I’ve been studying a lot of books on process and methodologies for research lately (namely Professional Genealogy1 by Elizabeth Shown Mills and Mastering Genealogical Proof2 by Thomas Jones). Both books have made me take a critical look at my methods and slow down.
I have several “brick wall” ancestors that have bugged me for years. My Granny (my maternal great-grandmother) died when I was only 9 and her young life is shrouded in mystery, not only for me, but for my mother’s generation, as well. There were familiar rumors that she was raped by her brother-in-law and from what I have gathered over the years, she didn’t really talk about her childhood much. As a result, information about her parents and earlier generations is sparse.
Granny (Lillian Atris Evans) and her two youngest sisters, Thelma and Florence (Aunt Thelma and Aunt Flo, to me) lived in my hometown when I was a kid so I knew them personally. During conversations between them and my Grandma (Lillian’s daughter) I heard mention of Uncle Raymond and Aunt Shellea, so I knew of those siblings, as well. Grandma also had a picture of their father in her spare bedroom, and I knew his name was David Evans. Here in lies the extent of what I knew about the family when I started my research twenty-something years ago.
Since I began researching, I have pieced together Granny’s family, some aspects more fully than others. Image 1 shows the family structure.
As you can see, there are a few family members that I just haven’t been able to find much on. None of my living relatives were even aware of a Massey or Vivien Evans and only knew of the one brother, Raymond. Outside of a couple of census entries, they seem to have disappeared.
The two brick walls that I have focused much of my research on in the last five years or so have been of the parents, Dave and Dora (Bush) Evans. Dora is the focus of today’s blog.
Over the years I have been able to locate Dora with certainty on two census enumerations: 1910 in Blytheville, Mississippi County, Arkansas, where she was marked as widowed and was running boarding house that was home to several men who worked for the local lumber mill and box shop4. The listing of her minor children were the clue that let me know I had the correct Dora. In 1900, she is enumerated in Organ Township, Pemiscot County, Missouri, with her oldest daughter, Shellea, and her husband Dave5. The 1900 census gives a birth month and year for each person listed, and to date this is the only record that I have for a birth date for either Dave or Dora.
For posterity’s sake, and to explain the process that led me to today’s discovery, I want to explain a bit about my nerd side. Occasionally when I get tired of structured record searches, or am wasting time sitting in a doctors office or the DMV, I will login to newspapers.com and do random searches for some of my family members. Last week, I was having one of those days and did a search for the EVANS surname in a couple of papers from Pemiscot County. In particular, I’ve been trying to find some type of reference to a death for Dave, but imagine my surprise when I found an entry for Dora Evans below in Image 2.
Why would this surprise me? Historically widows remarry often, especially when minor children are involved and need to be provided for. What knocked me off my chair was the name of her intended – Ed Walker. Look back at Image 1 now. Look closer. See that name anywhere? Yep! That’s the name of her oldest daughter’s husband! Are you shook? I know I was.
After I recovered a bit, I attached that tidbit to her record in my genealogy software and made a note to follow up in records to find an actual documented marriage record. Honestly, I still wasn’t 100% certain that this was my Dora. The coincidence in the name and location could just be that – a coincidence.
Fast forward to today. On a whim, I decided to do a quick search (no plan, no log, just to satisfy my curiosity) on Ancestry to see if there was a death record for Dora Walker. Lo and behold, there it was – the big shiny sledgehammer that broke through one brick wall. I found it. The death record for my great-great-grandmother, one of the vital statistics that I have been looking for for two decades.
This is where my recent education in methodology made me slow down and analyze the record. It was SO tempting to just attach it to my software and do a happy dance, but instead, I made myself transcribe it and then really look at it. Why is this important? Again, coincidences happen. I want to make sure that this is really my Dora.
It appears that three different people filled out the form based on penmanship and ink:
- Items 1 through 7 and 16 through 20 appear to be from one person; presumed to be the doctor that signed the certificate – C.A. Caldwell
- Items 8 through 14 appear to be from the second person; the informant Clida Balin [?]
- Item 15 was completed by the third person, the registrar J.A.Petty
At the date of initial examination (11 Sept 2021) the informant is unknown in relation to the decedent. The name is unfamiliar and the signature is hard to read without knowledge of familiar context. With further research, the name may become clearer.
Uremia happens when the kidneys stop working. Toxin builds up in the blood and can cause death (as in this case).
Birthplace conflicts with other records that state Dora was born in Tennessee, however the informant doesn’t seem to know much personal information about Dora aside from her approximate age and her father’s name (which does correspond to other records). This gives the impression that the informant may have been an associate or neighbor instead of family member.
Length of time living in Blytheville is 5 years which indicates that she moved from Missouri in about 1910.
It appears that this death certificate is for my Dora. The death location (Blytheville, Arkansas) and length of residence correlates to the 1910 census location data. The name of her father (Thomas Bush) also correlates to other believed information about Dora. Finally, given her birth in 1880, her age at death of 35 is accurate, as well.
- Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards. (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2018.
- Jones, Thomas W. Mastering Genealogical Proof, (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013).
- Walls Family Charts and Group Sheets. Privately held by Sheri Walls, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], 2021.
- 1910 U.S. Census, Mississippi County, Arkansas, population schedule, Ward 3, enumeration district (ED) 86, sheet 35A (penned) 145A (stamped), dwelling 657, family 662, Dora A Evans and family; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7884/images/31111_4327248-00296?usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true&pId=653236 : accessed 11 September 2021); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 58.
- 1900 U.S. Census, Pemiscot County, Missouri, population schedule, Organ Township, enumeration district (ED) 90, sheet 33A (penned) 185A (stamped), dwelling 240, family 252, Dave C Evans and family; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7602/images/4118808_00375?usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true&pId=30187760 : accessed 11 September 2021); citing NARA microfilm publication T623.
- “Marriage Licenses,” The Democrat-Argus, 7 Jun 1912; image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/84620699/the-democrat-argus/?xid=637 : accessed 11 September 2021).
- Arkansas, death certificate no. 936, 28 Jan 1915, Dora Walker; “Arkansas, Death Certificates, 1914-1969,” Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61777/images/61777_01_00007-00989?pId=18138 : accessed 11 Sept 2021); citing Arkansas Department of Vital Records.