Today’s letter is very special. I believe it is the only letter I have in my collection by my great grandmother, Emma Foster. Chronologically, it falls right after my grandfather’s last letter. The two letters are postmarked the same day. Word is definitely getting around that my grandmother is heading to Norfolk. An added bonus (genealogically speaking) in the letter is that Emma ran into Uncle Wes and Aunt Jessie one night in Terre Haute. Uncle Wes is Silvester Schiele, my grandfather’s uncle. You may recall an earlier post I did on Silvester. His friends and family called him Wes for short. Wes and Jessie must have just come through Kentland on their way down to Clay City from Chicago.
My great grandmother’s story is one that I had to figure out mostly on my own. My grandmother gave me a little information to start with but the rest of the journey was all mine to uncover. Emma was a twin. Aunt Minerva, the one mentioned in the letter, was my great grandmother’s twin sister. One story that my grandmother did relay to me regarding her mother was the story of her naming. Emma Foster was born Emily Hogue Lawhead, daughter of James Henry Lawhead and his second wife, Margaret Allie Rea, on November 14, 1872. The twins were the second and third children of Margaret & James. Margaret was to have four more children, but none survived their infancy. Their oldest child was a boy, Jasper, who was born in 1869. When the twins were born, Margaret did not know what to name them. I suppose Margaret was out of the question as she already had an older step-daughter named Margaret. The story goes that Margaret named her daughters after the first two women who came to visit after the babies were born. I don’t know what Minerva’s middle name is so I haven’t been able to track down her namesake. There was a young woman named Emily Hogue who lived in the neighborhood so there does appear to be some validity to the story.
In 1894, when Emma was 22, she had a child out of wedlock. I have no idea who the father was. According to my Dad’s cousin Juanita, Emma talked about Jesse all the time but she didn’t know who he was. She assumed he was given away. On the 1900 census, Jesse was living with his grandparents, Emma’s parents. If he was given away, it wasn’t very far. Jesse lived with his grandparents and migrated with them to Arkansas. Jesse stayed in Arkansas after his grandmother died and his grandfather returned to Illinois. Another comment made by Juanita in one of her letters was that Emma had grandchildren but they were too far away. Jesse had three children: Alvin, Elwin and Francis. On his death certificate, Emma is named as his mother, but the line for his father is blank. Who knows what happened to this mysterious male in my great grandmother’s life? Was she raped? Did he run away? Why didn’t they marry? I have lots of questions and no solutions for solving this puzzle.
On February 29, 1896, Emma married James Edward “Ned” Foster in Hutsonville, Crawford, Illinois. I would love to say that he was a good man, and was able to accept Emma’s past. I don’t really have an answer to that. What I do know is that their marriage was a rocky one. James was an alcoholic. Over the years, Emma threw him out several times. I assume in the beginning that things were good, but I really don’t know. Love works in mysterious ways, plus it might just have been all about the sex. James and Emma had at least five children. The ones who grew to adulthood were Lydia Allie, Glenn Edward, James Laughead, and my grandmother, Gladys Ruth. Evidence suggests that there was another child Forrest that died young. I have a photograph of a large family grouping. On the back it written: James, Emma, Lydia, Glenn & Forrest. Emma is holding Glenn and a baby on her lap in the picture while Lydia is sitting by her feet . Lydia was born in 1897 and Glenn in September 1900. There is a jump in births before James was born in February 1904. The 1900 census records that Emma is the mother of two living children; this would be Jesse and Lydia as Glenn wasn’t born until after the enumeration. On the 1910 census, Emma is the mother of 6 children, 5 living. The five would include: Lydia, Glenn, James, Gladys and Jesse.
I don’t know where or when baby Forrest died or where he is buried. The family moved back and forth between Crawford and Clark counties in Illinois and Terre Haute during these years. James was a laborer and he moved to where the work was. They were probably pretty poor and couldn’t afford a stone for Forrest’s grave. Both my grandmother and Uncle Jim were born in Terre Haute. After that, I think the family pretty much stayed in Terre Haute. Sometime before 1920, Emma kicked James out for his drinking for good. On the 1920 census, James is not enumerated with the family. Emma’s profession was a pie baker for a Baking company. Cousin Juanita also mentioned in one of her letters that Emma did this along with Aunt Cora. Cora Miller was one of James’ sisters. Apparently at one time, they all lived in the same building (but not on the 1920 census). A couple of the Terre Haute directories after 1920 record James and Emma living together but I think this might have been a smoke screen. Emma and James never divorced. Even on Emma’s death certificate, my grandmother reported that Emma was married.
Emma had a decent life but it was filled with hardship over the years. Any of these events would have broken a weaker person: an illegitimate child, an alcoholic husband, the death of a baby, being a single working mom, her beloved oldest daughter dying young, her grandson being killed in an accident. Her life could be measured by these tragedies but I would rather think of her as my grandmother’s mother, the woman who came to Kentland to help my grandmother while her husband was away at war, during the time after she had the baby (my father). I like to look at her pictures and her elusive smile. Yes, she does look old for her age in most of the pictures, but I look and I see a little part of me looking back at me, and it makes me proud to be her great granddaughter.
In school, Emma achieved a sixth grade education according to the 1940 census. While transcribing her letter I struggled between trying to make the letter readable and making an accurate transcription. If you want to see the actual letter, click on the pictures above.
This letter also mentions that Gladys’ mother-in-law, Lovina Yegerlehner, has not been feeling well lately and that Ruth has been home helping her mother while she was sick. Paired with yesterday’s letter from Roscoe which also mentions his mother not feeling well, that’s a nice bit of documentation from two corroborating sources.
Dear children + grandson
Receive your letter this morning. I had to go up to town yesterday afternoon + was walking along + seen a group of folks? standing in front of a restaurant first like that had their dinner, said to myself that look like uncle Wes + stop + look + sure among it was aunt Jessie, Mary Sheperman + some more I didn’t know so stoped + talked to them a litter whin? + they said that they stop at your house + seen you + the boy + that
(page 2) you was going to see Jake next week. Said that they would tell you that way seen me. I have had a letter from James + he never said anythins about seeing Jake yet James has got his insinmet[assignment] + will be there six month or a year he said I sure am glad that Ruth is at home with her mother this week it will help her as much as the medison[medicine]. I thought that I would get down there this week but it has been so hot here it seems to take all of the pep out of me your aunt Minerva is looking for me to come over there + stay
(page 3) a few day but can’t pick up the nerve to go. I am writing you some of her tales of woe. when I got up yesterday morning I felt like going back to bed + giving up the strnge[strength?] + say here lord take me I have a little more pep today. I don’t feel sick + can eat good but is seems like it don’t do my any good hade plenty to eat this is my tail of wo[e] I said to my self this sond like aunt Minera letter.
(page 4)I would like to hear John play at the resite[recital] hope that he comes out first it sure is hot today I hope that you do go + see Jake + get to see James it will cheer him up to see you if I had a place for the boys to sleep they could come + stay with me. I see so many dresses in the window up to down. I told Mrs. Welsere I was going to write + tell you about their that is the seersucker only haha will sign off