Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mama: The Wheat * / Bell ** Side of the Family

Ida Belle Wheat
My mother died when I was 3.  I’ve said those words a hundred times in my life. 

She was the youngest of four children of John William Wheat and Cora Lee (Bell) Wheat, born on October 10, 1925 in Hanna, Oklahoma. Her siblings were Leona (born 1918), William Powell (born 1920), and Iona Marie (born 1922). Her father died while working at an oil camp in Seminole, Oklahoma, when she was only 2.  Here she is with her brother and sisters at the oil camp.  She's the unhappy one.

L to R (back row): Powell, Leona
L to R (front row): Ida, Marie
Even before her father’s death, her mother had moved the family home to live with her father, Thomas Jefferson Bell, in Dustin, Oklahoma. Here she is about 1937 with her sisters, Leona on the left and Marie on the right. This is one of my favorite photographs.

Ida graduated from Dustin High School in 1944.  There were only five students in her graduating class, mostly because all the boys were away fighting World War II.  In October 1944 she married a classmate, Ben Chaney. Ben was stationed in Florida, and she went there to live for a while. She and Ben divorced not long after.

Her sister Marie had visited her in Florida, where Marie met her husband, Don Kerensky, who was also in the service. Ida visited Marie in Ohio and came home to Dustin in 1951, pregnant with her first child, Noel Keith, who died the day after he was born on May 31, 1951. He is buried next to his mother in the Fairview Cemetery in Dustin. After my mother married my father, he put his last name on the little boy’s headstone, so he is buried as Noel Keith Smith, even though my dad was not his father.

My mom and dad met at a dance in downtown Tulsa. My mother was living at the YWCA. Daddy had a headache and asked her if she wanted to take a walk with him to buy some aspirin. They married on July 19, 1952, in Tulsa.

I was born in October 1953. My mother worked for a while as a secretary in the Tulsa office of Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. My brother was born in November 1956.  My mother became ill and died from complications of lupus on March 17, 1957, at the age of 31. I have only one clear memory of her—hanging up sheets in our backyard while I chased a butterfly.

My brother Tim and I at my mother's grave
Fairview Cemetery, Dustin, OK

*I knew nothing about the Wheats except for the family tree my mother filled out in my baby book, and one of the entries may have been wrong.  Remember—her dad died when she was just 2, so she didn’t know much either. This has probably been the most fun (and sometimes frustrating) search in my genealogical life! Lots of connections, lots of surprises…

**The Bells have been pretty fun, too, especially the maternal lines like the Powells and the Fowlers.  However, I hit a brick wall with the Roberts family that I’m still trying to climb over.

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