Jan 25, 2013 — by Alicia Harrington, Web Services Librarian
My daughter and her new husband purchased their first home at an estate auction. The children had cleaned out everything they wanted by closing. They found boxes months after they had moved into their new home. They found some hair and a newspaper clipping, hidden in the far back corner of the attic in a box. Clothing, shoes and a baby book were among the items carefully tucked away with a mother’s love. The newspaper gave way to the death of the child, Maryland Upchurch. She had been gone since 1947.
Questions arise. Why the hair? Why leave the items that were so lovingly preserved? Did someone want the family heirlooms? How does one find those people? Start with the Library.
A quick conversation with people from the Kentucky Room got us started. Hair and locks of hair have been kept in baby books, lockets, given as tokens of affection and kept for mourning. According to the website, Curious Expeditions, mourning jewelry was a symbol of dignity and social status. Today the practice of making hair jewelry is almost nonexistent. But I did locate several websites with history and photos.
Now that the hair mystery is solved we needed to find the rightful owners of the items. We had the name of the estate from purchase of the home. The library has the Owensboro Area Obituary Index. Through that we were able to search the name on the estate. Mrs. Dorothy Martin Upchurch had passed away in 2010. She was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery and her sons no longer lived in Daviess County.
The Kentucky Room staff helped through searching of death certificates. The death certificate revealed Marilyn (second spelling) had died as a result of an accident. She was buried in Elmwood Cemetery. This cemetery is located across from where her mother was laid to rest. Other leads came from the obituaries. The death certificate leads to other clues about the family. Martin Funeral Home of Whitesville was in charge of the service. This was Mrs. Upchurch’s maiden name. Whitesville, being small and a close knit community, the funeral home was as much a staple to that area as the churches. It was also where my grandmother had attended church.
The search was really getting close to home. After sharing the story with family members, my mother declared that she had known Mrs. Upchurch and had attended the funeral. My grandmother, Mrs. Bernice Hood, had lived down the road from the Martins. My mom offered to contact Mr. Byron Martin as he was a family friend. It became known that the owner of the house was actually a good friend of Mrs. Hood, my grandmother and my daughter’s great-grandmother.
Through Mr. Martin and ReferenceUSA (an online telephone directory) the names and residences of the sons were gathered. The goal in contacting the descendants was to be respectful to family and Mrs. Upchurch’s treasures. The lost items have been taken care of with respect and love. Something I am sure Mrs. Upchurch wanted as a grieving mother.
Many obstacles were in the way to locate family. The child’s name was spelled differently on documents. Direct descendants of Mrs. Upchurch no longer lived in Daviess County. These obstacles were overcome by old fashioned ingenuity, hard work and sharing of the story.
Connections with families need to be made while everyone is living. Talk to your grandparents. Family history is becoming a big hobby and it is much easier talking to people. But when the people you need to talk with are gone, you can come to our KY Room and they will help you with the research.