Monday, January 13, 2014

Confusion Despite Official Documents

Sometimes, in researching our family history, the data dump can morph into an avalanche of dull, dry dates, places and names. With the information overload we subject ourselves to by focusing on getting the facts, we can find ourselves losing sight of the people we originally sought to know.

I confess that exact thing happened as I was collecting the details for Lummie Davis Moore, the woman whose two letters I had just transcribed and posted here in the past week.

Even in the midst of attempting to draw up a timeline of her life to help sift through the clues, I missed one very important fact. In the middle of the narrative of these two letters, I lost sight of the woman’s impending death. It wasn’t until just a few days ago, when in the process of pasting the hyperlink to her page on my very outdated yet publicly-accessible Rootsweb tree, I happened to notice the year of her death: 1962.

“That’s funny,” I thought to myself, “That’s the same year as these letters.”


Yes, wallowing in the midst of all this family history overload, I got slapped in the face by that very detail. I have no idea how I had missed it.

It was sad to realize that—even disappointing. It was as if I were reliving that episode in my grand-aunt’s life with her, hoping for the best for her recovery.

Yes, Lummie was infused with an upbeat attitude, seemed restless and full of energy despite her serious injury—but, as often happened to those whose aging hips suffered a fracture, while focusing on the bone that needed mending, the patient was caught unawares with a side effect of the long healing process.

In many cases, the risk to those recuperating from hip repair is pneumonia. As it turned out in Lummie’s case, her decline was not at all that type of lingering misery, but an almost instantaneous attack: she fell to a case of coronary thrombosis. According to the death certificate, length of time between onset and death was five minutes.

While the quickness of the attack may have been merciful for Lummie, I can only imagine how brutal the news must have been for her daughter. Sarah Martha, recently returned home in the Baltimore, Maryland, area with a newborn daughter of her own, was too far removed from Lummie’s Phoenix home to know anything more than the type of news her mother had been sharing with her own brother in the letters we’ve just read.

Piecing together the story now—over fifty years later—I’m encountering a lot of gaps. The fact that there are discrepancies in the official documents doesn’t help. While I’m overjoyed to see the State of Arizona provide genealogical researchers with free access to their online death records through—thankfully!—the year 1962, I’m a bit stymied by the fact that some dates and details don’t line up in the certificate issued after Lummie’s passing.

According to Lummie’s death certificate, she was the daughter of Will David, which of course should be Davis. That became the first clue tipping me off that this document may not be one hundred percent reliable. Of course, it’s pretty hard to demand any family member to answer a barrage of questions one hundred percent accurately under duress of a family death. Perhaps that is why Lummie’s son-in-law, C. J. McKinnon, was listed as the informant instead of her own daughter.

However, when it comes to the date of death, that would seem to be factual information—not something swayed by how distraught the family might have been feeling.

Yet, the death certificate indicates Lummie’s date of death to have been July 19, 1962.

That causes problems when we seek out her obituary record. First, though Lummie claimed many friends in her residence of the past twelve years, I’ve been unable to locate any mention of her death in the Phoenix area newspapers so far. However, I did find an obituary for Lummie in her home town, Erwin, Tennessee.

Published in The Erwin Record, it was dated July 13, 1962—six days before Arizona had recorded her passing (for which I can’t help but recall the statement attributed to Mark Twain, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”).

To resolve such a records dilemma, don’t think it will help to resort to the cemetery’s grave marker. Apparently—at least according to the volunteer transcriber—engraved in stone is the year, 1967. It will either take a trip to Erwin—or the good graces of a Find A Grave volunteer—to stop by Evergreen Cemetery to brush away the camouflaging wisps of Bermuda grass disguising that last digit in the engraving.

Somehow, local researchers in the Erwin area managed to unearth a date which agrees with the one I had always understood to be Lummie's date of death. According to the book, Cemeteries of Unicoi County Tennessee, by the Unicoi County Historical Society, it was on July 9, 1962, that the Moore and Davis families lost a mother, grandmother, and sister.

Perhaps it was in all the scramble to pack and move their belongings from Roanoke, Virginia, back to their old home in Columbus, Ohio—and then, suddenly, to have to return to the old Davis home in Tennessee, that was the cause of these two letters being tucked away by Lummie's brother and sister-in-law, Jack and Ruth Davis. And, for the next fifty one and a half years, to lay undisturbed in their hideout until another passing passed along the whole passel of papers to me.
Mrs. Lummie Davis Moore, formerly of Erwin, died unexpectedly Thursday in Phoenix, Ariz. Death was attributed to a heart attack. Funeral services will be held today (Wednesday) at 10 a.m. from the Boyd-DeArmond Funeral Home. Dr. Melvin Faulkner, pastor of First Baptist Church, will officiate. She was an Erwin native, the daughter of the late William and Cassie Booth Davis. She was the widow of Wallace Moore, who died in 1952. She had lived in Honduras, Central America, for the past 12 years. She was a member of the Women's Club and the Harmony Club in Phoenix. She was also a member of the Baptist Church. Surviving are one daughter, Mrs. C. J. McKinnon of Ellicott City, Md.; one sister, Mrs. Horace Martin, Erwin, and three grandchildren. Boyd-DeArmond Funeral Home in charge.


  1. Somehow in this breach of social etiquette reading someone else's mail, we start to "like" the writer, become their "friend," and when the letters stop, we feel a sense of loss. What is the word for that moment of awareness when you realize "it's over"? Right now I'm feeling the same way I did when I read the last letter written by a Civil War soldier to his wife even though I knew from the introduction to the series that he was killed on the battlefield.

    1. As mundane as their topics often are, personal letters are such a surprising way to get drawn into the life story of our relatives--and sometimes, of mere strangers. I can totally understand how you would feel that way about the Civil War soldier, Wendy. Funny how we become their invisible companions, cheering for them all the way on what little bit of their life's journey we've stumbled upon.

  2. The letter - even with the "pain" it brings - opens a small window into this woman's world - and also added to what we know - like the daughter having three children BY 1962 (some of them must have been born before that! - perhaps the Judge in Montana...)

    I did find myself "pulling for her". I got a sense of her character and thought, "the world needs this woman."

    1. Yes, Iggy, that little confirmation of the three children certainly was not lost upon me. And yes, I think of that link to the judge you had shown me a few days ago. It is quite likely--I've been thumbing through the boxes of photographs, just hoping those tell-tale school photos would appear (the ones I told you about). I'm hoping something will clear up this mystery...but all in good time, I'm sure...

  3. Here in Scotland, the always seems that the nearest male relative went to the registrar and dealt with death details, so it seems normal that her son in law did it. In one of my case a nieces husband who knew nothing did it and mixed everything up. Only because I knew the relationship can I confirm I have the right death cert.

    1. Haz, that is a good point--made even more likely by the discovery that his own heritage was from Scotland, too. He, himself, may have expected to be the one to take care of these matters for his mother-in-law.

  4. Well, Thursdays in July were the 5, 12, 19 and 26th in 1962. So the Erwin newspaper is wrong??..but the funeral home and the Death Certificate is correct. July 9..was it transcribed wrong? Makes me want to go visit that cemetery:(

    1. Thanks, Far Side, for checking that. I knew you would know that!

      Well...someone obviously transcribed something wrong. Back to the source documents, I suppose.

    2. I was serious about going back to those source documents. As blurry as the copy of the document is, itself, I wanted to add it to this post...just to make sure I wasn't the one making the transcription error :)

      I got the copy from the proverbial "Some Kind Soul" who lived in or near Erwin, Tennessee. Unfortunately, the clipping wasn't labeled with publication information. I'll just have to add those small details to my "to do" list for whenever I get a chance to travel to eastern Tennessee...someday...


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