#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: George Walter Harless Plowing Through 1940s Yosemite

Snow Plow, Yosemite, 1930s or 1940s
Large rotary plow operated by the National Park Service, Yosemite, circa 1940s. Photo courtesy of http://www.yosemite.ca.us.

My 5th 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.

The theme for Week 5: Plowing through — We will likely be plowing through a lot of snow by this time. What ancestor had a lot of struggles to plow through? Or take it more literally.

My 5th ancestor is my husband Jeff’s 1st great grand uncle George Walter Harless (1894-1976). George Walter is the youngest brother of my husband’s great grandfather Leonard William Harless, about whom I have not yet written. And he is the youngest son of California pioneers Leonard Harless Jackson and Pauline Adeline Gann, of whom I have written quite a bit, and whose footsteps Jeff and I chased on our genealogy road trip last summer.

George Walter Harless was born 13 April 1894 in Lewis, Mariposa County, California. He spent his childhood in Mariposa County, just outside of Yosemite National Park.

All my husband knew about his 1st great grand uncle is that he drove a snow plow in Yosemite. My father-in-law confirmed this, and told me that he thought his grandfather’s brother George had also been a miner in Madera. So when I saw the “plowing through” theme for this year’s 52 Ancestors project, I decided to try to find out a bit more about 1st great grand uncle George.

WPA Snow Plow Crew

While I have not found any records that specifically identify George as a snow plow driver, I do find some records that support this occupation.

The Mariposa County History and Genealogy Research site provides a copy of George’s obituary, transcribed by Alma Stone. The obituary mentions that he was a retired road foreman in the national park.

Merced Sun Star
Friday, August 27, 1976
page: 18


George Harless

Memorial services will be held Monday at 1 p.m. in Stratford Evans Merced
Funeral Chapel for George Walter Harless, 82, a Merced resident since 1960 who
died Thursday in a San Francisco hospital.

Mariposa Masonic Lodge No. 24 will conduct services for Mr. Harless, a
retired road foreman in Yosemite National Park.

Inurment [sic] will be at Arbor Vitae Cemetery, Madera. A veteran of World War 1,
Mr. Harless lived at 5736 E. Highway 140. He belonged to Mariposa Masonic
Lodge No. 24, 32nd Scottish Rite in Fresno and the Fresno Shrine.

Mr. Harless is survived by his wife, Olive; a daughter, Mrs. Barbara H.
Bailey, Capitola; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions to the Central California Heart Association would be
appreciated by the family.

The 1940 U.S. Census shows George Walter Harless (at 46) living in the unincorporated community of Raymond, Madera County, California alone with his wife Olive A. Leonard (1891-1980). At that time, George was employed as a Flagman on a WPA Project. Raymond is 23 miles outside of the Yosemite gateway city of Oakhurst, and 38 miles away from Yosemite Village. George was quite likely the flagman on a WPA road crew in the national park. Interestingly, George and Olive’s 19 year old daughter Barbara was enumerated on the same census as living inside of Yosemite National Park, where she worked at a cafeteria in a hotel and snow lodge.

Harless George Walter - 1940 US Census - Employment
Employment listing for George Walter Harless on the 1940 U.S. Census. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

Jeff and I just visited Yosemite last July on our Harless family history road trip. I wish I’d paid attention to these records before then. I could have inquired around inside the park about accessing old employment records. Fortunately, Yosemite is one of our very favorite places, and is driving distance for even just a long weekend.

Other Careers

Prior to the Great Depression, George worked in copper mining, per his WWI Draft registration card and the 1920 U.S. Census. He served in the U.S. Army from 1917-1919, during the First World War.

On the 1930 U.S. Census, George Walter was enumerated twice. On 2 April 1930 in Madera County with his wife and daughter. But his type of employment is not legible enough for me to make out (something “____boy”). George was also recorded on 12 April 1930 (without his wife) living back with his parents in Mariposa County, working as a farmer. It is likely that George’s wife gave his name to the Census worker because his permanent home was in Madera County, but George had temporarily left his family to move in with his parents and work on his father’s farm to raise money or food for his family back home.

By 1942, per his WWII Draft registration card, George Walter was employed with the U.S. Army Transport Service at Fort Mason in San Francisco, California, where he lived with his middle brother Francis Miles Harless. It is unclear if his wife Olive lived there too.

It would seem that George Walter Harless moved around central and northern California quite a bit seeking work, plowing through life.

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