Monday, January 27, 2014

Remembering Another Daughter

Could it be? A life without upheavals, dreadful illnesses, or unforeseen tragedies?

With only official documents to rely upon in piecing together the life and times of my grand-aunt, Chevis Davis Chitwood Kyte, by the time of her youngest child’s birth, I found little to indicate anything like the problems she had encountered in past family relationships.

I’d like to exclaim, “Thankfully!” but I have no way of knowing that for certain.

However, here’s what I know about this child who would have been my mother’s fourth-oldest cousin.

Luther and Chevis Kyte’s youngest daughter was born March 2, 1919, in Erwin, Tennessee. They named the girl Emma Lee.

You would think searching for records for a name as simple as this would be fairly straightforward. But that’s not the way it’s been. Besides the spelling struggle between Kite and Kyte—Kyte winning by the time of the 1940 census—and that of Chevis’ own unusual name, there was the additional issue of the baby’s name: Emma Lee sounds exactly like the more widely used Emily.

But starting off with a listing as a son? The 1920 census was no help with this unexpected entry. Thankfully, relying on the names of others known to be in the household—mainly Chevis’ son from her first marriage to H. M. Chitwood—guided me to the right records.

I assure you, the infant listed in that 1920 census as “Ema Lee” was in no way a son.

With the arrival of the 1930 census, the child was now properly listed as a female, but with the rigid adherence to listing first names for given names, the household showed father as Franklin—settling, at least for that year what his preferred name was for that initial “F”—and mother as Mary, Chevis’ actual first name.

The baby? Now eleven years of age, she was listed as Emily. Can’t really fault anyone for that spelling guess.

With the 1940 census taken in Unicoi County, Tennessee, on April 16, I was curious to see how the household would be listed. Not because of the couple’s divorce, or even in question of how the surname would be spelled—it was Kyte that year—but because by now, Emma Lee had turned twenty one years of age.

Despite the discovery that indexers had decided to read Emma Lee’s mother’s name as “Cherie” instead of the correct Chevis, thanks once again for being able to search by her son’s Chitwood surname, I was able to locate the correct entry. There, as if nothing had changed, her daughter Emma Lee was still listed in the household.

With no circled “X” listed at this address to indicate who had provided the household’s information to the census taker, I suspect the neighbors were deputized to provide the gossip gospel truth, so help them, God.

They got it wrong.

Apparently, unbeknownst to those neighbors, Emma Lee had fallen head over heals in love with a part time employee at her mother’s place of work and, two months prior to the date of the 1940 census, she and Clifford J. Engle had visited the county courthouse to make application for their marriage license. On February 11, the Reverend John C. Blalock solemnized the rite of matrimony and pronounced the couple husband and wife.

By the summer of 1941, another generation began as Clifford and Emma Lee welcomed their firstborn son into the fledgling household.

Do I know anything more than this about that individual who would be my second cousin? Not really. Nor do I know much more about his parents. Unless this line is plagued with some of the name-changing and initials-swapping habits of the other Tennesseans in this line, I can assume that Clifford J. Engle was exactly that, and suppose that I’ve found his entry in the 1940 census, likewise listed as single and at his parents’ home. I can also presume that a 1944 World War II enlistment record belonged to him. Other than that, beyond the 1940 census, there aren’t as many governmental documents available online.

As for Emma Lee, the only other information I can glean of her life comes from her obituary. She was eighty five at the time of her passing. She lived and died in that same small town in Tennessee—Erwin—as her mother and maternal grandmother. While nothing was mentioned in the obituary about her husband, the memorial mentioned the thirty six years she had worked as a waitress in both Florida and New Jersey. Perhaps that little detail speaks volumes about how life went for her.

Beside her son and her half-brother, she had no other survivors than several unnamed nieces and nephews, and her life was commemorated through a private memorial service. There wasn’t even any mention of a burial location where she could be remembered.

Sometimes, when I recall my curiosity upon first discovering the Davis family Bible, I wonder if any of these relatives or their descendants had any idea that a blood relation they never knew about would someday be asking questions about them. Who were they? What were they like? What happened to them? Why haven’t I ever met them? My mother and aunt were certainly at a loss as to how to respond to such questions, especially when confronted with them from the mouth of a child. They really didn’t know the answers.

Perhaps families really do drift apart—after all, how many people do you know who are not family historians yet know their second and third cousins? I may be unusual, but I find myself carrying these names around in my heart, wondering where they are, what has become of them. Call it an intangible link, like some kind of ethereal DNA—after all these generations, I still feel the pull of that connection.


  1. So Clifford was another Loco Engineer! Goodness what a tight knit bunch!

    1. Sometimes, from what I've read about Erwin at that time, it seemed like the only game in town. I'm not surprised to read that about Clifford.

  2. Every "cousin" I've met through online research has been a 5th cousin. Not 4th, not 6th, rarely removed. Sometimes I try to figure out why that is. Why am I not meeting anyone closer? Is it a sign of aging, that we are the ones finally interested in the family story?

    1. There must be some sort of Murphy's Law of Genealogy: that we will not become interested in the family story until we are old enough to not have anyone else left to ask about it!

      That's interesting that your cousin connections have gravitated to the fifth cousin level, Wendy! Someone should do a study on this...

  3. I am not so sure I am the family historian, but I do try to keep it all straight in my head. My brother knows hardly any of his cousins, but he lives away. My other brother know more cousins than I do especially those down a generation or two. My sister researched and wrote our early family history as a project in college.

    I think someday you will find a cousin:)

    1. Oh, I hope I will, Far Side. In the meantime, I'll just keep writing...hoping someone will Google their relative's name and land up here!


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