I am aware that I am less than some people prefer me to be,
but most people are unaware that I am so much more than what they see.
— Douglas Pagels

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Family Mystery Solved!

I have been trying to find my biological maternal grandparents' genealogy for the longest time, but I could not find my grandfather's records to save my life. It has been so strange to conduct worldwide searches on every ancestry site known to man, Google, and the National Archives, and find no trace of my grandfather's childhood. The only thing I had been able to locate was his name on the 1940 census. He was a 26 year old divorced lodger in Mississippi. But there were absolutely no records of him before that, so I couldn't find his parents or siblings or anything at all.

I had free access yesterday on Ancestry, so I decided to comb every census in Mississippi between 1910 and 1940 with the surname. I knew he was born in 1913 and had siblings. I searched his name, possible sibling names, possible parent names, possible misspellings of the last name, and after a few hours, I finally ran across something that caught my eye: a boy named May.

He was 6 years old on the 1920 census. He had 4 siblings (two more were born later), and they lived in central Mississippi.

The parents' names were Henry and Laura. I searched for them on Ancestry to find the name Mahlon listed under sons. Nope, that's not right, and I knew it wasn't. A quick Google search confirmed that "Mahlon" didn't exist. Somebody got it wrong.

I went back to censuses, and searched for Henry and Laura in 1930. Jackpot. I found some of the children listed, including a 16 year old son whose name had been butchered by the census taker. I remembered on the 1920 census a different name starting with "OT" had been started, scratched out, and replaced by "May". On the 1930 census, it said "Mabel". And over that name, an obvious correction to the name "Mablum".

My grandfather's name was Otto Mablum, and they called him May.

To add insult to injury, he grew up knitting pantyhose for pay.

He hated his parents. That I knew. I also knew that he made hosiery, changed his name to "Mace" in adulthood and moved out of their house young. He married, had kids, and was divorced by his mid 20s. He met and married my grandmother 5 or 6 years later.

There isn't a thing wrong with his name or the fact that he was a knitter of women's underwear, but it's important to put this into historical context. We're talking about a young Southern Baptist man in early 1900s with brothers named Harvey, Henry, Al, Joe, and James. He was May the Knitter. I was told he was mean and rough...a fighter. Well gosh, he probably had to be.

My grandfather had a rocky life, and he made his wife and children's lives equally rocky. Not only did he have psychological issues from childhood that manifested in abusive ways, he had hyper-religious OCD and was hospitalized for paranoia. Sadly, he is also suspected to have had undiagnosed Periodic Paralysis (not related to mental illness...HKPP does not affect the brain), as did his mother. Both were written off as crazy, and they never received any medical help for their episodes. In spite of that, they both lived into their 60s.

This is a sad story, but I'm glad I finally found my grandfather, great grandparents, and even my great great grandparents after searching for so long. I have their burial information, thanks to Find A Grave, and I'll hopefully be up to making a road trip to the cemetery someday.