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Monday, September 25, 2006

Dad would have been 80 Tomorrow

This is what I know. Les Green graduated from high school, barely, it seems, in 1944. He spent time in the military (in Texas and in Europe), came back to Binghamton, his hometown, and married Trudy in 1950.

He worked at a florist - arranging flowers for events, drove a truck, worked nights at IBM for six years, worked for a social service agency called Opportunities for Broome, then Associated Building Contractors, and finally J.A. Jones Construction.

He taught himself to play guitar around 1959, and billed himself as the "Lonesome & Lonely Traveller", which was his theme song, even when joined by his son (me) and daughter (Leslie).

Now this is what else I know. You may not be able to read the document above, so I'll share. It's my father's birth certificate.
[Name] Leslie H. Green
Male. Single birth [as opposed to twin, etc.] Sept 26 [19]26 1:30 a.m.
[County] Broome [City] Binghamton
[Mother's maiden name] Agatha Walker [Age] 24 [State of birth] PA
[Residence: state] N.Y. [City] Binghamton [Street and number] 18 East St.
[Father] McKinley M. Green [Age] 47 [State of birth] Pa.
[Local filing date] 9 30 26 [Date] 9 13 44

One thing I've long known, and my sisters have long known, from my mother was the fact that McKinley was not my father's biological father. I also know that McKinley wasn't 47 when my father was born, that he was probably 47 in 1944, when this certificate was re-issued.

I went to the 1930 Census. I needed help from Alan and others at the New York State Library.

Samuel E. Walker-Head-56-Age at first marriage:25-Born in VA, father born in VA, mother born in VA. Janitor in public building.
Eugeni [sic] M.-Wife-52-Born in PA, father born in PA, mother born in PA.
Agatha H.-Daughter-27-Born in PA, father born in PA, mother born in PA. Housekeeper for a private family.
Earl S.-Son-25-Born in PA, father born in PA, mother born in PA. Caterer for hotels.
Stanley E.-Son-20-Born in PA, father born in PA, mother born in PA.
Vera C.-Daughter-17-Born in PA, father born in US, mother born in PA.
Melissa C.-Daughter-15-Born in NY, father born in VA, mother born in PA.
Jessie G.-Daughter-13-Born in NY, father born in VA, mother born in PA.
Morris S.-Son-11-Born in NY, father born in VA, mother born in PA.
Wesley H.-Son-3 6/12-Born in NY, father born in VA, mother born in PA.

Samuel was the patriarch I knew as a little kid. He was a stern old man, and Agatha (my grandmother), Earl, Stanley, Vera, and Jessie all seemed to fear him, especially the older ones, who would have been in their fifties at the time. (Melissa was not around.) And Wesley? He would have been born in September 1926. So, Samuel and Eugenia feigned that Wesley was their son. But my father's name was Wesley when he was born? Or was this a clerical error on the part of the Census taker?

Another curiosity: Agatha, Earl, Stanley and Vera all had a father born in PA, so since Samuel was born in VA, he's not their biological father. So who was? Or is this another error?

When did McKinley Green marry Agatha Walker and adopt Wesley H. Walker? When did Wesley's name change to Leslie H. Green? From research my sisters did, the Walkers were all in the same house on Court Street in 1936, while McKinley was elsewhere. So, it would seem that McKinley adopted Wesley/Leslie sometime between 1936 and 1944. But then I hear from one of my father's younger cousins - all of my father's cousins were younger than he - that McKinley and Agatha had a rough go early on, so it's possible that McKinley adopted my father after 1930, was married to Agatha and cared for my father for a time, but not in 1936.

And, of course, the prime question I want to know: who was Leslie Green/Wesley Walker's biological father? The apocryphal story is that it was some minister from the AME or AME Zion Church, and that it was a great scandal in the Scrantonian, a newspaper, now defunct, that served the Scranton, PA area, about a hour south of Binghamton. Or maybe it was a Baptist church in Binghamton.

My next task was going to be to get microfilm of the Scrantonian, which is located at the University of Scranton, Penn State University, and at the State Library in Harrisburg to see if I can find any mention of this tale of a rogue pastor, but my father's cousin has already done this, with no success.

I mention all of this now, with the permission of my sisters Leslie and Marcia, and my mother, in an attempt to find the truth of the matter. It was a topic my sisters and I never broached with my father, because we knew it was painful for him.

The only time it was even noted in passing is when McKinley died in 1980. My father stepped up to take care of things. McKinley's brother sneered, "Oh, yeah, he (Mac) DID adopt that bastard, didn't he?" Never before or after that moment did we see my father so wounded.

If you have any information - if you knew my father or his family, if you have some ideas how to proceed further - please let me know. At some point in his youth, my father also lived on Tudor Street in Binghamton.

Thank you.

My father liked to watch football. He loved New Orleans. He would be watching the 2-0 Saints play the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons tonight in the first game of the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina. He'd probably even be watching the collaboration between U2 and Green Day during the pregame.


Uthaclena said...

Geneology is such a curious thing, trying to peer back into the biological past. My aunt (who, gods willing, will turn 102 Nov. 30)did extensive research on my maternal lineage, and we have copies of birth and marriage certificates going back five generations.

My patrilineage is another matter. I have a photo of my grandfather as a child with his family (somewhere near Scranton, PA., actually)and by working through Census records, I've found a few family names. I've also submitted a request (and fee) for a copy of my grandfather's Social Security application which SHOULD have his parent's names and places of birth. I've found some vague reference on the Net that suggests that my great-grandfather immigrated through Baltimore sometimes around 1860. But, as I say, it's vague stuff.

Hope that you can flesh out more of your own lineage; I've come to realize that it's a gift we can give to our children. It's also an unfortunate reminder of how little interest children have in their parent's lives while they're still alive...

Anonymous said...

Tracing genealogy, especially that which is close at hand, can really stir up the poop in the barn.