Tag Archives: campbell

Black Sheep

Lake District SheepKim Cattrall learned on this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? that her grandfather was a bona fide black sheep. Her grandfather, George Baugh, left his young family—his wife and three daughters—and married again without taking the trouble of obtaining a divorce. He then fathered four more children with his second wife, who apparently never knew about her husband’s first family.

The episode made me think of the mysterious black sheep in my family, and when Kim Cattrall started her search, she had little more information about her grandfather than I do about my own ancestor. His name is Frank Chatman, or at least that’s all my grandmother’s birth certificate says. His place of birth is conjectured to be Kentucky. His age is given as 25 in 1929, which makes his birth year about 1904. His occupation is given as “convict” and his residence the “Kentucky State Penetenchury” [sic].

Obviously it’s a sensitive topic, and family members that might feel concern over the story are still alive. However, the reason I decided to write about it is that no one living has anything to be ashamed about, nor have they done anything wrong. You don’t get to choose your relatives.

I would love to know what he did, but so far, my efforts to find out have been hampered by my inability to take a trip to Kentucky and dig up more evidence. I know a professional genealogist could probably get to the bottom of the story. An archivist with the Commonwealth of Kentucky did try to help me, but she didn’t uncover much. She found two possible candidates, both of whom were incarcerated for willful murder, but no really solid, definitive leads. I have a hunch the search will be complicated by the fact that my great-grandfather’s name was probably not exactly “Frank Chatman.” Frank might have been a nickname, and his last name could have been Chapman or any of the other soundex varieties one might expect. Searching my grandmother’s family has revealed that folks were not too particular about spelling names correctly or even the same way twice, and census records have been downright difficult to search. I’m hoping the 1940 census will reveal some leads when it comes out next year. I have, on the other hand, been able to construct a sad, if skeletal, story about my great-grandmother, who lost two small children during infancy—one to dysentery, of all horrors. My great-grandmother herself died fairly young before the age of 60 of a heart attack.

Unfortunately, Frank Chatman, or whatever his name is, will have to remain a mystery until I have a little more time to devote to the detective hunt or unless I win Ancestry.com’s Ultimate Family History Journey Sweepstakes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: llamnudds

Jemmie Ray Campbell

Jemmie Ray Campbell was my grandmother’s brother. She gave my father the middle name “Ray” in his honor. The 71st anniversary of his death was yesterday: July 8, 1939. Poverty was not uncommon during the Depression, and Appalachia was particularly hard hit. At the time of Jemmie Ray’s birth on June 17 and his death only 21 days later, my great-grandmother, Martha Trusty, and her husband Osa Campbell were living in Vicco, Perry County, Kentucky. Even in the year 2000, the most recent year for which statistics are available, almost 50% of the residents of Vicco lived below the poverty line1. My grandmother was nine years old when her little brother died—old enough to have helped her mother take care of the little baby, perhaps changing his diapers. Old enough to hold him in her arms. Old enough to be sad about his death.

Jemmie Ray is a little bit of an enigma. My grandfather spells his name Jimmy Ray, and his birth record on Ancestry.com says his name is Donnie R. Campbell. I haven’t ordered a physical copy of his birth certificate, so I’m not sure why there is a discrepancy. His birthdate is also listed as Jan. 17 rather than June. I have a suspicion that it’s a transcription error. I could see an archivist easily mistaking Jun. for Jan. Depending on the legibility of the handwriting, Jemmie and Donnie could look a great deal alike as well.

Birth record for Donnie R. Campbell

I believe this to be the same child for which this death certificate was recorded:

Jemmie Ray Campbell death certificate

When I found the death record, I was struck by the tragedy of a small, three-week-old baby dying of dysentery and malnutrition. It’s something that shouldn’t happen in what we consider to be modern times—we associate such deaths with the most poverty-stricken parts of the world. I think many people forget about the poverty right here in our own country. This area of Kentucky still suffers.

I honored poor little Jemmie Ray after a fashion in a novel I wrote called Quicksand. It’s loosely based on family stories. My protagonist Imogen has a little brother named George, the infant son of her mother and stepfather, who dies under similar circumstances. Imogen is profoundly affected by his death. I remember crying the first time I saw Jemmie Ray’s death certificate. For my grandmother to use his middle name in my father’s name showed me how important this poor little baby, who survived only three weeks, must be to his older sister.

Sources:

  1. Wikipedia entry on Vicco, Kentucky
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