Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Time Travel in OKC

I headed for the Oklahoma Historical Society every chance I got when we were Oklahoma City, even if only for a couple of hours at a time.  I never managed to meet up with several living family members, but I spent a very satisfying couple of days chasing dead ones I’d never met. Crazy, I know, but not just a selfish pursuit, as I get to share valued information with several cousins around the world.

Also in my defense, the Oklahoma legislature in its questionable wisdom chose to protect its citizens against identify theft by making it virtually impossible to procure a birth or death certificate unless you are named as next of kin, in the will, etc. Some one said you had to be the dead person, but I don’t think they are quite that stupid. I knew it would be difficult so I went to the Health Department in person to talk with a person. I didn’t find a person, however, only a brick wall. I couldn’t produce legal documents to demonstrate I was related to my great-grand uncle – I can’t even prove he was born, since Oklahoma didn’t require birth registration in his day. So my next port of call was historical newspapers.

I found the story of my great-grand uncle’s mysterious accidental death in 1929 – crushed by a steel beam that fell on him. You know football is big when the headline reads: "Athlete’s Father Killed in Local [oil] Lease" (and he just played high school football in Bristow!).  

Visiting Rose Hill Cemetery, where my close family are. But mainly to solve a genealogical mystery...

My my great-grandfather died 1930 and the article revealed a major surprise: his wife had been married before and the first two sons were not his, something none of us suspected! It did explain why they got married after the sons had been born, a mystery to us all.  I’m still trying to find that first husband/marriage!

On the other side of Mom’s family, we all grew up hearing that her uncle Cecil had died at the age of 21, accidently killed when out hunting; a gun leaned against a barbed wire fence slid and discharged a bullet into his stomach. I found that article, too. They were hunting rabbits and he was only 20 years, nine months and 18 days old. In some ways newspaper articles can be far superior to obituaries.

It seems that obituaries weren’t often done back in the 1920s and 30s, at least not in small towns about regular people. The newspaper printed brief articles announcing the deaths right between news about new paving for roads and the success of the Baptist ladies church social, sometimes without even a separate headline. I had to read closely to find the article I hunted, sometimes in several tiny local papers. Along the way I found croquette recipes, a story about C.C. Pyle and Andy Payne doing their second Trans-America race (memorialised in a great novel, Flanagan’s Run, a perfect gift for any runner in your life), adverts for questionable medicines.

I was astonished by an ad apparently inserted by the actual Ku Klux Klan, saying they were 2,000 strong in Coalgate, OK, and were against communism, socialism and organised labor (no mention of blacks, or other minority groups) but were for Christian family values, etc., etc.. The United Mine Workers of America countered with an article standing against the KKK, saying it was their right to fight for better pay and conditions. It made me proud of my mining ancestors.  There were also more pieces than I care to remember about violence against and amongst black people. Knife fights, burned homes, imprisonment and burned jails, all sorts of frightening stories about life back then. I was lucky to find the articles that I did about my family, there was so much to distract me! I spent hours wide-eyed.

Small Town America was seemingly interested in the doings of the British royal family, the fact that a local lady had injured her knee, who would be the new Pope, that someone’s cousins were visiting from a neighbouring town, the state of relations between European countries and everything in between. The assets and liabilities of the local bank were published for all to see on a routine basis. I’d like to see that practice continued.

I sometimes found it startling to ‘awaken’ from this alternate world, finding myself at a microfilm screen instead of a kitchen table, wearing shorts instead of a cotton dress and a hat, sitting in a large air conditioned room instead of a frame house on an acreage. If you like time travel but lack a machine, I suggest you visit your nearest historical society!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How are you? I hope all is well, those pics are from Edinburgh, Stockbridge, its very pretty.

I think Glasgow is harder to photograph, it has lost of lovely areas but they are all spread out. Can't believe you ran the half marathon - I cannot run.

What a fascinating post this is, it must have been such a thrill to find the article, you aren't on 23 and me are you?