My grandmother’s birthday was Saturday, June 6. It would have been her 105th. My cousin D.D., her sister’s great-granddaughter, sent me a photo of a photo via text message — Mother Dear and her husband, Jonah Ricks, my step-grandfather. I’d never seen this particular image, but I recognized it as having been taken in Greensboro, North Carolina, at her niece L.’s wedding in 1963.
… Or was it?
I found their marriage license today. So, first, I had to pick my jaw up. I knew they’d wed in August 1958, but had never been able to find a record in Wilson. Because they married in Guilford County. In Greensboro. I immediately thought about this little snapshot. This wasn’t taken in 1963! Mother Dear and Granddaddy Ricks had traveled to her sister’s for the ceremony, and this photo was taken on their wedding day. Why hadn’t I registered the boutonniere, the corsage, the beringed left hand held high?
Then I got around to looking at the rest of the license.
First, there’s the matter of my grandmother’s name. In that era, legal names were somewhat fluid, and changing them did not necessarily involve legal drama. Bessie Henderson bore my grandmother before North Carolina required birth certificates. Bessie named the baby Hattie Mae and gave her her last name. Bessie died less than a year later, and little Hattie went to live with her great-aunt and Uncle, Sarah and Jesse Jacobs. She called them Mama and Papa and became known as Hattie Jacobs. Only after Sarah’s death in 1938 did my grandmother learn that she had never been formally adopted. (And as a consequence, she was forced out of the house on Elba Street by Jesse Jacobs’ children.) She immediately changed her name to Hattie Mae Henderson. I was surprised then to see her name listed as “Hattie Jacobs Henderson” some 20 years after she dropped the appellation.
Mother Dear also listed Jesse and Sarah Jacobs as her parents on the license. Here is an example of the way documents may reflect social and familial realities, rather than legal or genetic ones. Curiously, though, there is a hint to Mother Dear’s paternity in the license, though inexplicably placed. Mama Sarah was born Sarah Daisy Henderson. Her first husband was Jesse Jacobs and her second Joseph Silver. She was not an Aldridge. But my grandmother’s birth father was. Why did my grandmother report Sarah’s name this way? Maybe Mr. Ricks gave the information and got his facts twisted?
Last, the witnesses. I recognize James Beasley — he married my cousin Doris Holt — but who were the others? Friends of my great-aunt Mamie Henderson Holt, perhaps?