#52Ancestors: Finally Finding a Death Certificate and Obituary for Great-Grandmother Laura Mae (Fields) Pace

My 30th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I am still quite behind on the challenge due to  a summer school course.

My 30th ancestor is my husband Jeff’s great-grandmother Laura Mae Fields (1896-1933). She married great-grandfather Andrew Jackson Pace (d. 1961), and was the mother of Jeff’s grandfather Roy Delmar Pace (1913-2000) as well as nine younger Pace siblings.

I have discussed Laura Mae in this latest series of blog posts, first in the analysis I did of the family’s 1930 U.S. census record, next I pointed out how Laura Mae was missing from the family’s 1940 U.s. census record, and then in the post about the death of her 15 year old daughter Clara Irene Pace in 1933 from meningitis. In the post about Irene, we learned that Laura Mae died shortly before Irene from the same disease.

Striking Gold with an Obituary

A couple days after discovering Irene’s death notice in their local rural Texas newspaper, I was thrilled to find an obituary for Laura Mae in the same paper!

This obituary confirms what Irene’s death notice mentioned about the death of Laura Mae.1 It is the first record I have ever come across that gives a death date for her, and it is the first record I have found that provides a birth date, birth location, and any details whatsoever about my husband’s great-grandmother. Mother and daughter were admitted to the hospital the same day, with daughter Irene improving some (we learned she ended up dying a short time later). Laura Mae was buried the afternoon of her death, in the same cemetery where Irene would later be interred–at Whitharral Cemetery, in Whitharral, Hockley County, Texas.2

Courtesy of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.3
According to the obituary published in the Lamb County (Texas) Leader on 23 February 1933, Laura May [Mae] Pace died the Tuesday prior, which would have been 21 February 1933. She died, like her daughter Irene, of cerebral-spinal meningitis in the nearest hospital, the Lubbock Sanitarium, located in Lubbock, Lubbock County, Texas.

What new clues can we glean from this record?

  • The family lived in the Valley Gin community.
  • Someone (Laura Mae? Andrew Jackson? Doctors?) attributed the meningitis to recent flu attacks experienced by Laura Mae.
  • We now have a birth date and place for Laura Mae (8 October 1896 in Van Zandt County, Texas), and know that she has two siblings. Although the date reported or calculated for Laura Mae is incorrect. Based on her birth and death dates, she was 36 years old, not yet 37 years old.
  • Husband Andrew Jackson (the likely informant) provides their marriage date and place, 24 November 1912 in Mesquite, Dallas County, Texas.
  • In 1913, Laura Mae joined, was baptized by, or was saved by the Baptist church in Donohue [Donohoe], Bell County, Texas. Donohoe is a now abandoned community that used to be located “on Donahoe Creek sixteen miles southeast of Belton in the southeastern corner of Bell County”, with a Baptist church that closed in the 1950s4
  • All ten children are attributed to Laura Mae as their mother. If you recall, I have not found birth records for all of the Pace children.

One Find Leads to Another

Armed finally (after years of looking) for an exact date of death, I immediately looked at death certificates for 21 February 1933 in the county of Lubbock. Bingo. There it was….in no way identifying Laura Mae Fields by name. Her death and identity were recorded simply as Mrs. A.J. [Andrew Jackson] Pace.5 Which is why I could never find a death record when searching for variations of the name Laura Mae, or cross-referencing the search under the spouse name of Andrew Jackson, since her husband is indexed and identified just by initials. I should have looked for records under the broadest possible search…just by the surname of Pace.

Laura Mae Fields Death 1933
Death certificate for Laura Mae (Fields) Pace, recorded as Mrs. A.J. Pace.[Ibid.]
The death certificate corroborates what was reported in the obituary, but then husband Andrew Jackson was the likely the informant for both records–the death record clearly identifies him as its informant. The death date, cause of death, burial date and location, undertaker name and location, and Laura Mae’s birth date are all in agreement with the obituary.37

What new information do we learn from this record?

  • Daughter Irene was admitted to the hospital a few days before her mother. Irene was admitted 15 February 1933; Laura Mae on 18 February 1933. The obituary is incorrect in reporting they were admitted on the same day.
  • Laura Mae’s father had the surname Fields, according to husband Andrew Jackson, but A.J. apparently did not know the given name of Laura Mae’s father, the name of her mother, or the birthplace of either of her parents.

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Laura Mae Fields and her second oldest daughter Clara Irene Pace were buried in Whitharral Cemetery, Hockley County, Texas, near their family farm.8, 9 It is a tiny little rural cemetery, that one would miss if one blinked driving down the country road.

No other members of the Pace/Fields family are buried here, indicating the surviving family members moved out of the area before A.J. or the other children died.

Pace Whitharral Cemetery
Google Earth view of where Whitharral Cemetery is located in relation to the town.
Pace Whitharral Cemetery
A Google Earth Street View look at the entrance to Whitharral Cemetery, looking north from Kansas Avenue.

Where to Go from Here?

It feels so satisfying to finally get somewhere with the research about my husband’s great-grandmother Laura Mae Fields, however there is still much work to do.

A Lingering Unanswered Question

In the post I wrote about daughter Irene’s death, I asked the question, how did Irene and her mother contract meningitis? That question cannot be sufficiently answered from the newfound documents for Laura Mae and Irene, but Laura Mae’s obituary does mention the meningitis resulting from a series of recent flu attacks.

My husband’s cousins share a family story about how Laura Mae and Irene caught this horrible disease. “The family story was that Laura May and Irene went to help another family with the same illness. That family survived, but they both didn’t.”10

Next Steps

These newfound records for Laura Mae Fields provide information items that now set me on a more firm path towards researching her birth, childhood, and family life prior to marriage. These tasks will hopefully answer these research questions about Laura Mae, as well as how she and daughter Irene contracted such a horrible disease.

  1. Try to find a marriage record for Laura Mae Fields and Andrew Jackson Pace.
  2. Try to find a birth record for Laura Mae Fields.
  3. Investigate if the local Baptist church records were transferred anywhere after its closure in the 1950s. There may be records referencing the Pace/Fields family.
  4. Look through the Lamb County (Texas) Leader from 1932-33 for references to any other reported instances of meningitis or flu outbreaks in the area.


#52Ancestors: Great-Aunt Clara Irene Pace Tragically Taken by Meningitis at 15 Years Old

My 29th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week. However with this post, I start deviating from the themes. I need to spend what little research and writing time I have now on my priority research projects.

My 29th ancestor is my husband’s Great-Aunt Clara Irene Pace (1917-1933). Clara Irene, who went just by Irene, was the sister of my husband’s grandfather Roy Delmar Pace.

About Clara Irene Pace

I have mentioned Irene in my last two posts about this family, first profiling Grandpa Roy and the family in the 1930 U.S. census, and then tracing the Pace siblings in the 1940 U.S. census. Irene was the only Pace sibling absent from the 1940 census, because she had died by that time, although that information cannot be inferred from the census.

Birth Date & Place

Irene Pace was born 24 September 1917 in Mesquite, Dallas County, Texas to Andrew Jackson Pace and Laura Mae “May” Fields. Clara Irene is the oldest child of theirs for whom I have found a birth certificate.1

Clara Irene Pace, Birth 1917
Birth certificate for Clara Irene Pace, 1917.2
This birth certificate tells us that Irene, a female, was the third child born to this mother, all of whom were still living. The first child would be Grandpa Roy, the second is the oldest daughter Dollie. Parents A.J. [Andrew Jackson] Pace (40 years old, born in Alabama) and [Laura Mae] May Fields (21 years old, born in Texas) were both white and lived in Mesquite, Dallas County, Texas. Roy worked as a farmer, May as a housewife.

Do you notice what this birth certificate does not tell us about Irene?…her name. The name of the child was left completely blank. It is quite possible that Andrew Jackson and Laura Mae had not yet decided upon a name when this baby girl was born–I find the similar situation on other birth records for the family.

So how do I know this is Irene? I won’t go into the full proof argument here, but the date of birth is identical to the one listed on Irene’s death certificate (her father was the informant).3 The 1917 birth year is in agreement with the estimated birth year (1918) on the 1930 U.S. census, as is the birth order (the third child) and the gender (female).4

Unfortunately, I do not find an amended birth certificate reflecting a later filed name correction.


Irene grew up in a farming family, who seemed to move around quite a bit. Born and initially raised in northeastern Texas, the family up and moved across the state to the northwestern part of Texas sometime between 1924 and 1928.

Texas counties in which Clara Irene Pace lived. Adapted from a public domain United States Census Bureau Image.5

Hunt County, Texas

Father Andrew Jackson Pace registered at age 42 for the World War I draft, on 12 September 1918 in Wolfe City, Hunt County, Texas. His draft registration card lists wife Laura Mae as his nearest relative, with the family living in nearby Campbell, Hunt County, Texas. 6 Campbell is located in eastern Texas, about 60 miles northeast of where Irene was born in Mesquite. Irene would have been just under one-year of age at this time.

Younger brother Genoa “Leo” Jackson’s 1924 birth certificate provides evidence that family still resided in Campbell, Hunt County, Texas when little Irene was six years old–although Leo was actually born in the bigger city of Commerce. Andrew Jackson continued to farm, and Laura Mae continued to keep house.7

Lamb County, Texas

By the time brother Earnest Ladell Pace (who went by Ladell, then later by Dale) was born in 1928, the family had moved to Littlefield, Lamb County, Texas, when Irene was 11 years old. This brought the total number of siblings to eight. Ladell’s birth certificate confirms that Laura Mae had given birth to eight children, all of whom were still living. Andrew Jackson continued farming; Laura Mae continued keeping house.8 Littlefield is approximtely 415 miles west and slightly north of Campbell.

Hockley County, Texas

On 14 April 1930, the family of ten was enumerated on the 1930 U.S. census, living in Justice Precinct 6, Hockley County, Texas. They lived on a rented farm. Father Andrew Jackson worked as farmer, and mother Laura May “May” kept house. Irene (at 12 years old), is noted as attending school, as are her older brother Roy, older sister Dollie, and younger brother Huland.9

The family was living in either Littlefield, Lamb County, Texas again or Levelland, Hockley County, Texas, when brother Charles Wayne Pace was born in 1931. It is unclear which was the actual location of residence, although it is clear that Wayne was born in Levelland. Wayne’s original birth certificate claims the family lived in Littlefield, but an amended birth certificate filed in 1942 by father Andrew Jackson Pace in Hockley County says the family lived in Levelland at the time of the birth. The amended certificate indicates that Andrew Jackson was farming on his own farm by 1931.10, 11 Levelland is 24 miles due south of Littlefield.

In the 2014 obituary for Irene’s older sister Dollie, this area around southern Lamb County and northern Hockley County is referred to as “the Oklahoma Flats,” where the family farmed. The area is described as near Littlefield, but Dollie–and I assume her school age siblings, like Irene–attended school in Whitharral, Texas, an unincorporated community in Hockley County.12

A Horrible Illness

On 2 March 1933, the local paper–the (Littlefield) Lamb County Leader–printed a very brief update in its Personals column on page 2, advising that “Miss Irene Pace, who has been confined to the Lubbock Sanitarium for the past two weeks with meningitis, is much better, and has returned home.”13

Irene Pace Notice 1933
This is not how the original article appears. I have Photoshopped together the newspaper’s front page banner with the page 2 Personals brief about Irene.2
What does this news brief tell us about Irene?

  • She and her family, by 2 March 1933, lived near Littlefield, Lamb County, Texas.
  • Irene was admitted mid-February to the Lubbock Sanitarium due to meningitis.
  • By 2 March 1933, she experienced a significant enough recovery to be sent home.


Despite what appeared to be a strong enough recovery for Irene to go home, her condition took a fatal turn for the worse within a couple of weeks. Great-Aunt Clara Irene Pace died on 19 March 1933, at the young age of 15 years, 5 months, and 28 days. The local Lamb County Leader newspaper reports on Irene’s death and funeral services. She died in the hospital, so it appears she had to return when her condition turned for the worse. A funeral took place in the local school auditorium in Whitharral, and she was buried in Whitharral Cemetery.15 Lubbock Sanitarium was the first hospital in the city of Lubbock, Lubbock County Texas.16

Irene Pace Death Notice 1933
This is not how the original article appears. I have Photoshopped together the newspaper’s front page banner with the article on page 6.17
Towards the bottom of the newspaper article, we can see that Irene’s mother, Laura Mae Fields, had been hospitalized the same day as Irene for the same illness, but died earlier on 21 February 1933.2

The death certificate for Clara Irene Pace confirms the aforementioned date, place, and cause of Irene’s death.

Clara Irene Pace 1933 Death Certificate
Death certificate for Clara Irene Pace.19
What additional information does this death certificate tell us about Irene and her family?

  • Irene was still a student when she died, and she was single.
  • She had been in the hospital since 15 February 1933.
  • Her father A.J. [Andrew Jackson] Pace–born in Alabama, now living in Littlefield, Texas–served as the informant.
  • Her mother May [Laura Mae] Fields had been born in Van Zandt [County], Texas, according to Irene’s father.
  • Her father reported that Irene had been born in Dallas County, Texas.
  • Irene was buried on 30 March 1933 in Whitharral, Texas.

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Cause of Death

Irene Pace’s death certificate reports cerebral-spinal meningitis as the principal cause of death, with an abscess of the brain being a contributing factor. Meningitis is something we hear about every so often still in the U.S. (with current outbreaks still happening), but of which I know nothing. So I did some quick research on the causes of Irene’s early death.

Spinal Meningitis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide a description about the disease and its possible causes.

Meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Meningitis may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses, but meningitis can also be caused by physical injury, cancer or certain drugs.20

Brain Abscess

Irene also suffered from an abscess of the brain. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “A brain abscess is a collection of pus, immune cells, and other material in the brain, usually from a bacterial or fungal infection.”21 The NIH classifies a brain abscess as a medical emergency, and describes, “meningitis that is severe and life threatening” as one of its possible complications.2


Irene’s death certificate states that she was buried 20 March 1933 in Whitharral, Hockley County, Texas, and that Hamman’s Funeral home in nearby Littlefield, Lamb County, Texas served as undertakers.19 The newspaper article reporting her death specifies Whitharral Cemetery as the place of internment.17 Find A Grave also has an entry for Irene at Whitharral Cemetery, although it is missing specific dates for birth and death.25

Pace Whitharral Cemetery
Google Earth view of where Whitharral Cemetery is located in relation to the town.
Pace Whitharral Cemetery
A Google Earth Street View look at the entrance to Whitharral Cemetery, looking north from Kansas Avenue.

Next Steps

How did Irene and her mother contract meningitis?