Sunday’s Obituary: Steel in the Eye

In my research into descendants of the subjects in the Friends Album, I found the following obit:

“Ernest Hawley of Hawleyville, a grocer, 26 years old, died yesterday at his home in that village. He was struck in the eye by a bit of steel a short time ago and spinal meningitis developed. He leaves a widow.”

Not just a widow. Apparently, a pregnant widow — Cornelia. Their son Ernest G. Hawley was born in 1906. He and his mother are listed as living with her parents in the 1910 and 1920 censuses.

Cornelias’s parents were Frederick A. Young and his wife, Urania. I believe Frederick A. Young to be a subject of the Friends Album, pictured here.

I found memorials at FindaGrave for Ernest Hawley and Cornelia. So far, I’m having a bit more trouble picking up the trail for Ernest G. Hawley. I haven’t been able to find any military records for him, which I thought would be a sure thing. I did find a Social Security Death Index record for someone who may be him, but I need to strengthen the connection before I put too much stock in that record.

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“Obituary,” The Hartford Courant (1887-1922), 19 Feb 1905, p. 7, ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1764-1985); (http://researchport.umd.edu : accessed 8 May 2011).

Wordy Wednesday: Friends Album Update

Well, I’ve done it! I’ve found a living descendant of a subject in the friends album. I haven’t contacted him yet. I’m still figuring out what I want to say.

Friend No. 12 (Ellis B. Wilson)

In the meantime, I’ll share some tidbits from a major clue that led me to the grandson of Ellis B. Wilson (I’m withholding the grandson’s name to maintain his privacy). Over the weekend, I decided to search the Hartford Courant archives to see if I could find Ellis’ obituary (previously, I found his FindaGrave memorial, which provided me with his date of death and the names of his two wives). Other records had confirmed for me that Hartford was the place to search for his obit.

The Courant’s archives delve back into the 1700s. The paper does charge users for anything besides a brief abstract of its older articles, but after failing to find the obituary through other free resources available to me (and resources that I already pay for), I decided it was worth the nominal fee to get the details that his obituary would divulge.

From Ellis’ obit, I learned he was known as “Mr. American Legion Baseball,” having established the American Legion Baseball program in Connecticut. I also learned that he died while on vacation in Treasure Island, Fla.

The obituary named his daughter and her place of residence at the time of his death. This allowed me to find more information on her, which led me to her sons including the one I know still to be living.

I think I’m going to wait until I’ve finished going through the entire album before I contact Ellis’ grandson. I’m still hoping that I’ll find other descendants of other known subjects in the album. This could lead to a dilemma. My original goal was to return the album to descendants of those pictured after I realized that many of the photo subjects belong to the same family. Now, it appears that I may identify descendants of unrelated subjects. I’m loathe to split up the album, at least right now. But if Ellis’ family doesn’t have this picture of him, how I could I not send it to them? Dilemma!

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“Ellis B. Wilson, 77, Dies; Legion Baseball Pioneer,” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984), Jan. 30, 1971, p 4: ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1764-1985); (http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/courant/advancedsearch.html : accessed 26 March 2011).

Sunday’s Obituary — William E. HAYES

Dear Reader: Do you think you are related to the individuals listed in this post? Please drop me a note! I love hearing from cousins and others researching my family!

New year, new-to-me blog theme! Below is a memorial obituary printed for the funeral of one of my maternal great-grandfathers, William E. Hayes. The memorial belongs to one of my aunts, who allowed me to photograph it last year.

Memorial Obituary for William E. Hayes

HAYES Headstone

Gravestone for William E. Hayes

Obituaries: Researchers Beware

This blog post is in response to the blog prompt for Week #46 as provided by Amy Coffin at We Tree (via GeneaBloggers): “Comment on obituaries in your collection. Obits come in all shapes and sizes. Share some of the stand-outs with readers.”

My lessons learned after writing, reading and relying on the information made available in obituaries includes that they can be chock full of useful information: next of kin, parents, burial information and of course, major life events, but they are not the most reliable sources.

I am a reporter by training and have written several obituaries, both for relatives and for complete strangers*. Not all obituaries are written by professional journalists, however (and much to my chagrin, even when they are, errors can be edited in later). Many obituaries are written by relatives of the deceased — they may or may not have gone through the rigors of checking original sources of the information listed in the obit. In fact, it’s not impossible to imagine that many may gloss over some facts in remembering the life of their loved one and they may, inadvertently or not, introduce errors into the listing.

Before she passed away, my mother requested that I be the one to write her obituary. This I did, including the names and places of residence for her surviving family members, including her three younger sisters, all in the state of Virginia. Even though I typed the information for the obit and emailed it (in copyable/paste-able form) to the newspaper for inclusion, the state of residence for my youngest aunt was printed as California and not Virginia. Sigh.

Another obituary in my collection is for my great-grandmother, Della Hayes. I had always assumed that her maiden name (Crow) was spelled with an ‘e’ on the end because that is how it was listed in her obituary. All records I have found since then point to a spelling without an ‘e.’ Similarly, her mother’s maiden name also appears to have been misspelled in the obituary (Gorley instead of Gourley, as I have found in other records). Whether these spellings were provided by the family incorrectly or were printed incorrectly for some other reason, I do not know.

Of course, not all obituaries are so error-ridden and they are good starting points for finding facts that should be confirmed through further research.

*Obituaries are often the first things that budding reporters learn to write. Therefore, I found everything had come full circle during my final stint as a reporter (I decided not to pursue a career in journalism shortly after graduating from college). My final article as a general assignment reporting intern at the Viriginian-Pilot‘s Virginia Beach bureau was  the obituary for G. Dewey Simmons, a minister who hailed from that area. He had gained notoriety by performing wedding rituals in unusual places, including one ceremony underwater. On my last day in the bureau–the day the obituary appeared in the paper–I had a voicemail on my phone. It was his daughter, in tears, calling to thank me. She said it captured his life perfectly. I can’t think of a better way to end my reporting career.

Interesting side note: the major news services pre-write obituaries for major public figures so that when these individuals do meet their demise, it is simply a matter of adding the details of death before posting on the wire.  I learned of this practical, if morbid, procedure while touring the Knight-Ridder library at the National Press Building during another reporting internship in college. It’s often the newsroom librarians who compile the facts for these canned pieces, before they are polished up by the reporters.