Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grandma Didn't Die Where She Was Supposed To

For years, perhaps as many as twenty, I have been reporting in my database and various reports, email lists, etc. the fact that my paternal great-grandmother, Barbara Isabel (WEHRLY) LeMASTERS, died in Salamonia, Jay County, Indiana.

On the surface, this fact would appear to make sense. She and her husband, Luman, lived near Salamonia in Madison Township for many years, and both are buried in the Salamonia Cemetery. The fact of her death in Salamonia was even reported in a compiled genealogy, "Three Sons of Steffan Petry, 1729-1977" by Merle Rummel & Madelaine Olt. I believe that my father may have been the one who contributed that information to the authors, as he has Barbara's place of death as Salamonia as well.

As recounted in an earlier post, I recently was in Jay County, Indiana doing research on the LEMASTER family. One of my first stops was the county library, where I obtained Barbara's obituary along with several others. As my next stop was the Jay County Health Department, I had planned to obtain a copy of Barbara and her husband, Luman's death certificates.

The clerk had no trouble finding Luman's death certificate, but could not locate the record for Barbara. After giving her the death date again, I mentioned that I knew that she did die in Jay County, as I had just obtained her obituary. While the clerk continued to search, I paused to go out to my car and retrieve the obituary. When I came back in to the office, I re-verified that we were searching the correct date, and then I read the first lines of the obituary:

Mrs. Barbara I. Lemaster, wife of L.C. Lemaster, of east of Salamonia, died at 4:25 o'clock Thursday evening at the hospital in Union City.

She died in Union City, which means I was in the wrong county! If only I had researched her obituary earlier, I would have saved myself some embarrassment and would have been reporting this fact correctly all along. In my naivete, I had accepted as fact what I had seen in print and had not bothered until now to go back and verify the facts in my database. Barbara was not some far distantly removed relative, she was only my great-grandmother and yet I had her dying in the wrong place!

Of course, the fact that she died in the Union City hospital created another dilemma. The newspaper didn't specify whether her death was in Union City, Indiana or Union City, Ohio. Union City is one of those interesting towns that has been split by the state line. In fact, until Indiana went on Daylight Savings Time recently, you could walk across the street and be in a different time zone.

A call to the Randolph County Indiana Health Department a few days later confirmed that the hospital in 1930 was on the Indiana side of the state line. So I will be sending off to Winchester for a copy of her death certificate and will be correcting Barbara's death information in my files right away.

A lesson learned here is the first rule of genealogy is to work from the known to the unknown, working backwards in time and verifying each tidbit of information. Compiled sources are good clues for future research, but each fact should be documented as clearly and accurately as possible.

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