Saturday, June 21, 2014

Change of Name, Change of Home

When the trail seems to go cold when researching ancestors, sometimes it’s best to stop the pursuit, pull over to the side of the road and ponder the situation. Since I hadn’t found much on the current focus of our Kelly family descendants—the clever comedian and traveling salesman, Lyman Fulk of Bloomington, Indiana—it was time to do just that.

Granted, I had already been able to sort out the particulars of one research challenge that had me stymied—the spelling dilemma that presented itself in some records as the surname Fulk, and others showing the name as Faulk—and that was a help. But it appeared I was facing another roadblock—one I couldn’t yet discern. Though I had located Lyman as a young married man in his hometown—along with his wife Phyllis and children Richard and Helen—I wasn’t able to find the family in the 1930 census or beyond.

One day, bouncing between and, I ran across a suggested record for someone whose middle name was Lyman. I figured it was worth my time to investigate, and pulled up the World War I draft registration card for someone named Frederick Fulk. Like Lyman, he lived in Bloomington, Monroe County, Indiana, and was married to someone named Phyllis and—wait, his middle name was Lyman! This was Lyman Fulk!

This discovery reminded me not to forget the several ancestors I’ve researched over the years, whose middle name had been used as a first name. While I had presumed that the name the Fulk family had used in addressing this man was his first name, that was actually not the official version.

A second caution was witnessing what had happened with this very government document that had shown me his correct first name: the registrar entered it wrong on the very first line, thus forever dooming this document to be indexed under the spelling, Fredrick. That, however, is not how Lyman spelled the name, himself. Take a look at his pristine, clear handwriting. You are my witness: his name was indeed spelled Frederick.

So now, instructed on the real first name for the man—and alerted to the possibilities for yet another pairing of misspellings—I went back and tried searching for more records on this Kelly descendant.

Any more luck? No.

Times like this encourage the desperate researcher to consider anything—even far-fetched anythings. I kept seeing an indicator of a single man, born in Indiana in 1885, showing up in the 1940 census for Memphis, Tennessee. That city—Memphis—brought to mind the newspaper article I had seen the previous day on Lyman’s several business trips to various cities. One of them was Memphis. Could he have liked it so much that he decided to move his family there? But if this Lyman in Memphis was one and the same as my Lyman Fulk, where was his wife? Phyllis, born in 1890, would have just turned fifty, much too young to already have made Lyman a widower, as this census entry indicated.

I tried poking around Find A Grave to test a hypothesis that the Fulk family had moved from Indiana to Tennessee. Of course, Find A Grave, though a wonderful resource, can be spotty in places—it all depends on the commitment and thoroughness of local volunteers. No entry on the website can mean—possibly—nothing.

With more searching, a record did turn up for the popular soprano who had charmed Bloomington residents with her singing. That record was not in Bloomington, but in Memphis, showing me that there was a family move from their Indiana hometown.

Sadly, the then forty nine year old wife of Lyman had been stricken down by an “acute” case of leukemia, and within a span of less than two months, had succumbed to the disease. Though it seems incredible that the Lyman and Phyllis Fulk of Bloomington were one and the same as the Lyman and Phyllis Fulk of Memphis, what may have been witnessed were merely the changes wrought by the stress of invincible disease. While I have no way to know the stress, pain, or hopelessness faced by the couple in those last few months, one look at the details on Phyllis’ October 15, 1939, death certificate provides silent confirmation of the agony that must have faced the man.

Now far removed from the support system the family enjoyed back in Bloomington, Indiana—after all, not only were the two young people the darlings of the town's newspaper reports, but Lyman's grandfather was apparently a former state senator, affording the surname some ongoing recognition in town—what became of Lyman? Did he remain in Memphis? Try to return home to those he knew in Indiana? It seems his grief swallowed him up, and sucked him out of the limelight and into a twilight this researcher has not been able to pursue.


  1. Seems you might have the right Lyman. I am certain you will find something more about him:)

    1. I am still continually amazed at all that can be found, right at home at all hours of day or night, courtesy of my own computer and the Internet!

  2. has a bunch of school year books for Frederick Lyman Fulk (Indiana University in Bloomington, IN). He was associated with Phi Gamma Delta.

    I love this quote

    "Lyman Fulk of the O Harrow Drug Store Bloomington saved an automobile when sparks from a cigarette ignited the top of the machine. The top was almost completely burned away. Mr Fulk ran from the drug store with a fire extinguisher finally subdued the flames " (bottom right)

    1. That's a great quote, Iggy! I had noticed on one document--I think it was his draft registration card--that Lyman had listed his employer as this same Drug Store, and his occupation as pharmacist (which I had questioned at the time).


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