Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Uncle Elvie's Story: Part 1

Uncle Elvie was sort of a mystery man in my family. He left Hopkins County, Kentucky as a young man and only occasionally returned. His Kentucky nieces and nephews knew very little about his life. When I became interested in the family history, I asked my four surviving aunts questions about my father’s side of the family (Elvie was their mother’s brother). 

Brothers: Jimmy, Elvie & Dick Hankins; 1950s
They didn’t know very much. I was told that Elvie lived in Idaho, worked as an insurance salesman and married several times, possibly as many as seven, but had no children. They knew the first name of one wife. Harriet. They said he had a heart attack on a plane while returning home to Idaho, maybe from a visit to Kentucky. The plane landed in Arizona and he died there. 

Some of that is true, some is not. I’ve found much more. 

This is Uncle Elvie’s story. 

Elvie was named for his paternal grandfather who died when his father was a young boy. His full name was Albert Elvie Hankins but everyone in the family called him Elvie or Ev. He was the second of Thomas Leander Hankins and Samantha Angeline Petty’s seven children, born on 16 October 1882 in Dalton in the western part of Hopkins County. 

The family still lived in Dalton in 1900 and Elvie worked as a farm laborer. He worked for St. Bernard Coal Company when he married for the first time in 1901. Mary Ella Edmonds was born in Illinois but lived in Hopkins County with her sister, Clara (and Frank) Richardson, by 1900. She worked as a telephone operator in 1900 and was the bookkeeper for John M. Victory and Company at the time of their marriage. Elvie and Ella were married on 27 Jun 1901 at the Richardson’s home in Earlington. 

Little blurbs in the Earlington Bee newspaper over the next few years give a glimpse of Elvie’s life but also raise a few questions. Sometime between the wedding in June 1901 and March 1902, Elvie started working for the railroad and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. 

The 27 March 1902 edition of the Earlington Bee ran this notice:
“Furniture for Sale — As I am going to leave Earlington I will dispose of the furniture purchased two months ago, at reasonable figures. The furniture includes 1 iron bed, 1 wash stand, dining room chairs, 1 cook store, 1 spring cot, 1 kitchen table, and can be seen at J. M. Victory’s store. Mrs. Ella Hankins” 
More information followed the next week. 

3 April 1902, Earlington Bee: 
“Mrs. Ella Hankins, who for some time past has been bookkeeper for the firm of J. M. Victory & Co., has gone to join her husband in Kansas City, Mo., where he is employed in a power house. We trust they may be successful and contented in their new home.” 
It is not known how long Elvie was in Kansas City before Ella relocated to be with him. 

18 Jun 1903, Earlington Bee: 
“Mr. Elva Hankins formerly of this place, but now of Kansas City, Mo., is visiting friends and relatives here. “ 
23 Jul 1903, Earlington Bee: 
“Mr. Elva Hankins left Tuesday night for Kansas City, Mo.” 
It appears that Elvie was visiting for over a month (although that could have been multiple visits with only the start of one and the end of the other making the paper). But where was Ella in 1903? Seems like she would have been mentioned if she was traveling with Elvie. Did she die? Did they divorce? 

Between July 1903 and April 1904, Elvie moved to East St. Louis, Illinois but was still working for the railroad. 

7 Apr 1904, Earlington Bee: 
“Mr. A. E. Hankins has returned from East St. Louis, where he has been switching in the yards.” 
Less than a year later, Elvie resigned and returned to Hopkins County. The 30 March 1905 edition of the newspaper notes that he had resigned from the L & N Railroad. He was mentioned a couple of times after that (May and June, 1905) as living in Nortonville, a community in the southern part of Hopkins County, and conducting business in Earlington but the type of business was not given. 

Elvie went back to work for the railroad and left Hopkins County again. In 1910 he lived at 16 4th Avenue East in Hutchinson, Reno County, Kansas. He was a roomer in Dick Garrison’s household. Dick was a conductor and Elvie a brakeman. Elvie’s marital status was single — not widowed or divorced. If Elvie resumed visiting his parents in Hopkins County about once a year like he’d done when he previously lived out of state, it didn't make the newspaper for the next ten years or so.

Nothing is known about Elvie’s life after the 1910 census until he joined the U.S. Army on 20 March 1918. He enlisted in Company B of the 62nd Regiment, 4th Railway Division at Spivey, Kansas and served in France and England during World War I. Elvie’s two youngest brothers, Perry and Jimmy were also in France during the war and they were somehow together, at least long enough for a photo. Elvie was discharged from the army on 11 July 1919.

Continued . . .

[Newspaper quotes are from The Earlington Bee at Chronicling America. Photos courtesy of Faye McCauley and Rick Thorpe.]


  1. Great research work and thank goodness for those small local newspapers! Looking forward to Part 2 :-) Jo

  2. Agree, bless those local newspapers! They fill in the blanks.

  3. Newspapers and a lot of other online records. Almost all of this research was done online because I had no idea where he might have been at any given time.