Friday, November 21, 2014

What Happened to This Marriage?

Harry Lee Jennings was my father's uncle, a son of Charles Edward and Nancy "Nannie" Jane (Johnson) Jennings.  He was born on 29 June 1886 in Amherst County, Virginia. His mother died in 1892 when little Harry was 6 years old. After his father remarried in 1895, the family moved to Roanoke.

By 1910 Harry was a boarder in the home of John and Nannie Adams and worked as a shipping clerk at a wholesale shoe store. He was married to Nancy "Nannie" Gay Clayton, had a daughter named Leta Elane, who was likely named after Harry's sister, Leta Vernon Jennings. He worked as a salesman for the Brand Shoe Company.  Harry and Nannie had a second daughter in 1916 named Edna May.

Brand Shoe Company advertising card; source unknown

When Harry registered for the World War I draft on 5 June 1917 he was described as being of medium height and build with blue eyes and dark hair. The registration form indicated he wasn't bald! He was still working for the Brand Shoe Company and had served for two years as a Private in the State Guard.

In 1919 Harry was a stock clerk for the same shoe company. He continued doing similar work for the next 10 years, however, no place of employment was listed in the 1929 Roanoke city directory. The next year Harry was a department foreman working for People's Ice & Storage Company. According to the 1930 census he was likely worked in the shipping department. And, most importantly, he was still living with his wife and daughters in a home they owned valued at $4,000.

Brand Shoe Company; courtesy of Roanoke: A City of Enterprise,
Energy and Progress
published for the Roanoke Booster Club in 1922

That soon changed. 1933 is the last city directory that included Harry and Nannie as a couple. When the 1940 census was enumerated Harry was living in San Francisco at the Hotel Idalia and worked as a newspaper vendor. He indicated he had lived in Salinas, California, in 1935. When he registered for the World War II draft in 1942, he lived on 280 O'Farrell Street in San Francisco and worked for the Call-Bulletin on Howard Street. He indicated he was married to Nannie and she lived in Roanoke, Virginia.

The 200 block of O'Farrell Street location of the Hotel Idalia and the Call-
Bulletin; courtesy of Google Maps

Harry Lee Jennings died on 22 October 1945 and was buried at Olivet Memorial Park in Colma, California. He died at San Francisco Hospital and had been at the hospital six days suffering from bronchogenic carcinoma, or lung cancer.

So were Harry and Nannie simply trendsetters: a happily married East Coast-West Coast couple? Or was something else going on?

I think something else.

In the 1936 Roanoke city directory, Nannie was listed as Jennings, Nannie G (wid Harry L). She continued to list herself as a widow in every city directory thereafter. When the 1940 census was enumerated, however, she said she was married. She rented her home for $33 a month and lived with her youngest daughter, Edna, who worked as a cashier at theater at a salary of $720.

I'll admit I don't have the best mathematical mind, but living in a rented home that rented for less than $400 a year seems like a come down from a house valued at $4,000. Did the family suffer a financial reversal?

Nannie died on 15 Nov 1958 and was buried in Evergreen Burial Park.

What do you think happened?

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