Friday Focus - Paternal Grandmother

My dad's mother, Hazel Lea Morgan Acuff, is the only person in my family about whom I have distinct memories of a funeral.

"Tennessee Grandmother," as my sister and I always called her, passed away in June of 2012, just a missing by a couple weeks her third grandchild's birth and her own 96th birthday. Sister Sarah and I wrote her obituary via a brief exchange of emails between Delaware and Ohio, and reminisced about three decades of memories with Hazel.

Hazel Lea Acuff in 2007

To our memory, Grandmother always lived by herself in the rural foothills of East Tennessee, her husband Claude having died in 1975. We remember the stories she used to tell of growing up in a farming community in the 1920s, and we also remember watching her slow physical decline over many years. For a while at the end of our semi-annual visits to her, Sarah and I would wave goodbye as she stood or sat on her porch, both wondering whether this would be the last time we saw her.

Many times, we wonder what our ancestors were like in their younger years. Did they share the same hopes and desires, the same rebelliousness and restiveness that young people do today? I think Hazel certainly had a bit of a wild streak in her, as evidenced by her elopement with my grandfather.

Hazel Lea Morgan was married on Sunday 24 June 1934 to Claude Burgess Acuff. They had tried to get married in Knoxville, but they couldn’t prove that she was over 18, so they eloped across the state line to Middlesboro, Kentucky, where no proof was needed. According to the marriage license1, Hazel lied about her age, stating that she was 21. In fact, Hazel’s 18th birthday was just 12 days after the wedding.

One of Hazel’s sisters (Mildred Morgan) was a witness to the wedding, but no one told the families that Claude and Hazel were married for quite some time. As an additional attempt to maintain secrecy, the official marriage license was marked “Do Not Publish”. Following the wedding, they rented a hotel room in Knoxville under fake names.

Mil, Hazel’s sister, was the one to finally break the secret about the marriage to their mother, Ella Morgan; at that point, Claude and Hazel had been married for one or two years. Ella’s reaction was to cry, saying “You should have told me!”

Your turn: Who is/was your dad's mother? Did she grow up in a rural area or in a city? Was she an immigrant? Do you have memories of interacting with her? Leave a story or two in the comments below!

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1Source: Marriage License and Certificate for Claude Acuff and Hazel Lea Morgan, Bell County Marriage Book 87:4, Bell County Courthouse Records Room, Pineville, Kentucky. Photocopy created circa 2010 and held by Zeb Acuff, Hamilton, Ohio.


  1. I have to laugh! My father's parents were from southeast Kentucky, and they eloped in Tennessee. My grandfather was from near Albany; my grandmother from Monticello. My grandmother's parents didn't want her to marry my grandfather because he was just a farmer, and they were merchants, so it was a step down socially. They skipped a revival service one Sunday night to elope. They told everyone the next day, then they set up housekeeping just north of Albany. In the 1930s, they moved north to New Castle, Indiana, so my grandfather could work in the new Chrysler factory. Over Thanksgiving this year, I was able to visit the Albany/Monticello area and find several graves of relatives.

  2. What a great story! I find the nuances of life back in that time period to be fascinating. Unfortunately, I don't know much about my Dad's mother as she died when I was very young. My sister remembers going to her house, but I don't.