Gender-Confused, Transgender, or Just Messing Around? –
Today’s Way Back Wednesday genealogy photo provides undeniable evidence that one of my ancestors participated in at least one incidence of crossdressing. So what was going on with that?
Pictured from left to right are Hilda Oberender, Clara (Clark) Bales, and Blanche (Bales) Sickels. Clara was my great-grandmother. Blache was her sister-in-law, and Hilda was the first cousin of Blanche and my great-grandpa.
* This post contains affiliate links.
Blanche, more formally Ethel Blanche, was the daughter of Ozro and Estella (Sharp) Bales. Blanche was born in 1903, likely near Bloomingport, Indiana. She married Marshel (actually Charles Marshel) Sickels in 1921 in Randolph County, Indiana. Marshel and Blanche had three sons. The first son died in infancy. The other two sons have many descendants still living in Randolph County today.
Blanche’s older brother Ralph was born in 1901. Ralph Bales married Clara Mildred Clark in 1918 in Randolph County. Ralph and Clara are my great-grandparents. Clara was the daughter of James and Mary Elizabeth (Noggle) Clark. James Clark was a colorful character, and he’s probably deserving of his own post someday. Let’s just say the man was married before Mary Elizabeth, but he climbed out the window on his wedding night and never returned to that first wife, and that story gets even weirder from there.
Hilda Oberender, born in 1902, was a cousin to Blanche and Ralph. Hilda’s mother was Rosella (Bales) Oberender, the sister of my great-great-grandpa Ozro Bales. Ozro and Zella’s parents were John Henry and Martha (Batchelor) Bales. You’ve met John Henry and Martha in other posts. John Henry operated the livery stable at Bloomingport which was the featured picture in a previous Way Back Wednesday. To my knowledge, Hilda and her mother and sister always lived with John Henry and Martha.
Zella was married at one time to Frank Oberender, but he took off to Iowa when Hilda’s older sister was small. My grandpa said he “went to seek his fortune.” Apparently, “his fortune” included a new wife and a bunch more kids. My grandpa always spoke of him as a shady character, and we always wondered what happened to him after he left Randolph County.
This week a new friend I met on Twitter helped solve some of the mystery surrounding Frank Oberender’s later life. Aunt Churchy replied to my tweet about the Early 1900’s Threshing Ring last week because John Henry shows up on her family tree. From there we began exploring the What Ethnicity Is Ozro Bales? question which led us to a discussion of Hilda’s very dark skin and her parentage.
Aunt Churchy and I apparently have a lot in common with an extreme affection for genealogy and a love for Disney. (You should check out her really cool and informative Disney site Mousecation.) With some digging on Frank Oberender, Aunt Churchy found this exciting newspaper clip.
I guess we now know what ultimately happened to Frank Oberender. I wish my grandpa were alive to hear that account, since he was always curious about Frank’s later whereabouts. Sam Johnson was the only one left to tell his side of the story.
Those of us with handgun carry permits in Indiana are generally well-educated on the Castle Doctrine that is in effect in this state and many others. You can read the full Indiana Code pertaining to Stand Your Ground here if you would like to explore the current legal implications of self-defense. Sam Johnson was taken to jail awaiting an investigation. Did his claim of self-defense justify his use of deadly force in the eyes of the law in that state at that time?
There may be more to the story of Frank’s death. Did he really try to slash Sam Johnson? Apparently, hay was serious business for these two men. We’re offered no further information about the results of the investigation. What did Frank’s kids think about all of this? Did they believe Sam’s account?
Regardless of Frank Oberender’s unfortunate demise, Frank was not the father Hilda Oberender pictured above. Frank was already in Iowa by 1900. My grandpa knew the identity of Hilda’s father (or at least the man his grandparents and parents believed to be her father), but I hesitate to share that information considering I have no documentation or way of knowing if my grandpa was correct or just trusting the family oral history.
Hilda’s first husband Arthur Oler died at an early age, leaving her with the care of seven young children. She later married Clarence Huffman. She is buried with Arthur at Cherry Grove near Bloomingport, Indiana. Like Blanche and Clara, Hilda has many descendants still living in Randolph County today.
So why were these three women crossdressing?
Were my great-grandma and other relatives transgender? Were they gender-confused? Considering they all married and became pregnant with many children, it’s most likely they were just messing around with men’s clothing. I’ve been told it was quite common in the days before television for people to put on skits when they got together for large family gatherings. Perhaps it was something like that.
Based upon the previously shared photo of Ozro Bales Kidnapping Bertha Root, we already know my ancestors liked to have fun staging funny photos. Perhaps these women were just posing for the camera. A camera was new and exciting household technology in that day.
Perhaps this was some way they had of poking fun at their husbands. You can’t really see it well on the screen, but they appear to have pipes. All three are making the same angry eyebrow expression as if they think this is the common expression of all men.
We may never know the motives these three women had for dressing as men on this particular day, but I think we can safely say a sense of humor was not foreign to my ancestors and my relatives of generations past.
Let me know what you think. What’s your theory? Why were these women crossdressing?
Please like, share, pin, tweet, follow and subscribe!
Other posts related to this topic:
Other genealogy posts can be found under the Genealogy tab on the toolbar!