To truly understand our ancestors, it’s important to know about the history of the places they lived. Knowing that history can help us solve genealogy problems that would otherwise keep us puzzling.
A friend asked for help with her family research. She had this information:
Francis Marion Davis had four sons by his first wife. They were George Melvin Davis, (the ancestor–born about 1894, possibly in Joplin, Jasper, Arkansas) Raymond Eli Davis, John Milard Davis and Benjamin Davis.
This was not a whole lot to go on, but the middle names for the boys would help. We found a 1920 census record for this family in Picher, Ottowa, Oklahoma, with the following information:
- Frances M. Davis, 54 years old, born in Indiana, divorced, and a miner
- Ben F., 18 years old, married (no wife? is she the 19-year-old in the next household?) born in Missouri
- George M, 16 years old, born in Kansas
- Raymond E, 15 years old, born in Missouri
- John M, 11 years old, born in Kansas
What? Did I get that straight? Missouri, Kansas, Missouri, Kansas and now Oklahoma? Huh? So here’s the mystery. Are those birth locations correct? If so, WHY did this family move around so much?
With all these places showing for this family, it was clearly a case for maps. So I mapped Picher, Oklahoma, and found that it actually runs up to the Kansas state border on the north of Oklahoma. It is also only 10 miles from the Missouri state border to the east. So even though these are three different states, they are all close together.
A web search for Picher, Oklahoma, turns up a Wikipedia entry telling how it is deserted, everyone having moved out because the lead and zinc mining undermined most of the town’s buildings, and the tailings from the mining are toxic. The area is now considered unhealthy. The history of the area talks about lead and zinc mining in the tri-state mining district.
The real pay dirt came in a book, Joplin, from Mining Town to Urban Center, by G. K. Renner, which I got through inter-library loan. It talked about Joplin being the capital of the tri-state mining district and gave dates and locations for some of the booms in the mining district.
Funny how the mining booms matched up to the dates and places of birth for these four boys, and oh, yeah, Francis M. Davis was a miner in 1920. I went back to look. He worked in a zinc mine.
Not a mystery any more.
If you have a Family History Mystery you have solved that you would like to submit send it to email@example.com with “History Mystery” as the subject.