Alabama

Chasing Ghosts: Andrew Conley Foster

[This post is the second in a series. The first was “It’s like he knew it was coming.”]

andrew.c.fosterI never met the man that I was named for: Andrew Conley Foster. It also seems strange to me that my older brother wasn’t named for him, instead of me, since our grandfather died about a month before my brother was born— it would have seemed a fitting tribute. My name is the combination of my parents’ two last names: Foster and Dickson. I hear my grandfather’s name probably a hundred times a day . . . but I know very little about him— so I went looking.

Andrew Foster was born in May 1905 in southern Campbell County, Virginia, in or near the community of Falling River. His father, Crother Louis Foster, was a farmer. His mother, Emma Mae (Harper) Foster, died before he turned three years old. He was the last of five children that his mother bore between 1899 and 1905— five children in six years! His older siblings’ names were: Ethel, Lacy, Walter and Frank. My grandfather’s father re-married soon after his first wife’s death, to a woman named Rosa Lee (Walker) Holland, and she brought a child of her own, Floyd Chesteen Holland, into the family; my grandfather’s step-brother was only about a year younger than he was. (I have seen the step-brother’s name alternately spelled “Chastain” and “Chesteen,” though my mother says that the latter is more how they said it.)

In mid-2013 I e-mailed Paul E. Harvey, the director of community development for Campbell County, about my grandfather, and in reply to my request he gave the following facts and inferences:

The tax records for real property and personal property show 10-12 families with the last name Foster living in the Falling River Magisterial District in the early 1900’s. This area is in the southeastern part of the County, and no other families named Foster showed up in the other districts so it appears that family name was specific to one area at that time.  None of the taxpayers listed had the exact names of your relatives but that just means they were not identified as the owner/head of household. 

Also, the 1864 Confederate Engineers map of Campbell County shows a Foster family living on the east side of the Falling River below its confluence with the Little Falling River (then known as the South Fork).   If I had to guess, I would say that is the area where your grandfather was most likely born.

The earliest census record where he appears, in 1910, lists my grandfather as “Conley,” and has him as being four years old. This record took some time to find since the archivist, historian, or intern who digitized the records into Ancestry.com has him alternately named “Coule Loster.” (I don’t know where the person got that weird name; it sounds like Kunta Kentay’s third cousin.) Apparently, he went by his middle name at this point in his life.

By the time of the 1920 census, when he would have been about 14, Andrew Conley Foster does not appear in the census record for Crother L. Foster’s household, and I couldn’t find any other census records that list him during that year. Crother Foster was living with his second wife, Rosa, and her son Chesteen in Lynchburg, Virginia. Crother was working in a glass factory there. My grandfather was not listed as living with them, neither were any of Crother’s children, and given the time period and their circumstances, I am making the assumption that they were all on their own – or close to it – at this time. (One other possibility, an assumption really: I know from what my mother has told me that my grandfather had a particular fondness for his older brother Lacy – he named my mother’s older brother, David Lacy Foster – so I’ve wondered if he might have been with Lacy at this time.)

My mother has also told me that my grandfather’s stepmother, Rosa, didn’t treat him well. She said that the only story she ever remembered hearing from him about his stepmother was: when it came time to buy school supplies, Rosa spent all of the money on her own son, and had my grandfather writing his homework assignments on the backs of paper grocery bags, which embarrassed him. This poor relationship may well have contributed to him being separated from his father and stepmother, while Chesteen (who was barely younger) was still with them.

The records that my dad left me indicate that my grandfather first married a woman named Gertrude Turner. Their children were Doris, born in 1923; Louis, born in 1926; and Fred, born in 1929. Andrew Foster would have been barely eighteen when his first child was born. I haven’t found any records that I can tie specifically to their marriage; uncharacteristically, my dad’s records do not even include a page on Gertrude Turner. (Even in cases where he couldn’t find information, Dad at least put in a sheet with the name, but not in this case.) However, my dad’s records do have a significant amount of information on Doris, including pictures of her, information about her marriage and children, and even a card from her funeral in 1980. There is a little bit of information about Louis in there, and almost nothing on Fred.

In the 1930 census, all of my searches of Andrew Conley Foster were fruitless. Yet, two of my grandfather’s three children – Louis T. Foster, age 4 (who is improperly named by the digital archivist at “Lauri T.”) and Fred Foster, age 1 – are back in rural Campbell County living with their grandfather Crother and Rosa. (The oldest child, Doris Foster, is not listed in the 1930 census as living with Crother, and none of my searches have turned up evidence of where she or Gertrude were. Doris was only 7, so she was too young to be on her own or married.) In 1930, my grandfather would have been about 24 or 25, and he had three children, two of whom weren’t living with him. That’s all I know . . .

Unfortunately, so far I can’t find any records of my grandfather in the 1940 census, which is as far as those records on Ancestry.com have been digitized. Herein lie the mysteries about this man for whom I am named: when did he leave home, and why? who is Gertrude Turner? how and when did they marry and separate? and why in 1930 are his two younger children, ages 4 and 1, living with his parents? These are questions that I can’t yet answer.

My grandfather met my grandmother, Gladys Taylor, during his service for World War II, when he was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, so there is a pretty shadowy period from about 1920 (when he was about 15) until the 1940s (when he would have been in his late 30s), during which I can find very little specific information. (I’ve even looked for Coule Loster!) My mother told me that, at some point, he talked about having lived in Baltimore, but she can’t remember any details of when or what he was doing there.

Yet, there are two pieces of the puzzle that I found one day while cleaning out some old stuff of mine. A long time ago, my mother gave me a bunch of grandfather’s old stuff, including a pair of his glasses and patches from his military service, in that stuff I found two different dog tags. Right below his number is listed what I assume is the person to contact in case he dies, and each dog tag has a different person listed. On one is simply “Mrs. A. Foster” with a Brooklyn, New York address; the other lists Doris Lee Foster, his daughter, with a Los Angeles address.

Andrew Foster married my grandmother Gladys Emma Taylor in October 1944. Their two children, my uncle and my mother, came in the next few years. My grandfather worked mainly in the grocery and restaurant businesses, and my grandmother was a telephone operator.

I have still have more searching to do on my grandfather, so I’ll write more about him later.

My grandfather died in November 1969. He would have been 64 years old. If I remember the story that my mother has told me correctly it goes something like this:

My grandfather hadn’t been feeling well, in a non-specific way, so they took him to the hospital. The doctors did their tests and such, but nothing substantial came up as a reason. By the end of the day, he was sent home. When he and my grandmother got to the house, he sat down in his armchair, tired after a long day at the hospital. My grandmother was going into the kitchen to make him a sandwich, when he stopped her, called her back over, and said simply, “I love you.” She responded in kind, and went to fix his sandwich. When she came back with it a few minutes later, she found him dead, sitting right in that chair.

Andrew Conley Foster is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama, alongside my grandmother, in the Masonic section.

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