Major Curtis Norris aka Michael Norris

Major is not my ancestor. He was the brother of my great-grandmother, Bertha Norris McClanahan. Major and Bertha’s mother, Cynthia Ann Smith, died either in childbirth or shortly after her last child was born. Only Bertha and Major survived as children of Cynthia “Annie” Smith and George Frank Norris. The marriage record of Cynthia Ann Smith and George Frank Norris is located at the Archives of West Virginia and can be viewed here on the website: http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_view.aspx?Id=11477706&Type=Marriage. They were married in Putnam County, WV on 8 August 1886 by W. F. Melton. Let the records show that “Ann’s” father was Joshua Smith and that she was born in Boyd County, Kentucky.

The children born to George Frank Norris and Cynthia Ann Smith (all in Putnam County, WV) were as follows: Major Curtis Norris, b. 24 MAY 1887, died 23 FEB 1948, Chicago, Cook, IL; Nellie Norris, born 1888, date of death unknown; Bertha Norris, born 22 FEB 1890 at Poca, married my great-grandfather Ira McClanahan, and died 6 August 1955 at Plymouth/Bancroft, WV; and an unnamed child born and died 1891. This is the year in which we lose track of Cynthia Ann Smith Norris and I suspect she died about this time.

Major and Bertha had an aunt named “Fannie” who raised the children after their mother died. From the records, it appears that Fannie was about 10 years older than Cynthia Ann. Fannie, to my knowledge, was a spinster, lived at home with her father Joshua and the children. Through stories handed down from my grandmother and other family members, Joshua Smith was mean, perhaps bipolar, but he was outright hell to live with. Aunt Fannie was nearly, if not equally, as mean as her father. Top that with the stories that Fannie was a witch. A bonafide witch, one who read tea leaves, told fortunes, spoke to the dead, and made furniture walk. One story involves an episode in which Fanny tried to get a table to dump Major in the fireplace. What became of Fannie Smith is unknown but if you have evidence, I would be eternally grateful if you’d share it with me.

The stories also tell of Major running away for days and weeks at a time. He would hop trains and live the hobo life then return home when the notion struck him. Nevertheless, he attempted to put down roots and married a woman from the Charleston area named Stella Marie Adkins. Major and Stella apparently lived in the Charleston area and had five children: Virginia Lee, Nina Louise, Paul Dennis, Lucille Kathleen, and Ralph Frank Norris, all between 1908 and 1918. I have been told but have no evidence showing that Stella Marie died during the 1918 Flu pandemic. The five children aforementioned went to live with their aunt, Stella’s sister, Carrie Ethel Adkins and her husband Hamilton Weares of Charleston. I can attest to this from the 1930 Federal Census.

After Stella died, perhaps before, Major dropped off the face of the earth as far as my great-grandmother Bertha was concerned. What she didn’t realize is that he’d found his way to Chicago, Illinois, changed his name to Michael “Mick Norris,” married Grace Gorman, and proceeded to have 9 more children:  Kathleen Elizabeth, Patrick, Helen Marjory, Barbara Ann, Richard Allen, Mary Margaret, Lois, Daniel Bruce, and Sharon Norris. I am in contact with a cousin through Helen Marjory Norris which helped me put together the “second chapter” of Major’s history.  I understand the marriage between Major and Grace was rocky due to his temperament. I don’t doubt it for a moment since his grandfather Joshua was of the same bent. And I don’t doubt that his marriage to Stella Adkins was just as rocky.

According to this cousin, Major attended the funeral of his grandfather Joshua Smith in 1917 who had died in a Veteran’s home in Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio. The body was brought back to Charleston for interment. According to Mike, Major walked up to Joshua’s coffin, spat on the old man, and cursed him vehemently to the shock of others in attendance.

Major and Grace lived in the Charleston area a while, long enough for one of his daughter’s to meet and marry a local man who I believe also moved to the Chicago area. Aunt Betty, I believe my contact called her. She would return to the area around the holidays and visit with my great-aunt Genevieve – who I grew up knowing as “Aunt Jenky.” Betty shared the stories that she knew with family back home. Sadly, the cousins in the Chicago area apparently don’t communicate with one another.

I hope to meet my Norris cousins through Major someday, those born and raised here and those born in Illinois.