The first son born to Adriano and Custode – Frederick William George – is our connection to the Giorgio family. His first son, Frederick William George, Jr. is Rick’s father, although he changed the “Jr.” to the “III” somewhere between high school and medical school.
I find several things very interesting about the first child born to Adriano and Custode (probably in Pittsburgh) in November 1899. First and most interesting, Adriano and Custode – or should I say Andy and Christine – seem to have dropped the Italian custom of naming their first son after the father’s father. True – Nick George (Adriano’s first son who was born to Marianna Frattura in Italy) does have his paternal grandfather’s name. But where in the world did Frederick William come from? It doesn’t sound the least bit Italian – was that intentional?
I might have guessed that Andy and Christine were trying to help their children fit in to this new American life by given them more anglicized names but then I see the baptism records for their second son – “Luigino Anthony George” aka Gene. Thatsa pretty Italian, no?
Fred was the first of Custode’s sons to become a pharmacist. This was made possible, in part, by his younger brother Gene working to help put him through school. All of the George boys except Joseph became pharmacists for part of their careers. Rick first discovered Custode’s name when he found Fred’s WWI draft card. Fred’s occupation in September 1918 was listed as “store clerk” at the P. R. Rys store in Dunbar. In the 1920 census, still in Dunbar, Fred’s occupation was listed as druggist helper.
We do not know how or where Fred met his first wife, Evelyn E. Clark, but we do know they were married in Wellsburg, West Virginia on November 22, 1921. Fred also shunned the Italian naming tradition (or my father-in-law would have been Adrian or Andy) and named his first son, born on June 25, 1923, Frederick William George, Jr. Was this another nod to American tradition or an intentional slight? Don’t forget, Adriano abandoned the family when Fred was only 12 years old so I suspect he may not have been inclined to honor his father. I also suspect that Custode would have been none too pleased if her first grandson had been named Adrian. Fred and Evelyn’s second son born on January 7, 1925 was named Richard Clark George.
Ironically, most of their cousins never knew that Fred, Jr. and his brother Richard existed. Many were surprised to learn that Uncle Fred had a wife before Aunt Betty although some thought it sounded vaguely familiar that Uncle Fred had been married before. Like many other things, it just wasn’t something the family talked about. We know from some of Dad’s conversations with Rick, that he remembers spending some time in Dunbar at Custode’s house. Most likely, this was in the late 1920s or very early in the 1930s.
Before we left LA in 1997, Rick got together with his father every Tuesday night. They liked to spend time together but Rick was also eager to learn as much as he could about his family history. Fortunately he taped at least one of these sessions (audio tape – not video). Names and places that didn’t mean much to us then take on a whole new meaning with all that we’ve learned in the past two years. Here’s a transcript of the tape when Dad describes his grandmother’s house in Dunbar. He acknowledges that he is not sure about the timing of the visit or how long he stayed but he remembers it as a time when his parents were having trouble in their marriage. In the following transcript, R is Rick, D is Dad:
D: I think things got tighter and tighter – money-wise and room-wise. I think they decided I would have to live with my father’s mother in Dunbar so I lived in Dunbar for a while with my grandmother.
R: What did she look like?
D: Dad’s mother, Uncle Gene, Uncle Joe . . . and Hubert was away at school. So I lived there with them and Richard stayed with my mother’s parents. I think it somewhere about this time that Richard and I went out and lived with mother and Aunt Grace in California. I remember when they (referring to his mother’s family) brought me over to Dunbar. We went over in the Franklin and it had an air cooled engine – way ahead of its time – a big impressive car – ostentatious. I remember Uncle Gene saying it looked like a hearse.
R: When was this?
D: It’s hard to get the sequences right. I remember in Dunbar I was kinda by myself and I do remember one incident. I remember wrestling with a kid – I had fun wrestling – and I was amazed because I was stronger than he was even though he was bigger. I remember almost nothing about Dunbar.
R: What about your Dad’s family?
D: I remember almost nothing about them.
R: You said you went to live with your Dad’s mom. Does that mean your Dad’s father was not there?
D: He was not there – he disappeared – he ran off. (Interesting that Dad was very clear about this fact.)
R: Do you know when he left or why?
D: I know a lot of the family left – like cousin Frankie.
(I’m wondering if this is a reference to Uncle Frank who would have been about ten years older than Dad.)
R: Is it your impression that George is the Americanized version of an Italian surname?
R: Before you said you felt that your dad’s dad came from Italy.
D: That was just my feeling.
Although I have not found their divorce records, it seems likely that Fred and Evelyn divorced sometime between 1930 and 1932. Dad recalls they were both very stubborn people and they argued a lot. The West Virginia marriage index indicates that Frederick William George married Betty Collins in 1932. Their first son James Collin George was born on June 2, 1933.
Evelyn had a third son born on December 8, 1931 in Midland PA. In the 1940 census, 8 year old Jerry John George is identified as a step-son of Ben Williams, Evelyn’s new husband. Later in life (not sure what age) Ben Williams adopted Jerry and he always went by Williams, not George. According to Dad,
“Something happened – my father and mother got together long enough for Jerry to be conceived – so maybe they decided to get back together. I remember Jerry while we were at Center Avenue (Burgettstown, where Evelyn’s parents lived) because I remember I was supposed to be taking care of him and sat him on a chair and went away to do something and he fell off the chair and broke his nose and it was never the same after that.
According to Lynnette, her mother Betty told her that Jerry was not Fred’s child. Fred and Betty had already started seeing each other when Jerry was born although they didn’t marry until 1932. I’m not sure of the context in which Betty told Lynnette that Jerry wasn’t Fred’s son. No surprise – there’s yet another George family mystery to unravel.
The thing I’m wondering about this Wednesday is whether or not Fred George had any contact with the sons from his first marriage after the divorce? Evelyn and the boys were living with her parents in Burgettstown, PA which is not too far from Midland, PA. She remarried sometime after 1935. Fred, Jr. graduated from high school in Burgettstown in 1941, got his undergraduate degree from Grove City College and went to medical school at the University of Pittsburgh. He probably graduated in 1947 or 1948. There would have been ample opportunity for them to see each other from time to time.
According to Lynnette (Fred and Betty’s youngest daughter) her father never talked about his first marriage while she was growing up. She learned about it from her mother after her father died in 1951. She does recall a certain sadness that always seemed to linger with her father. Perhaps he wanted a relationship with his sons from his first marriage but for whatever reason it didn’t work out.
So let me wrap this up with two somewhat sad observations.
1. When Fred George was in the hospital just before he died, he asked to see his son Fred. This has been independently verified by Lynnette and Rick. Betty tried to arrange for that visit, probably by making contact with Bea, the younger Fred’s wife. This was in 1951. We know from a conversation that Rick had with his mother Bea (on a visit to her in 1984) that Bea visited Fred in the hospital, but his son did not.
2. Despite whatever turmoil existed in their marriage – Evelyn wore the wedding ring Fred gave her until the day she died. Rick remembers seeing the ring and describes it as somewhat ornate with a ruby stone.