Children of Samuel M. Parmer and Hetty Eckman: Siblings, below, clockwise from top left: John Jacob Parmer, Luther James Parmer, Samuel Elwood Parmer, Aldus Arthur Parmer, Margaret Alice Parmer Rote, William Eckman Parmer. Siblings not pictured: Martha Parmer (died in childhood 1877), Annie E. Parmer, Harry Allen Parmer.
Mary passed away July 29, 1962 at 80 years old. Her death certificate lists cardiovascular disease as the cause of death; however, it also lists “Status Post CVA, old, with Left Hemiparesis.” Medical terminology is not common knowledge, so it’s always a good idea to get definitions, and in this case looking up that term provides some new information that helps us better know Mary. Hemiparesis is a slight weakening, loss of strength, or paralysis, which could be a side affect of a stroke or several other medical conditions. The abbreviation “CVA” means cerebrovascular accident and is the medical term for stroke. The death certificate lists the condition was known for 10+ years, so it’s possible she had a stroke some time before her death that caused her left side to be weakened.
Aldus passed away in 1964, in July, just two years after Mary (almost to the day) and a month after his son Earl. Aldus also had cardiovascular disease. In addition, pulmonary emphysema and brain syndrome were listed as significant conditions at the time of his death. Brain syndrome could be a variety of things related to loss of brain function, from memory loss to loss of motion. Pulmonary emphysema is primarily caused from smoking; however, it is also caused from occupational exposure. Since Aldus was an auto mechanic, it’s likely the fumes and chemicals he was exposed to were a contributing factor. Nevertheless, he lived to be 83 years old, a good age considering the average life expectancy in 1960 was 66.6 years old (Source).
Mary and Aldus’ granddaughter remembers that Aldus fixed cars and Mary was super concerned with keeping things clean. She remembers visiting her grandparents on Christmas Eve–likely a time much enjoyed and looked forward to by Mary and Aldus.
What was your first job? How old were you when you started working? I was 16 years old when I started working (other than babysitting). My first job was at Dairy Queen. While school was in session, I worked part time–nights and weekends. During the summer I worked full time. I enjoyed working and earning money. It was exciting being able to pay for things myself. On top of that, we had some fun times at the DQ–the manager-owner made sure of that! Having a job wasn’t a necessity. My parents housed, clothed, and fed me. But earning money to have extras was very motivating.
Remember Aldus was 16 1/2 years old when his mother died in 1897. One census record indicates he had an 8th grade education. Interestingly, the city directory for 1897 lists Aldus individually, as an adult. No occupation is listed; nevertheless, seeing him listed individually is intriguing. It attests to the expectations of youth at the time. So Aldus began to work in factories.
According to the city directories, his factory career began as a box maker, which is what the directories list for his occupation in 1898 and 1899. What kind of boxes he made will likely remain a mystery. Lancaster had a variety of factories. Some that may have required box makers are Hershey’s candy and cigars. Or perhaps it was larger boxes to ship in bulk things like umbrellas or cork products. In any case, the job was likely long hours, for little pay, and in not so good conditions.
Aldus would hold various jobs before finally settling into a career. Here’s what the city directories has listed for him:
1905 Harness Maker
1911, 1913, 1916 Salesman (The 1910 Census, Aldus is listed as a Salesman at a seed store.)
1917, 1919 Machinist
On Sept 12, 1918, he registered for the draft. He was living at 507 Green Street, Lancaster, PA. His occupation is listed as an auto machinist working for Queen Motor Co. at 432 N. Queen, Lancaster.
The 432 N. Queen location had been used as a repair shop previous to it becoming The Queen Motor Company. In 1915, Butzer Brothers opened a shop at that location. Edward A. Carney decided to enter the auto business and secured a job there in 1915. Edward would eventually become a partner in the company and then sole owner.
On November 14, 1919, The Queen Motor Co. building at 432 N. Queen burned down. According to the 1924 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a History Volume IV found here, The Queen Motor Car Company was “popularly known as ‘the busiest corner in the city.’ No hour of the twenty-four finds the doors closed, no day of the year” (335). Carney held a banquet for his employees “on the evening of January 30, 1920. This was following the November of the fire, and before the new building was even started. He gave his organization the finest banquet and entertainment the city afforded, and without a word of regret for the misfortune, mapped out an enthusiastic campaign for the season shortly to open” (335). The new building was located at a different spot, but it seems that the old location was used as a repair shop by other companies as this 1920 directory shows.
Perhaps based on the mishaps of The Queen Motor Co. building, Aldus decided to go into business for himself. In the 1920 Census, Aldus and Mary live at 507 Green Street and own the home with a mortgage still on the property. Aldus is shown as age 39, which is consistent with him being born in 1880 and being 18 years old at the time of his marriage. He is listed as a proprietor in the “Garage” industry. Also, the 1927-28 city directories list his occupation as auto repair working in the rear of 507 Green, which is his home. Maybe opening his own garage was out of necessity to provide for the family when the company building burned down. It seems perhaps he did well enough to stick with it because this is his main occupation for the years ahead.
The 1930 Census has a few interesting questions. One asks if the home has a radio. Aldus’ family does not. Also asked is if the individual is a veteran, to which Aldus indicates he is not. Another question asks if the individual was actually at work the previous working day. That’s an interesting question! Aldus’ record indicates he was at work the previous working day. This question was a result of the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting situation that we refer to today as the Great Depression. If a person indicated they were not at work the previous working day, additional questions, on a supplemental sheet, were asked in an attempt to discover whether or not the person was regularly employed or was without a job. The census unemployment results were controversial and many thought the numbers didn’t reflect the true unemployment rate. Likely some thought they were only temporarily out of work and indicated so when they were really not going back to work. Other unemployment censuses were commissioned as a result.
A few items to note on the 1930 Census is that Aldus and family still live at 507 Green Street where they own the home, which they valued at $4,400. Aldus is listed as 49 years old, still consistent with being 18 years old when he married, but his age at first marriage is listed on the 1930 Census as 19. Mary is listed as being 18 years old at first marriage, but we know from the marriage license that she is 17 years old. Aldus again is listed as a proprietor of a “Garage”. Also of note is that the family has a 25 year old male boarder who worked at odd jobs.
1940 Census reveals a few more details about Aldus and his family. He is still a mechanic, but now works for City Water Works. He had worked 50 hours the week of March 24-30, 1940. He had worked 52 weeks in 1939 and had earned $1200 during the year. Aldus and Mary’s two youngest sons, Ned (age 31) and James (age 29) lived at home, which was still 507 Green Street. Ned listed his occupation as auto mechanic at his own garage, so it was likely the garage on the home’s property.
So what did Aldus do as an employee of the City Water Works? The 1946 and 1948 city directories provide the link — he was an auto mechanic at the City Bureau of Water. Why did he now, after 20 years being self employed, start working for someone else? The answer may be the Social Security Act of 1935. In order to qualify, he would have had to be employed. Working for someone would have likely been the best option to maximize his benefits.
With our first indication of his being a machinist in 1917, Aldus spent over 30 years as an auto mechanic. He had been employed for half a century. He would have been 65, and thus eligible for Social Security benefits, in 1945. It appears from the city directories that he retired around 1950.
An interesting fact shown in the 1940 census is the highest grade of education completed. Aldus is shown as completing 7 grades. Mary completed 8. Of Aldus and Mary’s sons, Ned is shown as completed 8th grade, and James had what looks like 4 years of high school education. Historically, from 1850, only about 60% of youth ages 5-19 years old were enrolled in school until about 1910 when the percentage began to increase (Source for all statistics in this paragraph). Of those enrolled, they were virtually all in elementary school. Until 1910, less than 10 our of every 100 youth aged 17 had completed high school. Even in 1940, only about 25% of the Caucasian population aged 25+ had completed 4 years of high school. Likewise, college admission rates were extremely low. Although the number of enrollments in college began to increase around 1910, enrollment didn’t really take off until about 1950. In 1870, 20% of the population aged 14+ were illiterate, and the percentage remained in the double digits until after 1900.
I share all these statistics because they are really helpful in understanding the differences that existed in our ancestor’s lives. What seems so basic to us today was just not so basic in the past. As a result, we have to look at history from the eyes of those who were living it. Just earning a living to survive was so time consuming then, producing the very basics of food, clothing, and shelter. It helps us to understand why small children were hired out and why teens stopped going to school and were employed full time. Mindsets, family patterns, and life circumstances stick around from generation to generation, which we see in the history of education. Nevertheless, situations change over time. Referring back to the 1940 census, Ned, who was born in 1909, had completed 8 years of education; however, James, who was born in 1911, appears to have completed high school. Just the two years difference in birth likely boosted James’ educational opportunities.
Let’s get back to Aldus, who is shown as completing 7 grades of school. If he started school around 8 or 9 years old, he would have completed his 7 grades at about 15-16 years old. Remember that his mother died in 1897 when Aldus was 16 1/2 years old. It’s likely that he had finished his education and was employed at the time or shortly after. This was common for the time. I have a fifteen year old daughter. She’s still in school and she does not have to worry about working to support herself or her family. Life is different now. For Aldus, it was just the norm. Very likely, his friends had stopped going to school and were getting jobs too. And so the beginning of an adult life began at 16 years old.
What do people do besides work when they are an adult? Getting married is quite common. About two years after his mother died, Aldus married Mary E. Troop. The marriage certificate says Aldus was 21 years old and Mary was 17 years old when they applied for a marriage license on April 25, 1899. If the date is correct, and his birthday is correct, he would have been 18 at the time, not 21. They were married April 29, 1899. In Pennsylvania in 1900, the legal age to marry without consent from a parent was 21, so it’s likely Aldus lied about his age so he wouldn’t have to get consent from his father. Why he felt he had to do that will likely remain a mystery.
In June 1900, Aldus and Mary lived with her Parents at 347 North Concord Street. They would have been married less than a year.
The 1900 census indicates that Mary had not given birth to any children. Aldus’s birthday is listed on the census as Nov 1879, although the provider of the family information may have gotten the year incorrect; however, his age is listed as 20, which would mean he was 19 when he married, not 21 or even 18. On the other hand, if he was born in 1880, he would have been 19 years old in June of 1900 as he wouldn’t have had his 20th birthday until November. I’m always amazed at the inconsistency of ages in historical records. I’ve written about that for several of his siblings.
The 1910 Census, taken in April, shows Aldus is 29 years old. This would be consistent with him being born in 1880. It also indicates that he and Mary have been married 11 years, which is also consistent with Aldus being 18 years old at the time of his marriage. Aldus is listed as a Salesman at a seed store. Mary is listed as being the mother of 4 children, 4 of which are still living. This is interesting as I found on Elvin’s birth certificate that he is the fourth child born, with three still living. Elvin was born in 1906. His younger brother, Ned, had been born and was listed in the 1910 census, which means the census record is likely wrong and should indicate 5 children had been born and 4 were still living. Aldus and Mary had six kids. Raymond Earl, Grace, a baby, Elvin, Ned, and James.
Aldus and Mary lived with their family at 509 Green Street, which they were renting, and were living next to Aldus’ brother William and family who lived at and owned 507 Green Street. Eventually, William and his family would move to Florida and Aldus and his family would buy William’s home.
So what did Aldus do to support his family? That will be the topic of the next post.
Aldus made his entry into this world on November 28, 1880. That was a Sunday and just 3 days after Thanksgiving day. He arrived into Samuel and Hetty’s home with 6 living siblings. One sister, Martha, had previously died in 1877 at 3 years of age. The oldest sibling, John Jacob was 13 years old. His mother, Hetty, must have been very busy because her two youngest children at the time were not very old–Annie was not quite three years old and Harry had recently turned one year old. Samuel was five, Margaret was nine, and William was eleven.
A new baby brings lots of joy, and, as every new mother knows, a lot of exhaustion and sleepless nights. I’m sure the children had chores and helped out. Still, cooking and cleaning were a whole lot different then. There were no refrigerators for home use yet–that wouldn’t be for about another 25 years–but the home may have had an icebox. The stove would likely have been a cast iron or steel stove that burned wood or coal (Source). And doing laundry? That was a lot of work. A pail of water, a plunger, and a washboard were the common implements, along with homemade lye soap, which was quite a process to make too (Source).
In 1918, according to the draft registration card, Aldus had black hair and gray eyes. The gray eyes is interesting. I was born with dark brown eyes and had dark brown eyes for many years. Somewhere along the line, my eyes have changed color and are now more hazel. I wonder when Aldus’ eyes became “grey.” He’s also shown as medium height and slender build at registration.
The WWII draft registration card is more specific. Aldus is included in the April 1942 “Old Man’s Registration.” This draft was the Fourth Registration and was for men ages 45-64 who were not already serving in the military. At that time, he was 61 years old, standing 5’5″ tall, weighing in at 190 pounds, and had gray hair and, still, gray eyes. He also has a scar on the end of the index finger on his left hand.
So it appears that Aldus grew up with black hair and gray eyes. Tragically, when he was 16 1/2 years old, his mother died. We don’t have any information regarding her death in 1897. If mothers were as central to their children’s lives then as they are now, I imagine that had a profound affect upon Aldus.
What was life like for Aldus after his mother died? We’ll take a looks at his life in the next few posts.
John Jacob Parmer passed away January 25, 1952. He had heart disease and had been in a long-term care facility for eight months.
Although he passed away in Montana, the funeral services were held in Rigby, Idaho and he was buried next to Lizzie in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Surviving at the time were 8 children, 41 grandchildren, 38 great grandchildren, and 3 great-great grandchildren. At his funeral service, the following was said:
My first recollection of him was the interest he took in the children [referring to John’s grandchildren]. He was enjoying them very thoroughly….Grandfather Parmer loved very much his family….He expressed the desire to visit the rest of the children. He missed them and wanted to see them. I have heard him on many occasions express anxiety to their welfare and express his love for them and his desire to see them.
So for those who are descended from John J., know that he cared about you and your welfare. And for those who are not descended from John J., be assured that your grandparents, and all those who came before you, cared about you and your welfare.
I never knew my Great Grandfather John Jacob Parmer. Yet I am glad for his life. For some reason, I am drawn to my ancestors. I echo this quote:
I am bound to them, though I cannot look into their eyes or hear their voices. I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them. — Author unknown.
John Jacob never remarried after his wife died. I often wonder what leads a person to remarry or stay single after a spouse passes away. He lived 27 years as a widower. At his own funeral service, it was said that “He missed greatly the association of his mate that he loved and lived with for many years. He lived alone for some 27 years, but he never lost that love or lost sight of that smiling face that lived with him.”
During those years as a widower, I imagine he had lots of time to spend with his posterity. In 1932, he sold his property and moved to Bozeman, Montana. Here are a few photos from his later years.
On October 5, 1925, Lizzie passed away. Her appendix had ruptured, causing peritonitis, which is inflammation of a membrane that lines the inner abdominal wall. The inflammation is from infection, which can lead to infection throughout the body. I haven’t researched Lizzie’s life specifically, but I love the photos of her that I have gathered. She’s always smiling. From the photos, it’s obvious that her life was full of hard work and was without modern conveniences. Nevertheless, her smile is indication that no matter life’s circumstances, a person can be happy. Enjoy the slideshow!
John Jacob decided to get his own homestead in Montana. He got a piece of land near the back waters of Hebgen Dam. You can read the land grant at this site. It’s dated November 5, 1925. I thought it interesting that, after the date, the documents states the number of years of independence–150 years. The United States was so young! And it still is, relatively.
I wondered if Calvin Coolidge signed the grant personally. So I did a little research and found that autopens, machines that use a pen to write a signature, were not really employed until the late 1940’s. But most presidents had at least one person that signed documents for them, especially land grants. So it’s very unlikely that the signature was by Coolidge himself.
Even thought he Land Grant is dated November 1925, John J. lived there before that time. A few biographical accounts place them on the property in 1920, after leaving the hay ranch. In addition, we have photos of Lizzie on the property, and she passed away the month before the land grant date. So we know they were on the property before the dated document. So I did a little research and found that under the 1862 Homestead Act, a person could fill out an application, move onto the land, and live on it for five years. After the five years, they could complete paperwork to receive a patent upon providing evidence that they met all the stipulations of living on the land continuously for the five years. So if they filed the initial application in 1920, then the five years would be up in 1925. And that corroborates the biographies that they moved to the homestead in 1920.
The property included 147.58 acres. Here’s a map that shows the property, which is the yellow highlighted area.
If you have ever driven from Island Park to West Yellowstone on Highway 20, you have driven right through what was John Jacob’s property. I have driven right through it and didn’t know! It’s quite a large piece of land. Below is a photo taken before June 13, 1934. I know that because there is a stamp on the back that it was received in a loan office on that date.
Also on the back of this photo it says Hwy 191. That confused me for a bit because the highway that runs through John J.’s property today is Highway 20. After a little research, I discovered that Highway 191 was designated in 1926 and ran from Idaho Falls, Idaho to West Yellowstone, Montana on what is now numbered Highway 20. So that confusion was cleared up.
The winters in that part of Montana were brutal. The following is from a newspaper article (see image below). Sorry I don’t have the newspaper name and date, but I will add it if I am able to learn it.
Snow fell to the depth of seven feet and Grandpa Parmer had to crawl through a window in order to remove the snow from the blocked doorway. Then the mercury hit a winter stride and did loops and banks to finally call the whole thing off when 65 degrees below zero was registered. The mercury had hit the bottom of the deck with no room to go lower.
This was not the winter of the great snow but was just an average event for the sourdoughs at West Yellowstone. Tunnels were dug from house to store and an eskimo would have declared “This is it” and gone seal hunting during the inclement weather.
Then that was not all. The ranger in the park called upon the citizens to state that the weather was really cold in the area known as Yellowstone Park. The thermometer had hit a frigid 72 below and the North Pole called off all competition with West Yellowstone and sent to a mail order house for gadgets that started at zero and went the other way.
Here’s an image of the newspaper article, which you can probably read if you enlarge it on the screen. It tells about John J. becoming a great great grandfather.
And here are some winter photos from various years. The first shows just how much snow there was. There’s a house under there somewhere!
I love this next photo simply because it’s not really staged and it seems to really capture the emotions of the moment. You can tell it’s a large gathering and everyone is having a great time.
Notice the girls are all in dresses and bundled up. Some of the guys have skis on still, and there’s a pair of skis stuck in the snow. Kids are on top of a big snow pile in the background by the building.
Here’s another picture with the kids on the roof of a home surrounded by snow. This may be their home on one of the ranches, not the homestead. Or it could be an early photo of the homestead before windows were installed. In addition, June Parmer Steinmetz said they lived across the street from John J., so this could be their home.
For this next photo, I’m not sure who is standing and who is on the sled, but it looks like the person on the left could be John J. and the person on the sled could be Lizzie.
Eventually, John Jacob had a store and gas station at his homestead. Here are a couple pictures taken at different angles so you can see the surrounding terrain. The road in front would be Highway 191/Highway 20.
You can see that there were a lot of trees on the property. And the earlier photo shows some of the land had a lot of sage brush. It was a lot of acres of undeveloped, unused land. How much of it has changed in the last 100 years? There’s more homes for sure. Maybe less trees? But still a lot of pure nature. Here’s an image from google earth that shows the same property today.
John and Lizzie’s granddaughter, June Parmer Steinmetz lived across the street from the gas station when she was a child. She remembers her grandfather being a jolly, happy person. She also said that her grandmother Parmer was very strict. I imagine she was strict at times, but she also looks like she knew how to have fun. You’ll read more about Lizzie in the next post.
As their granddaughter Joy notes in an obituary of John Jacob, “in 1913 the spirit of adventure penetrated the Parmer family. Father John and mother Lizzie packed up their belongings and their eight living children and moved to West Yellowstone, Montana. From then until 1917 the Bar N Ranch was under John’s management.”
Certainly life in the west had it’s challenges, particularly without our modern day conveniences. Keeping a house and just providing food for a family was a lot more physically involved than most people have to do today. Remember John and Lizzie were accustomed to the city. We even saw some of the homes they lived in (see previous posts). They also had lived on a farm in Pennsylvania before moving to Montana. But I imagine they had no idea what the “Ranch” life would be like when they moved West.
This next photo is one of my all-time favorites. I love that it catches a moment in time. Notice Lizzie is wearing her prayer cap, which again has the black tie strings. The laundry goes through the ringer and falls into the laundry basket, which isn’t much different than some laundry baskets today. Doesn’t the porch look tidy? A few items are hung and a few items are tucked under the bench and the rest of the washing items are on the bench. I wonder what the temperature was like that day….and whether or not the porch was in the sun or on the shady side of the house.
The bucket furthest right says “Swifts.” At first research, I noticed some Swift Borax brands, so I thought it might be the laundry soap. But upon further research, it is a bucket for lard. Could you imagine getting a bucket of lard that big? Here’s a close up of a Swifts Silverleaf Brand Lard bucket I found online.
I find it interesting that people of that time ate what we call terribly unhealthy food, and they still lived long lives. Makes you wonder if the bad rap those kinds of fats get has any truth to it. Reduce, reuse, recycle was a necessity then, not an option like it is today. Only then, instead of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” it was “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Some of you may have heard that before. Lard wasn’t wasted when butchering, but was put to use, and an empty lard bucket wasn’t wasted either, but was put to use.
What drew the family West? It may have been family. John Jacob succeeded the Abraham Rote family at the Bar N Ranch. Abraham Rote was the husband of John Jacob’s sister, Margie Alice. Ted says in his history that the Rote family moved to Montana 6 years previous to 1913. So it is likely John and Lizzie were persuaded to move West and work for the Bar N. The Bar N Ranch is still around. You can stay there for a fee. The website is https://bar-n-ranch.com/
The Bar N Ranch was a cattle ranch seven miles west of West Yellowstone, but it was also used for hay that the L.A. Murray Co. freighted into Yellowstone National Park for the work and stage horses. The Ranch was originally homesteaded by Mattie Canton, the mother-in-law of L.A. Murray. The Parmers stayed at the Bar N Ranch for three years. When the Hebgen Dam was built, Hebgen Lake flooded the meadows that were used for Hay. Without hay for the cattle, the cattle were sold.
This photo could be of the Bar N Ranch or the Murray Hay Ranch.
John and Lizzie decided to move to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where they stayed until 1920. During that time, John worked as a butcher. Here’s a photo in Idaho Falls. Notice Lizzie has on her prayer cap.
In 1920, the family moved back to the Madison Basin to work at the Murray Hay Ranch. The hay was sold to the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co Stage Line.
When the buses took over the stage line, there wasn’t as much need for hay. Then John and Lizzie decided to get their own homestead. More about the homestead will be coming up in the next post.
I haven’t found much written record of their life between 1913 and 1920, but I’m grateful for these few photos. They really help to imagine what life was like for them.