to you Aunt Betsy; hope you had a great day and have a wonderful new year.

So who was the other woman in our family who was born 130 years ago and shares a birthday with Betsy? Attached is a photo of her as a young girl, probably taken about 1890, and another from later in her life, probably 1940. Any guesses? One clue is that Ethel was even going to name Betsy after her. If she had, Betsy's name would be Claudia. Probably a good thing that Betsy wasn't named after her as Claudia was described as the meanest woman to ever live--or something to that affect. So who was she? Why she was Grandma Redmond's mother, of course--Claudia Ann (Winters) Thomas. So do any of you (Terry, Roger, Bobbie, Sharyn, Dale, Todd, or Betsy) remember your great-grandmother? Some of you should as she died in 1952--which is the same year that Bob's mother died and Terry and Bobbie certainly remember her. I would love to know if any of you remember Claudia! I am fascinated by the fact that she does not seem to be remembered by her family, family that should have at least been aware of her. And it can't be the case that she was alienated from her family. She continued to visit with her sisters Aunt Jessie Crooks and Aunt Clara Bessler in Oil City and Grandpa Redmond was the one who signed Claudia's death certificate.

What I know about Claudia is that she was born 29 December 1879 in Petroleum Center (which would have been a oil boom town in decline and called the wickedest place in the world at the time, but now a ghost town, literally), the daughter of John Winters, an immigrant to the oil regions from England, and his wife Catherine Baney, a local girl from Cherrytree area. Claudia married at the age of 18 or so to Samuel Thomas who was from the Dempseytown/Rocky Grove area. After their marriage Samuel and Claudia lived in and around the Petroleum Center area for a number of years where Samuel worked as a pumper in the oil fields. Around 1909, they moved to Volant near New Castle, PA, lived in a rented house and Sam continued to work as a oil well pumper. Living in Volant is where Grandma Redmond would meet and marry Grandpa Redmond.

So how many children did Claudia and Sam have? Well, some of you may remember Grandma Redmond's brother Clyde who lived in Erie (his children and grandchildren still live there) and you may remember a mention of another brother Carl, but there where others. The oldest child was Charles Hunter Thomas who died at the age of 19 in November of 1918 of the Spanish Influenza which killed millions worldwide. Until recently that was all I knew about, but it appears that there were at least two others who died young, a son Ralph and a daughter Viola, both younger than Grandma Redmond. Chances are they also died of the Spanish Flu, but don't know for sure.

So I bet you are still wondering about the comment that she was called the meanest woman in the world. That comment is attributed to her very own husband Sam Thomas and may explain why Grandma Redmond married when she was 14 or 15 years old (which contrary to myth marrying that young was not the norm). I don't know any specifics of why Sam said that about his dear wife, but I do know that they were divorced in September of 1922 and two days later, Claudia remarried a guy by the name of Frank Ball in Tionesta, PA (Sam also remarried, but that is a story for another time). I don't know much about Frank. I have heard references to him being anything from an "evangelist" to a "drinker" which might explain why Claudia wasn't around very much. But what I do know is that Frank worked in a boiler factory in Erie, PA which is where Claudia and Frank lived and died, Claudia in 1952 at the age of 72.

Whew! I certainly didn't mean to go on so long, but who would have known that Grandma Redmond's family was such a soap opera. But just wait until to you hear about Grandpa Redmond's family--talk about drama and intrigue!

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