I contemplated for a couple of days on this week’s 52 Ancestors topic of fresh start deciding how to approach it. I settled on one of my ancestors who made a fresh start which had the most effect on my life. My ancestor of the week is Lillie Mae Weatherspoon, my father’s paternal Grandmother. Her fresh start in life not only changed her life but led to a whole branch of “Fulkerson” family members which are not Fulkerson at all. I am one of those Fulkerson relatives and this is the tale of how I was born with the surname Fulkerson.
1912 – 1999
Lillie Mae Weatherspoon was born into a poor family in the boot hill region of Missouri. Her date of birth was 22 January 1912. She was the second child born to the union of William Weatherspoon and Fanny Bennett. An older sister Nellie died in childhood. After Lillie’s birth, brothers Claude, Clyde, and Cledeth joined the family.
The 1920 census supplies the rare snapshot of the family unit, lacking only Nellie who was already deceased. Also living in the household is Elmer Bennett. Elmer was Fanny’s nephew, the illegitimate child of her older sister Victoria. While it is impossible to understand the level of dysfunction in the family from a simple census record, family lore and other documents paint a picture that is less than rosy.
Not long after the 1920 census Lillie’s family dissolved. Her parent’s marriage split up. Her mother abandoned the family to marry a man named William Denbow in 1923. Lillie remained with her father, William Weatherspoon, and helped care for her brothers.
Murder, Marriage, and Mayhem
Behind the scenes a bigger problem was brewing as a grisly murder rocked Ripley County, Missouri. In June 1926, the mutilated bodies of the elderly Van Patton brothers were discovered, and the consensus was that they were murdered.
Within the year, James Wesley Bennett, Fanny’s brother was charged with the crime of murder. The shock of the involvement of her son in the grisly crime helped contribute to the death of Lillie’s maternal grandmother.
Amidst all the chaos in her family life Lillie decided to get married. She accepted the marriage proposal of William Baker, a man 13 years her senior. Lillie Weatherspoon and William Baker were married on 24 September 1926. She was 14 years old at the time.
In July 1927 Lillie’s father died. It seemed to be a final blow to whatever was left of her childhood family. On 12 February 1929 Lillie gave birth to her only child, Jay Dee Baker.
Turning the Page
Tales told by Lillie late in life tell of a marriage plagued by alcohol and violence. The marriage was ill fated and short lived. According to the stories told by Lillie the ultimate end came about one morning after Bill Baker returned from a night of drinking. He spilled hot coffee on their child and according to Lillie she hit him in the head with a cast iron pan, grabbed the baby, and didn’t quit running until she made it to Iowa.
The next several years are a period of mystery. Tales she was willing to share with me tell of her operating what she called “beer gardens” with her mother. I have heard tales from other families that say she may have lived a very rough life during the period and dappled in prostitution to support herself and her child.
Seven years pass with no known documents of Lillie’s life. She appears again in records on 5 June 1937. She married Moman Harold Fulkerson, a widower with no children who lived in Flint, Michigan and worked in the auto factories. On their marriage record Lillie used an alias. She was still married to William Baker.
On 7 Nov 1938 Lillie took the final step to her fresh start. She officially divorced William Baker.
On the 1940 census Lillie and her son are living with her 2nd husband in a working class neighborhood in Flint, Michigan. Lillie would live out the rest of her life in the house.
A name change
On 4 February 1947 M.H. Fulkerson adopted Jay Dee Baker and changed his name officially from Baker to Fulkerson.
Lillie Mae Weatherspoon is my fresh start ancestor. Through her life she managed to find ways to create a fresh start for both herself and her son. Her fresh start led to me being born with the surname Fulkerson.