Friday, October 06, 2006

Death Certificate--Betty Sanford Manson

I was going to save this particular topic until I had some more information. But as I said a few days ago, things have been a bit slow around here, in part due to the uncharacteristically lethargic response of the Texas vital statistics unit to my latest requests. So when a death certificate arrived today, I decided to to move ahead with this particular blog entry rather than save it for later.

The subject is Betty Sanford Manson, my great-great-grandmother. I've written about her before. She was the third of four daughter of William (Billy) Sanford, born in Rockdale, Milam County, Texas. She married Otis Manson in August of 1890, just a few days before her sister Addie married one Abe White. I've said before that death certificates can provide a wealth of information about an ancestor. So I requested Betty Sanford Manson's death certificate with that in mind. Let's analyze what we've got.

One of the first things I look at when I get a death certificate is the name of the informant. The quality of the information frequently depends on the knowledge or motivation of the informant. In this case the death certificate shows the informant to have been Pansy Warren. We know Pansy Warren to be my great-aunt, the sixth child of Betty and Otis Manson, born April 3, 1909. Pansy had been to college at Prairie View, the first member of the family to attend college. No doubt this explains why Pansy frequently handled official matters for the family and managed the family's real estate holdings. In deed, to this day, Pansy's daughter-in-law, Marguerite Warren, continues to be the family's chief operating officer, as Pansy's late son James and his father before him also named James had been. Knowing Pansy Warren as the informant gives me confidence in the information in the death certificate.

The death certificate says that that Betty was born on February 17, 1873. I have seen at least one other source that described her birthday as having been in February 1872. When dealing with a date that far in the past, a variance of a year in the records is neither unusual nor alarming. It's difficult to say which is correct. As a general proposition, resolving such a conflict of of date involves a consideration of the subjective weight one wishes to give each of the records.

The next thing of interest on Betty's death certificate is the line that describes her parents. Her father is described as "Billy Sanford," which is consistent with census records which give his name variously as William or Billy. But his birthplace is given as Georgia. This is at odds with decades of census records which say his birthplace was Virginia. It's also inconsistent with significant circumstantial evidence that he was born as a slave of the family of Reuben Sanford and was taken with that family to Tennessee and then to Texas.

Betty's mother's name is given as "Elizabeth Scott." Census records describe her mother's name as "Emily" or "Emely". I never knew a surname for her Emily. And the mother's birthplace is also described as Georgia. That, too, is at odds with decades of census records which say her birthplace was North Carolina. I'm inclined to credit the census records on the issue of where both William and Emily Sanford were born. It's likely that Pansy had no idea where her grandparents had been born and may have believed or chosen to believe that they were born in Georgia, because her father Otis and his mother Matilda had been born in Georgia. She may have assumed that the all of her grandparents had been born in Georgia. We know that by 1955 when Pansy was called upon to give this information, her grandfather William had been dead for almost 40 years and that Emily had predeceased him.

What of the discrepancies between the first names Elizabeth and Emily? Well, this, too, is hard to make out. It could be a mistake on Pansy's partt; or her grandmother's name may have been Emily Elizabeth or Elizabeth Emily. We know from marriage records that Betty's middle initial was "E"; we don't know what that "E" stood for.

We learn from the death certificate that Betty died of congestive heart failure. We know from court records in Milam County where the family lived originally, that Betty had been twice adjudged mentally incompetent. No mention of her mental state is made on the death certificate; apparently that had nothing to do with her death. I was hoping to did have by now the court records of her mental in competency, but I do not have them yet.

Finally we learn from the death certificate that Betty Sanford Manson is buried at Fairview Cemetery in Midland, Texas. I saw a source which said that Fairview is the oldest Cemetery in Texas. This source also claimed that Fairview was closed. However, I've seen obituaries in the Odessa newspaper stating that decedents were being buried at Fairview as recently as this year. I will have to go and see for myself.

There is another nugget of information in the death certificate. I had wondered when the family moved from Rockdale in Milam County to Midland. The death certificate says that Betty had lived in Midland for eight years at the time of her death in 1955 meaning that the family had moved there in 1946 or 1947.

And there's another anomaly raised by the birth certificate. Betty's marital status is given as "widowed". This would be consistent with the information in the Texas death index which indicates that Otis died in 1950. And this would be a fact about which Pansy would hardly be mistaken. But my father had said that his grandfather Otis died in 1960. And a cousin of mine in Midland, who's about my age said she remembered Grandpa Otis when she was a little girl. If he indeed died in 1950, then she could not have ever seen him.

So as usual, the death certificate answer some questions, and opens others. And that's why we keep on doing this!

Fairview Cemetery, Noble & Pecos Streets, Midland, Texas

No comments: