Sunday, April 7, 2013

…But Not For Long

The counterpoint to yesterday’s unexpected discovery makes for both a lesson in paying attention to those little snippets of family oral history and a challenge to search through not-yet-indexed documentation.

So who were those twin sons of Samuel and Maud Woodworth Bean? One I know directly from family stories and photographs—there were people I knew who had actually spent lots of time with him. That son, with the matching 1926 birth date of July sixteenth, was Earle Raymond Bean. Earle was the father of Gregory, the one whose story started off this entire series of entries on the Bean family.

The other son, however, was one I never met—or, for the most part, had even heard about. I do vaguely remember Greg’s mother mentioning the possibility of twins running in the family, and joking about “Earle and Merle.” But I never thought much about it. I had no idea who Merle was, so I put that little hint out of mind.

Once I read the newspaper report in the Covina Argus announcing the twins’ birth, however, those memories came back. It wasn’t a cute joke, after all, this talk about Merle and Earle—even though that might have been a way to rib a poetic papa for his more corny attempts at verse. Earle and Merle were both real people.

And Merle wasn’t just a joking nickname for Earle’s brother Sammie. I knew about Sammie. Though I had never met him, I knew what he did, what he was like, what he looked like. At the time I heard that comment about Merle and Earle, not knowing whether Sammie or Earle was the older brother, I thought maybe Merle was just the family’s pet name for brother Sam.

So who was Merle? To start a search, I had to assume there was a real person with that name. The Argus article didn’t mention the twins by name, though I knew by birth date that it would be Earle, not Sam, and another brother. I decided to plug in the name from that joking reference and see if it produced any leads.

Result? Nothing.

That was from a look at and also in

I wasn’t ready to give up quite yet, though, so I hunkered down for a long night at the computer. Scrolling to the bottom of the landing page for FamilySearch, I checked to see what resources from the state of California were available in their collection.

As it turned out, there was a digitized collection which had not yet been indexed, but was available for browsing.

Browsing—oh, groan! The pages load so slowly. The images take forever to come into focus. Any success comes mostly from persistence and patience. And lots of time.

Since nothing surfaced in the various California files for birth records, the collection I zeroed in on was—logically—"California, Death Index,1905-1939." Logically, I say, because neither I nor any of the family members I knew had ever come in contact with this person. Unless he was a total renegade from family association—so alienated from the rest that his name wasn’t so much as mentioned in normal family discourse—he had to have been long gone.

Thankfully, the 5,692 item Index was divided into clickable sections, partially narrowing down the search. First, the options given were two: a date range from 1905 through 1929, and a second set from 1930 to 1939. I chose the former, guessing that maybe Merle had not made it out of his infancy.

The next hurdle was simple: choose from six alphabetized sets of surnames. That honed my search to a set of surnames from “A, Yi” to “Emerson, George.”

Then, let the hunting and pecking begin! It was sheer guesswork where in that alpha range the surname “Bean” would fall. As it turned out, I hit my target on image 190 of 853, under the column subheading numbered 672. (Don't ask me how many guesses that process took!)

Entry number thirty two listed a Merle J. Bean. At this point, I needed to look up the key for the age codes, for a closer look at the Index showed that Merle died on July 9, 1927, with an age unit listed as “eleven.” If that was our Merle, that date was not quite a year since his birth. Finding the key on page six (once again loading painfully slowly), I could see the “2” code next to this age entry was for age in the unit of months, not years. Eleven months would be just right.

A second double check was to verify the county of death. Of course, with Maud having recently returned from Texas, of all places, one could never be quite sure where the family might surface next. Primarily, though, Sam’s home had always been around the Bay Area in northern California, so that—rather than a southern California location—would be expected for Merle’s place of death.

That required yet another consultation with the information page for the Index, which included a chart detailing the code numbers for each of the California counties. The Index had given “90” as the code for Merle’s place of death. That was the code, according to the chart, for the county of San Francisco. Very possibly, from their nearby residence across the Bay, Sam and Maud may have had to rush their baby boy to one of the university hospitals in San Francisco equipped to handle unusual health emergencies. While the Index does not provide cause of death, the location given seems to indicate use of one of San Francisco’s specialized health centers, rather than a local general hospital.

There is no indication in any of the previously-chatty newspapers about this sudden sadness that befell Sam and Maud and their family. Only in a distant retrospect do the signs of a long-past tragedy realign themselves, piece by separated piece, through the help of the digitized records now at our fingertips.


  1. You solved the mystery. Good for you! Back in those days..the loss of little ones was more common than it is today and often families did not speak of them..I am not sure why.
    Rhyming names..almost as bad as when the children's names all start with the same letter..and they keep having more kids and have to make up names:)

    1. Well, I guess they were not the first in this family to have confusing twin names. Keep in mind that Sam and his twin were given names in reverse of each other: Samuel William and William Samuel. And Sam and Bill's father married a second wife, Emma, whose sister's name was Clemma. Sorta makes you wonder what parents are thinking when they come up with stuff like that.

      Of course, I should talk...

  2. I'm sad for two things. One, that Merle passed away so young, and two, that his name wasn't Raymond Earle.

    1. I guess the "Poet" side of Sam got the best of his "Family Tradition" side, or it would have been quite likely that Raymond Earle would have been a strong contender in the twin-naming event.

  3. Oh, my. It must be incredibly sad to find a death record at the end of a search -- and what a painstaking search you had! So in fact there was a "Merle and Earle" pair, but only for a short time, and with no joke to be made. Your incredibly patient sleuthing paid off, in a sad but true way. At least you know.

    1. I only wish Earle's wife was still here so I could tell her about finding this. She would feel so vindicated. I always thought she was just joking...


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