I have crafted obituaries for many people over the past 30 years, but it was a recent search for Nicholas and the Queen, as I might describe Bill Stepp’s parents, that convinced me how important it is for us to add our own 2 cents to our obituaries while we can.
When William R. Stepp of Newburgh died on July 7, his family and I wanted to pin down the maiden name of his mom, who was either Mary Queen or Mary Green.
Bill was born in early 1940 to Nicholas and Mary Stepp in Asheville, N.C., according to his wife, Martha Stepp, so I decided first to try to identify his family in the 1940 census. I found a Nicholas and Mary Stepp in Hendersonville, N.C., but the names of the children didn’t match up.
Next was a family I found living at 120 Florida Ave. in Asheville, N.C., that of Martin B. and Mary L. Stepp, with Martin listed as bookkeeper for a carnival. Children named were Betty Lou, 8; Robert N., 6; Chas. D., 4; and Billy R., 2 months. Dad’s occupation, the ages of the parents, and the names of the children were consistent with what we knew, Chas. D. being David.
Moreover, the family included the head of household’s mother-in-law, Martha Stamey, a widow, 53; and sister-in-law, Johnsie. Martha Stepp was familiar with the name Johnsie, though she didn’t know that Bill’s grandmother also was a Martha.
My early conclusion — which turned out to be in error — was that Bill’s dad, known as Nick, probably was Martin B. formally. But was Nick Stepp really Martin B.?
The 1930 census showed Mattie Stamey as head of household, age 45, widowed. Her first child listed was Mary L. Queen, 18, occupation reeler in a rayon mill. So Mary was probably a Queen rather than a Green. Both were born in North Carolina. The next child listed was Johnsie Stamey, 6, born in South Carolina to parents who were both born in North Carolina.
Also listed was Mattie’s father, David M. Shook, 71, a widower born in North Carolina. Now we had a probable maiden name for Martha or Mattie, as well. But what about Martin? Or Nick?
Draft cards filled out by those required to register for the military draft 1940-1947 reveal two men named Nicholas Stepp from North Carolina.
One was Nicholas B. Stepp, 202 Brevard Road, West Asheville, N.C. He was 41 years old, listing his birth date as June 22, 1900. His employer was Mark’s Shows Inc., PO 771, Richmond, Va., and he was employed “traveling with the show.” He signed his name as N.B. Stepp and listed his wife as Mrs. Nicholas Stepp.
The second was Nicholas Tom Stepp, born Aug. 22, 1908, living in Henderson, employed in hosiery mills. Probably not our Nicholas.
City directories were helpful, the one for Asheville in 1944 listing the couple living at 380 Florence St. as Nicholas B. Stepp, accountant, and wife Mary L. The 1945 directory lists the same two people, with Nicholas employed by Mark Shows. Nicholas and Mary also are listed in the 1947 and 1948 directories.
Nicholas B. also is listed in the 1926 and 1930 directories, probably before he and Mary were married. I did not find a marriage record for them, but expect they married 1930-1931.
A birth index for North Carolina on ancestry.com does not identify mothers, but lists two births with Nicholas B. as the father: Betty Lou Stepp, June 22, 1931; and Robert Nicholas Stepp, May 15, 1933. There also was an unnamed baby Stepp born in January 1940 in Asheville with N.B. Stepp as the father. It is the correct birthdate for William Raymond Stepp, who was called Billy Ray as a child.
We know from Bill’s military discharge paper that he was living in Virginia when he enlisted in the Air Force in the 1960s. This is consistent with finding Nicholas B. and Mary L. Stepp in the city directory for Richmond, Va., in 1954, when they lived at 807 West Main St., and in 1955.
In both years, Nicholas worked for O.C. Buck Model Shows. Mary L. worked at High’s Ice Co. in 1954, and at Ashland Cleaners and Laundry the next year. Robert N. is listed both years at those same addresses, employed by the U.S. Army. Chas. D. was an usher at the Colonial Theatre in 1954. Bill told his family that he also ushered at the theater, but he was too young to be listed in the city directory in 1954-1955.
The search for information on Nicholas B. and Mary L. (Queen) Stepp and their ancestors continues, but it appears that the name Martin in the 1940 census was a mistake.
I’m glad we got Nick and Mary sorted out so that they could take their place on Bill’s death certificate and in his obituary. And, I finally got around to writing a draft for my own obituary so that someday my family will have the info they need. Thanks for the nudge, Bill.
Nationally known Civil War historian Nicholas Picerno will speak on “The 10th Maine at Antietam, a terrible and bloody contest” at 4 p.m. Monday, July 22, at the Maine State Archives, in the cultural building across from the State House in Augusta.
A member of the National Advisory Board of the Cedar Creek- Belle Grove National Park, Picerno is working on a book titled “Merit is Better Than Fame,” a history of the 1st-10th-29th Maine Regiments during the Civil War. He is chairman emeritus of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation in New Market, Va.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email email@example.com.