Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pedigree Ornament No. 5, My Paternal Grandmother

Emily Russell, born 1880 Thornley, County Durham, England; died 1918 at Detroit, Wayne Co., Michigan, buried Barnesboro (now Northern Cambria) Cambria Co., Pennsylvania.

These are the real “granny glasses”. They belonged to my paternal grandmother, Emily Russell. She died during the world-wide Spanish Flu Epidemic and probably as a consequence of it. Her death certificate states she died of septic peritonitis following child birth with a secondary complication of pneumonia. Emily was only 37 years and 5 months old. It was estimated that one out of every ten persons in the world died of the Flu. The rapid spread of the disease was partially attributed to American Soldiers of the Great War (WW I) who were exposed while fighting in Europe and then brought it home after the war. Even children were aware of what was going on. A ditty chanted by girls while playing "jump rope" went:
"I once had a bird
whose name was "Inza"
I opened the window
And in flew Inza"
The “child birth” was my father who was born just 7 days before his mother died. The family had gone to Detroit so that the father, Otto Strike, could use his skills as a machinist at the American Car and Foundry according to his WW I draft registration. The company was the primary manufacturer of electric street cars in America at the time. Otto’s family had been in Detroit only about 3 years when the tragedy of Emily’s death occurred. There were now five children under the age of 13 years, a week old baby, and no mother. Otto brought Emily’s body back from Detroit on a train and buried her in Northend Cemetery in Barnesboro, Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The older children were taken to Otto’s mother, Mrs. Henrietta Strike-Wagner, nee. Hohnke, and the baby was given to Otto’s married sister, Mrs. Martha (Strike) Kramp to foster. Otto took about a year to recover from his wife’s death and to regain employment. The 1920 census indicates he had gone back to coal mining. After a year or so, the children returned to their father in Barnesboro, but the baby remained with Otto’s sister in the neighboring county of Clearfield, in the village of Ramey. The Kramp family eventually adopted the boy. The boy grew up, married, and became my father. Incidentally, at the Millennium, Barnesboro, the town in which the Strike children were raised, was merged with the adjacent town of Spangler, and the name was changed to Northern Cambria.
Emily’s eyeglasses were essentially the only thing that was passed down to my father. Furthermore, he had only one or two pictures of the mother he never layed eyes on. Indeed, it was thought that most of the pictures of Emily had been destroyed. As I started to research my roots in the 1990s which is about 20 years after my father passed away, I was given several pictures of Emily by the late Mrs. Alice Wagner and the late, Mrs. Eleanor Grove. The women were related to the Kramp and Wagner families, respectively. None of the pictures ever showed Emily actually wearing eyeglasses.
The eyeglasses are currently in the hands of my sister. She put them up to her eyes the other day and told me they were definitely not magnifying lenses. Indeed, she said everything either close-up or far-away looked fuzzy. So, I guess the lenses were prescribed. I will have to do a little more research on the optometry of 1918. But I do know this, Emily never saw her children go through their teen-aged years, never saw them get married (which they did), and of course, never read The Christmas Story to any of her seventeen grandchildren. Never take for granted reading a book to your grandchildren. And you grandchildren, always appreciate being able to ask one of your grandparents to read you a story.

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