Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Ramblin' Davis Grandparents

No two people were more peripatetic in life than they, Herbert Albert (Hooker?) Davis and his beloved wife, Jessie Virginia Thornhill. In fact, their youngest son, Cleo Francis Davis, always claimed he had gone to over twenty different schools before entering Rochester High School in Rochester, Pennsylvania. Interestingly, most of that shuffling about took place in two counties, Hancock in West Virginia and Beaver in Pennsylvania. In the mid 1920's Grandmother's young brother, Claudis Earl Thornhill, was an All American football player at Pitt University. Claud (Tiny) became an assistant coach under "Pop" Warner and finally, Head Coach at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The family including her parents, John Newton Thornhill and Fanny Bell Smith, moved to California.

Herbert (Grandmother called him Bert) and Jessie married the 30th of April 1897. She was just fifteen years old and he not quite nineteen. They had a family of four children which was complete with the birth of Cleo Francis in Sharon, Beaver County, Pennsylvania the 25 of March, 1904. Not one of their four children, Guy Earl, Harold Newton, Naomi Alberta and Cleo Francis, had been born in the same place, but all were born within a fifty mile radius of each other.

Granddad began life as Hooker Albert Davis, 20 August 1878, the only son of Joseph Davis and Sarah Ann Kennedy. Sarah Ann in the 1880 census stated she had six children , five living. We can only find records for five. Much more on Joseph and Sarah Ann in a later entry. Granddad was not at all happy with the name Hooker. Oh, it might have been okay as his middle name, well, not really. After several stabs at renaming himself, he ended up finally as Herbert Albert Davis. Where Herbert came from no one knows but Hooker was definitely discarded. But now the big question is, where did the name Hooker come from? I have Sarah Ann's family back quite a ways and no Hooker there. Was it a name from Joseph's family? Maybe, but Joseph's lineage is a bit muddled as you will learn in a later blog entry.

Grandad Davis was a small man, 5' 3" or 4'' inches tall and no more than 140 pounds soaking wet and with a few rocks in his pocket. His countenance was very gentle. His soft, almost sparkly, blue eyes, well-positioned in his nicely shaped and well-tanned face, were always welcoming. He was so soft spoken that if you weren't looking at him you would never have known he had spoken. He was so fastidious when eating he drove Grandmother crazy. When he ate, each item on his plate had a separate spot and each item was eaten separately and slowly. He was always the last to finish. Long before he would finish it was not unusual for the dishes of those who were eating with him to already be in the sink and washed. But oh how we kids loved him. He fit the old appellation "a jack of all trades" perfectly: He had run a bath-house in an amusement park, was an accomplished stonemason, carpenter, farmer, dairy farmer and--well you get the idea.

Grandmother Davis and her family
Grammaw, as we kids lovingly called her, was another kettle of fish. She was several inches taller than Granddad, a few pounds heavier, very witty, sometimes to the point of being sharp-tongued as they use to say. She could toss a barb with the best of them and frequently did. She was ruddy complexioned and had almost-impish, wonderfully-twinkling, grayish-blue eyes. She began life July 27, 1882 in a now vanished village called Rockyside, Hancock County, West Virginia. There were four children, three girls, of whom only Grandmother survived, and one boy, Claudis Earl. Grandmother and Claud are shown above (center) with their parents, John Newton and Fanny Bell (Smith) Thornhill.

Grandmother not only kept house and cooked wonderful meals, she planted and cared for the family garden, helped milk the cows and cared for the milk that was a large part of their income in later life. Grammaw churned butter regularly and always filled four or five very fancy, one pound butter moulds. She took took the moulded butter to the Farkas Brother's grocery market in Beaver and traded it for groceries. Her butter was so well liked there was always a waiting list at the market for it. She was devoutly religious and rarely missed a Sunday at the Christian Church in Beaver. I guess you would say they both were Jacks of all trades. They were part of the tail-end of subsistence farming as it was practiced in the early part of the twentieth century, prior to WWll.


  1. Granddad was working in an amusement park in Chester, WVA at the time.