The other day I read an article: “Jeffree Star says his 103-year-old grandmother is real, but here’s why some YouTube sleuths are still suspicious.” For those wondering who Jeffree Star is and why anyone would care how old his grandmother is, he is a celebrity in the makeup world. Wikipedia describes him a “an American entrepreneur, YouTuber and singer, and the founder and owner of Jeffree Star Cosmetics.” As a mother of a cosmetologist, he is a topic of discussion in our home at times so I was intrigued to find out about his family. In reading the article I was struck by the numerous examples people had provided of why they didn’t believe his grandmother, “Grandma Mary,” was really that old. The evidence people cited were YouTube videos posted by Star and contradictory ages and birth dates posted by Star on social media sites like Twitter and Instagram. It was also noted that in the past people had been led to believe his aunt was his mother so some folks believed his grandmother’s age may also be misrepresented. What struck me in all this is how the “sleuths” relied totally on social media when this is a perfect opportunity to use genealogical research to actually find documented evidence of her age! So of course I took a break from my current genealogy projects and dove in to solve the mystery for myself.
Finding out about Jeffree himself is not too difficult. As a well-known celebrity, information about him is all over the Internet. The Wikipedia article on him notes his name as Jeffrey Lynn Steininger Jr. and that he was born in Los Angeles County, Calif. on November 15, 1985 (a Scorpio like me!). The names of his mother and father are also noted. However, Wikipedia is not necessarily great evidence so at this point I went into Ancestry.com. There I was able to confirm his birth date and place of birth and mother’s maiden name from the California Birth Index, 1905-1995.
Because he shares a name with his father, his father’s birth and death information showed up in the same Birth Index database and also in the California, Death Index, 1940-1997:
- Jeffrey Lynn Steininger
- Born: 2 Feb 1954 in San Bernardino, Calif.
- Mother’s maiden name: Samarzea
- Died: 15 Sept 1991, Orange County, Calif.
It should be noted while the Social Security Death Index for Jeffrey Lynn Steiniger Sr. agrees with the information above, his Social Security Application Information that was displayed does not. Instead it shows a birth date and place of 2 Feb 1954, Ontairo Pamo [Ontario, Calif.]. I am not sure if that was a transcription error in the Application Index or not.
Ancestry also brought up the marriage information for Jeffree’s parents. According to the Nevada, Marriage Index, 1956-2005, Jeffrey Lynn Steininger married Marra Shubyann Lindstrom on 11 Mar 1984, in Clark County, Nevada. It’s no surprise that a lot of what I found so far agreed with what was in the Wikipedia article as the citations there included some of the same databases I checked. Some information also cited My Heritage.
So getting back beyond Jeffree’s father was now the tricky part. Jeffrey Sr. was too young to be in the 1940 Census, but Ancestry showed a link to a Findagrave memorial for Jeffrey Lynn Steininger Sr. Over on that site someone had noted his father and mother’s names as Elmer Milburn Steininger and Mary Samarzea. That seemed to fit the right name for Grandma Mary, and the maiden name seemed correct. But even though I had names, I had no source for those names other than Findagrave so needed actual documentation these were Jeffree’s paternal grandparents.
At this point I often turn to obituaries for more clues. And fortunately there was an obituary for Elmer in the News-Pilot, published in San Pedro, Calif. on 10 Jan 1964, page 10. It lists his name, age 52, address 6402 Chapman Ave, Garden Grove, and noted him as a native of Missouri. The obituary named his wife, Mary, and sons Richard, Roger, Jeffrey, Phillip, and sister Virginia Nowlin and brother Roland. While this seemed to show a connection between Elmer and Jeffrey Sr. and Grandma Mary, finding a listing in Garden Grove, Calif., for Jeffrey Sr. in the U.S. Public Records Index, 1950-1993, vol. 1. helped to solidify my acceptance I was on the right track.
When I did a search for Elmer Steininger on Ancestry, I was able to find a marriage entry for Elmer M. Steininger to Mary Sarzea on 6 May 1949, in Los Angeles, Calif. At the time of their marriage Elmer was 37 and Mary was 31. While that means Mary could have been born in 1917, I wanted to get documentation of an actual birth date if possible. So when I searched for Mary Samarzea, I found an entry in the Minnesota, Birth Index, 1900-1934, for Mary Samarzija born on 3 July 1917, in St. Louis County, Minn. Her mother’s maiden name was Trebeinich. But wow – Minnesota to California. I really wanted to say that was her, but needed some link between the Mary who married Steininger in California and the Mary who was born in Minnesota because surprisingly enough there were several women named Mary Samarzea born around that time in this country – did I have the right one?
I realized it would be really helpful to get Elmer and Mary’s marriage document. So at this point I went over to Family Search because the document on Ancestry was only an Index from the California, County Birth, Marriage, and Death Records, 1849-1980 database. The problem was no county was cited in the index or on the document. But I found a city directory listing for the couple from 1952 in Los Angeles – Elmer was working as an optician. That was three years from their marriage so hoping they didn’t move in that time period, I did a catalog search for Los Angeles on Family Search and discovered the marriage applications and licenses are all online for that time period. The index had the book and page so I went to that specific place on the microfilm hoping it would be the right one. And yes! You can see the documents below and the indication of birth place of Mary as Minnesota!
One item that did not fit in the marriage application was the maiden name of Mary’s mother. On the application her parents are noted as Nick Samarzea and Frances Prebonic. The Minnesota Birth Index said her mother’s maiden name was Trebeinich. But while these names may look slightly different, there is a similarity in the pronunciation so I could accept they were the same woman. Sometimes in the records names are not heard correctly when transcribed and end up misspelled. Also I found a World War One Draft Registration Card dated 12 Sept 1918 for Nick Samarzya in Pineville, St. Louis County, in Minn. He was working as a miner in the Bangor Mine and had a wife named Fannie. So this places a couple with names similar to those on Mary Steininger’s marriage application in the right place at the right time for Mary Steininger to be the Mary Samarzea born on 3 July 1917, in St. Louis County, Minn.
At this point, I felt comfortable to say yes, Jeffree Star’s paternal grandmother, Mary Steininger, turned 103 years old this year on July 3rd. I guess I also got lucky in that I followed his paternal line first. If his paternal grandmother had not turned out to be 103, I would have needed to research his maternal line to see if his maternal grandmother was named Mary and was born around 1917. I want to add though if I was doing this research as part of a genealogical project for a client, I would definitely have spent a lot more time looking up additional records as this was not a fully exhaustive search meeting the genealogical standard. But because I was just checking enough to convince myself, I stopped here.
This was a fun project for me, and while I enjoy social media and use it a lot, there’s nothing like good old genealogy research to check out someone’s true age.