Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Recently I sent out two different requests for information on Michael's side of the family. The first request was sent to the Hamilton County Probate Court requesting the marriage record of his parents, James Willoughby and Pearl Dezarn. The second request was to my contact at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, regarding the burial locations for several of Michael's relatives I believed to be buried there.

I received the information I was looking for last week. The information in the marriage record did not hold any surprises; it only confirmed the data I already had with the exception of the actual marriage date. I was told by someone in the family that Jim and Pearl had married on August 11, 1945 but the marriage record states that Jim and Pearl were married on August 10, 1945. Not a huge deal, of course, but obtaining a copy of the actual record just goes to show how important it is to get copies of the records whenever possible. The marriage record also listed their residential addresses at the time of their marriage as well as Jim's occupation (he was a machinist).

Patty at Highland Cemetery was very kind and researched the list of six family members I had emailed to her. She found all but one, the one being Michael's step-grandfather William Williams -- the search goes on for his death record and grave site. (That's not my "one step back" though -- we'll get to that in a minute.) Patty did find Michael's paternal grandmother (Rosa Morrison [Willoughby] Williams, born 20 June 1888 and died 19 Sept 1926; Michael's aunt (and Rosa's daughter) Nancy Margaret Murphy born 17 Oct 1912 and died 29 Mar 1888; Nancy's husband Earl Dalton Murphy born 17 Jun 1905 and died 18 Jul 1977; their daughter Alice Jane Murphy born 1 Mar 1931 and died 16 Sept 1933 (the poor thing drowned in the Ohio River); and their son Anthony Lee Murphy born 17 Sept 1948 and died 15 Jan 1961. I just can't imagine what Nancy and Earl must have gone through to lose their precious little 2-year old girl in a drowning accident; my heart breaks for them just thinking about it. Anthony was born almost 15 years later -- to the day, practically -- and then lost him 12 years later too. I do not yet know what caused Anthony's death (I have only found him in the death index and will have to request a copy of the record), but I do know that he passed in the Children's Hospital in Cincinnati. I hope it's normal to grieve for events in my husband's family that occurred 50 and 80 years ago.

Now, to my "one step back". I have been trying to document the relationship and the existence of Michael's paternal grandparents. I have been able to prove Rosa's existence through her marriage to William Williams in 1923 in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, and through her death certificate in Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky in 1926. Michael's father James lists his father as Sherman Willoughby on several documents (birth certificate, social security application, both marriage licenses). Rosa, on her marriage license to William Williams, lists herself as a divorced woman with married name being Willoughby (no first name of previous husband listed). Proving Sherman's existence has been much trickier, much less a marriage to Rosa Morrison.

I know that Jim had at least two sisters (one older - Elsie, born 1907 and one younger - Nancy, born 1912 (the same Nancy we talked about above). Family lore says that one of the sisters is a half-sister. His birth certificate says that he is child #3 but I have yet to discover who the other older sibling may be. Elsie passed in 1993 but as of this writing I have been unable to find her death record in Tulare County, California even though I know the date and (I thought) location of her death. I wanted to see if Elsie's parents were listed on her death certificate -- and if so, were they Sherman and Rosa? Or Sherman and maybe a first wife?

In the meantime, I found a Sherman Willoughby in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census in Kellyville, Creek County, Oklahoma living with a William Willoughby (head of household), Nancy Willoughby (wife), Sherman (son), Nancy (daughter), Elsie (granddaughter), and Armilda (granddaughter). He is listed as a widower (which may or may not be true, if he remarried after the divorce from Rosa). I also found Sherman's World War I Draft Registration Card -- his full name is William Sherman Willoughby which would add to the difficulty of tracking him through the years. The fact that Elsie is with him makes me think that I have the right Sherman, but I still have to prove it. I have found Sherman's grave in Kellyville, Creek County, Oklahoma at FindAGrave. (And a HUGE thank you to the person who photographed the headstone and uploaded it to FindAGrave!) I have since requested Sherman's death certificate from the Division of Vital Records in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

All of this leads me to Nancy (and my one step back). I had asked Patty at Highland Cemetery if Nancy's parents were listed in the paperwork the family filled out when Nancy was buried. Patty told me that Nancy's mother was listed as Rosa (no last name). But her father is listed as surname "Martin" -- with no first name listed.

What?! Martin?! Holy Moses! Here I was expecting to hear "Willoughby" or "Williams" -- to be able to learn one way or another whether Nancy was the half-sister, and to be able to narrow the window on the years and the location where Rosa and Sherman were married and (hopefully) divorced. I had found Rosa listed on the 1920 U.S. Federal Census in Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky -- the same place where Jim was born in 1911. Here, Rosa is listed as the wife of Bill Williams who is the head of household, daughter Nancy, and son Brown. Nancy is listed as "Nancy Williams" but I knew that there was a 50/50 chance that the census enumerator could have assumed that Nancy was Bill's daughter by living in the household. Or Bill could have presented Nancy as his own daughter. Either way, I was not expecting a new surname to be thrown into the mix.

Now another thing to remember is that the information on a death certificate is only as good, and as accurate, as the informant giving the information. It could be that the person filling out the paperwork at Highland Cemetery was only writing down what he or she thought to be true; we've already seen at the beginning of this post that family lore can be wrong. So in an effort to verify this information, I have requested Nancy's death certificate from Vital Statistics in Frankfort, Kentucky. I am expecting to find the same paternal information on the death certificate as in the burial paperwork, but I am also hoping that Nancy's county of birth is listed too. Then I can search for her birth record to see if the paternal name matches.

Hopefully, the information in Nancy's records will give me a clue, or at least a hint, as to where Rosa was and who she was with in 1912, and by extension where Sherman was (or was not) during the same time frame.

I'll let you know how it goes......

~ Niecey

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