Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Curious Case of the Funeral Photo

I love solving family mysteries!  I think I may have missed my calling as a researcher.  Most people enjoy hobbies like golfing or watercolor painting to pass their free time.  I love spending my spare time staring at old microfiche machines, puzzling over old, forgotten photos and slogging through cemeteries, hot on the trail of a story that's been lost to the passage of time.

A few of the mysteries I've solved are listed in earlier blogs: here,  here and here.  Another mystery I've solved started with the photo below. Hopefully, through the miracle of search engines and the world wide web, I'll be able to help someone out there who has been trying since (at least) 1999 to locate the grave of a lost relative.

When I first saw the photo above I was about 16 years old. What struck me the most about the image is that the only woman in the photo is the widow, dressed up in her veil and black dress.  The rest of people in the photo are either men or boys... and all the boys are holding axes!!  What the heck is going on here?

The photo looked to be taken sometime in late 1800s or early 1900s.  The widowed woman with her three sons standing next to her didn't fit with anybody in my genealogy during that time period (that I knew of) ... so who are these people and why was this picture in with my family photos?  My aunt, who originally owned the photo, didn't have an answer, either.  She just inherited the photo and kept it neatly in her files.

When I got older and wiser in the ways of the world,  I realized this was a photo of a grave marker dedication for a member of the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal benefit society.  Grave markers for members of the society from that time period are very distinctive. Like the one above, most of the old Woodmen grave stones look like felled logs or tree trunks.  This one is a forked tree trunk with chopped logs at the base.  When I took a magnifying glass to the photo I could barely make out what the banner in the back says.  It says "Cypress Camp Kerrville" - so that meant it was someone who lived in my home town! (You can take a closer look at this banner in another photo by visiting my friend, Joe Herring, Jr.'s blog and reading his post here.)

Last year I decided to solve the mystery of this photo.  Considering the time frame of this photo and knowing that it was a local photo, I decided to start looking in the Glen Rest Cemetery, which is where most of my Kerrville ancestors are laid to rest, to locate the grave marker.

I did a lot of walking.... A LOT.... around the cemetery, only to discover that this particular grave stone is located a few feet away from the graves of my great-grandparents, my grandfather and several aunts and uncles!  It was closer to the highway than my family plot and the view was obscured by a couple of other stones and a big, gnarled tree - but I finally found it. 

The grave belongs to JW Busby, born in 1871 and died in 1905.  There is a long inscription on this stone:

"His many virtues form the noblest monument to his memory.  Katie.

Tis hard to break the tender cord when love has bound the heart.  Tis hard, oh so hard, to speak the words, must we forever part? Dearest loved one we have laid in the peaceful grave's embrace but thy memory will be cherished til we see they heavenly face. Wife and Sons."

His wife, Katie, wrote the first part of the inscription and then she and their sons wrote the poem together.  If their words are any indication, JW Busby was loved deeply by his family.

So who was JW Busby?  Why did my family keep a photo of his memorial service for all these years?

My next stop was the Kerr County History Center.  The local genealogy society runs the center and they have great resources for the history sleuth.  Since the stone listed the date of death as May 25, 1905, I figured going through old newspapers was the first course of action.  I found the microfiche film for that year and eventually found this article, published May 27, 1905: 

Injuries Proved Fatal

JW Busby, while attending to a sick horse on Thursday the 16th last was kicked in the stomach by the animal and died just a week later.  At first Mr. Busby was not thought to be dangerously hurt, but it was discovered later that his liver was crushed and hmorrhages set in and lasted until the last and he also suffered intense pain.

Mr. Busby came to Kerrville about six months ago with his wife, three little boys and mother from Memphis, Tennessee and had just recently engaged in the real estate business in this city.

Mr. Busby was a member of Memphis Camp W.O.W. and the funeral services were conducted under the auspices of that body.  He was buried at Glen Rest Cemetery, this city, Friday at 5 pm.

During his short stay in our midst Mr. Busby made many friends.  The Sun extends to the bereaved ones its sympathin in their hour of trouble.
What a sad story!  Six months after coming to a new home, he has a painful accident and dies, leaving a wife, mother and three kids behind! I also found an advertisement in an earlier copy of the Kerrville Mountain Sun for Mr. Busby's business.... but still no clue on why a photo of his funeral would end up in my family photos!

When I told my mom that I had found the grave in the photo in Glenn Rest Cemetery and the name on the stone she said she remembered a man by the name of Thelma Busby coming to Kerrville when she was a child and that she was told he was a cousin on her father's side.

Luckily, the Council family lineage is well documented with more than one publication devoted to its genealogy.  I dug out one of the old books, went back a few generations in my branch of the family tree and found a Busby!

My great-great grandfather, Henderson Council, had a brother, William Council.  They were the two youngest boys in a large family.  William Council had a daughter, Penny.  Penny Council married a James Busby and they had three children, one of them was John W. Busby - the man buried in Glen Rest Cemetery!

I did some online searches and found this inquiry, posted on back in 1999:

This is a long shot, but I am looking for the grave of John William Busby d. 1905 in either Brownsville, Texas, Memphis TN or Hernando, MS. Family history is that he has a Woodmen of the World totem grave marker, but we can't find where he died! John William was born 1873 in Desoto County, Mississippi, married Katie May White. The Woodmen confirmed he joined in 1899 in Memphis and died in 1905.

This post helped to put a few more puzzle pieces in place.  After the civil war, my great grandfather, relocated from Chatham County, North Carolina to Hernando, Mississippi. My grandfather was born in Hernando in 1875, a couple of years after JW Busby, so they were probably good friends since they were close in age and second cousins.

The living was hard in Mississippi for my ancestors (My g-grandfather eeked out an existance by robbing bees and selling honey to the city folks in Memphis, TN) and my great grandfather  moved his family to Kerr County in 1890, where they eventually prospered.

Kerr County was a land of opportunity back in the day and I imagine that that JW Busby brought his family to Kerrville because there was family here, they were doing well and he decided to also try his fortune here.  I don't know what happened to his wife and children after his death and hope that someday the person who posted on ancestry will find this blog and tell me the rest of the story (I tried to contact them through the e-mail address posted and it is no longer a valid address.)

My guess is that the Thelma Busby my mom remembers from her childhood was one of JW's three sons.  I think Thelma lived in Kerrville for a short time, but eventually moved away. 

Hopefully there's someone still living in Kerrville who remembers Thelma (what an unusual name for a man) or the relative of JW who has been searching for his ancestor's final resting place will eventually stumble across this blog.  I would love to get more information on this branch of the family tree.  (The publication I used to find their branch actually states "Little is known about what happened to this branch of the family.)

My friend, Deborah Gaudier, who is another local history researcher, was inspired to do further digging on the Busby family and learned a few more tidbits about them.

She found the Busby family living in Little River, Poinsett County, Arkansas in the 1900 Census.  So, they were in Arkansas before coming to Kerr County.  Here's the Census listing:

J. W. Busby, b. Dec 1872 in Mississippi

Katie, wife b. Feb 1874 in Tennessee

Willie W. son b. Sept 1893 Mississippi

John A. son b. Dec 1895 Tennessee

Thelma E. son b. Jan 1898 Tennessee

Thanks to Deborah, we now know the names of all three sons in the picture, and have confirmed that the Thelma Busby my mom remembers is indeed JW's son.

The story takes another twist with the 1920 Census.  After JW's death, Katie moved north.... my guess is that the railroad jobs that William and Thelma held took the family to Chicago.  I would love to know where the family was between 1905 and 1920.   It does seem like Katie had a life-changing event in Missouri in 1908, I'll let you all figure out why.

Here's the info from the 1920 census:

Katie Busby age 47 widowed, b. Tennessee

Wm. Busby age 27 single, b. Mississippi, switchman for railroad

Thelmer Busby age 22 b. Tennessee, switchman for railroad

Milton Busby age 11 b. Missouri

Later, Deborah found this information on John Arthur Busby, the second oldest son:

John Arthur Busby WWII Draft Registration "Old Man's Draft"
resided 6103 Evans Ave., Chicago. Born Aug 5, 1893, Memphis TN

worked for Checker Cab Co. as cab driver

I also found him in the 1940 census, divorced

Thank you so much for digging up this information, Deborah!!  (We history geeks love a good mystery, don't we?)

1 comment:

  1. I am Thelmer (Harry) Busby's granddaughter. I am happy to answer all your questions about our family. Contact me at