One of my absolutely favorite websites is Online Searchable Death Indexes
. It's the first place I go when I want to know if a particular county has posted any obituaries or cemetery records, or to find the link to the state department of health to order a death certificate. I subscribe to the blog
that sends out regular updates. Today I got an update with a long list of states and counties that have new links. I went down the list, mentally checking for counties for my clients' or my own research, and stopped when I saw a reference for Sanilac County: the Sandusky District Library obituary database
. My Grandma Ruby's cousin Lottie Prosser Wooley (see The Luggage Tag
) grew up in Sanilac County, and so I immediately went to the obituary database and put her name in the search box. BINGO!!
This provides more information than I had before, but I find it interesting that it doesn't mention Lottie's two young boys who ended up living with their grandmother. Another glaring omission from this image (which I copied just as it appeared on the library website) is the citation - there's no newspaper title, date or page number.
Guess that'll wait for another day.
Back when I first got all those family papers from my grandfather, one of them, written on the back of a piece of scratch paper was a family tree of my grandmother's. Grandma Ruby's mother Rhoda Prosser was born in Hillsdale, Michigan in January 1860.
According to this scrap of a family tree, Rhoda's father had been killed in the Civil War in 1863. Her mother was "killed by train" in 1883. Researching those two facts have taken me down fascinating trails in the last 35 years.
I don't remember the first time I actually looked at census records on microfilm, but I'd be willing to bet that it wasn't till I got here to Seattle and got acquainted with the Seattle Public Library and the Seattle Branch of the National Archives, in the early 1980's. Until then, while I was living in Florida, I had to send written requests for census research to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Since I was operating under the assumption that I was looking for a family named "Prosser" on the 1860, 1870 and 1880 census of Hillsdale, Michigan, I was very frustrated to keep getting notices that they couldn't be found.
Sometime during those years, in looking at the 1870 census of Hillsdale (line-by-line), I found my great grandmother Rhoda Prosser living with her mother and stepfather, Rhoda and Henry Jones, who were also listed on the 1880 census of Hillsdale. At that point I was able to write to the Mitchell Memorial Library in Hillsdale to ask if they could find any record of my great-grandmother's death. What I received was a copy of the newspaper article in the Hillsdale Standard, every bit as shocking one hundred years later, as it was on the day it was printed:
With this information I was able to send for Rhoda Jones' death certificate, which stated that she died from a fractured skull, and that her father's name was Robin Wilsey. On a research trip to Michigan in 2008, I was able to take a look at the original death register:
It wasn't until I was planning this blog post the other day that it occurred to me that other Michigan newspapers might have picked up this tragic and puzzling story. I went to GenealogyBank, and entered Rhoda Jones for the year 1883, and sure enough, the papers in Kalamazoo and Jackson had reported it. The Jackson Citizen Patriot ran this article on June 8, 1883, with the coroner's findings that there was no evidence of blood on any engine or train, and although she had no shoes on, the stockings on her feet were not soiled or stained.
Many times since getting the original article from the library in Hillsdale I have tried to imagine what happened that night. In addition to her husband Henry (who was a Civil War veteran), Rhoda had her 20-year old son Charles and 17-year old daughter Mary living in the house. Was it indeed suicide, or something more sinister?
What do YOU think happened?