Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Death and Texas

I've been following for perhaps a year the relatively new LDS FamilySearch effort to index (using volunteers) and then make available free the gazillion microfilmed records from around the world held by the Genealogical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's an exciting project and early results (this is project that will take decades) come online for use on a regular basis at the project's beta site. If you're not familiar with the project, you can read more about it here as well as access (after free registration) the search engine and available records.

I used "Texas Deaths, 1890-1971" last week to track down the mortal remains of Granville B. Boswell, a first-cousin of my great-grandmother, Chloe (Boswell) Prentiss/Brown. Digital images of death certificates or death records are available here (as are similar records from other states, including Michigan, Ohio and Arizona), so that makes it especially nice for obsessive-compulsive people like me who don't quite trust transcriptions and feel more secure after they've seen the record themselves.

Tracking Granville down involved dealing with some of the pitfalls that face genealogists, so I thought I'd talk a little about the process.

The first problem is Granville's name. Although his parents, William M. and Eliza Jane (See) Boswell --- brother and sister-in-law of Peachy Gilmer Boswell, my great-great-grandfather, named him Granville B. when he was born in Wayne County, Iowa, he picked up the nickname "Macalola," often shortened to "Mac," early in life. Heaven only knows why.

So in order to track down scattered references to Granville, who moved from Wayne County to Chariton with his family in the mid-1860s and then as a young adult to Texas, it's necessary to be aware of all his names. Since he didn't marry or have children to tell his stories, the references are few and far between. But he seems to have worked nearly all his life as a printer, at times as a partner with others to publish weekly newspapers in Texas, so there are some. You'd have to know that he was called "Mac" in order to discover that he also went to Alaska during the gold rush, however.

In any case, I started the Texas death records search with "Granville" Boswell, then switched to variant spellings of that name, then to "Mac" and finally found him as "G. B. Boswell, the name apparently supplied to the coroner by Granville's brother, John C. Boswell, with whom he spent much of his life and who is listed on the death certificate as "informant."

The certificate told me that Granville died on 7 May 1924 of a heart attack in San Antonio at the reported age of 67 and was buried in "Mission Burial Park."

But there's a problem here with his age. The death certificate gives his birth date as Feb. 21, 1857. However, all census records, 1860 through 1920, suggest that he actually was born in 1859, not 1857. And when the 1900 census of Texas was taken, Granville told the census-taker that he was born in January 1859, not February.

The discrepancies probably result from John C. Boswell's faulty memory. Someone in his 60s in the 1920s who was not a military veteran and lacked a wife and/or children ran risks like this. Granville may not have been asked to state his birthday for official purposes after 1900. He wouldn't have had a driver's license or Social Security card, for example, nor would he have applied for a pension.

After fussing for a while about how to enter his birth date in my records I used the day, 21, provided in the death certificate, but the month and year, January 1859, from the 1900 census, since that was as close as I could get to a date straight from Granville's mouth. Then I footnoted the reasons why I'd done this, so that anyone who cared to reach another conclusion could.

In a way all this caution will prove fruitless, since someone somewhere will find the date 21 January 1859 in my online database and add it to his or her database without the footnote and my conclusion will become definitive. But I've done the best I could do given what there was to work with.


We had ice in Mason City on Saturday, the kind generated by a light freezing mist that just went on and on, coating streets and sidewalks already messy because of previous snowfall. At least 30 folks ended up in the emergency room at Mercy with broken bones, head injuries and the like as a result. It was as slippery as I've ever seen it by nightfall.

I went down twice, once walking back to work Saturday night on the First Christian sidewalk which had a long stretch of rough ice before the new ice came --- damn Christians and their damn sidewalks. Then again with only myself to blame when I got in a hurry heading into church Sunday morning and crash landed in the street just before I reached the salted and sanded Episcopalian sidewalk.

No permanent damage and the aches and pains have for the most part gone away, other than a pain in the wrist when I type too much, so that suggests I'd better stop typing for now.


Ed Abbey said...

Ah, the joys of genealogy.

After you have died, are you planning on passing your information onto a relative somehow? I've decided on some software (Legacy) installed on my home computer where I enter everything in correctly. My online version doesn't always reflect this. But I still wonder if I shouldn't print out a hardcopy from time to time and put in my lockbox.

Frank D. Myers said...

I try to keep the online version (at RootsWeb) updated fairly often, since if worse comes to worst (and assuming there will be a World Wide Web for some time to come) I can always download a GEDCOM from that site and feed it to reinstalled software (Family Tree Maker primarily because when I started computer genealogy that was about all there was). I also keep a backup version on the laptop, but not updated as frequently as I should (I'm going to do that now). Also burn the data to disk now and then. So I SHOULD be covered. But I think a hard copy of a reasonable-sized file (mine is no longer that) is a good idea, too.