An American Family History

Elmer Smith and Emma Bertrand

Red Oak, Montgomery County, Iowa
Chariton, Lucas County, Iowa
Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska
Hawthorne, Los Angeles County, California

Red Oak is the county seat of Montgomery County, Iowa.

Elmer & Children

Robert, Hazel, Joe
& Virginia (in lap)

Hazel & Virginia
The Great Depression was world wide and originated in the U.S. with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. Income, revenue, profits, prices, and trade plunged.. Unemployment in the U.S. rose to 25%. The negative effects of the Great Depression lasted until the end of World War II.

Virginia & Elmer

Joy & Joe

John Elmer Smith married Emma Ethel Bertrand on July 4, 1909 in Chariton, Lucas County, Iowa.

July 8, 1909 Smith-Bertrand
On Sunday evening, July 4, 1900 at six o’clock, at the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Bertrand, in southeast Chariton, occurred the marriage of their daughter, Miss Emma Ethel Bertrand to Mr. John Elmer Smith. 

The ceremony was performed by Rev. S. S. Smick, pastor of the United Brethren church, in the presence of a number of relatives and friends.  The couple were attended by the groom’s brother and the bride’s sister, Harry Smith and Miss Blanche Bertrand.

The bride was attired in a dainty gown of white Persian lawn. The house was tastefully decorated for the occasion in the national colors. At the conclusion of the ceremony a luncheon was served.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith departed Tuesday for Red Oak where the groom is at present employed and where they will reside for a time after which they will move to a farm near this place which they have leased.

The bride has resided here from childhood and is a young lady possessing many loveable characteristics. The groom is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Josiah Smith, of this city, and is an energetic, worthy young man. Both have many friends who will join The Herald in extending congratulations and in the wish that happiness and prosperity may ever attend them.

They started their married life in Red Oak, Iowa where they lived at 200 Market Street, and 101 Market Street. In 1910 they lived in Stanton, Iowa.

Hazel Izetta Smith Hamilton was born July 16, 1910 in Red Oak. In 1911 their address was R R 1, Red Oak, and in 1912 it was 206 First Avenue, Red Oak. In 1915 and 1916 they lived in Chariton at 223 North Grand.

They moved to Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska where five of their six children were born. Joseph Elmer Smith was born October 7, 1914 , Robert Gilles Smith was born March 23, 1917, Virginia Maxine Smith Miller was born September 29, 1919, Norman Bertrand Smith was born September 11, 1921, and Lee Roy Smith was born April 18, 1923.

The family appeared in the 1920 census of Douglas County, Nebraska. They family consisted of John E. age 30, Emma age 29, Hazel age nine, Joseph age five, Robert age two and Virginia who was three months old. John was employed as a chicken picker in a storage company.

In 1930 they lived 2915 Oak St., Omaha, Nebraska

Emma died in 1930. Her son Norman said that when their mother died, Hazel was already finished with high school and working in a doctor’s office. She had to quit work to stay home and take care of the kids. Eventually their aunt, Orpha Fox, came from Iowa to take care of them so that Hazel could return to work.

Norman remembered some of the places they lived in Nebraska.  In Omaha, he remembered that they were living in an area called Miller Park. He also remembered a house on the corner of 21st and Benton in Omaha. After their mother died, they left the house in Miller Park and moved out in the country somewhere to a farm. He also remembered living on Oak Street, three different houses on Benton Street, a house on P Street and three houses either on Florence Street or in a town called Florence.

Shelley Mitchell wrote wrote

[Norman's wife] Clara asked me if I’d ever heard the story of the time Mom [Virginia Smith Miller] and Aunt Hazel hitchhiked to Wyoming to visit their grandmother [Eliza Fox Smith]. Uncle Norman says it was sometime around 1935, but definitely between 1930 when their mother died and 1939 when they moved to California. They were saying that hitchhiking wasn't all that unusual in those days, because it was the depression and no one had a car. It sounds like Mom and Aunt Hazel decided to go and see their grandmother, so started off. It was probably about 200 miles, so would have only taken a day or so. Norman and Clara weren't sure if they spent the night somewhere, or if they did it all in one day. They did mention that they took a supply of wooden spoons to sell to farmwives along the road to help pay for their trip. I'd love to hear Mom’s take on this.

In January of 1939, the whole [Joe and Virginia stayed in Nebraska and Hazel was already there] family packed up and moved to California. They all traveled together in an old roadster pickup with a box on the back. Norman credits Grandpa with inventing the first camper. Bob was the driver and Norman and Lee rode in the box. Grandpa had a grand total of $35 in his pocket when they left Nebraska during a very cold January. At that time, motels were $1.00/night and a person could rent a little shack for $20/night. They didn’t have enough money to stay anywhere so they camped out. Norman said that when they got hungry, they would stop along the road and Grandpa would make hard boiled eggs for everyone. Norman was a child at the time and remembered endless hours of driving along route 66. Gas was nine cents a gallon as they drove across Kansas, and at one point, Bob told the gas station guy he didn’t have anyone money for gas, but he could have the “kids in the back" if he wanted them.

When they got to the inspection station at the beginning of California, the spring on the fuel pump broke, so Bob left the whole family at the inspection station and hitchhiked to the next town where he invested a whole 5 cents in a tool and fixed the truck.

When they got to California, they bought the 134th street house. The down payment was $100, and the payments were $37/month—until they got a second mortgage, which reduced the payments to $27/month." [Virginia told her daughters that they paid the down payment in cash and tossed all the bills up in the air and felt really rich.]

Another story from the early days in California involves Bob, Norman, Grandpa and Hazel going off to the “valley" to pick grapefruits. They were in the migrant camp one night playing cards with a couple who were friends of Bob’s. Hazel had made some bread, and Bob decided he wanted honey and butter, so he and his friend offered to go out and “find a beehive and steal some honey." They came across an old truck, broken down in the desert. It was a man and woman and they were in “bad shape." They had a couple of filthy kids and no money to get the truck fixed. In the back of the truck was a box of rags. They heard a sound coming from the box and were surprised to find a filthy (feces covered) baby under the rags. When they asked about the baby, the woman said she didn’t know what she was going to do. Bob’s friend said that he and his wife didn’t have any children and volunteered to take the baby. They took the baby back to the migrant camp and everyone sprung into action helping to clean her up and find something for her to wear and eat. When they got up the next morning, the friends and the baby were already gone. I don’t think they ever heard from them again.

At the time of the 1940 census the household was in Kern County, California at the Farm Service Administration Camp Shafter for migrant laborers. They were in Unit 5, 535.

John E.. 51
Hazel 29
Robert 23
Norman 20
Virginia 18
Lee Roy 17

Nobody was working at the time but Robert, Virginia, and Norman had worked at Brawley camp as office help and truck driver (Bob). Elmer and Lee Roy had worked as farm laborers. Hazel kept house.

During the World War II all four Smith boys served. Virginia worked at North American Aviation.

Hazel and Elmer continued to live for many years at 5021 WeRost 134th Street in Hawthorne, California. The other Smith kids moved out, but the family remained close.

Lee, Norman, Bob and Joe

They always got together for holidays. "The boys" would play dominoes and tease each other and the women prepared the meal, cleaned up and did needlework; either crocheting or tatting. The kids would just run around and play. The meals were usually pot luck so that the hostess would not have to do all the work. For Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas there was usually a ham or a turkey, pies, green beans and mashed potatoes.

The 4th of July was always special. They had coolers of beer and soda, watermelon and, barbequed hamburgers. Sometimes they churned ice cream.

Joe, Joy, Hazel, Elmer, Virginia holding Jeanne,
Bob, Roberta in front

John Elmer Smith surrounded by his grandchildren in 1956 at the Miller home. 
Back row:  Roberta, Kathy, Shelley and Erika
Front row: Curtis, Kenneth, Joe and John. Elmer is holding Jeanne.

Children of Josiah Smith, Sr.
and Sarah Pitts
  • Elizabeth Jane Smith Frank
  • Allison Woodrow Smith
  • Nancy Ann Smith Wilson
  • Mary Ellen Smith Widaman Dixon
  • David Henry Smith
  • Josiah Allen Smith
  • John Smith
  • George Washington Smith
  • William Smith
  • Ida Belle Smith Hoops
  • Sarah Catherine Smith Hoops
  • Charles Elmer Smith
  • Cora Edna Smith Downard
  • John Emma Smith
    Emma & Elmer

    Chariton is the county seat of Lucas County, Iowa and is in Lincoln Township.

    Hazel & Joe

    Elmer & Emma

    Hazel & Joe

    Elmer & Hazel

    Shelley, Erika, Kenny, Bob, Roberta, & Lee

    In the 1830s settlers began arriving in Iowa from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia. Iowa became a state in 1846.

    Shelley, Katie, Erika, and Kenny

    Shelley & Hazel

    Lee, Norman, Virginia, Bob, Joe, and Hazel

    World War II was a global conflict that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The Allies (United States, British Commonwealth countries, and the Soviet Union) fought against the Axis (Germany, Japan and Italy).



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    ©Roberta Tuller 2023
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