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Omar Alfred Gearhart

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories, and Photographs

Some time ago, I began a series of posts on relatives I remembered from my lifetime, writing about the four great-grandparents I knew on my mother’s side of the family. I did not personally know any of my great-grandparents on my father’s side. All of them probably* died before I was born, and things are complicated by the fact that my grandfather David Swier was adopted, so he has two sets of parents: his adoptive parents and his natural parents. I have been able to learn a great deal about them both through research and through connecting with cousins who descend from the same family.

In this series, I plan to share what I know of my great-grandparents on my father’s side, beginning with my natural great-grandfather, Omar Alfred Gearhart.

Omar Alfred Gearhart (standing) with brothers John and George

Omar Alfred Gearhart had the unusual birthday of February 29, 1884. He was born in Colo, Story County, Iowa to George Douglas Gearhart and Ruth Ella Willhide.

I learned a lot about Omar Alfred Gearhart from his World War I draft registration card. He was living in Spokane, Washington on September 12, 1918 when he registered. My grandfather David would be born in that same city in 1921; however, the 1920 census lists Omar’s residence as Wallula, Walla Walla County, Washington. He is described as having a medium height and build, gray eyes, and black hair. His wife’s name is given as Gertrude Gearhart. Gertrude was born Gertrude Nettie Perkins.


Omar Alfred Gearhart and Gertrude Nettie Perkins with their oldest child John Douglas Gearhart

They married on Christmas Day in 1910.

His occupation is listed as “Laborer, Mechanical” on his draft card, and indeed he owned a garage later on. I wish he had passed his aptitude for car mechanics on to me, but he did pass it to his son and grandson (my father). At the time of his draft registration, however, he was working for the city of Spokane. I wonder if he might have been responsible for keeping city vehicles in working order. Omar Alfred Gearhart would have been a young man when the earliest cars were manufactured, and I find it interesting that he was on the ground floor of this new industry.

Family lore holds that he survived gunshot wound to the head, but that the head injury altered his personality. I don’t know the circumstances, but he would later be murdered in his garage by his business partner, leaving behind Gertrude, who was pregnant, and their eleven children. Gertrude was unable to work, and though the eldest children picked up work here and there, ultimately the family was torn apart when Gertrude gave her children up for adoption.

In a letter to her daughter Bessie, Gertrude shares some family information, including that she believed her husband’s origins were Dutch. They were not. The family who adopted my grandfather was Dutch, but his natural ancestors on his father’s side were German—Pennsylvania Dutch, corruption of the German Deutsch, which may be the source of Gertrude’s confusion.

While Omar Alfred Gearhart’s parents would remain in Story County, Iowa for the rest of their lives, Omar moved to Washington State. I’m not sure what brought him there. He was certainly living there before 1910 when he appears on the census in Moran, Spokane County, Washington. In the 1900 census, he is still living in Iowa with his parents, which makes sense, as he was 16 years old.

At one time, his brother John was living with him (1920 census), and it appears as though they were in business together. Interestingly, family researchers seem to have some confusion about his location. Another John Gearhart living in Missoula, Montana and married to a woman named Margaret appears to have been grafted onto this tree. He can’t have been in both Missoula and Wallula, Washington in 1920, and the census clearly lists John Edward Gearhart as Omar’s brother, so there can be no confusion about whether he’s the correct person. I have no reason to believe John Gearhart was involved in Omar’s death, but I also cannot find him or his wife in the 1930 census, which would have been taken in either the year before or the year that the murder took place. I should note the Missoula, Montana John Gearhart was also born in Iowa, although in 1884 rather than 1880. Perhaps he was a cousin or other relative of John Edward and Omar Alfred Gearhart’s. It’s confusing, though, because he was in Montana when he registered for the draft during World War I.

I should note, however, that I also can’t find Omar Alfred Gearhart on the 1930 census; though his death date was given by Gertrude in a letter to her daughter Bessie as December 29, 1930, this date doesn’t make sense with other information because my grandfather had already been adopted by the Swiers by the time the 1930 census was taken, and his sister Jessie and brothers John and Donald were living in different homes, all listed as boarders. However, it could be that the details of the story are confused and that the children were taken away before their father died. On the other hand, in that same letter, Gertrude couldn’t remember the date Bessie was born, and she also said her husband was Dutch. I couldn’t find the other children or Gertrude on the 1930 census, either. I hope that the 1940 census may shed some light on what happened, but until I can do some serious searching in newspaper archives, I don’t think I’ll learn much more about Omar’s death. I do have one living great-aunt, but she did not remember the details of the event and indeed didn’t realize she’d been adopted until my grandfather told her about it at school. She would have been around two years old or so when it happened.

*I don’t know when my great-grandfather Frank Chatman died.

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  1. Celia Maria Gearhart
    Celia Maria Gearhart


    January 4, 2012
  2. Juanita Diana Gearhart
    Juanita Diana Gearhart

    Hi, I am John Douglas Gearhart’s third daughter, grand-daughter of Gertrude and Omar Gearhart, therefor, your cousin. My sister Sam (Celia Gearhart) just called and told me about this sight, Thank-you, Thank-you, thank-you sooooo much for undertaking such a huge task, and then sharing it. I don’t have time right now, but I will visit this space every day for an hour until I have absorbed it all. I am so excited!!! I look forward to corresponding with you, finding out more about the German side of my family, and developing new friendships. Peace to you and yours, I send you Love. Juanita

    January 4, 2012
  3. Debbie Gearhart Shepherd
    Debbie Gearhart Shepherd


    Wonderful job! I really enjoy reading your posts. Thank you so much for spending your valuable spare time researching and sharing this information.

    After my grandmother died we came across photos that my Great Grandfather (John-Brother to Omar) had passed on to my Grandfather Russ. Included with the pictures was a post card from Earl to John, asking John to send money($5.00) to Omar because he was broke. You have indicated George above which would be their father.

    All 3 boys/men traveled considerably. Grandpa John divorced Grandma Maggie (Margaret) and remarried Nellie. Grandpa John held residence in Montana, but often traveled to the west coast to stay with both Earl and Omar. After reading the above post I reached out to my father for further clarification.

    He mentioned all 3 brothers followed the farming industry and traveled with the seasons during their younger years. He wasn’t sure if this is why Earl ended up in the SF bay area and Omar in Washington? He believes Earl and John may have stayed with Omar in Washington from time to time during their travels. John may have aslo left Montana during his troubled marraige to Grandma Maggie which may be the reason the 1920 sensus makes him appear to have been in both places. Another possibility is, Grandma Maggie only spoke German, which could have been another reason for the descrepancy. Possible language barrier. She may have named John as a resident or named him as her husband as most sensus were completed door to door during that time. It is possible he was actually living elsewhere. This is speculation on my Dad’s part.

    Grandpa John wasn’t around much during my Grandfather’s childhood. My grandmother always told us that her mother in law, Grandma Maggie was a very difficult woman who was also thought to be a little unstable or as Grandma Lenore stated often, Maggie was mean and crazy. If you had the opportunity to meet my Grandma Lenore, you would have enjoyed the company of a very kind and loving person and to talk poorly of a person was not of her nature. At some point Grandma Maggie had really crossed her. Grandpa Russ and Great Granddad John did not build their relationship until later in life after my Grandfather was married and had his own family. By that time, Grandpa John had re-married to a woman named Nellie. My dad has indicated he has very fond memories of his grandfather and Uncle Earl, but does not remember Omar other than stories Earl and John have shared. Uncle Earl’s son Marion and my Grandpa Russ were quite close. I myself have very fond memories of our relations with Marion’s family (his wife Genevieve and daughter Nancy Gearhart-Davidson who was close to my dad and uncles).

    Their sister Aunt Iva moved to the bay area later in life to live with her son. She offered my mom quite a bit of information. I believe my cousin Dan may have provided you with some of this information. If you do not have the written documentation of the stories she provided about her memories of the Cook-Gearhart relations, let me know and I will gladly send them your way. I had copies originally that were difficult to read and have recently received the originals. It tells a great deal about their childhood and what the siblings were like as children. How their lives related to that time and era, their move from Virginia to Iowa, the land they owned and the land they sold.

    You were dead on with your statement regarding the men in the Gearhart family being mechanically talented. My Grandfather worked as a long shoreman out at Hunter’s Point in San Francisco and could often be found under a hood of a car in his spare time. My father was a machinist in the Airforce and a master machinest for the Schlage Lock Company. His brother Don was a Grey Hound mechanic before moving on to Mason Freight Lines. All 3 of my brothers were also mechanically sauve and yes, I also wish I had acquired some of their talents. Thank God for full service stations! I would be completely lost without them.

    Please pardon spelling or my poor sentence structure. It is late, I am tired and to lazy to double check. Take care of yourself and keep the posts coming!

    March 27, 2012
  4. Bill walker
    Bill walker

    MAN! Hello my names bill walker,and Omar was I guess my great grandpa.(frank was my grand father)i just found this out now at 33 years old.see I never got to spend much time with this side of the family and subsequentley I don’t know anything about it.its like I finally know who I am! Alk my life all I cared for is cars and love working on them,go look at his picture and see so much of my self is,well I can’t stop crying if that says anything. I can’t wait to see what all I can find now that I have some names.thanks so much for what you have put together!!!

    July 6, 2015

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