Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Okey Anise Church revisited

Not too long ago I wrote about official records containing errors … specifically regarding Okey Anise Church.  I made a good case why I believed that the Carl Church recorded in the Calhoun County, West Virginia, birth register was actually Anise – and I still believe it is.  HOWEVER … I've now found yet another wrinkle in this whole thing that really makes me scratch my head in wonder.

There is a birth record for Okey Anise Church born on 14 May 1897 to Eli Church and Nora Summers in Pennsboro, Ritchie County, West Virginia.  All of the info is correct – except for the county!

A note on the Ritchie County record which comes from an “Index and Register of Delayed Reports of Births” states:  "This record made from photostatic copy from Div. of Vital Stat., Charleston, W.Va. File No. 30942, recorded Aug. 24, 1943."  Yep, a 1943 recording of an 1897 birth counts as delayed in my mind.

As sources go, the document created closest to the actual event date is generally considered to be the best and most accurate source.  As we all know, the passage of time leads to failing memories – so the longer the time period between an event and the recording of that event … the more likely it is that errors will occur.  Using that criteria, one would put more credence on the Calhoun County birth record.

Let's take a look at all the pieces of this puzzle so far …

In support of Calhoun County:
  • Register of Births – timely recording
  • WWI draft registration – info per Anise himself
  • Certificate of Death – informant was Anise's wife, Eula
  • According to his sister (my grandmother), Nellie Church Kuhn.  Couple this with the fact that his parents were married in Calhoun County, Anise was the first child, and the next two (Vella and Nellie) were also born in Calhoun County.

In support of Ritchie County:
  • Index and Register of Delayed Reports of Birth – delayed recording
  • Marriage License – informant was Anise

The marriage license is the thing that really puzzles me.  Almost everything listed above points to Calhoun County and the delayed report of birth is questionable; but why would Anise say in 1918 (draft registration) that he was born in Calhoun County then say in 1926 (marriage license) that he was born in Ritchie County???

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Barbary Elizabeth Harris

Today I want to share a copy of a handpainted portrait of Barbary Elizabeth "Bessie" Harris who died from fever when she was just a young teenager.  She was born in 1858 to Uriah and Mary Ann (Lydick) Harris and died 21 December 1871 per her death register entry -  her recorded age was 13 years, 7 months.

Barbary E. Harris

Barbary's death at such a young age prompted her brother, Alfred, to write a song entitled, "Mother, do not weep for Bessie" which can be found online as part of The Library of Congress American Memory collection.

I haven't seen her gravestone personally, but did receive a copy from Glen Harris that shows that the stone is quite weathered.  Using Paint Shop Pro to look at it with a variety of effects, I believe it reads:


Daughter of



Dec 21, 1871

Aged 13 Yrs.

8 Ms. 5 Ds.

Questions I've not yet resolved include the discrepancy between the death register and Barbary's gravestone as to her exact age; and her full birth date.  The date I originally found of 26 February 1858 for her birth does not compute with either of the ages when coupled with a death of 21 December 1871.  I have yet to locate Barbary's birth record ... that would certainly be helpful!

I did find a second death register entry for B. E. Harris, daughter of Uriah and Mary A. Harris, with a date of death as 22 December 1871; but her gravestone definitely does not say the 22nd, so I'm presuming that this register simply reflects a clerical error.

If you have information that can clear up my questions about Barbary, I hope you'll contact me.  Also, if you would like a larger copy of this photo, let me know ... it has beautiful detail.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Website Status

Too many days between posts ... but it's due to a good thing ... I've been concentrating on my genealogy database to get just a little bit closer to putting a website online.  I have close to 2,400 people in my database which may sound like a lot, but it's actually small by some folks' standards.

I've decided to start small with the number of people to ensure that the info I publish online is as accurate as possible.  Once I get the site going, I'll keep adding people on a regular basis.  I started a test site with my direct ancestral lines then added their spouses and parents - a total of 55 people for the inaugural site which will include these surnames:


I'm about halfway through this group, which means I need to get crackin' and decide on a web host before much longer!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Even Official Records Contain Errors

Okey Anise Church

My paternal grandmother's oldest brother was Okey Anise Church, commonly known by his middle name.  He was born 14 May 1897 in Calhoun County, West Virginia.  These are the facts I had gathered from a variety of sources, including Grandma herself.  Finding his official birth record took a little extra research due to several inconsistencies:

I found a Carl Church born on 14 May 1897 in Calhoun County.  Hmmm … right date & place but wrong name.  But let's look at this a little more.

Father's place of birth = Marshall County per the birth register, but Anise's father, Eli Church, was born in Wetzel County.  Another strike against this being the right record.  But don't give up yet!

Mother's place of birth not given, so that's no help.

Full name of mother = Minora Summers.  Her maiden name = Church.  This was my aha moment – Anise's mother was Lenora (Summers) Church.  Lenora … Minora … maybe the clerk was just hard of hearing.  Summers was her maiden name, Church her married name.  They're reversed in the register.

Full name of father = Ely Church.  Wrong spelling, but that's a common occurrence.

So the baby's name is incorrect, the father's birthplace is wrong, the mother's name is all messed up, and the father's first name is misspelled.  Yet, the record I found has to be Anise. 

Where did the name Carl come from?  Was it clerical error?  Did Eli & Lenora change their mind about what they wanted their baby's name to be?  Who knows!

UPDATE:  Check out "Okey Anise Church revisited" for more questions resulting from a second birth record in a different county!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Summers Family Nicknames

Earlier this month, I wrote about the confusion surrounding the spelling of my 2nd great-grandmother's surname in Matthews or Matthew or Mathews or ....  Martha and husband Joseph Summers raised a large family - so far I've found nicknames for nine of their 14 children, plus two (maybe three) more that had a "commonly known by" name:
  1. William David Summers = Will
  2. Phoebe Ellit Summers = Phebe
  3. James Augustus Summers = Gus
  4. Mary Irene Summers = Rene
  5. Thomas Franklin Summers = Tom
  6. Matilda Jane Summers = Till
  7. Walter Henry Summers - I wonder if he was called Walt?
  8. Robert Edward Lee Summers was commonly known as Lee.  Interestingly, Lee was apparently part of his full name.  His marriage record first listed his name as Robert E. L. Summers, then his full name as Robert Edward Lee Summers.
  9. Lenora Susan Summers = Nora or Nory  (my great-grandmother)
  10. Claude Raymond Ellis Summers was commonly known as Ellis or Ell
  11. Victor Lawrence Summers = Dot
  12. Arthur Lloyd Summers = Lomie
  13. Joseph Marie Summers was listed as Maree on 1910 census, probably spelled incorrectly but leads me to believe that he may have been commonly known by his middle name.  He reportedly died at the young age of 29.
  14. Roscoe Hamelton Summers - He was the informant listed on the death certificate for his brother Ellis - his brother's name is shown as Ellis Summers whereas his own is Roscoe Summers.  Looks like he actually used his first name!
It's easy to see where most of these nicknames came from ... but Dot?  There must have been an interesting story behind that one!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Thoughts

It sometimes seems odd that I had so much more trouble dealing with Mothers' Day when Mom was still alive but getting progressively worse with Alzheimer's than I do now that she's been gone for 6+ years. Then again, I guess it's because I know that she's in such a better place now with a body that was healed forever. Hallelujah!

Alda Louise (Harris) Kuhn
1925 to 2005

Don't get me wrong … I still miss her terribly. She was an excellent seamstress and sewed many clothes for my sister and me, including gowns for proms, dances and weddings. Mom made a beautiful tailored coat for herself after attending a Homemaker's class through the Extension Service. When something didn't meet her standards, she would rip out seams and start over. Being a perfectionist meant that she sometimes cost herself hours of time that greatly multiplied her stress when deadlines loomed. Mom considered her sewing skills to be inferior to those of her sister, Eva – but I think she was wrong!

During the early stages of her Alzheimer's, I worked with Mom to make one last skirt using fabric she had bought and stashed away. It was bittersweet as I ended up doing most of the work, although she was able to sew the straight seams. I'll never know if she felt any sense of accomplishment with that skirt … but I treasure it dearly. Just a simple skirt with an elastic waist; yet it means more to me than any other piece of clothing I own.

I hope that most of you reading this will be able to celebrate the day … whether you're a mother being appreciated or a child doing the appreciation … or maybe even both …

Happy Mothers' Day

Friday, May 6, 2011

Funeral Cards

Funeral cards come in various forms … single cards (similar to a postcard) and small folded cards seem to be common for those prepared by funeral homes.  They give basic info that usually includes name, birth and death dates, and info regarding any memorial service and burial location.  

Then there are personalized cards that are prepared by the family … these usually include a photo and give a great deal of insight into the individual's life.  

Anyone who gathers family history treasures both kinds of cards, standard or personalized, for the information they provide.  When Mom died, I added the cards she had saved to my existing collection.  I thought for sure I would find a funeral card for her mother, Dessie (Aston) Harris, but much to my dismay I did not.  I hope I can find one someday.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oscar Leslie Harris

Oscar L. "Bones" Harris

This photo from Mom's collection shows Oscar Leslie "Bones" Harris with a team of horses pulling what looks like a disc to me.   I never knew the background behind that nickname until one of his great-granddaughters filled me in that it was due to his size and bone structure.  Specifically:
  • As a young child he was very tall and skinny and the other kids called him "Bones" or "Boney."
  • As an adult, he was about 6 foot 3 or 4 inches tall and was very thin.
  • As for his facial features, his bone structure was well-defined by protruding cheek bones.
  • The bones in his big hands and arms were visible.
So the nickname that began in his youth stayed with him throughout his adult years as well.  (Thanks to Juanita Fallihee for this info.)

According to birth records in Marshall County, West Virginia, Bones was born on 13 September 1870 near Easton (now Glen Easton).  Interestingly there are two different registers that appear on the WV Division and Cultural History website and neither of them included Oscar as his first name.  Makes me wonder if his parents, Samuel and Mary (Richmond) Harris, intended to call him by his middle name.  The two different birth registers also reflect two different spellings of his middle name:  Leslie and Lesley.  I have a handwritten list of the Samuel Harris family that I received from my grandmother, and it shows his name as Oscar Leslie as does his marriage record - so that is the spelling I believe is correct.

The death certificate shows his name as Oscar L., with the informant being his daughter, Leona Dobbs.  According to the certificate, he died in the Wetzel County Hospital from pneumonia, but I remember my mother, Alda Louise (Harris) Kuhn, saying that he was in a nursing home in New Martinsville when he reportedly fell down the steps and died.  According to Mom, the family suspected that he had been pushed down the stairs ... but Mom didn't seem to know why the family believed that. 

Bones married Mary Bane Cummins on 12 August 1893 per the handwritten family record I mentioned earlier; that is confirmed by the record of their marriage.  They are both buried in the Fork Ridge Christian Church Cemetery, Fork Ridge, Marshall County, West Virginia.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Infant Death of William Hollie Church

William Hollie Church was born on 20 March 1914, the ninth child of Eli and Lenora (Summers) Church.  The family home on eastern Seventh Street in Moundsville, West Virginia, was not only the location of William's birth, but also of his death less than two months later from pneumonia as a result of whooping cough.

A very short obituary was published on Friday, 08 May 1914 in the Moundsville Daily Echo: 

     A five weeks old baby of Mr. and Mrs. Church died Sunday night at its parents home on eastern Seventh street.  Several members of the family have been very ill during the last few weeks.
Per a written family record, William was born on 20 March 1914 and died on 03 May 1914 at the age of 1 month 14 days.  A quick look at a perpetual calendar confirms that May 3rd of that year was indeed a Sunday.  However, a date calculator counts the time as 1 month 13 days.

The Marshall County Death Register includes two entries on the same page that both recorded 03 May 1914 as the date of death:

  1. Wm. R. Church, age 1 mo 13 days, born at East 7th St, Moundsville, died from pneumonia as reported by physician L. H. McCuskey. 
  2. Wm H. Church, age 2 mo, born in Moundsville, died from whooping cough as reported by Eli Church, his father.
I believe that all of these documents and records are for the same little boy even though there are several inconsistencies:
  • The Death Register entries were written in two clear, but very different and distinctive hands; two persons involved would reduce the chance of realizing there were duplicate entries.
  • The incorrect middle initial of "R" could have been a transcription error when a clerk made the entry in the Register of Deaths or the doctor may have simply mis-reported it.
  • The handwritten family record shows William's age as one day too many per the physician (and a date calculator), but that is most likely a simple calculation error.  Perhaps Eli reported the age as two months simply because he was almost 1-1/2 months old.
  • The physician reported the exact place of birth (street and city) whereas Eli simply reported the city.
  • According to MedicineNet.com, the most common complication and the cause of most whooping cough-related deaths is secondary bacterial pneumonia, with young infants being at highest risk for both.  So the two reports actually support each other: the primary cause of death was pneumonia, secondary cause was whooping cough.

William Hollie Church - 03 May 1914

Although a picture of a six-week old infant in a casket may seem offensive today, this quote from Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel provides another viewpoint while writing about the pioneers who settled the western part of America:
     "Among a people whose lives were often scarred by the death of children, the photograph quickly became a cherished souvenir. Such pictures might be placed on a mantel or table in a sitting room."
While the Church family was not on a westward journey, William's death when he was not quite six weeks old may well have occurred before any other photographs of him had been taken, thus making this a most cherished photo.  A valuable lesson may have been learned, as a picture of William's younger brother, Arles Lloyd Church, was taken as he sat in his mother's lap.  This proved to be a fortunate thing as he died in 1919 when only a few months old.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Matthews or Matthew or Mathews or ...

Seems like I've posted a lot lately about my 2nd great-grandparents, so I thought I'd stick with that but switch to the ancestors of my paternal grandmother, Nellie (Church) Kuhn.  Her mother was Lenora (Summers) Church, daughter of Joseph and Martha E. Summers.

Martha E. Summers
I originally thought Martha's maiden name was Martha Ellen Matthews according to a handwritten family document I was given years ago ... until I found the official register documenting her marriage in Taylor County, West Virginia, where her last name appears without the “s”:  Martha E. Matthew.

Now I know that spelling errors occur frequently, even in official records - so I still figured that the handwritten document would prove to be the correct spelling.  After all, it seemed more likely that a clerk would misspell the name than a family member.  But wait ...

On Martha's death certificate in Calhoun County, West Virginia, for which one of her sons was the informant, her maiden name is spelled with the “s” but with only one “t”:  Martha Mathews.  Again, you would think a son would know the correct spelling, yet this certificate lists her birthplace as Tyler County and her father as James Mathews ... as opposed to all the other sources I've found that indicate her parents were William K. and Nancy and that she was born in Barbour County.  Coupled with the fact that the son gave no birthplace for James and no info at all for Martha's mother, I'm not so sure he's an ideal source!!

On the other hand, Nancy died from diptheria at the young age of 39, and the informant son wasn't born until 15 years later.  So he would never have known his grandmother Nancy.  But who is James?  Was Tyler County written in error instead of Taylor County?  (Taylor and Barbour are neighboring counties, and Martha did live in Taylor County for several years.)  Those are questions for another day.

While I'm talking about Nancy, her two youngest children also died from diptheria a few months after she did – and all three of them appear in the death register on three consecutive lines written in the same hand, but with two different spellingsMathew and Mathews.

Federal census records don't help a whole lot as the surname spelling for the William K. household (including Martha) was Mathew in 1850 and Matthews in 1860.  By the time of the 1870 census, Martha was married to Joseph Summers so she finally had a surname with no question about the spelling!  Interestingly, the 1870 census does show several Summers and Matthew families living next to each other in Taylor County.

At this point in my research, I have no reason to doubt that Martha Ellen is correct for her given name, but was her maiden name Matthews or Matthew or Mathews or Mathew?  The answer appears to be that ... the answer is unclear!!