I have this theory that the dead will be found when they’re ready to be found and not a moment before. What I mean is that there is usually always at least one member of a family who seems to just drop off the face of the earth, leaving you hanging without a date or place of death and no grave to find for them. This annoys me. I’m one of those people who has to know how the story ends. In fact, most of the time, I’ll get halfway through a book and then go forward to the last few pages and see how it ends. That’s how important endings are for me.
So when ancestors refuse to let me know the end of their story, I just give up for a period of time. And in two cases this week, I’ve learned how the story ended for 3 people.
Earl Thompson died in 1930. His death certificate says he was murdered. Try as I might, I could find no newspaper account of his killing. Then, about a year after learning how he died, I signed up for a free trial to a UK database. While looking around the site, I found they had American newspapers, so on a lark, I plugged Earl’s name in and found a short blurb about the sentencing of the man who murdered him. Nothing else; no details of what led to the murder, just the man’s name and his sentence to life in prison in an obscure Northern Michigan newspaper.
Earl had married a woman named Etta Pearl Wilson and had 4 children, only two of whom lived. Etta disappeared after the 1920 census and I couldn’t find her anywhere. The other day, a woman I’ve been corresponding with on another line sent me a request to correct one of my Find A Grave memorials. She said she’d found this person’s obituary on newspapers.com. The newspaper was for the area where Earl had been killed. Mind you, I’d checked newspapers.com when I found how Earl had died, but had never found an article on the murder. But I found several the other day. Earl was murdered by a man who had left his wife, moved to Detroit with Earl’s wife (whom I assumed at the time was Etta), then come back on this day to see his estranged wife in Port Huron, Michigan. Earl was there for some reason and they exchanged words which resulted with the man grabbing his shotgun and shooting Earl, killing him instantly. This man’s son and Earl’s son, who were close in age, were waiting in the truck for Earl to finish whatever business he had with the man’s wife when the man killed Earl. The man’s son, it was reported, saw the murder. Earl’s son only heard the shot, but saw his father die.
As I said, I had assumed the woman that had left with the man was Etta, but the wife named on Earl’s death certificate was the wife he’d married after 1920. So I plugged Etta’s name in the same paper on newspapers.com and found that Etta had died in Feb of 1920, the census having been taken in January that year. She’d died of “hyperemesis gravidarum,” which is extreme vomiting that sometimes accompanies pregnancy. I found her death certificate online at seekingmichigan.org. Her name was mangled, as sometimes happens when the transcribers can’t read the handwriting. So I now know both the details of Earl’s murder and what happened to Etta, his first wife.
Earl and Etta had a daughter, identified as “Leah M Thompson” on the only census I found her in. That’s also the name that was on her marriage record to Roy Doan. She also dropped off the face of the earth, or went into the Genealogical Witness Protection Program after 1930. I was able to find Roy after that; they divorced and he remarried. But Leah was just gone. Then I found that I’d had her name wrong. Her name was Letha Pearl, not Leah M., and she had remarried 2 times after her divorce from Roy. The same newspaper was kind enough to tell me when and where she died and where she was buried.
Tonight I was looking for Unabell Meredith Thompson. She was a cousin of Earl’s. Unabell and her husband, Walter Joseph Thompson, lived all over the United States, finally ending up in Battle Creek where they’re found in the 1940 census. I did find that Walter died in May of 1969 in Battle Creek, but Unabell remained in hiding. So on a whim, I plugged her name into newspapers.com again and found her obituary AND her burial notice, so I was finally able to learn the ending to her story as well.
When the dead don’t want to be found, leave them alone. Then after a year or so, go back and see if you can’t find new documents that hadn’t been available when you were looking before. I so love it when this happens.