Monday, February 3, 2014

The Genial Jean

What mysteries were conjured up in my researcher’s mind about Mabel Davis Hines Martin, thanks to lack of official documentation or vital records, were somewhat soothed over by the fortunate discovery of a newspaper clipping tucked away in the personal papers my own aunt left behind at her passing.

It took a lot of looking to find the date for that newspaper clipping, but when I figured it out, it provided a helpful framework for my grand-aunt Mabel’s personal timeline.

It was the kind of newspaper clipping people snip from the page to send to friends or relatives to say, “Look, I’m in print.” Mabel most likely quickly clipped it out of the local paper—only coincidentally capturing the name of the publication and its date on the reverse—to send in a letter to her brother Jack and his wife, after Mabel moved back home to Erwin, Tennessee.

A half-page article, complete with two captioned photographs, had appeared in The Erwin Record on September 13, 1967. Who knows what the page number was—it got snipped from the enclosure she sent with her letter. Little did Aunt Mabel suspect that her grand-niece would, forty six years later, find the article and wonder about it.

Under the rather pedestrian title of “Erwin Resident has Antique Collection,” Mrs. Bede Webb had composed her report on Mabel’s unique possessions. Of course, each one had its own story, and each story found its place in the newspaper article. Perhaps that is why the author characterized Mabel as “the genial Jean Martin.” Mabel evidently knew how to spin a story. Or perhaps she was just a gracious hostess. You can get the lady out of the South for much of her adult life, but perhaps it was near impossible to get the southern hospitality out of the lady—at least, this one.

In sharing this article with her sister-in-law, Mabel—who by now was evidently going by the thoroughly-more-modern name Jean—inadvertently aided me in pinpointing the date of her return from New Jersey to Tennessee. It was much sooner than my grandmother’s address book had led me to believe.

In her gracious visit with the Record writer, she also allowed me a glimpse into, at least, what she felt were some key highlights in her family history—as well as that of her late husband, Horace L. Martin.

The article, of course, is too recent to reprint without violating copyright laws—but that won’t stop me from trying to contact the newspaper to see if they have retained copies of the two photographs of my grand-aunt featured in that 1967 article. I’ve heard encouraging stories of others who have attempted obtaining old newspaper photographic proofs, with better-than-expected results. It is certainly worth the try. And, as I’ve just seen, the newspaper is still in circulation in Erwin—sporting not only a website but a Facebook page as well.

That is a good thing, for unlike other historic newspapers featured in pay-per-view collections online, back issues of the Erwin paper don’t seem to be accessible through any such means—at least, not any that I’ve discovered. Yet.

This is the type of scenario when a researcher may have to develop a working relationship with the local genealogical or historical society. Finding an index of names mentioned in the newspaper within a date range roughly matching that of my family’s tenure there would be optimal. There are surely many more mentions of the Davis family’s names in those pages, over the years.

Of course, if none of that becomes available, you know what that means: someday, a trip to Tennessee will have to find its way onto my travel calendar.


  1. I suppose you are getting ready to share those antiques. I'm eager to learn whether "Jean" was just a collector or if she had inherited them.

    1. I wish I could share them! But you know how newspaper photos turn out--pretty blurry. Reading the article, however, shows that some were inherited, some were lucky purchases--a case of being at the right place at the right time.

      Makes me wonder where those items are now...

  2. I hope you find a copy of the photos! If nothing else, perhaps someone can scan them in from the old newspaper. How exciting!

    1. Sometimes, you have a better chance at such finds from small town newspapers, so I'm hoping...

      I don't think scanning the photos from my old, yellowed copy of the newspaper would come out very clearly. I'm hoping the other option works!


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