Thursday, September 02, 2021

What Year Was Grandma Gower Born?

I recently found online the birth certificate of my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower. She was born in Arkansas in 1903 even though her birth certificate says she was born in 1902. The question of Grandma Gower's birth year has been one our family has talked about for many years. And it will remain a mystery for generations to come.  Here's the story of how the discrepancy came about.

Nola and Leroy Gower
with daughters Maida and Vicki.
San Diego, about 1942.
Nola Shannon Gower  (1903-2004) and husband Leroy Gower (1899-1974) migrated from Okemah, Oklahoma to San Diego, California in 1942, during World War II. Leroy, with their son Hank, moved west first, in the summer of 1942. Nola and their two daughters, Vicki and Maida, stayed behind in Oklahoma waiting for Leroy and Hank to get jobs and make some money. Later that year the Gower girls finally got word to come to California and rode the bus to San Diego in December. 

When the family was finally reunited in San Diego, Leroy and Hank were employed at Railway Express. Nola then began searching for work and applied at Convair, a major San Diego employer in the War effort. Nola, however, could not produce a birth certificate, a requirement for employment. So she contacted her older sister Tabitha Shannon Johnson (1899-1990) who still lived in Mountain View, Arkansas. Tabitha provided the Stone County, Arkansas clerk with all the information needed to generate a birth certificate for Nola. Unfortunately Tabitha got Nola's birth year incorrect. Tabitha mistakenly said Nola was born in 1902, which then became part of the official record when her birth certificate was generated. Below is a copy of Grandma Gower's birth certificate.

So in March of 1943, just three months after arriving in San Diego, with help from her sister in Arkansas, Nola had an official birth certificate. The only problem was, it stated that she was born in 1902 instead of 1903. The family decided not to make a big deal out of the mistake. Getting Nola a job ASAP was the priority. With her birth certificate she was hired by Convair and proudly joined the war effort, and the Gower family got on their feet in San Diego.

Official Birth Certificate for Nola Shannon Gower
from Stone County, Arkansas
Today there are plenty of other historical records that make it clear that Nola was actually born in 1903, including U.S. Census records for 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940. But her official birth certificate will forever state that she was born in 1902, as does her Washington death certificate, and her Cemetery headstone in San Diego's Greenwood Cemetery.

A problem arose in the late 1960s or early 1970s when Nola began receiving retirement benefits based on a birth year of 1902 rather than 1903. Her son and care-giver Hank became worried that the  Social Security Administration might find out that she was receiving benefits a year sooner than she was entitled. He took a "don't-ask-don't-tell" approach, and it worked. Neither she nor he were ever caught. And just as well. Grandma Gower was the most unassuming and honest person I ever knew. She would be the last one to ever try to get income dishonestly.

As a result of this innocent snafu, there will forever be a question about what year Grandma Gower was actually born. But whether she lived 101 or 102 years, there is no question about the quality of life she lived and the outstanding legacy she has left behind.

Berniece Johnson Beckham (in pink) with her cousin
Maida Gower Shepard in 1940 and in 2013.
Both pictures taken in Mountain View, Arkansas
Speaking of Shannon Ancestors. The sister of my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower was Tabitha Shannon Johnson, a key character in the story above. I got word recently via Facebook that Tabitha's daughter Berniece (my mother's cousin) passed away in Mountain View, Arkansas on Monday of last week at 95 years old. Our prayers and best wishes are extended to all the family of Berniece Johnson Beckham.

Elsewhere in the Shannon world. I received word that the Shannon book, which I have referred to many times in this blog, is now available online. It is a great resource for the part of Shannon family to which my grandmother Nola Shannon Gower belonged. Here is the link to find the Shannon book, written in 1990 by Dexal Shannon. By the way, the Shannon book has Grandma Gower's birth year correct.
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Steve Shepard