I don’t know much about my great uncle, John Joseph Jackson. He was the black sheep of the family. My grandma mentally killed him off telling stories that he died as a baby right after the 1906 earthquake. His World War II draft registration card left me with yet another question. Why did John Jackson tattoo his middle finger?
John was born in March of 1906 in San Francisco just a couple of weeks before the earthquake struck. According to my grandma, he died shortly after the earthquake.
Only he didn’t. John was alive and well when the 1910 US Federal Census was taken. And, again in 1920.
I remember getting up the courage to ask my grandma about him. The response was something akin to “oh, that was the other John”. She went on to mutter something about his horrible red hair.
The other John, my foot! Sometime in the late 1920s when she was a young bride of 17 and her parents divorced, she stopped all contact with her brother.
There was only one John, but as far as she was concerned, he was dead.
What I Know About John Is Very Little
Over time, I eeked out some details of his life from my grandma and her sister, Julie. She mentioned his red hair, a trait he shared with my mom.
According to Great Aunt Julie, he was married once. They could not agree on if he had children. Julie said that he had none. Grandma said there was a boy and a girl.
They both agreed that he was a newspaper delivery man. Maybe for the San Francisco Chronicle, maybe not.
That’s it from the sisters.
What I Learned From Records
It’s hard to research a Jackson, but I did find a little bit about ol’ John, the outcast.
He was married and divorced. His ex-wife’s obituary did not list any children. There are none buried in her family’s plot where she is buried and no one is buried with him. There are none listed in any of the census records when they are enumerated.
If they had children, they died or they were given away. I have no proof of any, so I have to leave it at that.
He was a fireman’s helper in the 1930s. He worked for Key System, the same company as his father.
When he died of pneumonia in 1943, he was employed as a newspaper salesman. He never remarried.
So, What About This Tattoo?
The World War II draft registration card provided me with several details just before John passed away. It does not mention that he was a newspaper salesman. Instead, he was working for the WPA in some sort of outdoor work.
There are a couple of addresses in the margins for various work crews he was on. He was assigned to the Camp Pacific Project in Monterey, California and something referred to as “T. Sharp Park”.
The card has deceased written across the middle of it. So, he was still employed with the WPA when he passed away. Perhaps he was both a newspaper salesman and worked with the WPA.
And, then there’s the tattoo. Under “physical characteristics that will aid in identification” it says “tattooed ring middle finger – left hand”.
Darn it! Why didn’t they describe the tattoo? Just left me hanging there without even a drawing.
Is This Tattoo Important?
I don’t know if this tattoo means anything or not. I’ve learned that some tattooed wedding rings on their finger rather than wear one. Was this common in the 1920s? I have no clue.
Were tattoos at all common in the 1920s? That’s something I’d like to know. As the black sheep of the lot, John might have been in trouble with the law. He might have gone to prison. The tattoo could signify a gang, a rite of passage, or maybe John just wanted a tattooed finger.
Every document fills in more of his story, but leaves more questions behind. I may never know why John got this tattoo. It won’t stop me from trying to find out.
Did any of your ancestors have tattoos? If so, what were they? Were their any stories or significance about these tattoo? Do you have pictures of them? If so, tell us in the comments.