Using Newspapers to Fill Gaps and the Tragedy of Ed Stafford

If you had known my paternal grandfather, Frank Stafford, you never would have known he had such a sad and profound past. To me, he was the man who put Bactine and multiple band aids on my knees when I fell, the man bought lottery tickets and let me hold them for good luck when the numbers were announced on TV that night (we actually won $80 once), and the man who loved watching Sanford and Son, laughing at almost everything Redd Foxx said. I thought his pain came mainly from the death of his mother, Hannah, but after some recent discoveries, I believe it may have come also from the death of his older brother, Ed. 

Sometimes I feel I will never know the mystery of Hannah: what happened to her, why her death date on her grave and death certificate don't match, and what went on with her family after she died. So I began to burrow into the lives she left behind, mainly her husband and children. One family story that stuck with me involved Hannah's son (and my grandfather's brother), Ed. Relatives mentioned to me that he died of electrocution. I figured since electrocution was a pretty horrific way to die, there had to be some kind of documentation out there.

When genealogists and family historians start researching, one of the first and most logical places to look for documented evidence is the censuses. Birth and death certificates usually follow, and I wrote previously about the  wealth of information in city directories. Just recently I began to dig into newspapers, and I found some things to answer the questions I have about what happened after Hannah's death at Morganton State Hospital.

I found Ed on the 1910 and 1920 census, and from those I could gather he was born around 1903 (in 1910 he's listed at seven years old). I searched for his death certificate for some time and couldn't find it, mainly because when I did find it, the death certificate had been incorrectly indexed as "Eduard Stefford." But I knew instantly I had found him.

Ed had been working as a welder for the Ideal Motor Company in Winston Salem in 1926 when he died. He was 19 years old, married, and lived at 1027 North Liberty Street. But I had to know more, so I contacted the Forsyth County Public Library and gave a librarian all the information I had. Within the day, he emailed me two articles about Ed's untimely death.

Ed Stafford Twin City Sentinel 110126-page-0.jpg

On Sunday afternoon, October 31, 1926, Ed was working on a boiler at the B.F. Huntley Furniture Company plant. As he stepped from a plank to the ground, he grabbed a wire that immediately sent jarring volts of electricity through his body. His manager, Walter Matthews, hear Ed's cry and desperately tried to remove the wire from Ed's hand, but the impact of the voltage threw him to the ground as well. Mr. Matthews finally released him, but Ed died at the hospital before he could be resuscitated. 

The article from the Twin City Sentinel dated November 1, 1926, gave me some great pieces of missing information. I knew Hannah died in 1922. I also knew from the 1930 census that her husband, John, and his children ended up in Washington County, TN. But I really want to learn what happened in those missing eight years. And this article gave me some more clues.

First, the article told me Ed had been working for the Ideal Motor Company since 1924. Second, he had two children. Finally, the article gave the location for my grandfather and his family as Rutherfordton, a town about 120 miles from Winston-Salem. So now I know that somewhere between 1921-1922, the entire family left Spruce Pine and was living in Rutherfordton in 1926. 

Even though I get elated when I find things like this, the whole tragedy is not lost on me. I can't even comprehend how much sadness this family had to endure. Hannah died in 1922 and by 1926, my grandfather also lost his older brother. I can deduce that after Hannah's death, the family pretty much hightailed it out of the Spruce Pine area. I can only assume Hannah's death and circumstances caused a great deal of shame on the family.

Another puzzling piece of information jumps out on Ed's death certificate. Ed's brother, Ralph, is listed as the informant. The informant on a death certificate is the person who provides all the information needed, such as the address of the deceased, the names his/her parents, whether the person was married, etc. The eldest sibling in the family, Ralph was 28 at the time of Ed's death. But on the death certificate, only his father's name is listed. Where his Hannah's name should be, the entry reads "not attainable or obtainable." Why in the world would Ralph not provide his mother's name? From what I know, he was of sound mind and knew with 100% certainty who his mother was. Did he feel shame, embarrassment? I'm at a loss.

Ralph accompanied Ed's body to Spruce Pine, where the burial took place on November 3 in the Bear Creek Baptist Church cemetery. He rests just a few feet away from his mother, Hannah.

Eli English: a few more thoughts

Jerry and his grandmother's adopted daughter, Gladys

In my previous post about Eli English, my great great uncle and Hannah's brother, I wrote about how I came into contact with a man named Jerry through Eli's generosity and kind heart left a huge impact on Jerry's life, and I couldn't be happier Jerry shared his story with me.

During the course of our emails, Jerry mentioned an old video I might be interested in. Created in 1967, Beyond These Hills shows the North Carolina Fund and WAMY Community Action bringing water to Blevins Creek, where Eli lived with Minnie and Jerry. Until this time, residents would walk miles to fetch water every day from a nearby spring for their basic needs. At about 10 seconds into the video is Jerry's grandmother's house: a white house with a storage shed in the foreground with a board walkway leading to it. I really love how this video captures the dialect of the region. The North Carolina Fund celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. Connections: Eli English and Finding Friends Beyond Your Tree

One of the great things about joining has got to be finding other members to connect with. I've found distant relatives, photos, stories, and all sorts of information from other contributors who are related to me in some kind of way. And sometimes you find something extra special.

Eli English

Eli English

My paternal great grandmother, Hannah, was the oldest of 10 children. I've written about her brother, Fate, and I've often wondered about her other siblings. When I traveled to Bakersville in the spring of 2014, I took as many pictures of the family grave sites as I could. Many, many of my relatives are buried in the Bear Creek Baptist Church cemetery, and they weren't difficult to find. I took a picture of Hannah's brother Eli's tombstone and put it on my tree.

A man named Jerry Hartley saw the picture and left me a comment. Jerry knew Eli and had some great stories and wonderful things to say about him. I am so grateful to put together the picture of who Eli was and what kind of impact he had on others.

Born in 1882, Eli English grew up as the third born child to David J. English and Susan Sparks. In the 1900 census he lived with his parents and siblings . But 10 years later, the 1910 census lists him as widowed and living with his parents in Bakersville, NC. I discovered Eli married a woman named Elvah Dellinger, but she succumbed to tuberculosis in 1907, as did their infant child. Looking at all the censuses, it doesn't appear he ever married again. He lived with his sister Dolly's family in 1920 and then moved to Avery County, where he's listed in 1930. In 1940, the census shows he lived as a lodger with a woman named Minnie Holtzclaw (Jerry's grandmother) and her family near Cranberry, NC. Eli lived in a room under the garage, unless it was too cold, and he then joined the family in the main house. The area, known as Blevins Creek, had a shrinking population due to the closing of the nearby iron mines.  Jerry doesn't recall Eli ever paying rent but working on the farm to earn his keep, as well as driving Minnie to different places since Minnie didn't have a driver's license. Jerry remembers the car being a shiny black Chevrolet with lights sticking out of the fenders. 

Jerry and his grandmother's adopted daughter, Gladys

Jerry and his grandmother's adopted daughter, Gladys

When Jerry was five, he and his mother went to live with his grandmother, Minnie, in North Carolina. Some time after, Jerry's mother had to move to Kentucky to care for a sick aunt, but soon became sick herself. Minnie then had to leave North Carolina and take care of both of them in Kentucky, and unfortunately, no adult relative lived in the area to look after Jerry. The family made the decision to send Jerry to an orphanage called The Grandfather Home in Banner Elk, NC (still in existence today). Jerry remembers this as a very traumatic experience; he cried for much of the time there and refused to play with any other children.

Jerry spent nine months at the Grandfather Home. For the first several months, the only familiar face he saw was Eli's. Every Sunday, Eli would bring Jerry fresh eggs from the farm so Jerry could enjoy some extra food for breakfast. Eli came to visit Jerry every single Sunday for those nine months, often leaving with tears in his eyes when it came time to go. Jerry remarked again and again at how touched his life became because of Eli's kindness. Just the small act of visiting him once a week made an enormous impact on a nine year old boy.

Eli died from bronchial asthma on March 18,1956 when Jerry was nine years old. Eli is buried in the Bear Creek Baptist Cemetery in Bakersville, NC, close to his siblings and other relatives. 

Thank you, Jerry, for sharing your story. May Eli's kindness and generosity always be remembered.