My grandmother, Thelma Hathorn Johnson Graves (pictured on the left), and my aunt Elenor “Elna” Hathorn Burkhalter (pictured on the right) were always together. My aunt Christine Hathorn Durr, the third member of this trio, is probably hiding away from the camera. My Nanny and Aunt Elna were the ones out front. They laughed loudly, smoked cigarettes and drank beer. Aunt Christine was quite reserved in contrast. She would rarely speak in public. She never drank beer or alcohol or smoked cigarettes. The youngest three sisters of the Hathorn family. The secret keepers.
As I have embarked on the family history journey, I’ve uncovered bits of the secrets that they kept. But no ultimate Truth to date.
My grandmother had a first husband, Eddie Hugh Johnson. I found the marriage certificate. A cousin told me that she seemed to remember that someone had said that my grandmother had been married once before my grandfather but she couldn’t remember what happened to the man.
My Aunt Elna was married to a man named Joe Burkhalter. Again I found a marriage certificate. Again a cousin says that she seemed to remember a marriage, but she couldn’t remember what happened to the man.
My Aunt Christine was married to a man named Mack Durr. Yes, I found a marriage certificate. Yes a cousin says that she remembered something. This time, however, I found the niece of Mack Durr. A fellow genealogist who was able to give me a little more of the story of this woman with whom I had lived my childhood and adult life through 2008.
Oh, the things they kept!
My latest challenge? Those cousins who remember a little of this and a little of that have asked if I could find their father’s father. This is the big secret of the family. The eldest daughter of Arthur and Idella Hathorn had a son out of wedlock. This son was raised as the youngest child of Arthur and Idella. It wasn’t until he was 65 and applying for benefits that he discovered that his biological mother was his sister.
Of course, my cousins asked my grandmother and her two sisters for the answers. As my cousin says, “Your grandmother and Aunt Elna and Aunt Christine called us everything but the child of God, so that was the end of that.”
I don’t know if we will find the answers, but I’m thankful for the riddles.