Probably the most exciting #52ancestors prompt yet! The way I got all giddy upon reading this prompt reminded me just what a genealogy nerd I am. I have always been very curious about people and what different time periods where like so I thought it might be challenging to narrow down just one ancestor to write about for this topic. It was far easier then I had originally thought to narrow it down. I knew without question that if I had to choose just one ancestor it would be Cordelia May Bayles.
Cordelia is my three times great grandmother. She was born on Wednesday May 23, 1877 in Chillicothe, Missouri. Her parents where James Wesley Bayles and Permelia May Holcomb. For years I knew nothing about her family line. What I knew about her was that she holds a most special place in my grandmothers heart.
I have always been very close with my paternal grandmother, Pat. I spent a lot of time with her as a child and often asked her to tell me stories about her childhood or to tell me what her grandma was like. I heard many stories about her grandmother Mawie (Frances Tanner), but when she talked about her great grandma Tanner there was something different in her eyes. I knew even then that Cordie must be a very special woman if my gram held her to such a high standard.
My gram told me that grandma Tanner (Cordie as I have always called her) lived with them through most of her childhood. She was the glue that quietly turned the cogs of the household, ensuring that everyone was always cared for. She was the cook, she did the cleaning, and she did the caring. I am told she was the strong quiet kind, but always a soft place to fall. My gram knew that Cordie’s husband had died fairly young and she never remarried. When I asked about Cordie’s family my gram told me she really didn’t know anything about them. Cordie was private and really didn’t share much about her early life. The one thing my gram knew was that Cordie had told her she was an orphan, her parents had died when she was a young girl. She told a story about having only one much older sister who came and took her from an orphanage. Unfortunately she wasn’t kind to Cordie, treating her more like the “help” or a nanny/servant for the household. My gram and I had many conversations about how sad that must of been for Cordie and my grandma desperately wanted to know what had happened to Cordie’s family to leave her all alone with no one to care about or love her. This became my mission and I never would have guessed what I would uncover!
For years Cordelia’s story remained a mystery as I had very little information to help me find her as a minor in her families care. What I did know was that Cordelia married Ralph Sylvester Tanner on July 1, 1899 in Livingston County, Missouri. Cordie and Ralph spent the first few years of their married life living with Ralph’s parents, Francis “Frank” Tanner and Elva Loomis.
In 1900 Cordelia and Ralph welcomed their first child, a daughter. Elva Vinita Tanner was born October 25, 1900. Ralph was working as a machine agent and Cordie, like most women of that time was a homemaker. By 1904 when Cordelia and Ralph had their second and final child, they had moved to Oklahoma. My great grandmother Frances Cordelia Tanner was born on February 13, 1904 in Cheyenne Oklahoma. Cordie and Ralph had followed Ralph’s parents to Cheyenne and bought neighboring farms. By all accounts the families were doing very well farming the land in Oklahoma. The Tanner farm eventually had an oil well drilled on it and the family hoped they would make it big.
For reasons I do not know Ralph sold the farm between 1910 and 1920, moving Cordie and the girls to Rock, Oklahoma. On the 1920 US Federal Census he was working as a commercial salesman. Cordelia and both girls were working for a telephone company. By the time the 1930 census rolls around the family is living in yet another location. This time they are in Littlefield, Texas. Ralph was listed as a veterinarian physician. Cordie and Ralph were also caring for their daughter Frances’ three young children at this time. The photo on the left shows Ralph with Cordie seated on the porch and his mother Elva standing on the steps. My gram said that the family told her Ralph had become an addict. As a veterinarian he would have had easy access to things like ether, laudanum, morphine among other things.
Just two weeks after Cordie and Ralph arrived in Los Angeles, California Cordie’s life would change forever. Ralph passed away due to heart complications. I have often wondered if his supposed addiction played a role in his death considering he was only 55 years old? This left Cordelia widowed and in a new location thus she resided with her daughter Frances and helped care for her grandchildren. in the next few years she would become a great grandmother and continue her role as caretaker to the children. She did this until she passed away at the age of 83 on September 13, 1960 in Norwalk, California. I had learned a lot about Cordelia’s life, but nothing before she married. The answers to my grams questions remained a mystery. I had started to think that these were questions that may not have answers documented on the pages of history. One night I had a dream and I woke up knowing that I was about to find the answers.
It started with a Federal Census record. Finally I had found the 1880 census that showed Cordie living with her parents. I was so excited! I was also bewildered, who were the five other children living in the house? Cordelia only had one sister and she was much, much older… Or so she had said. I was now learning that Cordie hadn’t been exactly honest when she shared her childhood story with my gram. As I was putting the puzzle pieces together it was very obvious that Cordie came from a pretty big family. She was the second to the youngest of six children born to James Bayles and Permelia Holcomb.
I was able to confirm that Permelia, Cordie’s mother contracted pneumonia and succumbed to her illness on March 22, 1887 at the age of 49. Her death record shows that she was a widow, which substantiated what Cordelia had told my gram. I have been unable to find an official record, but it would appear as though James passed away in 1886. Cordie was not yet 10 years old and both of her parents were gone, but she was not alone. At the time Permelia passed away Stephen was 23, Francis was 20, Mary was 16, Bernice was 13, Cordie was 9 (almost 10), and Nettie was 7. I was able to find a probate index that showed the three younger (Bernice, Cordie, and Nettie) girls in the care of one Z.B. Myers. Unfortunately the Missouri State Archives have informed me that they are unable to locate the case file so I don’t have any details. Shortly after Permelia passed, Cordie’s brother Francis (who went by Frank) moved back to Chillicothe from Oklahoma and raised the girls. Because the 1890 Federal Census was destroyed there is a 20 year gap in documentation of families in the US.
So now we know that Cordelia did not live alone in an orphanage with no family to care for her. Her brother Francis provided a good home and raised all three of his youngest sisters. Cordelia grew to adulthood, married and when she had children of her own, she named her daughter Frances. I feel like it’s also worth noting that exactly one month later Frank had a daughter that he named, Cordia.
I found a newspaper article from 1929 that noted Cordelia’s sister Bernice was going to loan her $8,000 (worth over $100,000 today) but her home was burglarized and the money had been stolen.
Cordelia was also noted as a surviving family member at least in Francis’ and Bernice’s Obituaries. I am unsure about the other siblings as I have had a challenging time tracing them.
It would appear that Cordelia’s parents did die leaving her a young girl and no parents, but it also seems that she had family to love and care for her. Frank raised her and two of her sisters. They did keep in touch over the years, at least on occasion. So then why would she tell my gram that she was alone in the world with no family besides her children, grand children and great grand children? Did her children know that she had siblings and this was something that no one talked about? Everyone from that generation has already passed so there is no one living that might shed light on these things.
Cordie told my gram that one day when it was my grams time she would be waiting on the steps to heaven for her. I hope that when my day comes she will also be waiting for me. I have so many questions for her and I would like very much to know her and understand the love that my gram has for her. I recognize that love as that is the same love I have for my gram. I know it to be a very special bond!