52 Ancestors: #4 The First Nonagenarian I Ever Knew
Noun. A person who is from 90 to 99 years old.
My great-grandfather Francis Walton Batchelor lived into his nineties and is first nonagenarian I ever knew. Great-Grandpa was born in Harris County, Georgia in December 1869, the son of Luke Batchelor and Lucretia Lucky.
He grew up and lived in Georgia and lived there for many years before migrating up North to Michigan. Through the years Great-Grandpa appears in the US census records under several names:
- Francis Walton
- Waltern and
- Frank W.
I even think there might be another name he was referenced by because I haven’t yet found my great-grandfather in the 1920 census.
By 1910, Francis is listed in the census as 40 years old and living with his wife of 18 years – my grandmother, Florence Crawford and their nine children. The family included my grandfather, Eddie Walton who was 13 years old then. And except for the 3 youngest children in 1910, my great-grandfather and all of his family could read and write. In the 1940 census, I learned that his formal education went through the 6th grade.
All Great Grandpa’s family were described as “mulatto”. For years, I’ve heard that my great-grandfather was part Native American. This particular ancestry doesn’t show up in my recent genetic DNA results where I only have 2% Native American but that’s because it’s on my paternal line where I have no immediate family to test. Note to self -
Here’s an opportunity to reach out to male cousins descended from Francis to see if anyone would take a DNA test.
According to the earlier census records, my great-grandfather was a farmer who, I’m proud to say, owned and worked his own land. That was unique out in the country where Great Grandpa came from. Many Blacks around him rented land and farmed as “sharecroppers”. Although I haven’t been down to research in Georgia yet, I’m intrigued about my great-grandfather acquired his land, which may give me more clues to the family history.
By the 1930 census during the height of the Great Depression, Francis is shown as 60 years old living in Michigan with his second wife, Eveline (who I would call “Granny”). He was an unemployed carpenter but back then so many men were unable to find work.
During his years in Michigan, Great Grandpa owned his own house at 11446 Grand Haven in Hamtramck (a town surrounded by Detroit and known back then for its large population of immigrants from Poland). His house was valued at $3000. And he even had a radio – an interesting fact captured by the census taker. On the street where my great-grandfather lived, his was one of only five Black families. Many of the other neighbors were from Poland, Romania and Italy.
As I reviewed the 1930 census, I also found Uril Hollis, the man who became my step-grandfather. He was living on Grand Haven Street too with his first wife, Ethel. He married my paternal grandmother, Beatrice years later after Ethel died. You’ll read more about Uril and Beatrice in my future posts in the 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks blog challenge.
In the 1940 census, Great Grandpa was still living on in the same house on the same street when relatives of mine would continue to live for many years after he was gone. By now, he was 70 years old.
Fast forward to the 1950s when I came along. By then, my great-grandfather was in his eighties. My earliest memories of him are of visiting the house on Grand Haven where Great Grandpa would be sitting up on a day bed in the front room. Even then, he was still a handsome man, with white hair and a gentle manner who always seemed glad for the visits from his great-grandchildren. Sadly I was too young to know that there were hundreds of questions I would, one day, want to ask him about his life.
I was ten years old when my great-grandfather died in 1961 at 91 years of age. By then, he had lived through:
- Reconstruction after the Civil War
- The Jim Crow South
- The dawning of the Industrial age
- The Great Depression
- Two world wars and
- The beginning of the Civil Rights era.
I regret not having more time for conversations with this peaceful, gentle man who had lived through over 90 years of our country’s history. Some is recorded in census records and the like. But my great-grandfather’s personal experience with that history and how it played out in his life – well, that’s not written down anywhere.
The hard lesson I learned from not being able to tap into my great-grandfather’s treasure chest of memories is if you have older relatives who are up there in age, make time to spend with them now. Because when the history they know is gone,
It’s just plain gone.
About Karen Batchelor
Karen Batchelor is a genealogist and founder of ExtremeAncestry.com where she blogs about more than three decades of climbing her family tree. Learn more about her here and connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.