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Saturday, December 27, 2014

52 Ancestors: #50 Anna Mae Bennett (1898 – 1977) and #51 Owen Carl Henn (1906-1988), my grandparents

Climbing My Family Tree: Anna Mae (Bennett) & Owen "Carl" Henn - early to mid 1950's
Anna Mae (Bennett) & Owen "Carl" Henn - early to mid 1950's
Click to Make Bigger

This is my last post for the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge initiated by Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small blog. For more information about the challenge and links to the other blogs participating in the challenge, please click on the badge in the right margin. I didn’t make it to 52; but considering that I took 4 or 5 weeks off in the summer to pack, move, and unpack, I don’t feel bad about it.  I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m also glad to be done.

Anna Mae (Bennett) and Owen Carl Henn are my grandparents, my father’s parents. I will not be naming their children or giving specifics about them in this post as they are still living.

The Grandma I remember was, to my child’s memory, what we now call an introvert, and she was also quite shy. She loved her God, her husband, her children and her grandchildren fiercely. But she didn’t like crowds much, and would get overwhelmed and withdraw into another room for a while until she could come back out to be with people. She loved reading, and listening to music.  My memories of her remind me of me (minus the kids – I haven’t got a maternal bone in my body – and Grandma loved being a Mom and a grandmother, and minus that degree of shyness).

The Grandpa I remember was a do-er. He dug wells in his 70’s -- by hand! He gardened – on a large scale. He loved puzzles – did jigsaw puzzles upside down, green side up. Loved those odd puzzle things you get only at Christmas. He loved math. He found mathematical puzzles in the Bible. He loved the Bible and God and his family. He had a lot of Bibles. I have one of them now. I have his jigsaw puzzle gene too – but the math gene skipped me entirely.

I tried to write their entries separately as I did for my mother’s parents. But for Mom’s parents I had newspaper articles from their home town that covered the minutest things throughout their growing up years (who went to whose 4-year-old’s birthday party, 50th anniversaries, kid’s plays, football games, debate clubs etc.) But, although I’ve got basic documents such as census documents, city directories , etc., as I’ve noted before, there are very few local papers online for Michigan’s Lapeer and Sanilac counties for this time period -- and none that mentioned my grandparents.  Moreover, I discovered that my grandparents didn’t make the papers in the town they spent their adult life in. So I’m depending more on the email interviews I did of my uncle, my Dad, and my aunts.  In the stories I know, and the ones I learned, Anna and Carl are too intertwined to do separate blog posts well so I decided to write about them together.

As we’ve seen both Anna and Carl (Grandpa went by “Carl” to friends and family because his father was “Owen,” too; but in nearly all official documents he is “Owen C. Henn”) descended from people who pushed their boundaries to live on the edge of civilization, leaving family and home for the gamble and the hope of better things to come.  Both Carl and Ann’s ancestors were hard working people who did their best to make a good life for their families with what was available to them. When you read Carl and Anna’s story, you can tell that that blood runs in their veins.

I don’t have a birth certificate for Anna, and her children tell me “there were some questions about her birth year,” although they agree that her birth day was May 16.  I think her birth year was about 1898 or 1899. In the 1900 census she was listed as 2 years old, which put the birth year as likely 1898.  In the 1910 & 1920 census, she was listed as 11 and 21 respectively, which indicates a birth year of 1899.  After she got away from home and married a younger man, she indicated in 1930 that she was 28 (which would have her born in 1902) and in 1940 as 40 years old (1900).  I think that the earlier ones, where the information was supplied by her family are more likely to be right.  Moreover, the Ohio and Social Security death indices and her obituary also all say she was born in 1898. 

Anna loved books, school, and learning, and had dreams of going to college. She grew up in a farm in Maple Valley Township in Sanilac County, Michigan. Unfortunately, she was just old enough, when her mother became ill, to help care for her parents, Andrew and Anna Gregor Bennett, her younger siblings, and keep up the housework, and she spent the next 13 years of her life doing so, as her older siblings went to college, or got married, and struck out into lives of their choosing. (See the posts on Anna Gregor Bennett and on Andrew Bennett for a listing of her siblings and their spouses.) She also knew sorrow, and just how short a time one could have to live her dreams, as her older sister, Elizabeth, died at age 28, in 1920, not long  after marrying; Anna was 22. Anna wanted to finish school and go to college, but she was not allowed to go to school past 8th grade. After her mother died in 1828 (her father had died three years before), Anna left the small town home where she had cared for her parents, to move to the big city of Detroit. She got a job in a Department store – my father recalled the job was as a secretary, and that it was a job for which she had to dress very nicely and she was pretty. She hoped to save money to go to school.

Climbing My Family Tree: Map of Southeast Michigan
Map of Southeast Michigan,
showing where Sanilac &Lapeer Counties are in relationship to Detroit,
In the public domain
Click to Make Bigger

I’m going to save the story of how she met Carl Henn until after I tell you about his beginnings.

My grandfather also had boundaries placed on him my Aunt tells me he felt ignored his dreams. Owen Carl Henn (“Carl”) was born on December 27, 1906 to Owen James and Myrtie Mabel Wilcox Henn. I don’t have his birth record either but all the other documentary evidence I do have that mentions a specific date is in agreement. As a farmer’s son, he was used to helping out on the family farm in Lapeer County, Michigan, while he went to school, but he had dreams of going to college to become a math teacher.  He had taught Sunday school at his family’s church from late high school on. One of my aunts told me that Carl’s father, Owen Henn, did not allow Carl to go to school past age 16 and pulled him out to work full time on the farm. But Carl reported on the 1940 census that he had finished all four years of high school. In either case, he was not given the option to go to college and was held to farm work until he turned 21, in 1927. (See posts on Owen James Henn and Myrtie Mabel Wilcox for his parents' stories and listing of brothers and sisters.)

I know the family story is that Carl and Anna married one month after he turned 21, but Grandpa’s (Carl’s) genealogy notes say that he married Anna on January 26, 1929, and the Michigan marriage records confirm that; so it was 13 months after he turned 21.  The 1929 date comports with the rest of the story, too.  It looks like Carl left the farm after his 21st birthday, and went to Detroit and found a job, likely as a laborer, and began saving money, still with the dream of going to college.

My aunt told me that Anna met Carl in Brown City, the small town nearest to where each of them grew up, when she took her nieces to Sunday school, which he taught. But my Dad, my uncle, and my Mom told me that Carl met Anna at a church Bible study and some church socials in Detroit, which fits, as Anna had been living in Detroit since 1928. He was attracted to her because she was so pretty, well dressed, and well read, and from the same small rural area he was from. He may have found her, an older, pretty, well-dressed woman, a touch exotic. He courted her and she liked this young man from the same sort of background as she, who was a church-going man, with the same dreams as her of further education.

Climbing My Family Tree: Carl and Anna (Bennett) Henn, circa 1929 - wedding picture, I think
Carl and Anna (Bennett) Henn, circa 1929 - wedding picture, I think
Click to make bigger

They married, in Detroit, on January 26, 1929. He was 22 and she was 30 years old. They started out living in Detroit and Anna became pregnant within a few months. Unfortunately, they lost all their savings in the stock market crash of October 1929 and the resultant financial panic. Carl likely lost his job then too, because, the family story is that after they lost nearly everything, they heard that there were jobs in Indianapolis IN and Dayton OH and they flipped a coin to choose which city to move to. The coin flip sent them to Dayton, Ohio.

In the longer run the choice was a good one. Dayton did suffer from the Depression, but as the war escalated in Europe in the late 1930’s, many of Dayton’s many factories were converted to produce war-related supplies to be shipped overseas, and, therefore, Dayton’s economy began to recover sooner than other cities. But they arrived at the start of the Great Depression, and they didn't know that yet, and neither did anyone else in Dayton.  In Ohio, by 1933, more than 40% of factory workers and 67% of construction workers were unemployed. In 1932, Ohio’s unemployment rate for all residents reached 37.3%. The industrial workers who managed to retain their jobs experienced reduced hours and wages. People had a terrible time trying to support, and feed, their families.

When Carl & Anna first got to Dayton, the only work Carl could find was as a farm hand at a $1 a day, seven days a week plus room and board, and he took it.  Anna helped by cutting wood on the farm, even though she was pregnant. Carl knew they needed more money with a child on the way, therefore, because it was more money per week, he quit his job and they went on Welfare at $15 a week, until he was able to find other better paying work.  By April 2, 1930, when the census was taken, he was a laborer (freight handler) in the B & O rail yard, and he and Anna were renting a home or apartment for $28 a month; their first son was born twenty days later.

The 1930 and 1931 city directories show that Carl & Anna were living at 18 Pioneer Street about one block west of the Miami River. At that time, through about the 1950’s, anything west of the river that split Dayton was known as the poor side of town. Carl was soon promoted to “checker” at the rail yard which involved assuring that freight was moving to the correct car, to arrive at the proper destination; later he was promoted to foreman.

In 1933 they moved further west to 43 Harvard Blvd, outside of the downtown area. My father was born that year, a healthy baby boy, over eight pounds!  My Dad told me that he was born in Drexel and Harvard Blvd doesn’t look that close to Drexel on the map so there may have been another address between 1931 and 1933; I haven’t been able to find the 1932 city directory.

They only lived at the Harvard Street address for about one year before moving to 39 Dennison Ave., southwest of the city. The city directories show them at the Dennison Ave. address from 1934 through 1937. A baby girl was born to Carl and Anna in 1934, and in April 1935, Anna’s younger sister, Margaret, died, bringing more sorrow to her and making her children all the more precious to her.

Climbing My Family Tree: Three of Carl & Anna's addresses in Dayton, OH
Three of Carl & Anna's addresses in Dayton, OH
Courtesy of Google Maps (& Skitch)
Click to map bigger

By 1937, the city’s economy was improving as war ramped up in Europe and the city’s factories switched to producing wartime supplies for Europe, so salaries also increased. As the economy improved, people from other areas began migrating to Dayton to find work, but Dayton was unprepared for the influx and an acute housing shortage developed. By the early 1940’s, it was reported to the Public Welfare Office that multiple families were sharing single homes, and other families were living in hotel rooms, garages, automobiles, and even sewer pipes.

Carl and Anna had been saving what they could, and some time after Anna’s younger sister died, Anna received a $500 bequest from her sister’s estate.  With that money they bought two acres of a farm being subdivided out in Jefferson township, a largely rural area of Montgomery county, to the southwest of, and abutting, Dayton; one acre had a garage or large shed on it. The acre with the garage cost $175 and the one with the building cost $125, according to my aunt. Carl bought building materials with the other $200.  My Dad remembers the family moving into that one room dirt-floored garage before he started school. According to the city directories, they were living on the property as of 1938. Dad remembers they got a fierce cat, Balti (for the Baltimore & Ohio railroad where his father worked), to deal with the rats that were used to stealing the grain that used to be stored there. The family lived in the garage while Carl built an 8 room, 2-story house, with a basement and well that he dug by hand with pick and shovel. Dad remembers that every day after work his father would come home with some of the box car package framing sticking out of his Model A Ford’s window; he used it in building the house.  After he got home from work, he would work until dark on the house, helped by the kids. After Carl finished one room (the living room, about 12’ x 16’), the family moved out of the garage and into that one room while he built the rest of the house around them; they would expand into each new room as it was done.

Climbing My Family Tree: My Grandpa built this house! on Olt Rd Extension in Jefferson twp, Montgomery cty OH
My Grandpa built this house!
on Olt Rd Extension in Jefferson twp, Montgomery County OH
Click to Make Bigger

The house was built without electricity or indoor plumbing; it had a gas furnace in the basement with registers cut in the floors to allow the heat to rise to the next level.  My aunt remembers studying by kerosene lantern.  When it was finished, (although one of my aunts contends, with a laugh, that it was never finished), it had a living room, dining room, kitchen, and four bedrooms … and by the time I remember it, indoor plumbing, electricity, and a bathroom.

The property became the one house in the neighborhood that all the kids played at. They had a baseball diamond laid out in the yard, and Carl built them a clubhouse in the basement.

Part of the reason they wanted that much land was to raise goats to supplement the table with milk, cheese, and meat, and a garden to bring more food to the table. Initially, each spring they rented a horse to plow one acre for corn to feed the goats for a year. They used a single bottom handheld plow. When my uncle was 9, Carl taught him to drive the Model A to pull the plow so they didn’t have to rent the horse anymore. Carl dug a huge vegetable garden, and turned the soil each year, by hand. They grew potatoes, green beans, lima beans, corn, peas, lettuce, onion, carrots, tomatoes, etc. They also had a small orchard (apple, pear, and peach trees and grapes, raspberries and blackberries).

Climbing My Family Tree: Walk behind, horse-drawn (or Model A - drawn!), single bottom, handheld plow
Walk behind, horse- drawn  (or Model A- drawn!), single bottom, handheld plow.
In the public domain.
Click to Make Bigger

At that house, Anna did washing on Monday: an all-day job.  According to my uncle’s recollection water was pumped from the well, then carried to the kitchen stove to be heated. Clothes and sheets & such were washed in a tub with a scrub board. She washed, rinsed, and wrung out each item, then hung it all up on a clothesline, and when dry took it all down again. She ironed all day on Tuesdays, with irons heated on the stove, and folded each item. In addition, , cleaned house and cooked meals on a gas stove, without refrigeration, and washed up without a dishwasher and after having gone out to pump more  water and heating it on the stove. They tried to have meat on the table once a week: sometimes a rabbit, sometime a chicken, and occasionally a goat.  Late summer and fall, she spent innumerable hours harvesting the orchard and vegetable garden, cleaning and sterilizing canning jars and lids, and then canning all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Her children were the main focus of her life, and later, her grandchildren. But whenever she had a quiet moment, she loved to read books she had gotten from the library (since she didn’t drive, she had to walk a mile or so to the end of the trolley rail line to take a city trolley car to the library), or, if she thought no one was around, she would play the piano.

The family went to church “every day it was open”, at the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church in Liberty Ohio (a community in Jefferson Township that doesn’t seem to exist anymore). Carl taught adult Sunday school there, and was a superintendent of the Sunday school. He also taught a Men’s Bible Study at the Euclid Avenue EUB in Dayton, and Bible at Sinclair College. I know he later also took several correspondence courses in the 1950’s in such subjects as “Bible Studies”, and “Guidance In Christian Homemaking”, and “John – Life Through Believing”, as I have the certificates of  completion he received. I also have a copy of one of his Sunday school curriculum memos – it’s an intense course. His belief in God and his religion/church was very important to him. It was also important to Anna, but my father thought that her beliefs were not as rooted in a literal reading of the Bible as those of her husband. That dichotomy of belief has carried down to the next generation with some following in their father’s footsteps, and some, more in their mother’s.

In 1940, Dayton had 432 factories; from the late 1930’s through the mid-1940’s many of those producing war-related products. As the wartime economy ramped up, Carl knew that while he was making good money as foreman at B & O and loved working with trains, he could make more money at G.M., and he hired on to work on the assembly line at Frigidaire in the Moraine City plant, which made propellers and aircraft machine guns. He was soon promoted to “set up man”, which meant going in two hours before the first shift started to prepare for that day’s production.  My uncle told me that at some point Carl was working two jobs as he got off work at G.M. at 1 p.m., then went out to Hamilton OH to work at a B & O rail yard there, too. The city directories only list Carl as working at the rail yard – I guess that’s the job he liked best. When he switched to working for Frigidaire, he lost his draft deferment. In the 1940 Census, Carl reported working 48 hours the week before, and that his income in 1939 was $1120. (For comparison’s sake for my younger readers, in 1939, the average yearly wage in the U.S. was $1730; average rent was $28 a month; a new home cost $3800, a new car was $700 and gas was 10 cents a gallon.)

Climbing My Family Tree: Propeller made by Frigidaire during WWII in Moraine City plant
Propeller made by Frigidaire during WWII in Moraine City plant
[Note: I couldn't find copyright info on this picture, or who to contact for permission to use.
If it's yours, comment below, with available proof, & I'll attribute or take it down as you choose.]
Click to Make Bigger 

In 1942, a second daughter was born to Carl and Anna. The older children were 12, 9, and 8. They considered her a miracle. She was a well-loved baby.

In 1944, at age 38, Carl was drafted into the army. The family was very scared. Several men in the neighborhood had died in the war so they knew the danger was real. They held family prayer meetings and sang and prayed every night from when he got his draft notice until he left for Ft. Thomas in Newport KY in March, 1944. While he was away, Anna made sure each child wrote their father daily, as she did. Carl responded to each letter individually.  Anna was given a driver’s license without having to take a test even though she had never driven, because Carl was in the military and the family did not live near public transportation or any stores. My uncle, then 14, was given a restricted license, but at least he had driven the Model A to pull the plow in the garden and knew how the car worked.

Carl did not want to leave home. He felt he was needed more at home than by the army.  He had had rheumatic fever when he was 14, and, occasionally, his heart would act up, especially if he smoked or was around cigarette smoke. Nearly everyone smoked in the army, and he spent a lot of time in Army hospitals.  The Army doctors decided that his heart was too bad for him to remain in the Army and be shipped overseas, and so he was discharged. He came home 7 months and 22 days after he left. The night he came home the children heard their dog, Shep, barking outside, and when they went to look, saw their father walking straight across the fields to the back of the house carrying a shopping bag of gifts for his children, with Shep ecstatically running circles around him, barking like crazy.

He returned to work at Frigidaire, and continued working there until he retired.  

In 1948, Anna grieved the death of another older sister, at only 54. This left Anna the only surviving sister in her family. In the end, Anna, who was the sixth of eight children, outlived all of her sisters and brothers.

Carl & Anna’s oldest son married his high school sweetheart in 1950.  Their oldest daughter married in 1957. Their younger son married in 1959, and younger daughter in 1962.  On March 18, 1962, just weeks before his youngest child’s wedding, Carl’s older sister Hazel (58) was murdered in her home by a burglar who beat and then strangled her, while she fought him. $900 was taken, but nothing else was disturbed. I don’t know how you deal with news like that about your sister’s death in that manner.

Climbing My Family Tree: Carl & Anna at my father's wedding - cropped from couple & parent's photo
Carl & Anna at my father's wedding - cropped from the 'bridal couple & parents' photo
Click to make bigger

I asked Dad, but he can’t remember when his father retired, but can recall seeing him make calculations repeatedly to determine whether he would have enough money in retirement to live on. When he calculated that he would have $6000 a year, he retired because he felt they could live comfortably on that.

After retirement, he became more involved in the church, helped his neighbors with building projects, worked in his garden, and took up the hobby of researching his family’s genealogy (the traditional way – no computers) and his work on that (and that of other’s on my father’s side – it seems to be in the genes) has formed the foundation of mine. (Thanks, Grandpa!)

In her later years, Anna developed medical issues similar to dementia (so sad for such a bright person), and Carl cared for her. She died on September 7, 1977, while Carl was feeding her oatmeal. She was 79.

Carl lived for 11 more years. He didn’t care for being alone and he met someone who helped him not feel alone, and enjoy life again.  On July 11, 1980, he married Winnie Korn Baver, became instant (step) grandfather to her grandchildren as their grandfather was dead.  He was 73 and she was nine years younger than him. They moved to a trailer park in Miamisburg OH.  I remember her as bubbly and cheerful and their home as bright and filled with tchotchkes everywhere. Carl died on April 14, 1988, at age 81.  Winnie outlived him by 18 years; she never remarried.

My grandparents pushed against the boundaries placed on them by their families to make their own lives. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, they left Michigan and their birth families behind for the gamble and the hope of better things to come.  Although they never did get to realize their original dreams and attend college themselves, like their ancestors, Carl and Anna were hard working people who did their best to make a good life for their family with what was available to them. They succeeded in that. And they succeeded in passing on their love of learning and their love of God to their children. They raised four children who went to college and obtained advanced degrees, paying for it themselves. In addition, all of them have had good careers and have good families and a strong faith. 


I would like to know more of Carl & Anna’s years in Michigan, and about their life after the 1950's.
I know I need to track down copies of the documentation I mentioned that I don’t have.
I Love hearing any story I can about them.
More pictures would be great too, especially a better copy of the one that I think is their wedding picture.
There is probably more I'd like to know but it's after 3:00 AM and I can't think of it right now.

U.S. Census for years 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1940; Dayton City Directories for 130, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1942; WWII Army enlistment records; Ohio Birth Index; U.S Social Security Death Indices; Email interviews of my aunts, uncle and Dad, 2014;  Interviews of my father over a decade, compiled into a small book in or about 2008; “Ohio Modern: Preserving Our Recent Past Dayton and Surrounding Area Survey Report”, prepared for the Ohio Historic Preservation Office of the Ohio Historical Society by Heritage Architectural Associate, Kathy Mast Kane, Historic Preservation Consultant and Nathalie Wright, Project Manager and Historic Preservation Consultant, September 2010 (found at;;; Ohio Marriage Index for 1980; Memorial # 13206439 for Winifred Korn Baver-Henn.

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