Sunday, October 16, 2011


My great-grandmother Lyda Ellen Maxwell Perry’s parents were J. A. O. Maxwell and Permelia Ruth McNair Maxwell.  Like many of my ancestors Permelia (or Amelia, or simply Melia, as she seemingly was often known) lived a good long time.  She was born before the Civil War (or “The War Between the States” as we called it, because “there was nothing civil about it”), 22 March 1857, and lived until 7 September 1946.  Repeating myself, the picture here, one of the few I have of her, was taken in 1934 and the baby she is holding is her great-granddaughter, my mother.  So in two swift strides, from me to my mother and from her to Permelia, I can be carried back over 150 years of American history.  If that doesn’t give you goose bumps there’s no hope for you!

I had been working under the assumption that Permelia lived and died in Decatur County all her life.  But in trying to fill in some of the details on Lyda's siblings I found that in 1918 the next to the youngest daughter Julia Permelia Maxwell married an electrician with Western Union Telephone and Telegraph Company named Jacob Livingston Bower and they moved to Nashville, Tennessee.  Jacob was from Fowlstown, about halfway between Attapulgus and Bainbridge.  So I looked in Nashville for Jacob and Julia Bower on the 1920 census and found Jacob L, Julia and Ernestine Bower (ages 22, 21 and 6/12).   On the 1930 census in Nashville I came up with Julia Bower, age 30, widowed, her daughter "Earnestine", age 10, and mother "Amelia” Maxwell, age 73.  The also had two boarders, a young “filling station salesman” named Clarence Farris and Louise Patterson, a 23 year old insurance clerk.  To-Do Item: Hmmm. Permelia’s mother was a Patterson.  Could Louise be a cousin?  The 1930 census gives street addresses for urban districts, so it’s possible to see that they were living at 105 12th Street.
Census images courtesy of

1938 Polk's Directory of Nashvill
Looking further, I discovered that has some of the Polk's City Directories for Nashville, including for the years 1938 and 1940.  Searching for the family in those directories I found Julia living at 1109 Holly Street in Nashville with her daughter and her mother.  According to Google Maps 1109 Holly Street is just around the corner from 105 12th Street.  In the 1938 directory, it has "Bower, Ernestine student" and "Bower Julia Mrs slswn Lebeck Bros Inc" and "Maxwell Amelia (wid Jos A O)".  In the 1940 directory, it lists "Bower, Ernestine student" and "Bower Julia Mrs slswn" and "Maxwell Amelia (wid J A O)".

1940 Polk's Directory of Nashvill
Interestingly, under the "Bower" heading in both directories there is a "Bower, Jacob L asst automatic chf WUTelCo" rooming at 621 Woodland.  I looked on Google Maps.  621 Woodland Street is about a quarter of a mile away from 1109 Holly Street.  So I took another look at the 1930 census looking for Jacob Bower and found him living right there in Nashville, working at Western Union, and with a big old "D" for Divorced in the Marital Status column.  So either someone in Julia's household was embarrassed to say she was divorced in 1930 or the enumerator messed up.
Next I went searching to see if there were Tennessee divorce indexes online.  I didn't find one, but I did find a 1924 Polk's directory for Nashville which shows both Jacob and Julia living in the house at 1109 Holly Street.  So somewhere between 1924 and 1930 Jacob and Julia Bower got divorced.
Anyway, the point of all this was that by being pointed towards Tennessee I found Permelia's death certificate.  So adding the final bit of confirmation that I was looking at the right Julia and Permelia, it says right there that
  • Permelia died on the 7th of September 1946
  • she lived at the 1109 Holly Street Address in Nashville
  • she was born in Calvary, Georgia
  • she is a widow
  • her parents were Dr. Robert McNair (that’s a new piece of information) and Nancy Patterson
  • she will be buried in Piedmont Cemetery in Calvary, Georgia
As usual, the accuracy of the information is dependent on the knowledge of the informant (in this case, her daughter Julia).  An interesting additional fact gleaned from the death certificate is the cause of death: chronic myocarditis (definition here,, essentially a chronic inflammation of the heart muscle.  Judging by the definition at the Health Central web site, she may have been bed-ridden for an extended period of time before her death.  But if there is any truth to genetic proclivities towards certain behaviors, she stayed in bed only when she couldn’t get up, no matter what her doctor or daughter said to the contrary.  It’s hard to keep a good woman down!

What happened after 1940?  I know from the SSDI (the Social Security Death Index) that Julia lived in Nashville until her death in September 1979.  So far I’ve been unsuccessful in discovering either an obituary or a burial site for her.  What about Jacob?  Did they really get a divorce?  An interesting clue is that in the 1944 Polk’s Guide Jacob Bower appears to have moved to 950 Seymour Avenue and is listed with a wife, Mattie L. Bower.  What about Julia’s daughter, Ernestine?  She no longer lives with her mother after 1940.  Did she get married?  Did she die?  Did she enlist as  WAC or WAVE in World War II?  So far I haven’t found anything for her.  I did however serendipitously discover a marriage announcement for Jacob and Julia from that her mother Permelia had placed in The Atlanta Constitution, 23 June 1918.  It came up in an search.  So you never know what will turn up!  The marriage announcement uses the spelling “Amelia for both mother and daughter.  And after starting this blog post I talked to my own mother.  She said that until we went to the cemetery in Calvary and saw the tombstone she had always thought her great-grandmother’s name was Amelia.  So there!  If I had already known that piece of information I might never have embarked on the long round-about search that led ultimately to Permelia’s death certificate, and a whole lot of other questions yet to be answered.
As Scarlett said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow … tomorrow is another day!”

That’s about it for now.

Later y’all,




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