I cannot stress the importance of tracking down records offline. It would be positively lovely if every document, record and trace of our ancestors were scanned and readily available online, wouldn’t it? Isn’t that every genealogist’s dream? But since they’re not all online, we have to resort to other sources, like our living relatives, and hope that they can provide additional clues to help further our research.
When I asked my dad what he knew about his grandfather, William Arbie Lemaster, he had really no information to give me. How is that possible? Well, firstly, William Arbie died in 1941 and my dad wasn’t born until 1950 so they never met. But I thought for sure that my dad would have some stories, quips or gems of genealogical information he could share… alas, no. He knew the scantest of information aside from two of Arbie’s spouses names. Arbie’s son, Curtis, my dad’s dad, had mentioned there was a brother that he’d never met, that another son was called ‘Peanut’ and not much else. That’s not a lot to go on there, genealogically speaking.
I came across a transcript of William Arbie’s obituary online from the Johnson County Kentucky Historical & Genealogical Society obituary website page that said he died of cancer and listed his surviving children… all of them except my grandfather Curtis, which I thought was very odd.¹ So I tried to pry my dad for more clues but he didn’t have much to add as Curtis never spoke of his father much at all. I began to half-wonder if there wasn’t some bad blood there. Curtis wasn’t exactly easy on his boys; he installed a hard work ethic on them at an early age. If they bikes, ball gloves or even wanted new clothes for school, they had to work for them – at age 8, my dad was working on farms nearby. I began to speculate that perhaps William Arbie was hard on his children as well and there might have been some hurt feelings between the two of them at the time of his death. Life in rural Kentucky during the Depression couldn’t have been easy and it might be part of the reason so many of the Lemaster children headed north for Ohio. Maybe William Arbie was ticked so many left him behind in Kentucky? Just so many questions with no real answers. But something just didn’t sit right with me. I knew Curtis and his wife had traveled many times back down to Kentucky to visit family so why would he be the ONLY one excluded in an obituary?
I don’t know what happened to my brain or why I didn’t even consider it prior but it suddenly hit me one day that I’d only ever seen transcripts of his obituaries but they were from a reputable source so I think I just accepted them as is. There were actually two transcripts of two different obituaries – one was short and sweet, the other was longer with all his children and details of his burial. I had found no images online despite having the page numbers and dates of publication so I decided to contact the Johnson County Historical Society to ask for a photocopy of the actual obituaries. Within days, they’d emailed me back but had only re-sent the transcriptions. While I was happy to hear from them, I had specified in my letter that I already had the transcripts and was looking for the actual images of the obituaries. I wasn’t about to pay $15 for something I already had! I asked that they look again. I wanted to see the real deal to verify the transcription.
It took them over a month but I received an envelope in the mail the other day with William Arbie’s obituary and there it was… Curtis actually WAS listed with the other surviving children.² He wasn’t omitted at all! It just goes to show that persistence (and some insistence) can pay off and that we shouldn’t necessarily accept online transcriptions at face value. It can be wrong and in this case, it definitely was. It was likely just some oversight in the transcription. Two sons, both with names beginning with C, living in Galloway, Ohio – it would be an easy mistake for anyone to make.
So please, be persistent, be insistent (in the nicest way), and go beyond online sources. Also, if something just feels “wrong” to you – if the family stories don’t match and the information you have doesn’t gel – check it out!
¹ “Johnson County Kentucky Related Obituaries, 1941,” transcript by Johnson County Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jccem/JCRO/1941.html : accessed 20 March 2017), citing original publication in the Paintsville Herald (Kentucky), entry for William Arbie Lemaster, 30 October 1941.
² “W.A. LeMaster Dies at Age 59,” Paintsville Herald (Kentucky), 30 October 1941; privately held by Johnson County Library, Paintsville, Kentucky, 2015.
“William Arbie Lemaster & Ethel Castle, undated photograph, ca. 1930-1941; privately held by author, New Windsor, New York, 2016.