Friday, June 21, 2019

Pearl’s story—a life cut short

Pearl Lewcrilly Shields
The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “earliest.”

One of the earliest families I did a deep dive on was my maternal Shields line. With the help of my sister Jennifer, we corresponded with family members via old-fashioned mail, email, and telephone to compile whatever they were willing to share with us. Jennifer took the lead in connecting with our extended families. She worked the phone and sent a lot of emails. She’d forward information and photos to me as she received them. I took care of the research and compiled everything into a book format.

Tonight's blog post is about Pearl Lewcrilly Shields. Pearl’s life was a tragic one and with the help of three particular contributors, I’m able to tell some of her story. Tommy Denzil Shields, my first cousin, 2x removed, was the son of Pearl’s brother, William Elmer Shields. Tommy lived in California and didn’t have email. Jennifer lived in Georgia and I lived in Virginia, so we corresponded with him via telephone and letters. Tommy felt it was important to tell the stories so put pen to paper and started writing. He grew up surrounded by the previous generation so had a lot of information and photos. Besides Tommy, Jennifer corresponded with Billy Gene Hester and his sister, Mary Kathryn Hester Cunningham, Pearl’s son and daughter and also our first cousins, 2x removed. Both were very generous with sharing their memories and photos. Memories from all three are included in this blog post. My great aunt Regina Sauer Shields was also a big help. She put us in touch with family members, shared information and photos, and even organized a family reunion at her north Georgia home to culminate all the work everyone did. It was a wonder project and I thank everyone for so generously sharing with us.

Pearl Lewcrilly Shields, daughter of Samuel Cas Shields and Martha Ann Ogle, was born in Birds Creek, Sevier County, Tennessee on August 17, 1909. She was delivered by a midwife named Rosa Ogle, most likely at home. Pearl was the 9th child of 10—James Stewart Shields, Milas Odell Shields, William Elmer Shields, Walter C. Brown Shields, Sallie Addice Shields, Albert Conley Shields, Blaine Arthur Shields, Melona Jane Shields, Pearl Lewcrilly Shields, and Maude Maree Shields. She is the sister of my great grandfather, James Stewart Shields, so would be my great grand aunt.

Front: Melona Jane Shields in father Samuel Cas Shields' lap, Albert Conley Shields, Pearl Lewcrilly Shields in mother Martha Ogle Shields' lap, Blaine Arthur Shields, Sallie Addice Shields. Back: Milas Odell Shields, William Elmer Shields, Walter C. Brown Shields. My great grandfather and oldest son James Stewart Shields is not in the photo.

On May 3, 1910, Pearl and her family lived in the 13th Civil District of Sevier County. She was enumerated as Perlie and was 11 months old. Her father was a farmer on a general farm and brothers Milas, Elmer, and Walter were farm laborers. My great grandfather was no longer living in the home having married my great grandmother Hattie Rhinehart in March 1909. Sometime between 1910 and 1913, the Shields family moved to Georgia, looking for better and cheaper farm land. Cas bought land between Prater’s Mill and Deep Springs before bringing the family from Sevierville to Georgia.

Pearl, Amos, and Jack
On January 3, 1920, Pearl and her family lived on Lower Varnell Road in Varnell, Whitfield County, Georgia. Little sister Maude was born in 1913 so Pearl was no longer the baby of the family. Brothers Elmer and Milas had gotten married and left the home. Her father and brother Walter were both still farming. Pearl married Oscar Hester about 1927 or 1928, most likely in Whitfield County. Together they had five children—Jack William Hester, Amos Hester, Billy Gene Hester, Raymond Hester, and Mary Kathryn Hester.

Pearl’s sister Maude Shields Horrell died on February 10, 1930. I haven’t found a death record yet but it’s believed that she died in childbirth. Maude was buried at Grove Level Community Cemetery in Dalton. She was still a child—only 15 years old at the time of her death. On April 16, 1930, Pearl, Oscar, and Jack lived off Deep Springs Road in Whitfield County. Oscar was a farmer on a general farm. Jack was just over one year old.

Four of the Hester children standing in
front of the Vining's barn

On April 4, 1940, Pearl and her family lived in Dalton, Whitfield County, Georgia. Oscar’s occupation was enumerated as farmer but the census record shows that he was not working at the time. Pearl had gone to work at a bedspread factory named Mt. Craft Spread Company, working as a machine operator. According to Wikipedia, Dalton is known as the Bedspread Capital of the World so there would have been plenty of work for women there. As a machine operator, she may have been sitting at a sewing machine for hours on end making bedspreads and then having to go home to cook and clean for her family. The census enumerator noted that Pearl had worked 32 hours the week before the census was taken and worked 50 weeks in 1939. Oscar must have been out of work all of 1939 as the census enumerator did not enter anything for “weeks worked in 1939.” Pearl and Oscar’s oldest child, Jack, was now 11 years old and youngest child Mary was one year old. The highest grade completed by both Pearl and Oscar was the fourth grade. None of the children had attended school at all. Oscar’s October 1940 World War II draft card showed that Pearl and Oscar lived at Route 4 in Dalton. Oscar worked for a Mr. Coy Lotspeich at that time. I looked Mr. Lotspeich up in census records and found that he was in the saw milling business.

Tommy had personal memories of Pearl and her family, which he shared with Jennifer in a letter on May 12, 2001. In the letter, Tommy recalled that Pearl “worked hard in a bedspread plant and stayed pregnant.” He said that “Oscar drank up her paycheck … he could not control his drinking.” Sometime in 1941, Pearl contracted tuberculosis, a life threatening and debilitating disease, and was soon unable to work. As they had no money, Pearl, Oscar, and the children moved in with Pearl’s parents on their farm. Tommy said that Pearl and Oscar were not able to pay rent as “this was during the depression and no one had any money.” Tommy remembers that Pearl was his father Elmer’s “favorite sister” and that he visited her every day. Elmer owned a small grocery store and took food when he visited. You see, his parents didn’t have any money either and were unable to feed the seven additional people living in their home. Tommy remembered Pearl in her deathbed. He said you could “hear her breath outside on the porch.” Pearl died at 4:15 p.m. at her parent’s farm near Deep Springs in rural Whitfield County on July 26, 1941. She was far too young—31 years—and left her five young children behind ranging in ages from 2 to 11. Elmer was the informant on her death certificate. After Pearl died, her brothers Elmer, Milas, Stewart, sister Addice, and husband Oscar made a pledge to Kennemer Brothers Funeral Home to pay the $500 needed for her funeral. As it turned out, no one but Elmer had the money so he ended up paying most of it. Pearl was buried beside her sister Maude at Grove Level Community Cemetery in Dalton.

The Hester family standing in front of Pearl's coffin. Pearl's mother, Martha Ogle Shields,
is the woman in the background holding the flowers.

According to Tommy, “Oscar abandoned the children after Pearl’s death” joining the military. The five children stayed with Pearl’s parents (their grandparents) for a while but Cas and Martha couldn’t afford to keep them. Tommy said the entire Hester and Shields families had to be tested for tuberculosis for six months after Pearl’s death. It was thought that Pearl’s daughter Mary had it but she didn’t. Elmer did have it and was sent “to Alto for six months” before it cleared up. Alto is a town 112 miles from Dalton so I imagine that was hard on the Shields family. Tommy said “they thought his father would lose a lung but he didn’t.” Before Elmer left for Alto, Cas and Martha “asked him to find a home for Pearl’s children.” Tommy said “none of the brothers and sisters could take in five more children, we were all poor. Any one of them would take Mary but not all five.” Elmer and his wife Lela had heard of the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home in Hapeville, Fulton County, Georgia through their church. Cas and Martha had been given legal authority over the children so they signed the papers to send four of the five children to the home in Hapeville, just outside of Atlanta. The oldest, Jack, was “big enough to work in the fields so he was kept home.” Tommy’s parents, Elmer and Lela, “took the children to Hapeville, made a small donation to the orphanage, stayed overnight with the children,” and then headed back home. They brought the children back to Dalton a few times for visits but otherwise there was not much contact.

Children and woman from the Georgia Baptist Children's Home

Amos, Billy, Raymond, and Mary stayed at the children’s home until they were 18. Oscar remarried a woman named Ruby and is believed to have had five children by her (four boys and a girl). Tommy said that “Jack lived with Elmer for a short time after the other Hester children were sent to the orphanage. Elmer was fairly strict. The family was poor and everyone had chores to do after school.” He said “Jack had moved around so much he was behind in school and didn’t want to go to school but Elmer insisted on the children getting a better education than he had.” Elmer’s sister “Addice came and took Jack on a picnic. He was to return on Sunday so he would be able to be in school the next day but he did not return.” Instead, “he went to live with Addice and Elmer had arranged a welfare check for Jack. Addice said she would keep Jack for that check.” Jack told Tommy that “Addice was not going to make him go to school and that he could smoke at her house.” Jack also said “a neighbor was going to give him a job for 35 cents an hour so he wanted to live with Addice.”

Elmer and Lela moved to Florida. Tommy went to the children’s home, got the four Hester children, and “took them to Florida for a visit after Elmer and Lela moved there.” Tommy felt “it was a sad state of affairs, but had they stayed in Dalton it would have been worse. They at least had a home and got an education.”

Martha, Amos, Billy, and Jack
Billy shared that his mother “was just too young to go, but we don’t have any control over that. We were also too young to be without a mother. We should have known we had people that cared and would take care of us. Grandpa and Granny took us in for a while. Then Uncle Elmer and Aunt Lela showed us the best way, when they placed us in Georgia Baptist Children’s Home at Hapeville, Georgia. I know it was hard for them to do that but I’m so happy they did. We were there for a while then people would come to see us and take us on a visit for a while. Uncle Ben and Aunt Addice, I remember them taking us out for visits. They were so good to us we really enjoyed ourselves. Uncle Elmer and Aunt Lela took us out for a visit many times.” Billy shared a story about his parents …“when the Hester family lived in a place called Crow Valley, out from Dalton off Highway 41, Pearl could not drive. Oscar was going to give her a lesson in driving he thought. We got in the car, a 4 door, don’t remember the make. We pulled out on the dirt-gravel road from the old frame house going toward Dalton, with Pearl behind the wheel. Up ahead, about a half mile or so, there was an old iron bridge crossing over a railroad track to Highway 41. Pearl got just past the bridge and slammed on the brakes on the edge of a slope, railroad track below, and all of the doors came open. And you know that was a high bank. Another foot closer to the edge and we would have been on the tracks. Another time at the same house, we were on the porch. Oscar came out of the house and said let’s go for a ride. I think it was late in the afternoon, so we all got in the car. All but Pearl, she was at work as always. We went out the dirt drive and just as we got on the dirt road in the ditch we went. Then I, Billy, said ‘Daddy no use getting out, we will get right back in.’ We all got out of the car which was a 4 door. Billy, Ray and Amos was in the back seat. I was the first one out of the back and Ray right behind me. Ray put his left hand on the car and the door slammed to on his middle finger. I know he was in pain. A logging truck came along and pulled us out, but like I said, right back in the ditch we went. That is how people are in the country. They will surely help you out when in trouble.”

Billy remembers Tommy “coming to the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home in Hapeville, Georgia in the 40’s and taking the Hester’s to Florida on a vacation. Here I was on a work truck with other boys getting ready to go clear the fields. The next thing I saw was Tommy coming from the main building with someone to get all the Hester kids ready for the trip to Florida. Out the driveway we went with about four other boys running right behind us, wishing they could go. We got to Florida in the night. Tommy’s ‘41 Chevrolet went out on him. I think it was the lights. We sure had a good time while we were in Florida. I think Uncle Elmer took us back to Hapeville, Georgia in his ‘37 Ford. Then later on Uncle Elmer moved Grandpa, Blaine and Granny to Florida. On their way down to Florida they stopped by the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home to see the Hester’s for a visit. Granny did not want to leave us. As time went on at the Home, one day I saw an ad in a book about a jacket for sale. I just had to have the jacket. I wrote Aunt Lela about it and the next thing I knew I was wearing the jacket and everybody wanted it. Also, they sent other things at different times.” When Billy turned 18, he left the children’s home and headed to Florida to live with Elmer and Lela for a while. He eventually moved back to Georgia, first to Hapeville then to Dalton where he lived with Addice for a while before joining the Navy. After the Navy, Billy moved to the Atlanta area where he met his wife Betty. They had a son Jeff and have had a good life.

Mary, her husband Vince Cunningham, my sister Jennifer, and Mama met for dinner on June 1, 2001. Mary told Jennifer the following about her early years: Mary was one year old when her Mother Pearl died. Mary and three of her brothers were sent to the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home. The oldest brother, Jack, didn’t go to the orphanage as he was too old. Mary was sent to the Hapeville, Georgia location. The three boys were sent to another location. No one told Mary about her brothers. She was 10 years old before she was told she had brothers. Mary has no personal memories of her family life, only memories of what she was told. Her father didn’t work, but her Mother did. The family had to move every month when the rent came due as they couldn’t pay the bills. Once Pearl became very sick, a family named Vining’s took care of the children. The Vining’s family had basically raised Oscar as a child. He apparently ran wild in the neighborhood and was taken in by the Vining’s family. The Hester family would live in the Vining’s barn.

The Vining's barn years later

Mary remembers that she called her parents “Pearl” and “that Oscar.” After graduating high school, Mary went to work at Arrow Shirt factory where Vince’s mother worked. His mother brought Mary home for supper. After supper, Vince took Mary home. Six months later they were married.” From all I heard, Mary and Vince had a family and a happy life as well.

Pearl’s story is a tragic one but I’m sure she would be happy to know that people cared about and made sure her children were taken care of and that for the most part, they’ve lived productive, happy lives.

  • Dalton, Georgia;,_Georgia.
  • Jack W. Hester, U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007.
  • Obituary for Mrs. Pearl Hester.
  • Oscar Hester, U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1898-1929.
  • Pearl Hester, Certificate of Death no. 321157, George Department of Public Health.
  • Pearl Hester, Georgia Deaths, 1919-98.
  • Pearlie Shields birth record no. 166715, Sevier County, Tennessee.
  • Personal memories and photos shared by Tommy Shields, Billy Hester, and Mary Cunningham.
  • S .Coy Lotspeich, U.S. Federal Census, Militia District 631 Ninth, Whitfield County, Georgia, 1940.
  • Tuberculosis, Tulane National Primate Research Center;
  • U.S. Federal Census, Civil District 13, Sevier County, Tennessee, 1910.
  • U.S. Federal Census, Dalton, Whitfield County, Georgia, 1940.
  • U.S. Federal Census, Militia District 631, Whitfield County, Georgia, 1930.
  • U.S. Federal Census, Varnell, Whitfield County, Georgia, 1920.


  1. Truly a sad story of hard times. A time that the generation of today will never know or understand.