It seems that Vera Norris and Bertha Whitney were no strangers to hard work. As teenagers in the early 1900s, both girls worked as servants. I suspect the person who wrote on the reverse of this RPPC (real photo postcard) would have positioned the names directly behind the sitter that each represented, which means Vera is on the left and Bertha is on the right. Of course, I could be wrong, but I’ll share a couple of clues below that seem to support this assumption.
Bertha Whitney, born in 1890, grew up in Williams County, Ohio with five siblings. Her father, Thomas, was a day laborer and by the time her brothers, Ernest and Ralph, were 14 and 11 respectively, they were also working outside of the home to help support the family.
I discovered the photo above, of Bertha’s parents, Thomas and Julia Whitney, on ancestry.com. I think there is a family resemblance between Julia Whitney and the girl on the right in the RPPC image. What do you think?
Vera Norris, born in 1889, and raised in Noble County, Indiana, was the only child of Joseph and Eliza Norris and the baby of the family. She had five half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage to George Archer. Tragically, Vera’s father died when she was 11 and her mother passed when Vera was just 15 years old.
The only photo that I could find from Vera’s direct family is of her half-sisters Gertrude and Harriet Archer. Harriet was 17 years older than Vera, and Gertrude was just five years older. Do you see a resemblance to the girl on the left in the RPPC, other than Harriet’s hair hairstyle? I think the ears are very similar.
I contacted the owner of the cropped photo of Gertrude and Harriet that I found on ancestry.com to ask if Vera might be featured in the image. This cabinet photo was taken on Gertrude’s wedding day in 1902 and I was told that Vera was not in the photo.
I wonder how Vera and Bertha knew each other as they lived some 60 miles apart. I couldn’t find a family link, although that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. It’s possible they were distant cousins. I date the photo to about 1905 when Bertha and Vera were 16 years old. Remember that by 1904 Vera was parentless. Did she live with the Whitney family after her mother passed? I wish I knew what brought the girls together for this portrait.
In 1910, Bertha was still living with her parents and working as a servant for a private family. Vera was living in the Hotel Hascall in Goshen, Indiana (pictured above) where she was employed as a waiter.
Nine years later, when Vera was 30 years old, she married Ernest Stokes, a widower with a seven-year-old son. On her marriage license, Vera listed her occupation as a seamstress and her residence as Mishawaka, Indiana, which is where her half-sister Harriet resided. Had Vera been rooming with Harriet?
For a time Vera and Ernest lived in Dayton, Ohio, but by 1930 they relocated to Oregon where Ernest managed a fruit stand. Eventually, the two owned their own produce market and lunch counter. Vera lived to be 73 years old. She and Ernest are buried side by side in the Cornelius Methodist Cemetery.
In 1911, Bertha married Joseph Lash, a barber, but by 1918 the two were divorced and Bertha wed a second time to Bert Warnicke, a factory worker. She and Bert raised seven children and Bertha lived to be 82 years old. Bertha’s final resting place is in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Find A Grave
Michigan death index
Kalamazoo Michigan city directories
Ohio county marriage records
Oregon death index