And the Walls Come Tumbling Down

This is the third blog in the series,

A Search for the Living Descendants of Curley Kirven

My research during the last two days has yielded both big finds and dashed hopes.

Recap: I believe my great-grandfather Erasmus had a biracial son, Tom, with Annie Tony (probably a slave) in 1855. Tom’s death certificate names his parents.

It seems that Tom had several children, among them a son Curley, the informant on Tom’s death certificate. Curley Kirven and Charlotte Kirven had four children, with these birth years as estimated by the 1920 and 1940 censuses:

Ida May, b. 1914

Lillian, b. 1916

Josh, b. 1917

Tom, b. 1919 (named after Curley’s father)

These four children would be my biracial second cousins.

In my last blog post, I guessed Ida May’s and Lillian’s married surnames. I was so wrong! I’ve found the correct names now, but I won’t reveal them here.

Two days ago, I started researching Josh and Tom. First, I looked for their death certificates on ancestry.

Eureka! I found them both! Beginner’s luck. Tom’s SSDI says he died in South Carolina in the 1980s. Josh’s says he died there in the 1990s . . . but wait! I see a CT death index for a Josh Kirven who died on that same day, in Waterbury, CT. What?

So I searched for the two brothers’ obituaries in the RCPL database (Richland County Public Library, South Carolina). Months ago, some unrelated searches of this same database had given me correct but skimpy obituaries. So my hopes were low. I expected to find obituaries that would tell me little more about Josh and Tom.

Oh, my. Eureka and beginner’s luck again! The full-text obituaries for Josh and Tom mentioned spouses, children, grandchildren, the married surnames of their sisters, resident cities, a church name, and even some work history. Many, many thanks for the expert help of the Local History Manager of the RCPL, Debbie Bloom, recommended by Robin Foster of @savingstories and @LCAfricana.

Here was matter for more research. Bright hope in a dim landscape, like fall flowers and foliage (we’re talking symbols here):

Mariann Regan Front Yard

Our front yard today: Monkshood before a Japanese Cut-Leaf Maple

Apparently, Josh and Tom had moved North soon after 1940 to work in the Waterbury Rolling Mills, in Waterbury, Connecticut. Josh had worked there 50 years, and died in Waterbury in the 1990s.  That meant I had been living right down the turnpike from these two biracial cousins for three decades! For in 1964 I also had moved North, to live first in New Haven and then in Fairfield. This fact alone was a head-smacking discovery.

So now, what about the children of my four biracial second cousins?

(1) Ida May is in the 1940 census with her married surname and husband, but no children. I looked for them in the white pages today, in the resident city named in the obituaries. But neither is listed there now, almost 100 years after Ida May’s birth. A Peoplesmart search of the surname alone gave me 30 results—yet none of the first names are remotely familiar. [Note: Use message boards to search for the children or grandchildren of this couple.]

(2) Lillian’s married surname is a common one. Her resident cities are “the Bronx” and “New York.” Although I searched the 1940 census with her birth year and married name, I found nothing useable. For example, listed in Manhattan was a Lillian, with a husband and two very young daughters. These daughters, grown and married, would then be two surnames removed—needles in a haystack.

(3) Neither obituary mentioned Josh’s children, if any. His wife in Waterbury survived him, but she is not in the white pages there today. [Note: Look for her DC and obituary.]

So far, my hopes were being dashed or semi-dashed, one by one. My remaining options seemed slim.

(4) But Tom, the youngest child of Curley Kirven, had three children mentioned in his obituary. Grandchildren, too! Surely some living people lay down this path. (No given names or surnames are mentioned beyond this point.) I searched again.

  • One son died at age 34. [Note: Search further for his DC and obituary.]
  • A second son seems to be in prison in Virginia. For $40.00 to Peoplesmart, I could see the precise charges. [Note: This further search is an option.]

At this point I began to feel a bit manic. Like the laughing baby in this video, who seems to enjoy tearing up documents—hmmm, as if he were a genealogist going bonkers after too many dead-end searches:

This is a short and funny video. You’ll like it.

Then finally, one last Eureka happened to me. I said “Eureka” softly, so as not to tempt the fates. Tom’s third child is a daughter, whose married surname had been mentioned in his obituary. Good old Peoplesmart revealed her phone number and address, and her secure email, for $30.00.

This is good, I told myself. This is still a great “find.”

My relatives and I will now try to contact this woman. Just as we tried to contact “A,” several posts ago.

Maybe this was not an “exhaustive” search, but it was surely an exhausting one . . . . . . Zzzzzzzz.




18 thoughts on “And the Walls Come Tumbling Down

  1. I think it was more than beginner’s luck that broke this wall for you, Mariann–it was good research and hard work! Even though your options kept narrowing down, you ended up with what looks like a solid lead. Here’s hoping that you’ll be able to make a connection with this cousin!

    • Shelley, thank you so much for your comments! You are very kind. Perhaps if the lead is good, one lead can be enough? But I woke up thinking of some others — the pastor who currently belongs to the church that gave funerals for my 2 second cousins, for instance. I found her on a Google search. I really appreciate your reading my blog . . . it means a lot to have feedback. Keeps me going. I always enjoy your blog, and I learn a lot from you by example!

  2. It sounds like an exhaustive search to me! Great work Mariann! Good luck and let us know how it all turns out. Hopefully your lead will prove fruitful!

    • Thank you so much for your comment and encouragement, Jana! I’m glad the search sounds good to you — that’s reassuring. Have since thought of a few more loose ends, and I will blog them in 4th of the series. Grateful for you reading!

    • Thanks, Cheri! And I still have the contact you gave me from the SCGS conference, in my “toolkit.” I’ll bet I will be calling on her sooner or later. I’m very grateful to you for the reference. I liked your post (though sad!) about Bessie the adopted daughter.

  3. Oh Mariann! I agree with the other comments! Persistent, dogged research, not beginner’s luck yielded such wonderful, helpful info! So happy for you! I hope you have good results as you contact this cousin. I can’t wait to read your next blog post!

    • Cindy, thank you so much! I’ve had to pause for Sandy, here, and wait for power/modem/phone to come back, but now they are back. Your comments mean a lot to me and I’m very grateful. There seems a race-against-time element here to contact these people while they are still alive. Must stay calm . . . .

  4. hey good sleuthing. Email me if you need more help.I would defintely check the Social Security Death Index for some of those folks. I love the SSDI in Newsbank. Remember you have access with your RCPL library card! Woot!

    • Hey, Debbie! Good to hear from you! Yes, I totally agree! Next on my list is to find a SSDI for the youngest Josh, supposedly deceased but apparently not on the date I have for his death (blush, it’s from peoplesmart, so it could well be another Josh). Will start over, without his birth date, but I have possible counties and both mother’s and father’s names. I cannot TELL you how helpful you have been to me, Debbie. I’m so grateful! I will try Newsbank and am so glad to have my RCPL card. Woot woot!

  5. Excellent research indeed! I don’t know Mariann, I tend to look at all my research results as beacons of light to my family’s past, regardless of whether I make a real-live family connection or not. I believe I feel this way because I now have the truth as to really what happened in the lives of my family and not just any hushed rumors or secrets from those who really don’t know what happened to family members. The truth in our research is what liberates us and brings understanding and the freedom we speak of everytime we embark on a new clue or lead. So all is definitely not lost here because of what you now know about your family that you did not! Again, great work!

    • Oops! I hit the “post comment” before I was done with that last statement which should be:
      “So all is definitely not lost here because of what you “now know” about your family that you “did not know” before! Again, great work!

  6. Mariann, this is exciting stuff, and I truly hope you are able to make contact. I think firstly that it is wonderful and says alot about you that you WANT to make contact. As an African-American researcher, I have not seen many whites who discover AA family very *happy* about it. And with all the thousands of AA’s who “passed” we certainly know there are alot more out there. I myself have several lines that have white fathers, some names are known others unknown. So, I wish you luck in this endeavor and applaud your desire to reconnect with family. This is a great story! If you havent already, try and see what you get.

    • Robyn, thank you so very much for your comment. Every bit of encouragement helps, because some friends and fam wonder why I’m doing this! Sorry to be late answering–dau has been visiting several days, an all-consuming time. I think there should be a book “Our Biracial Cousins,” referring to AAs and whites both, because the slave-owner ancestry of so many AAs is not acknowledged. Talk about heavy denial! This denial is a large part of the defensive energy that paralyzes the far right, in my opinion. (I’m so relieved that Obama was re-elected.) No wonder our nation is so unhealthy about race. Thank you for the link, too, and I will try it. You are a kind person to reach out to me.

  7. I agree with the others, it is not luck that you had. You went with the exhaustive search which tends to lead us to the next step. Good luck in you search and I hope that you get a reply from the extended cousin. PS. Have you checked for her on Facebook?

    • Thank you, Terri. Your encouragement means a lot to me. That is a good question about Facebook. I am guessing she might be in the wrong generation to be on Facebook — she is 72. But I will try. No need to succumb to “ageism.” : ))