Thursday, June 13, 2013

John W. Perdue's Unlucky Family

Some time ago I went to Iowa on a graveyard tour of my ancestors. In that time, my mother and I visited so many graveyards and hunted down so many graves that a few were bound to fall through the cracks and of course there were some I didn't know to look for until after we went home. John W. Perdue falls into the latter category.

John Perdue married Ora May Morrison, whose mother was Lydia Josephine Gammon - my great-great-grandfather's sister. I have a photo album in my collection with Ora's name carefully written on the inside cover. It helps me date it between 1902 and 1904, but I'll get back to that in a minute. Before today, I thought that John and Ora moved from Iowa to Kentucky and had four children, the eldest of which was Roy, born in 1904.

John & Ora's marriage certificate (My photo; Ringgold County Courthouse)
When I found out he was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, I put in a request on for a volunteer to take a photo of his gravestone for me. (By the way FindAGrave is a fantastic resource with tons of dedicated and amazing volunteers across the country). It took a while to come back to me, as they often do, and I completely forgot I'd made the request. The notification email came in telling me the request had been fulfilled by a volunteer and it sat in my inbox for days before I took the time to look at it and save the photo to my family tree.

When I went to reconcile the vital data, I ran into a few problems.

I put in Ora's death date from the stone without giving it much thought, and then realized that one of the census records I had saved to her couldn't be right - it was from fifteen years after she'd died. This led me to discard the whole idea of Kentucky and the three younger children. Ora and John's son Roy was on their tombstone, so I added his death date too. The tragedy began to emerge.

Ancestry immediately calculated Roy's age at death for me - he was only nineteen. I got a number of hints for state census records and began saving them to him and browsing for his parents. It was only then that I realized his mother was missing from them. I went to check her death date, remembering it was much earlier than her husband's, and realized that she died on January 10, 1904 - just five days after her son's birth.

I went back and checked her marriage to John, wondering how likely it was that they had more children. They were married on March 10, 1902, so the odds are pretty low that they had another child. Even if they did, it probably died in infancy because there's no record of another child.

Poor John Perdue. He married Ora May when she was 20 and he 23. Not two years later, what should have been a joyful occasion - the birth of their first child - turned tragic when Ora died five days later, probably due to complications. John was left a widower with an infant to care for. He never remarried, and appears in all the census records alone with his son Roy. That is, until Roy's untimely death at age nineteen in November, 1923. John didn't make it another five years from there. He passed away at age 50 in June, 1928, and was buried with his wife and son.

The gravestone that told their story.
Photo: Barbara McCully
I realize there is nothing happy to gather from this story, but I don't think I often write about the sad things and I felt that I should. A good portion of what genealogists learn is bound to be sad, and those stories deserve to be told, too. John has no descendants to remember him, so I will take up the role.

I suppose if there is a moral, it's pay attention to dates. I have a tendency to gloss over specific dates - it's an occupational hazard of working with things that usually come in ranges - but in this case actually looking at the dates changed the personal meaning of this photograph drastically. And if nothing else, now I know the window in which Ora must have made her photo album because she was a Perdue for less than two years. If only I could figure out how the album came into my hands...

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