Strong Woman

“A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”-– Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m not sure my mom’s cousin, Jeanne Emily Meintzer, necessarily got into much hot water, but I feel she had a quiet strength supporting her through the more difficult times in her life. At the time of her death, 7 August 2019, she (along with my mom and uncle) was one of the last three grandchildren of Christian Meintzer. Now only one remains.

Jeanne was the 6th child (of eventually 7) of my grandfather’s older brother, George Edward Meintzer. You met Jeanne briefly in 2018, when her wedding became the backdrop for a story, and her father, my Uncle Ed (he used his middle name), in Next to Last. Two months after her 18 January 1924 birth, Jeanne already made the front page news:

Mr. and Mrs. Ed. Meintzer and family spent Sunday with the Henry Therrien family, after dinner the baby was babtized [sic] at the St. Norbert’s church—”Jeanne Emily.” A very pleasant day was spent which was enjoyed by both families.

“Northbrook,” 21 March 1924, Newspapers.com: accessed 5 June 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, column 2, paragraph 4, Cook County Herald, Arlington Heights, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

For the record, Jeanne spelled and pronounced her name the French way, one syllable. I didn’t actually know her preference until recently, but I’d always heard my mom call her “Jeannie,” with 2 syllables (like I Dream of). Was Mom was pronoucing it correctly, or just using a nickname form? So while emailing one of Jeanne’s daughters this week, I asked how how her mom pronounced it. It was an easy question, with a definitive answer. Mystery solved! It made perfect sense, because Jeanne’s maternal grandparents had Canadian connections and French-sounding surnames.

Jeanne’s family lived in Northbrook, down the street (1419 Shermer) from my mom’s house (1709 Shermer) when the kids were young. The families attended different churches, so may have had somewhat different circles of friends. Nevertheless, Northbrook was a small town, and everyone knew one another. The girls continuted to keep in contact into their 90s.

Despite her stint on the front page as a newborn, Jeanne’s birth occurred during a difficult time for the family. The family came down with diptheria, requiring an extended quarantine:

The Ed Meintzer family are out of quarantine. The children have returned to school. They sure were anxious to go, after missing almost two months. The little baby, who had been staying with the Holstrom family several days, is now staying with Mrs. Geo. Melzer, Mrs. Meintzer’s sister.

“Northbrook,” 29 February 1924, Newspapers.com: accessed 4 June 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, column 1, paragraph 4, Cook County Herald, Arlington Heights, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

Three paragraphs later was an additional note, “Mr. and Mrs. Ed. Meintzer wish to express their most sincere thanks and appreciation to neighbors and friends for kindness and flowers during their recent sickness and bereavement.”

Yes, a death occurred while they were quarantined. Plotting it on a timeline:

  • They started getting sick in early January (they were quarantined for almost 2 months) with diptheria.
  • Annie DesLauries Meintzer gave birth to Jeanne the 18th of January, so, not long after the quarantine started. Did she remain at home? Or had she relocated to a sister’s or neighbor’s house, to prevent exposure for herself and the baby? We don’t exactly know, though we were told the baby stayed with Holstroms for several days and then moved to the Melzer house (her aunt).
  • 9 February, Bernard Harry Meintzer died, due to membramous Laryngitis diptheritic. He was 4 years, almost 3 months old. His twin sister, Bernice Harriet, survived.
  • Bernard was buried 2 days later. Were his parents and siblings even allowed to attend the funeral? I would think not.
  • By 29 February, the kids have returned to school, but Jeanne still was not home. Why was that? Did the house need disinfecting?

Obviously Jeanne would not remember Bernard. He barely had a chance to know about her, and with the quarantine, I’m not sure he ever saw her in person! Jeanne’s daughter mentioned, though, that he would say her name with 2 syllables, so he knew he had a baby sister. Are there more details to this story? Possibly. I found these news blurbs with a search at Newspapers.com, but I’m inclined to go back and read each day’s paper page-by-page during the 6-8 weeks all this happened, looking for more information.

Did Jeanne’s birth coinciding with a very sad time in her family’s history affect her as an adult? A kid isn’t likely to connect the events together, but an adult is likely to notice, eventually. Did that dampen her birthday celebrations? Or did she make an effort to remember that older brother who died too young?

Time moved along and family life returned to normal, with weekend car trips, and vaccinations (below). Jeanne was only 3, so didn’t end up missing school, but what about her brothers? Delore was 17 at the time, and Harold was 13. Were they vaccinated earlier? What vaccine? It was way too early for polio, and not many other vaccines were available, yet.

Mr. and Mrs. Ed Meintzer and children motored to Elgin in company with Mr. Eck and his sisters. A pleasant trip is reported. . . . Helen Meintzer and her sister, Bernice, have missed several days from scho0l on account of being vaccinated. Little Jeanne was also vaccinated. We are glad to report that they are improving daily and will be back to school real soon.

“Northbrook,” 1 April 1927, Newspapers.com: accessed 4 June 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 2, Arlington Heights Herald, Arlington Heights, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

On 24 July 1936, 12-year-old Jeanne’s world changed forever. Her mother died of a sudden heart attack. An event like that would have accelerated the growing up process. Jeanne probably acquired more responsibilities for herself, and for her sister, Patsy, 8 years old. The 1940 census showed the three youngest—Bernice, Jeanne, and Patsy—as the only children still at home with Dad. Jeanne was 16, with three years of high school completed.

I thought I knew the rest of her story. She and Vincent J. White married 14 September 1946. They went on to have 6 children. It seemed to be a pretty typical post-WWII story. Then one day I discovered an email one of her nieces wrote to a distantly-related (3rd cousin, twice removed!) cousin, after he posted it on his family web page. According to her, Jeanne was engaged to an Army pilot, Wayne, who was shot down over Germany, and died.

Jeanne’s daughters confirmed that story, and even scrounged up his last name from old memories: Wayne Nelson. Research conducted this week didn’t turn up any more information about him. I did not find a likely candidate in the 1940 census, or in the WWII Army Enlistment database. I found a vague reference to a Wayne Nelson in a Jacksonville, Florida, news article, but without other identifiers, it could easily be a different Wayne.

What a blow that must have been to Jeanne! Certainly she wasn’t the only young woman to lose a boyfriend, fiance, or husband to the war, but that didn’t make it any easier. Another day, while searching for Meintzers at Fold3, I came across a record for her! It was from the Cadet Nurse Corps Files, and showed she entered the program at the Evanston Hospital of Nursing on 6 January 1944, and exited “without default” 8 January 1945. The local news column confirmed that enrollment:

Miss Jeanne Meintzer has entered the nurse training course at the Evanston hospital.

“Northbrook,” 14 January 1944, Newspapers.com: accessed 4 June 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 14, The Daily Herald, Chicago, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

Her daughter knew about the nursing school, and told me, “she went a second time to nursing school but then met my dad so she never finished.” Is this card from the first or second time? I’m inclined to think second, since she and Vincent got married about a year and a half later. Was the first time right after high school? Did she drop that training due to Wayne’s death? I don’t know—there was only one card for her in the database.

Lastly, Jeanne’s husband, Vincent White, died 20 December 1980, when she was only 56 years old. Jeanne lived to 95, and never remarried. She ended up spending more years as a widow than she had as a wife. That can’t have been particularly easy.

Jeanne lived a full life, but had her fair share of difficulties and challenges to get through. Yet I never saw her when she wasn’t positive—not even in her 90s, when physical limitations started to crop up. When Mom and I stopped by her house during a Chicago-area road trip, Jeanne was always glad to see us, and I don’t recall hearing her complain. That takes a special kind of strength.

#52Ancestors

Surprise

Genealogy provides a never-ending stream of surprises!

Give a vigorous shake to any family tree, and in addition to a few nuts, other surprises invariably fall out! Mine is no exception, and you’ve already read about a variety of “surprises” I’ve found through the years. But if you are hoping for a juicy, scandal-laced, DNA-based reveal in this blog post, your time is better spent elsewhere. This one is pretty mundane.

It’s September, 1946, and my mom’s cousin, Jeanne, is getting married. She is second youngest daughter of George Edward (Edward George) Meintzer (Next to Last), my grandfather’s older brother. The two girls (both still living!) are two years apart in age (Mom is older).

Though they lived in the same town, Mom says she and Jeanne didn’t really see too much of each other, growing up. Their fathers had a good relationship, so there wasn’t a family rift. The families lived only a few blocks apart, and Mom remembers Jeanne’s older sister, Helen, babysitting for her a couple times. But Jeanne’s mom was Catholic, with the children raised Catholic, so the families attended different churches, possibly different schools. And you know how it is with kids — they don’t really want to hang out with younger kids — even cousins!

But, by 1946, everyone is grown up, with my mom married for almost two years! She and Dad arrive at Jeanne’s wedding, most likely with her parents. Also in tow is my sister, Carole, seven months old, cute as a button, undoubtedly enjoying her brief stint as “only child.”

Imagine my mom’s surprise to see Aunt Rose (The Maiden Aunt) and Uncle Joe Rau also attending! They are from my dad’s side: Aunt Rose is the sister of my other grandmother, Victoria. Why are they here at my mom’s cousin’s wedding? What was going on?

It turned out that the bridegroom was Uncle Joe’s nephew! Uncle Joe’s sister, Mary, was the mother of the groom. Who would ever anticipate that? Of course, it didn’t change anything — my dad wasn’t related to Jeanne’s new husband. The two of them were just related — one by DNA, one by marriage — to the same person (Uncle Joe). It was simply one of those random occurrences that pop up in families.

As so often happens, quirky little things like that are easily forgotten. When I began my research in my teens, Mom and I paid a visit to her cousin, seeing what she might know about the Meintzers. Jeanne brought out a thick binder with the genealogy of her husband to show me. Someone in his family had researched and put it together, and he obtained a copy. It was interesting, but it really had nothing pertinent for us. Of course, it showed Uncle Joe’s connection to Jeanne’s husband, which Mom had forgotten about. It also made my fledgling genealogy look puny by comparison . . .

Fast forward 35+ years . . . The “Great Photo Identification Project” was still underway. Mom and I were on a road trip to the Chicago area and stopped by to see Jeanne. It was just a “sit and catch up” visit, but the conversation turned to photographs and the difficulty in identifying some of them.

Carole Ann Haws, Rose Schweiger Rau, and Mary Rau White (previously unidentified) on 14 September 1946.

This photo of Aunt Rose holding my sister was one of the problem photos we owned. Aunt Rose was easily identifiable, as was Carole. The woman on the right proved to be a puzzle, though. From the corsages, we knew is was some “event” — we just couldn’t place it. So while they chatted, Mom mentioned it. Conveniently, I had an image on my laptop, and pulled it up to show Jeanne. She took one look and said, “That’s my mother-in-law!”

SURPRISE!

Say what?? How did Mom not remember it being from Jeanne’s wedding? I guess she was busy taking care of a baby, and didn’t pay attention to Jeanne’s new in-laws. At least the mystery was finally solved! And yes, the photo has been properly labeled.

What’s the take-away from this? First, it’s a good idea to be careful with what you say about whom. You never know who might be distantly connected to you — or to someone you know. And when DNA testing enters the mix, all bets are off!

Second, label the pictures! Now. ALL of them. Not just one copy, Every. Single. Print. If you label only one (that you have multiples of) and give it away, where does that leave you? Unlabeled again, that’s what! Just do it.

Lastly, write the stories down. It is too easy to forget about them, or forget to repeat them to others, so they know about them. We’ve all played “telephone” enough to know how that game turns out, and we know the effect it can have on our family stories (Colorful and Close Up)! Having the stories committed to paper at least locks them into a particular version. It may still be wrong (or not completely right — not quite the same thing as wrong), but at least there’s a more fixed starting point, and something concrete to either prove or disprove.

Most importantly, enjoy the surprises (good or bad) when they show up. They make our family history more interesting! That’s what keeps most genealogists coming back for more.

#52Ancestors