Martha Maria Tornedde

Martha, c. 1908

Martha, c. 1908

My mom’s paternal grandmother, Martha Maria Tornedde, was born in Steubenville, in Jefferson County, Ohio on April 6, 1884. Her German born parents, Ernst H. Tornedde and Wilhelmina Bremer, immigrated to the United States just a few years before Martha was born. By 1886, the Torneddes had moved to Peoria, Illinois, which would be Martha’s home for the rest of her life.

Martha, c. early 1900s

Martha, c. late 1890s or early 1900s

Martha grew up with her younger brother, Ernest, born in 1886, and her half-sister Helen. (Helen was Wilhelmina’s daughter from a previous marriage. She was about nine years older than Martha, and her shadowy story is for another day.) The Tornedde family lived in a neighborhood of many Irish and German immigrants. Martha spoke fluent German; her parents likely spoke in their native tongue at home. Martha also had an excellent command of the English language. She spoke without an accent and in later years was a stickler about her grandchildren using proper grammar. In her early twenties, she worked as a stenographer for Larkin Soap Company.

Martha’s mother died on March 29, 1907, just before Martha’s 23rd birthday. On June 30, 1907, three months after her mother’s death, Martha married Edward Cabell Cannaday. The Torneddes were “city-folk.” Edward, on the other hand, came from rural Virginia, a family of farmers with colonial roots. Martha had the stern sensibilities of her German culture—she was not overly warm and fuzzy. Edward, by all accounts, had a more devil-may-care demeanor and was a sensitive, artistic type. Theirs was an apparent case of “opposites attract!”

Martha, c. 1912

Martha, c. 1912-13

When they met, Edward was an Army recruiter. In March 1908, Edward was discharged from the Army and began working as a streetcar conductor. In June 1908, Martha and Edward welcomed their first child, Edward Ernest. Martha and Edward lived in the house where Martha grew up, on 711 Johnson Street. Martha’s father must have given or sold the house to the couple at some point. Not too long after Martha and Edward married, Ernst traveled to Germany for an extended visit. He returned in August 1908 with a young German bride in tow, and thereafter lived on Steubenville Street. Martha did not approve of her father’s re-marriage and never warmed to her stepmother or her half-sister Hilde, who was born in 1910. Despite that cloud, the next several years were mostly happy ones for Martha and her family. Some lovely photos show the family of three, dressed in their finery, out on the town.

Edward C, Edward E, and Martha, "Saturday evening, June 22, 1912"

Edward C, Edward E, and Martha “Saturday evening, June 22, 1912”

In 1915, Martha gave birth to a second son, Paul Foster Cannaday. In a sad turn of events, Paul died in a tragic accident when he was just 18 months old. Paul was originally buried in the section of Springdale Cemetery called Baby Land. However, the Springdale records show Paul in the same grave as Martha’s mother, Wilhelmina. When I shared this story with my aunt, she remembered Grandma Martha telling her how sad she always felt that Paul was alone and so she had his body moved to be with her mother—such a heartwrenching tale and testament to Martha’s ongoing anguish over Paul’s death.

Martha, June 1930

xxMartha,    June 1930

Little is known of the next decade, but these must have been challenging times for the family. Edward numbed his sorrow over Paul’s death by drinking, gambling and carousing. Martha was left to work through her grief in her own way. In 1917, son Harry Frank was born, followed by Robert Wilson in 1924. The two young boys, rambunctious and mischievous, surely helped Martha through these years. Edward received a disability pension in 1928 for unknown reasons, though we know he suffered from depression and probably alcohol addiction. Around this time, the family moved from their home on Johnson Street to 318 California Avenue. Family lore is that Edward lost the family home—Martha’s childhood home—to a gambling debt. In 1930, Edward took his own life, leaving Martha with her three boys, Edward (21), Frank (12), and Robert (5), to pick up the pieces. She was 45 years old.

For a brief period after Edward died, Martha’s brother Ernest stayed with Martha in the California house. Then in late June, four months after his father’s death, Martha’s son Edward married. He and his wife Ruby lived with Martha and the boys for the next year or so. From around 1938 to 1945, Martha lived at 201 Pennsylvania Avenue, but she still owned the house on California and presumably rented it out for supplemental income. By the mid-1940s, she was again living on California Avenue.

Harold Gorman, in New York, c. late 1940s

Harold Gorman, in New York, c. late 1940s

At both her California and Pennsylvania Avenue residences, Martha earned money by taking in foster children and various boarders. Among her favorites were Harold Gorman and William “Billy” Abbott. Harold sometimes babysat for Martha’s granddaughters, Sharon and Carol, and later moved to New York to follow his passion for dance. Billy, sadly, was killed in WWII. In Billy’s honor, Martha displayed a gold star in her window, the symbol of a child lost in service.

Martha's grandson Craig in the rambling front yard of 318 California Street.

Martha’s grandson Craig in the rambling front yard of 318 California Street, c. early 1950s.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Martha’s son Bob and his growing family lived with Martha on California. In the mid-1950s, Bob built a new house on Shenandoah Drive and included an English basement apartment for his mother.

Martha, c. 1950

Martha, c. 1950

Martha liked her new place and appreciated being surrounded by Bob’s loving, energetic family for many years. One very sad note for Martha in 1956, not long after the move, was her son Edward’s suicide at age 48, history repeating itself in the most tragic way.

Martha had lovely penmanship. She never remarried and was Mrs. E. C. Cannaday until the day she died. (Top, c, 1946; bottom c. 1956)

Martha had lovely penmanship. She never remarried and was Mrs. E. C. Cannaday until the day she died (top, 1946; bottom 1956).

Martha enjoyed traveling and over the years took several trips. Sharon accompanied her to Detroit to visit her cousins, Bill and Anna Bremer. Sharon remembers having fun learning to play pinochle and taking the ferry to Toronto. Carol was Martha’s traveling companion on a lively road trip to Ohio with Martha’s friend Amelia and Amelia’s daughter Joan. Carol remembers they religiously followed the lodging and dining recommendations in the Duncan Hines guide. In 1958, Martha took an extended vacation to Anchorage, Alaska to visit her son Frank and his family. Frank was an Air Force captain and was stationed at Elmendorf AFB at the time.


Martha (age 81) and her daughter-in-law Ruby celebrate their shared birthday, April 6, 1965, with great-granddaughter Terri looking on.

Martha and her daughter-in-law Ruby celebrate their shared birthday, April 6, in 1965, with great-granddaughter Terri looking on.

I only met Grandma Martha a handful of times, however she lives large in my mind in the stories passed down by her granddaughters and what I have learned through my research. She had a stern and sometimes intimidating demeanor, but also unexpected moments of vulnerability. She taught her granddaughters the German folk song “Ich binder Doktor Eisenbarth” and how to play Chinese checkers. She took Spanish lessons. She was a shrewd card player and a fan of true crime magazines. She was fond of her smart little dog, Josephine, and she coaxed a neighborhood squirrel into eating peanuts out of her hand. She had beautiful flowers in her yard. She liked being a mom of boys and was exceedingly tolerant of her sons’ shenanigans and pranks.

Martha died in 1972 at age 87. What an interesting woman she was. I wish I had known her!

10 thoughts on “Martha Maria Tornedde

  1. So interesting! I have heard a story or two about Grandma Martha. How tragic to have lost two sons. I really love these pictures. How interesting that she was a stickler on grammar — I love that. Another great article, Terri!


    • Yes, two sons and a husband, as well as two suicides. It’s pretty sad to think about, and provides a lot of insight to her strength of character. On a happier note, I think we inherited the grammar gene! Thanks, sissy! Txo


  2. Terri….thanks for continuing to share your awesome work with me! The thoroughness of your research and the inclusion of pics are no doubt a treasure to your entire family! Keep up the good work! Miss you lady….Beama



    • Beama, thank you for this sweet comment and for following along. You’re part of my family, you know, even if we’re not related, and so you’re in the loop, for better or for worse ;).


  3. Oh what memories! Trips to Detroit, Canada on a ferry and Ohio when I was probably 10 years or less. She was a great traveling companion as I remember. She taught me to play pinochle and I especially remember Chinese Checkers as she would never let me win! I’m not sure I ever did. After all these years remembering the Spanish and German songs she taught us continuing on. I can’t believe all the things I didn’t know about her life. Thank you Terri for allowing us to know her even better. Loved it!!


    • Mom, thanks for your comments, and for sharing these great memories of Grandma Cannaday. They really add so much to our picture of her. Even if Grandma was kind of partial to boys, I am sure she enjoyed having you and Auntie around more than she let on, and she definitely taught you girls a fun thing or two! Love you, Txo


  4. Terri, you have done a masterful job capturing Grandma Martha’s life. As a child, I was frightened of her stoic German personality, but as time went on, I appreciated her intelligence and (sometimes) sense of humor. Her strength was admired and respected despite the personal tragedies and sad circumstantial events in her life. And yes, she was a good traveling companion and enjoyed a risqué joke (50’s style!).
    Your additional photo of Harold Gorman is a classic. Grandma Martha was so fond of him. Harold was an awesome babysitter for us. In retrospect, of course he was gay (which explains all that great energy and fun he brought into our lives). I am sure Grandma benefited from that as well. ACXO


    • Hi Auntie, it’s so meaningful for me to reminisce and reflect on the lives and times of these ancestors. I feel I know all of them better through this process. And I’m so glad to be sharing these wonderful photos (even random ones, like Harold Gorman–who’d have ever thought that would see the light of day? And yet, how fun to remember his story as it related to the family!) Thank you so much for all your contributions. Love, Txo


  5. Thank you so much for this thorough and well written history of our family. Grandma Cannaday and I spent many hours playing canasta and then chatting while she brushed all the tangles out of my hair so she could braid it. On Saturdays, we would get dressed up (even wore white gloves sometimes) when I was very young and ride the bus downtown to eat at Bergners tea room or shop across the street at Block and Kuhl (which became Carson, Pirie, Scott). Grandma also enjoyed eating at Bishops Buffet by the river especially when they had lemon marange pie. She got me through 4 years of German and, whenever I got in trouble or was upset, Mom knew I’d be down in my safe place with Grandma. So many great memories❤


    • Kristi, thank you so much for reading and taking the time to add these treasured memories of Grandma Cannaday! I love learning more about our beloved, shared ancestors, not to mention, connecting with my cousins! It’s great fun! Terri XO


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