Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Thelma Lenora Williams

My Dad rarely talked about the Bullock side of the family. They were from Montana, and previously Kentucky, so I only saw my paternal relatives while a kid on summer vacations. Dad suggested I call his Aunt Shirley (his dad's sister) who lived in Montana if I wanted more information.

I'd met Shirley last at a family reunion in 1993. I wasn't interested at all in the reunion (I was 18) and spent most of the time driving with my cousin in her Fiero.

When I called Shirley this past winter, I knew that I'd met her, but didn't know anything about her at all. After exchanging pleasantries, I began to ask her some questions. Most of my questions were to confirm data that I had already collected. I'd compiled a lot of information from census records and a book called "The History of Park County, Montana” (which I found in the Everett Family History Library by accident). S

he didn't share too much about my grandpa, Eddie, but I did want some specific information about her mother (my great-grandmother), Thelma. "Where did she die?" I asked. She said "Everett, Washington.""No kidding! That's where I live!""Yeah, her and my grandma, Flora. I went to their funerals. Aunt Noni is buried there too. She married a guy named Goodman."

Shirley gave me a couple of approximate death dates, but when I took that information to Evergreen Cemetery in Everett, they weren't able to find a Thelma Williams or Thelma Bullock or Flora Francis Eby or Williams. The cemetery indexes the graves manually, and they aren't able to search by first name.

I called other cemeteries, but heard nothing back. I had the name, and I had a month and year of death for Thelma and thought her mother would be buried next to her. If I could only find one, I could find the other. I did find great, great aunt Noni next to her husband, and walked with my son across that whole section searching each tombstone. Why is this so hard? This would be my first research trip away from family or computer and I was wondering if it all would be this difficult.

Finally, a thought dawned on me. I went to the library and asked them if they had microfilms of the Everett Herald. They did. If Thelma and Flora died in Everett, they would probably have obituaries published. Eureka! I found Thelma, but her last name was Stevens. I read the obituary and the relatives were all in line with what I knew. The chance that anyone else named "Thelma," born in Virginia City, Montana, and having the same relatives’ names (including a father named “Williams”) was beyond possibility.

The more interesting thing was what I found while scrolling through that film.

Just over two weeks before Thelma's obituary, A "Flora Grotts" died. Flora may not have been as uncommon as it is today, but it caught my eye enough to notice. After I printed out Thelma's obituary, I scrolled back and found Flora Grotts. Her obituary was almost identical to Flora's, with the same relatives listed. Her brother's last name was "Eby." I found them both! I printed out Flora's obituary, found Flora's and printed it out, and went back to the cemetery. Armed with the new data, the woman at the cemetery office was easily able to produce the locations, and gave me copies of their burial records.

For the first time in my short genealogical quest, I'd become sad. As I stood there looking at the graves of my great grandmother, and great-great grandmother, I imagined what could have made Thelma die so soon after her mother. The loss she must have felt. Then, when she died, how the upset the rest of the family must have been. Finally, it became personal. On an intellectual level, I always knew these were people, but to finally stand next to their graves and read their obituaries made it hit home.