Okay, so I’ll be the first to admit that by most standards I lead a pretty dull life. I’m not saying I’m unhappy. My life suits me. And if something doesn’t suit me I’ll change it. But I realized during a conversation the other day that most people do a whole lot of things that are a whole lot more exciting than my writing, birding, gardening, photography, and research. I’m sure the latter- hours and hours of research- would remind some people, and not fondly, of their high school days. But you see, high school research and reports and essays are some of my best memories. So I’ve just kept doing what I love!
I realize that my family would be happier if more of my research and writing were directed at paying markets, as they were when I was younger. And I do have a few new plans for the coming year. But once I discovered the world of genealogy I was hooked, and a good portion of my time is spent researching the past. Just think of it as my sport or hobby. Then you’ll understand the “challenge” I presented myself with at 5am this morning.
I have an obituary and a headstone photo that don’t quite match. I assume they are indeed the same person, and that the person who had the task of ordering the headstone or the person who engraved it made a mistake. It happens. It’s happened before. But for some reason, the very plain headstone and the rather sad circumstances of the man’s death intrigued me. So I gave myself a task: find out as much as possible about the man in one hour. For this task I used Ancestry, the online newspaper archives of the local library, and my own files. The results were not only interesting, but the process pointed out some mistakes that commonly create problems for family genealogists.
First of all…the name. Mr. Mead’s obituary identifies him as W. M. Mead. The census identifies him alternately as William W., William, and Williard. An early family history calls him Williard E. Mead. What convinces me that these all refer to the same person is that the names of his wife and children are pretty consistent. So always check alternate spellings, initials, and names.
I checked the obituary twice and it is indeed from the November 13, 1920 issue of the Durant Daily Democrat, Saturday edition. If I examine paper books and records in the genealogy library I may find some other information, including his funeral home record. However, I wanted to limit this to online research for now. So the date difference will have to remain a mystery. However, if he died in 1920 and the Ancestry family trees all show 1921, taken off the headstone, no one would ever think to look for his printed obit in 1920.
There is also an error in the obituary. Mr. Mead had four children at the time of his death, not two. And he had a grandchild.
The Durant Daily Democrat
November 13, 1920
Caddo Citizen Dropped Dead on Wednesday Noon
While at work superintending the unloading of a car of gravel on the railroad just north of town, near the McCalman place, Wednesday afternoon about 4:30, W. M. Mead, section foreman, dropped dead. The body was brought to town immediately by the engine of the gravel train and taken to his home. The funeral was held yesterday afternoon. Interment in Caddo Cemetery.
Mr. Mead has lived in Caddo many years. He was foreman of one of the section crews working out of Caddo. He was a mighty good man in all his dealings with men; was a member of the Christian Church.
He had suffered some years with heart trouble and had been advised to seek expert medical treatment, but thinking perhaps he might overcome the trouble without it.
Mr. Mead leaves a wife and two children, both of whom are grown and who live here.
The many friends of the family sympathize with them in their bereavement.
Here is what I was able to determine in an hour:
Williard was born in Texas on November 23, 1869. He married Bertha Reeves, daughter of William and Jane Ray Reeves, at Whitewright, Texas on May 31, 1896. They remained in Texas for a while and had their first child, Prentice Mead, on August 9, 1897. By 1900 they had moved to Caddo, Indian Territory, where Williard worked as a section foreman for the railroad. His mother-in-law lived with them and so did his brother-in-law, Luther. In August of 1901 their daughter, Bonnie, was born. Ruby Stella was born in 1903. Bertha began taking in laundry and later some sewing. She ran ads in the paper for her services. By 1910 they were well established in the community. Jane moved to Texas and lived for a while with a family in Tioga. In 1914 Prentice played in the local boy’s band directed by C. E. Blessing. It had about eighteen members, all under eighteen years old. In 1916 Mr. Mead and Prentice are both listed as committee members of the Christian Endeavor group at their church. About this time Williard and Bertha had another child, Reta Grace.
In 1920 Williard continued to work for the railroad. Bertha took a job as a clerk in one of the dry goods stores. Jane moved back in with them. Prentice married and moved out. This announcement appeared in the paper: May 15, 1920, Mr. and Mrs. Prentis Mead are the proud owners of a baby girl born last Thursday.
Then Williard died in November while doing what he had done most of his adult life. Sometime after Williard’s death, Bertha moved to Denison:
September 22, 1922
At the home of her mother in Denison last Monday, Miss Ruby Mead and Mr. Elmer Keynon were united in marriage by Rev. F. R. Long, pastor of the Baptist Church. After the ceremony they left for Hillsboro to make their home. The groom is an excellent young man employed by the Katy. The bride is the daughter of Mrs. Bertha Mead, formerly of Caddo, now of 612 West Main Street, Denison. Her many friends here will be glad to congratulate them.
By 1930 Bertha and Grace were living with Bonnie and her husband Jack Raymon(d) in Dallas. Bertha worked as a seamstress in a department store. In 1940 Bertha, 68, was still working as a shirt maker and Grace was a switch board operator for a department store. Grace, 23, also had a twelve-year-old son, Robert W. Mead.
Bertha Olivia Mead died March 4, 1956 and is buried in Restland Memorial Park in Dallas.
So…lesson learned. Don’t let mistakes in obituaries or on headstones or on Ancestry keep you from finding out the facts. And I may have made a few mistakes here. Genealogy is like a jigsaw puzzle. You just keep putting the pieces in place until the picture makes sense.