Continuing the Thread of My Female Ancestors

by Linda Okazaki

Modeste. Such an unusual name. She was born in 1908, quite a bit after the advent of “behavioral” or “virtue” names such as Prudence, Justice, Charity, Justice, Honor and Thankful, all women in my lineage. Modeste was the second child of John Wesley Etheridge and Harriet Mae Lane. Hazel arrived first, following the Missouri marriage of her parents, a double wedding at the home of the two brides; Harriet “Hattie” Lane and her sister Francis “Frankie” married, as per a copy of the Willaby Etheridge family bible, on 26 October 1905, to John Wesley Etheridge and John Long, respectively. John Wesley Etheridge was a handsome man with deep-set eyes and a striking jaw line. Legend dictates that his mother was full Cherokee, though I currently have no proof.

John set off for California with his brother, Garfield. They found work as lumberjacks near what is now Yosemite. I can just imagine John and his large frame, towering over his petite wife and tiny daughters. They lived for a time in a tent cabin. Those of us who have visited Yosemite are familiar with the Curry Village tent cabins as vacation destinations. Can you imagine living in one, giving birth in one, raising a family in one? I can’t.

After a short time, the young family moved closer to the town of Fresno. Five children quickly followed: Paul, Esther, Earl, Charles and Clarence. The family had varying stories as to what happened next. Harriet died of influenza. No, Harriet died of tuberculosis. Upon receipt of her death certificate, it became clear that Harriet died of TB, following a bout of influenza. The conclusion? She died from both TB and influenza. From this, any researcher will understand that it is important to listen to all of the legends in the family tales, and then ascertain the proof.

John married Cora a few years following the death of his beloved Hattie. They had one child, Eugene,  but sadly Clara died not long after the 1925 caesarean birth, a rarity for the time.  As a side note, Eugene Etheridge died just a few months before the posting of this blog. John then married for a third time. He and Helen Dean had four children together, making John the father of a total of twelve children. In a consistent tale of events, John’s father, Willaby, also had several wives, in fact, at least three and quite possibly as many as five. John was orphaned as a young boy and he claimed that he always wanted to keep his family together. Unfortunately or not, this proved to be a burden on some of his children. Modeste was not quite twelve when her mother died. She and her older sister, Hazel, became the primary caregivers for the younger six siblings.

Modeste was reportedly the “beautiful” sister who won titles in county competitions. While I don’t have proof of those titles, photographs certainly confirm her beauty. She had an early marriage to Henry Steitz which ended in divorce. Later she married the love of her life, a handsome man by the name of Neil Eugene Orchard, who was my grandfather. They met in Oakland while both were working. When they married, Modeste fibbed a bit on her age as she was supposedly embarrassed to be older than her husband. Soon they were expecting twins, which caused quite a stir at the  time. However, Modeste was aware of the fact that multiples ran in the family. She gave birth to a son and daughter, Roger and Diane, on 18 August 1937. Life was difficult in the post-depression era. It is difficult to say whether environment or genetics played a greater role, but Modeste suffered from alcoholism and depression throughout most of her adult life. She died a premature death at the age of 58. Her adult children were only 29. She had seven grandchildren who would loved to have known her.