Little Mysterious Miss Beautiful


Winifred Florence Francis, June 1919

Whenever I come across antique pictures, the first thing I look for is a name on the back. I really feel bad when I find a picture that isn’t identified and I wonder who they were and if someone is missing them, but I feel even worse when I come across a photograph that is identified and isn’t with family. I wonder how anyone could give up such a family treasure.

I came across this beautiful postcard photograph sometime last year. The back of the card identifies the little miss as Winifred Florence Francis and she was 18 months old when the picture was taken in June 1919. That’s all it says but I want to know more. Did she have siblings? Did she grow up? Did she marry and have children? What did she do with her life.

To start this journey, I enter her name into Ancestry.com. Since the back of the photograph says she was 18 months old in June 1919, I deduce she was born about January 1918. The photograph is stamped Champaign, Illinois, so that is where I begin my search.

The first thing I find is tragedy has already impacted the life of my young friend. I find Miss Winifred Florence Francis in the 1920 U.S. Federal census living with her widowed father in Scott township in the county of Champaign, Ill. The census was taken on 12 January 1920 and reports young Winifred as 2 0/12, which means she is just 2-years-old and confirms my estimate of her birth being in January 1918. Her father Ben Francis is a 27-year-old farm laborer and raising the toddler by himself.

I wonder who her mother was and how did she die? Was it during little Winifred’s birth? Did she get to hug and kiss her baby girl? Did she pass during the first year of Winifred’s life? Did little Winifred know her mother’s touch and love? How did losing her mother at so young an age impact Winifred throughout her life?

I find Winifred and her father next in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census still living in the county of Champaign, Illinois but living this time in the town of Cunningham. There has been a change in the family’s status. Ben, 38,  is now married to 37-year-old Lessie and there are five children listed, including 12-year-old Winifred. Robert A is 10, Ben P. is eight, Franklin is 7-years-old and the youngest is Ruth at 4-years of age. Ben is listed as having first married at age 24 and Lessie at age 23, which confirms Ben is the proper age to be Winifred’s father but reveals there is a 2-year gap between Lessie being married and the birth of Winifred. This is further proof I believe that Lessie is not the natural mother of Winifred.

This is an interesting development, especially with Robert being 10-years-old. Did Ben and Lessie get married in 1920 and have Robert before the year was out or did Lessie come to the marriage with a child? To find the answers to these questions I’ll also have to research Lessie. It’s time to start at the beginning.

Bennett Porter Francis was born on January 4, 1893 in Monticello, Wayne, Kentucky to Joseph Nelson Francis and Sallie Marshall Rankin, the fourth of their nine sons. In 1900, he is listed on the U.S. Federal census living with his parents in Masonic Hall, Wayne, Kentucky. His father, Joseph, is shown to be 44-years-old, mother Sallie is 32. Older brothers Samuel L, Robert B and Joseph W are 14, 12, and 10 respectively. Younger siblings listed in 1900 include Clarence A., 4-years-old and Ellis C. is two. His parents have been married for 16 years at this point, making their wedding date occurring approximately in 1884. Joseph is a landowner and a farmer. His sons help out on the farm.

In 1910, the family is living in Elk Creek, Wayne, Kentucky. At this time, Joseph is a 54-year-old farmer and Sallie has added to their family. Oldest son Samuel L. has moved away from the home. Still at home are sons, Robert B. 22, Joseph H. 20, Bennett P. 17, Clarence A. 15 and Ellis C. 12. The youngest sons now include, Prince O. 9, Carson G. 4, and Cosby T. is two-months-old, having been born in February 1910.

Bennett Porter Francis WWI registration card

Sometime between 1910 and 1917, Ben moves from his family farm to Seymour, Illinois. A Ben Porter Francis is recorded as registering for the 1917-1918 draft for WWI in Seymour, Ill., during the first wave of registration, which took place on June 5, 1917. On his draft card he reports he is a farm laborer and works for Mr. R. Anderson in Seymour, Ill. He also claims he is married and has a wife to support and asks to be deferred from the draft selection based on that fact. Ben P. Porter is described as medium height, medium build with dark brown hair and eyes.

In 1920, Ben is listed as a widow and his family consists of his daughter, Winifred and himself.

In 1930 is where we find Ben married to Lessie with five children. Because I needed to figure out when they actually got married, I decide to locate Lessie with her family to see if she has been married before.

I have located her name as Lessie Leona Anderson on a family tree located at Ancestry.com. I use that information as a basis to try and track her family down in the 1920 federal census but I was thinking Anderson was her maiden name so I probably won’t find anything on her. But I did and this is where it gets interesting.

I locate Lessie, her father, Robert and her mother, Sallie on the same 1920 Census that I found Ben and Winifred. In fact, a key point that I previously missed, is they are living in the same household!

On the 1920 US Federal Census, Lessie is living with her parents, 53-year-old Robert M.,  and 45-year-old Alice L. Anderson on the family farm in Scott, Champaign, Ill. Lessie is 26-years-old and is identified also as a widow. But what is telling is she is still identified by her maiden name on the census and not her married name. She is also identified as a daughter and not as a daughter-in-law. Another key point is that Ben is also living in the same household along with 2-year-old Winifred.

Perhaps, Winifred was born out of wedlock. I suppose being thought of as widowed carried a lot less stigma at that time than having an illegitimate child. That also might explain why Robert A. (probably named after Lessie’s father) is 10-years-old on the 1930 census – they were already living together.

I have come across an entry on another family tree showing Ben P. Francis and Lessie Leona Anderson were married on May 31, 1917 in Danville, Vermillion County, Ill. There is something definitely mysterious about this family. If they were in fact married, as Ben reported on the 1917 draft registration card and as the marriage listing confirms, then why lie and be counted as a widow and widower  on the 1920 census?

I have also located in the Campaign County, Ill., post-1900 birth records ( C0unty Clerk vol. 9, Library vol. 38, page 529), an entry for Winifred Florence Francis born December 26, 1917 in Mahomet, Ill. It list her parents as Bennett P. Francis of Kentucky and Lessie Anderson of Virginia. The abstract doesn’t tell me if her parents were married at the time but it does appear that Lessie Anderson is, in fact, Winifred’s biological mother.

Five generations (L-R) Lessie Francis, Kenneth Francis, Sr. holding Kenny Francis, Jr., Ben P. Francis, Jr., and Alice Anderson

Her father, Ben Porter Francis died at age 78 in Wayne, Ky. on Feb. 19, 1971 and is buried at New Charity Baptist Cemetery in Wayne County. Also buried there next to Ben is mother, Lessie Leona Anderson (June 30, 1893-Jan. 20, 1972), uncles Joseph W. (Jun. 1, 1890 – Nov. 12, 1977), Cosby (Jul. 3, 1909 – Dec. 7, 1981) and Robert B. (Jan. 21, 1888 – May 27, 1967) Francis, paternal grandparents Joseph N. Francis (Oct. 3 1855-Dec. 24, 1936) and Sallie Rankin Francis (Jan. 3, 1866-May 26, 1949), maternal grandparents, Alice Luana (b. 1874 d. 1971) and Robert Mitchell Anderson (1867-1933).

Winifred Florence Francis went on to marry Clarence Eugene Moore (Jan. 20, 1902 – Oct. 11, 1960). I am unable to find a marriage record, as I am unsure of where they were married and unfortunately due to privacy, I can’t be ascertain as to how many children, if they did have any, they had. Clarence died in Plainfield, Waushara County, Wisconsin. What is certain, is Winifred Florence Francis Moore, the beautiful little girl in the picture, led a long life and passed away at age 86 on Aug. 21, 2004 in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky.

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One response to “Little Mysterious Miss Beautiful

  • Kat

    Funny to read this after researching Alice Anderson yesterday. I think she is Alice L. Bishop from Wilson Creek, Virginia with parents James and Nancy. Alice is widowed and living with her twice widowed brother James Nathan Bishop in Colorado in 1940. James died in 1949 and there is no sign of Alice in the local cemeteries or of a nephew John Bishop who was with his brother when James’ wife, Lulu Conard, died in 1911.

    Possibly there are two census entries for Alice in 1920 with Lessie named Florence in the one at Wilson Creek as if she were visiting her old home at the time. Apparently there are some good stories to be told about Alice’s grandfather and I hope the Bishop family posts them.

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