While researching my paternal grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage, I found many references to her singing in her church and at community events in Indianapolis, Indiana. Later I looked in the online datebase, ProQuest Historical Newspapers and found numerous society shorts in the Chicago Defender column “Brief News from the Buckeye State” about Pearl Cleage singing with the Harmony Trio in Cleveland, Ohio. The articles were dated from 1915 to 1922.
At first I thought this was my grandmother, after all how many singing Pearl Cleages could there be? When I thought about it more I began to doubt. At this time my grandparents had relocated to Kalamazoo Michigan where my grandfather started a medical practice. My father was born in 1911 in Indianapolis. Uncle Louis was born in July of 1913 in Kalamazoo. By May 8, 1915, the date of the first news article, she was expecting my uncle Henry and they were in Detroit. Four more children were born in the following years. I couldn’t picture her traveling every few weeks to Cleveland to sing while birthing and raising her family. I questioned my Aunt Gladys about it and she said no, her mother did not travel to Cleveland to sing while they were growing up.
Finally I came across an article dated December 30, 1922 with the title “William Anderson Buried.” It mentioned that he left to mourn his passing Mrs. Margaret Anderson, a son, William Anderson Jr and a daughter Mrs. Pearl Cleage Johnson. So, was Pearl Cleage Johnson his step daughter? How did she go from Pearl Cleage in a May 21short about singing to Mrs. Pearl Cleage Johnson in the obituary? If so why was there no marriage announcement? Was Cleage her maiden name? Probably not since she was singing as Mrs. Pearl Cleage. Perhaps a former marriage?
Recently I came across this information again while cleaning up my files and decided to see what I could find out about Mrs. Pearl Cleage Johnson. I started by looking for Pearl Cleage on FamilySearch. References to my grandmother Pearl Cleage appeared and then a marriage record for Pearl Cleage to Burl Johnson in Clevland Ohio on August 19, 1921. The brides name was Pearl Holmes Cleage,maritial status was divorced. She was born in 1884 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. . Her mother’s maiden name was Margaret Banks. Her father’s name was Harry Holmes.
I found her at 16 in the 1900 census living with her mother’s sister and her husband. Living in that household were Harvey Martin and his wife Vaudalia, their three children, Vaudalia’s sister Marnir and niece Pearl. I found Vaudalia and Margaret Banks in the 1880 census living with their parents Pleasant Owen and Clara Banks, in Delpos, Van Wert, Ohio. Baby sister Mamie (not Marnir) were also there. I found that Clarinda was born in Ohio and Pleasant came there from Virginia before 1850. He fought with the U.S. Colored Infantry in the Civil War. Once I get started it’s hard to stop looking.
I found two other marriage records for Pearl Holmes. She married Robert Williams June 6, 1908 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. She married Jerome Cleage on September 23, 1914 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. It gives her previous husband’s name as Williams but doesn’t say if she was divorced or he died. Jerome’s birthplace was Reah Springs, Tennessee. His father’s name was Richard Cleage and his mother’s name was Adeline Wason.
What I learned about Pearl’s life from various online records was that she was born in Fort Wayne Indiana in 1884. Her father died before 1900 leaving her mother a widow working as a servant in Dayton Ohio while Pearl lived with her aunt. Pearl married three times and had no children. She was active in her church, St. John’s A.M.E. (the oldest African American church in the Cleveland area) both singing and in club work. In the 1910 census she and her new husband Robert Williams, a teamster, were living with her mother, 4 year old brother and stepfather in Cleveland. In 1920 she is not with Jerome Cleage and again living with her mother, brother and stepfather. In 1930 her stepfather was dead and her mother is living with her and husband Burl in Cleveland. I found one photograph of Pearl in 1939 as a member of ‘Cleveland’s Popular Mystery Pals Club.” Unfortunately it is a horrible copy in the online paper and it is impossible to see what she looks like. Burl died in 1947. I have not found a death date for Pearl yet.
In part two I look for a connection between my grandmother Pearl’s husband Albert Cleage and the other Pearl’s second husband, Jerome Cleage who both came from south east Tennessee.
- Part 2 – Jerome Cleage, the doppleganger’s Second husband – is he related to me?
- Indianapolis Research