Monday, June 11, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy, Week 21, Ancestor Tales of Hardship

The experiences of one generation affect the lives of the next. This understanding of family systems was one of the factors that pulled me into genealogy. I wanted to understand the forces that formed my parents. Both had suffered hardships in their lives, as had their parents. My maternal grandmother's story was the one that most touched me and affects me to this day.

Imagine being 20 years old with a blind infant, an aged parent with no job, the economy in free fall and an abusive marriage.

Leona Violet Crispen was born in 1909, the youngest, by far, of three daughters. She was the son her father never had. Instead of sewing, she learned to use his blacksmith forge, work on cars, develop film and print photographs.

Her parents divorced in 1921. I can't begin to image the impact on the young Leona. She must have lost friends and certainly her home life was disrupted. Her father moved to the house across the street, so she was able to move freely between her parents' homes. Because they had a civil and close relationship, she never doubted their love for her and her sisters.

After high school she became a telephone operator and married a young man who worked in a foundry. She soon learned that he was unfaithful and cruel. His actions left their only daughter nearly blind and left Leona unable to have more children.

As the stock market crashed in the fall of 1929, her father lost the portfolio he had inherited from his sister. He was able to keep his house and, Leona, living with her father and her husband, decided to file for divorce. Imagine, for a moment, being 20 years old with a blind infant, an aged parent with no job, the economy in free fall and still choosing to end an abusive marriage. Her strength amazes me.

Leona decided about 1931 to leave the cold midwest and move to the warmth of California. Following the famous Route 66, she miscalculated a bit. She ran out of money and gas in the Northern Arizona town of Kingman. With her daughter, she lived under a bridge and in their car while she looked for some way to support them.

Her photography experience was her salvation. The old man who ran the local photography studio wanted to retire, so he hired her and she eventually was able to take over the business. However, she lived day-to-day and struggled through two more bad marriages and divorces during the Depression years.

About 1935, Leona had to place her daughter in boarding school at the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson. She left Kingman behind and relocated to be near her daughter. World War II found her fixing airplanes and later working at the ration board. In late 1941, she married her daughter's math teacher and, as a family, they built a stable life. After the war she found a secretarial job in the Tucson school district, where she worked until retirement.

As her choices shaped her life, they affect her family to this day. Her descendants are an Arizona family because she stopped and stayed in Kingman. Her photographic experience became a life-long passion, leading to the vast collection of photographs, negatives and slides that came to me at her death. It is directly due to her choices that I am a scrapbooker and genealogy buff. And, of course, because of those hobbies, this blog exists.

A challenge in 2008 asked that we create a layout about a role model. I chose Leona due to her strength in adversity.

Haberdashery paper kit from ClubScrap

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