Sunday, August 1, 2010

Okay, I Admit It: I Was Helped by One of Those Shaky Leaf Thingies

Recently I’ve been adding people – slowly and gradually – to my Public Member Trees on Ancestry. As I described previously (in “Ancestry’s Public Member Trees: An Addictive New Game”), it’s kind of fun to see what hints and other trees pop up. Until yesterday, none of the historical document hints was any news to me – I had already found them and entered them in my Reunion genealogy program. And most of the time, I had found more documents on Ancestry, not to mention many more sources that were not on Ancestry.

So, yesterday I added “Edith Beulah Watson” as a spouse to my great-uncle Obadiah “Oby” Norman. The clues included the 1900 census, which showed Edith as a one-year-old with her parents, James Watson and Mary “Mamie” Baugh Watson, in Celeste, Hunt County, Texas. Had that one. I also had the California Death Index. But there were two others: a departure from San Francisco headed for Honolulu, Hawaii on 28 October 1928 on the “Honolulu, Hawaii Passenger Lists, 1900-1953” database and an arrival in Wilmington, California from Honolulu on 6 April 1930 on the California Passenger and Crew Lists, 1893-1957” database. Both lists indicated that this Edith Norman was born 2 July 1899 in Leonard, Texas. It was the right Edith Norman.

But she was not with Uncle Oby – not going, not coming back. Strange…. I had written down a good bit of information on Uncle Oby and Aunt Edith from telephone conversations with my Uncle Bill. Edith had died when I was very young, and I had always remembered Aunt Rhuea (Rhuea May Brown) as Uncle Oby’s wife (Oby married Rhuea after Edith’s death in 1956), so I wanted to find out more about Edith. One of the things Uncle Bill had told me was that Oby and Edith had had just one son, Danny, who had died young, and that the song “Danny Boy” always made them tear up when they heard it. Inez Cline, in her History of the Norman Family, had listed a son named H. P. Norman, for whom I found a Texas Death Certificate on FamilySearch Record Search – he was born 31 May 1925 and died 30 June 1928 in Dallas County, Texas.

And there was another item of information I had on Oby and Edith. Uncle Oby was very difficult to find in the census, and I had never found him after the 1900 census (nor was I ever able to find his parents, William Henry “Jack” and Sarah Jane Norman on the 1910 or 1920 censuses). But I did find Edith Norman – living alone as a boarder in San Diego, California on the 1930 census.

Uncle Bill also told me that at one time, Uncle Oby was an itinerant preacher, possibly Primitive Baptist, who traveled around the country to preach.

So I have two possible explanations for this extended separation of Edith and Oby.

One is that he was traveling around the country preaching, without Edith, and perhaps only occasionally going home to visit her, but there are no passenger records for him indicating that he ever went to Hawaii.

The other is that the death of their son caused a rift and that they separated for an extended period of time.

I may never know which explanation is correct unless I am able to find any sort of record for Uncle Oby during those years.

However, I have to hand it to Ancestry – the hints provided some interesting additional information on Edith Watson Norman. The aggravating thing is that I probably saw these passenger records in a previous Ancestry search for “Edith Norman,” but just made an assumption that my relatives would have been too poor for this type of travel. Oof – Lesson #1 in genealogy and every other type of research: Never assume.


  1. I, too, got some help from the shaky leaf. I lost my Uncle Matt from Norway for 9 years, and the shaky leaf found him working as a seaman for 7 of those years. I looked for him nearly everywhere else, but it never occurred to me to look for him on a boat! I do feel bad that I "dissed" those shaky leaves for so long! :)

  2. Interesting that both of our "overlooked" sources had to do with ships! The shaky leaf appears to work best when we have not examined each and every result that pops up in a search. It's sort of a "nagging aunt" saying "Are you sure you don't want to check this?"

  3. Still being a sort of "newbie" I have a lot of holes to fill in on my family's history so I have come to really appreciate those little shaky green leaves!