52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #41 – Bernice (Strait) Wood

Relationship: Great aunt
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I remember going over to great aunt Bernice Wood’s house at 43 Sussex Street, Newton, New Jersey.  My sisters and I would visit with my grandmother Beatrice Strait. I remember Bernice’s neat, white house that sat up above street level. The front yard had a block retaining wall so that there could be a yard instead of just a steep slope towards the street. We would climb up the stairs in the middle of the wall to the front door that opened into her living room. Her kitchen ran along the back of the house and I distinctly remember that she had curtains on the bottom instead of kitchen cabinet doors. The fabric was printed with bright flowers and when you needed a pan or can of soup, you had to part the curtain to get to it.

The other thing that reminded me of Bernice for years after her passing was that she gave, for Christmas one year, me and my sisters (Jill and Jenni) matching white teddy bears. Each bear had a bright red ribbon around its neck and they where snow white. I had that stuffed bear for many years and I think Jill might even still have hers.

Bernice Strait was born on 05 December 1908 in Lafayette, Sussex County, New Jersey to parents Ora Simpson Strait and Audrey Romine Hunt.[1] She was the oldest of three siblings. Younger brother (my grandfather) William Charles Strait was born 17 July 1910 in Lake Grinnell, Sussex County, New Jersey,[2] and her youngest brother Carl Hope Strait was born 20 December 1913 in Branchville Junction, Sussex County, New Jersey.[3]

Bernice was nine years old when her father Ora passed away on 07 September 1918.[4] Her father’s death occurred during the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-191 which killed an estimated 21.5 million people in the United States. However, his death certificate states that he died of carcinoma of the liver.

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Bernice Strait as a young girl

She lived in Newton all her life. She attended Newton Public schools and was a student at Halsted Street school. This was Bernice and her classmates in 1918.

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Halsted Street School – Bernice Strait class photo – 1918

When she was 20 years old, she was residing at 44 Pine Street with her now widowed mother Audrey and brother William.[5] According to the 1929-1930 Polk City Directory, Bernice was working as a “sten” which is most likely short for a stenographer. Her brother is working as a weaver most likely in one of the mills operating throughout Newton during the early 1900s.

She married Robert W. Wood[6] and together they had three sons.

  1. Robert William Wood, born 29 March 1929 in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey.[7]
  2. Donald Strait Wood, born 17 June 1931 in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey.[8]
  3. Richard Allen Wood, 08 January 1933 in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey.[9]
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Bernice’s son Donal Wood (left) and his cousin William Charles Strait, Jr. (right) on front lawn of 42 Sussex Street, Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey

The Strait family stayed very close together and over the years they lived in houses on Pine Street, Mason Avenue, and Sussex Street, all within a few blocks of each other. In 1940, Bernice and Robert lived at 51 Mason Avenue, Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey, with sons Robert, Donald and Richard.[10]

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Sussex Street, Pine Street and Mason Avenue locations

Bernice and Robert eventually bought their house at 43 Sussex Street which where I remember visiting her. Her son, Richard, bought the house across the street at 42 Sussex Street. Her mother, Audrey, lived for many years at 44 Pine Street, just up and around the corner.

Her husband passed away before her on 09 June 1973 in Newton.[11] At 70 years of age, Bernice passed away on 28 April 1979 in Newton Memorial Hospital.[12] Her record of death, found in her estate’s probate files, states that she died cardiorespiratory arrest.[13]

Her full obituary reads:

“Bernice Wood” – Bernice S. Wood, 70, of 43 Sussex St., Newton, died Saturday at Newton Memorial Hospital after a long illness.  Born in Lafayette, she lived in Newton all her life.  She was a member of the Newton Baptist Church, the Newton First Aid Squad Auxiliary and the American Association of Retired Persons. She was the widow of Robert W. Wood.  She is survived by three sons, Robert W. Jr. and Richard A. Sr., both of Newton, and Donald S. of Jacksonville, Fla.; a brother, Carl H. Strait of Andover Township; 12 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.  Service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Smith-McCracken Funeral Home, Newton, the Rev. Allan Davis officiating.  Interment will follow in the North Church Cemetery.  Friends may call at the funeral home Monday from 2-5 and 7-9 p.m.

WOOD Robert W. and Bernice S.


[1] Social Security Administration, “Social Security Death Index (SSDI),” Database, Rootsweb.com (http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com), entry for Bernice Wood, 1979, SS no. 136-12-4625.
[2] New Jersey, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Birth Registrations, birth certificate (1910), William Charles Strait. Parents are listed as Ora S. Strait and Audrey R. Hunt.
[3] Social Security Administration, “Social Security Death Index (SSDI),” Database, Rootsweb.com (http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com), entry for Carl H. Strait, 2001, SS no. 136-16-1618.
[4] New Jersey, Department of Health, Death Certificate, death certificate no. 593 (penned), Ora S. Strait (1918).
[5] R. L. Polk, compiler, Polk’s Newton (Sussex County, N.J.) City Directory 1929-30  (New York: R.L. Polk & Co., 1929), 76.
[6] “Bernice Wood,” obituary, undated newspaper clipping, unidentified newspaper [most likely the New Jersey Herald]; Strait family newspaper clipping, privately held by author.
[7] 1930 U. S. census, Sussex County, New Jersey, population schedule, Newton, ED 19-20, page 1B (penned), dwelling 170, family 175, Robert W. Wood; digital image, Ancestry.com (http:www.ancestry.com : accessed 03 January 2015); citing NARA microfilm publicationT626, roll 1384.
[8] Social Security Administration, “Social Security Death Index (SSDI),” Database, Rootsweb.com (http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com), entry for Donald Wood, 1984, SS no. 146-22-3384.
[9] Richard A. Wood, Sr. Memory Card, 2001; privately held by Jodi Lynn Strait, Tucson, AZ 85757, 2012.  Richard A. Wood, Sr. paper memory card created by Smith-McCracken Funeral Home for funeral services.
[10] 1940 U. S. census, Sussex County, New Jersey, population schedule, Newton, ED 19-22, sheet 6B, dwelling 139, Robert W. Wood household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http:www.ancestry.com : accessed 03 January 2015); citing NARA microfilm publicationT627, roll 2384.
[11] “Robert Wood,” obituary, undated newspaper clipping, unidentified newspaper [most likely the New Jersey Herald]; Strait family newspaper clipping, privately held by author.
[12] “Bernice Wood,” obituary.
[13] Sussex County, New Jersey, probate case files, docket no. 27991, Bernice S. Wood (1979), record of death, 30 April 1979; Sussex County Surrogate’s Office, Newton.

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