Monday, January 20, 2014

Chasing the Elusive Mr. Kite

Shortly after Mary Chevis Davis Chitwood was abruptly widowed, she found herself saying “I do” to a man from neighboring Carter County, Tennessee. What, exactly, his name was, I can’t say. But I do have quite a paper trail of possibilities.

My starting point for all Davis family research was the family Bible, once kept by my great-grandmother, Martha Cassandra Boothe Davis. She, in turn, had passed it to my grandfather, Jack Davis. That was when I had first copied the data from its register in the center of the thick book. Upon my grandparents’ passing, the book became the possession of my aunt. Upon losing her last November, the Bible found its way to me.

Cassie Davis must not have been a careful record-keeper, as I’ve since found in comparing her notes to official governmental documents. Her notes on her daughter Chevis’ second marriage were particularly unhelpful. At one point, she entered her new son-in-law’s surname as “Kite,” but on another page, wrote it as “Kyte.” To complicate matters, at one point, she simply listed his first name as Jack, though he also went by initials F. L.

Trying to ascertain the truth of the man’s name by wandering out into the world of digitized records bore that scenario out—no, actually added more confusion to it. The 1920 census showed him as Luther F. Kite—other than that pesky detail of a middle initial, the same spelling as shown on the Unicoi County marriage bond, which he signed with that precise spelling, on December 17, 1916.

Yet, the 1930 census presented an entirely different picture. Perhaps it was because the census canvasser for that decade was a stickler for details—after all, they were supposed to list first names first. Chevis showed up in that document, predictably, as Mary C. One can only hope to infer from her husband’s entry as Franklin L. that he, too, preferred to be called by his middle name.

By the time of the 1940 census—a change which I’ll delve into tomorrow—suddenly, both Luther and Chevis had their surname spelling changed to Kyte, perhaps bearing out that alternate spelling version that surfaced in the Davis family Bible.

It might seem to you that I’m being overly demanding in my aggravation over these details. After all, in genealogical research we’ve all encountered entire centuries of records that dealt fast and loose with ye olde spelling. So am I fussy about all this in records of the early 1900s? I don’t think so, of course.

There are a few reasons for this. First, finding some other records showing his name to be not Franklin but Flavious, upon encountering any new documentation, I couldn’t be entirely sure I had located information on the right Mr. Kite. Or, um, Kyte. Then, too, just as I had encountered with this name problem when researching Chevis’ first husband—having the popular surname Chitwood—there were a lot of people with that same last name, at least in the state of Tennessee. How was I to be sure I had the right Flavious/Franklin/Luther Kite/Kyte?

Even at the point of discovering what I thought was his obituary, years later, upon receiving a copy of the newspaper article, I had doubts this was the right man.

Sometimes, you just have to do the best you can in research, up to a point, then close the books on the pursuit with the caveat that you need to revisit the quest at a later time, when more information becomes available to you.

That was what I had to do with my research, years ago, in Chevis’ case—until the 1940 census became available and I discovered some changes that may confirm that I had found the right obituary, after all.


  1. It's not like Flavious is a variation of Franklin. I'd be skeptical too.

    1. I would, too,'s just that, somewhere in my pre-citation years, I made a note of a record of Flavious. Maddening.

  2. I am reminded of some of Far Side's photos - the ones where the name is difficult to make out - and how that makes investigating "who they were" so much more difficult. Here you have a case of a person with a "blurry name" (as opposed to a clear cut name and a blurry person!) If anyone can get to the bottom of things with Franklin/Flavious Luther whatsits... it is you!

    1. Now, that's a great way to put it, Iggy. That's pretty much how it is: blurry!

  3. Yes you are hot on his trail...I can tell:)


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