Do you have some crazy aunts in your family? I think everybody does. I certainly did – two of them – my father’s sisters. They were truly characters. They also were the gatekeepers to the family secrets – secrets I desperately needed to know!
William George Estes and Ollie Bolton Estes family. Children are left to right, daughter Margaret, behind Margaret, Joseph “Dode,” tall male is Charles Estle, male at right rear, my father, William Sterling Estes, looking worried, and blonde female at right beside Ollie is Minnie.
The aunts names were, officially, Margaret Lee Estes (born 1906, the brunette at left, above) and Minnie Mae Estes (born 1908, the blonde at right). I say officially, because they were fond of changing their names from time to time. That made it really difficult when discussing family items because their names were always different. Margaret seemed to settle on Jean and Minnie settled somewhat on Betty. No, I don’t know why. What I do know is that they were indeed, drama queens and they seemed to have a bit of sibling rivalry from the beginning that lasted, well, to the very end – and they both lived to be just shy of 100.
They started out as drama princesses when they were young. Both were exceptionally beautiful young women. Margaret, below, is reported to have done some modeling in Chicago about 1925, and of course she sent her modeling photos to her sister Minnie.
While Margaret went to live with her mother in Chicago after her parents divorced in the mid 19-teens, Minnie didn’t. She went back to the Claiborne County, Tennessee/Lee County, Virginia area, and in her own words, “was wild as a young buck.”
Both women would marry, both had one son. Both sons died tragically. Instead of bringing the sisters together, it seemed to further widened the gap.
Some of their crazy stories revolve around the sons and their deaths. There are allegations of murder, the mob, the mafia, huge stolen insurance policies and such. From the other sister, the same death story is quite different – homelessness, alcoholism, you get the idea. What is consistent is a lot of pain surrounding the deaths and jealousy between the sisters. And what’s worse, or better, is that I discovered that every time either of them discussed the stories, or each other, or anything for that matter, that the stories evolved or changed. They were never the same. Peachy, just peachy!
I didn’t find the sisters until they were in their late 70s. My parents were divorced and my father was killed in an automobile accident when I was in grade school. We lived about 400 miles from my father’s Tennessee family, and for some reason, my mother really didn’t want me hanging out with my Dad’s moonshining family. I would probably have loved them, which is exactly what she was worried about.
It wasn’t until many years later, when I was in my 20s, that I began searching for my father’s family to find out something, anything. That’s when I was directed to the aunts. They were the only siblings of my father yet living, and I was thrilled to find them. I initially wrote down every word they said…until I discovered that my notes from conversation to conversation contradicted each other. And if you asked them about what they said before, they would accuse you of lying, or worse, yet, talking to the enemy – the other sister – who had of course, lied. For awhile, I truly wondered if somehow I confused my notes and questioned my own sanity.
I’m extremely glad I took those notes. I put them away and years later, transcribed them. Margaret told about her homes around the world, and in the next conversation, would discuss her poverty. One time she told me that her family was spying on her to take her money. Minnie told about one of her husbands who was a politician and their time “on the hill” which I’m presuming was supposed to be Capitol Hill. I finally came to view the stories as just amusing and left it at that. They also did interesting things from time to time. Minnie/Betty once sent a pair of red sequined ballet slippers to the daughter of her deceased brother with a note that said that “no one in Tennessee loves me.” Whose slippers they were, we have no idea – she didn’t dance. Everyone in Tennessee was left someplace between amused and mystified with maybe a little creeped-out added along the edges.
There were nuggets of truth in those stories however, although they were disjoint and mining them has proven to be challenging. However, these past few days, the crazy aunts’ stories came through .
Margaret was only married once, but Minnie/Betty was married several times. I couldn’t keep her husbands straight and I don’t think she could either. However, both aunts loved to discuss my father, because whatever they had done, his escapades made theirs pale by comparison. The only bad thing was that the aunts seemed to have snippets of this and that. The all lived in different states and I think most of what they heard was through their mother, Ollie.
They loved to talk about people, and my father with his gallivanting ways proved quite a popular topic of conversation and fodder for a lot of tongue wagging and clicking. Tisk, tisk, tisk….naughty boy. Yes, indeed. But thankfully their love of gossip and “telling on him” and their rivalry to see who could tell the ‘worst” story has provided me with a couple very valuable nuggets.
They told me that my father was married about 1920 or so to a Laila LaFountain and they had a son Lee, they thought, who eventually took his step-father’s name of “Levi or Levy or something like that.” Lee, if that was his name, wound up in Louisville, Ky studying the ministry in a seminary “or something,” they recalled. He “might have been a minister.”
As it turns out, they were partially right, except they had Lee’s mother’s name wrong, unless, God forbid, there are two Lees, a possibility I’m going to entirely discount right now, to protect any shred of sanity I have left.
In my 52 Ancestors week #1 article, “ Searching for Ilo’s Son,” as things have developed, we discover that Ilo’s son’s name was Leo and his step-father’s name was Levine and in the 1930s, Ilo was living in Louisville, Ky. I remember writing years ago to a seminary in Louisville asking about a student from that time frame named Lee Levy, Levi or Estes. Of course, they didn’t find anything, but now I need to revisit this. I will catch everyone up on that story, probably next week. However, if you happen to know of a minister born about 1920 named Lee or Leo Thomas Devine, by all means, let me know. And score one for the crazy aunts!
Also, were it not for both of those women, I would have no photos of the family – none. Margaret had hers copied and sent them to me in the 1980s, with much ado and guilt inducing rhetoric. Remember, they were drama queens, and very experienced ones too. “No, you can’t pay me for them…I’ll gladly do without food.” Ok, so maybe not quite that dramatic, but you get the drift.
Minnie shared her photos with her grandson’s x-wife, who graciously shared them with me. In fact, it was the grandson’s x-wife and her boys who helped Minnie/Betty through her elder years. It’s a good thing we got copies of these photos when we did, because when the aunts died, there were absolutely no personal effects to be found anyplace.
Minnie’s grandson’s x-wife and sons did one more thing too….they got a DNA sample from Minnie during one of their visits, years ago.
Our maternal (mitochondrial) family tree is shown below.
- Margaret and Minnie Estes
- Ollie Bolton (1874 Hancock Co. TN – 1955 Chicago, Illinois) married William George Estes (divorced)
- Margaret N. Claxton/Clarkson (1851-1920 Hancock Co., Tn) married Joseph “Dode” Bolton
- Elizabeth Speaks (1832 Indiana-1903 Hancock Co. Tn) married Samuel Claxton
- Ann McKee (1805 Washington Co., Va – 1840/1850 Lee Co., Va.) married Charles Speak
- Elizabeth last name unknown married Andrew McKee (1766-1814)
This photo is of Elizabeth Speaks and Samuel Claxton in his Civil War uniform.
I’d love to have a photo of Margaret Claxton/Clarkson and Joseph Bolton, but none have surfaced to date. I’ve always wondered, though, if this photo taken about 1918, below, is of Margaret Estes (my aunt) and her grandmother, Margaret Claxton, and not her mother, Ollie. The problem is with the labeling. Another family member has this photo labeled “Margaret and grandma” which, depending on who wrote it, could be Ollie Bolton Estes or Margaret’s grandmother (Ollie’s mother,) Margaret Claxton. Ollie would have been about 45-50 in the photo and her mother would have been about 65-70. It was taken in Chicago, and I do have to wonder if Margaret Claxton would have visited Chicago, but you never know!
Here is Ollie Bolton Estes and William George Estes about 1914.
We think this colorized photo is of Ollie, but we’re not sure. No label. It was in Minnie’s photos, but it wasn’t in Margaret’s, so we don’t really know.
Here’s Ollie as an older woman.
We may not know Elizabeth MeKee’s maiden name, but we know that she and all of these women, her descendants, are haplogroup H, European. No hidden Indian princesses here. The problem is that when I tried to upgrade Minnie’s DNA sample to the full sequence to find out more, it failed. Not enough DNA or too old.
I’d love to find someone else to test for this maternal line. There’s a scholarship for anyone descended from any of these women in the maternal family tree through all females to the current generation. In the current generation, the tester can be a male or female. Women give their mitochondrial DNA to both genders of their children, but only females can pass it on. For more info on how genealogy DNA testing works, click here. If you descend from this line in any fashion, I’d love to hear from you. You can leave a comment or e-mail me at email@example.com.
And as for those crazy aunts, I hope they found some common ground in the afterlife that they were unable to find here. And maybe, just maybe, the family members “over there” are helping in some way to unravel this Ilo Bailey, William Estes, Leo Devine mystery. Heaven knows, I can certainly use all the help I can get!