Thursday, October 22, 2009

Library's Obituary Index

The Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System has indexed the deaths and obituaries for the Pine Bluff Commercial, and all of the other newspapers published in Jefferson County for which we have microfilm copies for.  Currently this index contains over 267,500 entries.  All back issues have been indexed, so it grows daily only as more obituaries are published in the newspaper.  The Main Library’s Reference Manager, Jana Blankenship, with the help of her assistant, Sylvia Moore, put this index together with the help of other full time and part time staff, and two special volunteers.

index has been very valuable to many who have not only Jefferson County ancestry, but ancestry from surrounding counties and throughout Southeast Arkansas.  We started computerizing our index in 2003, and by the end of that year we had input over 50,000 names.  We started to extract names from the back issues with the excellent help of our volunteers.  By the end of 2008, we had nearly all of the back issues entered into the database.

When a person finds someone in the
index, they have the choice of coming into our Library (or find a closer Library which carries the particular newspaper) and copy the notice themselves (at 25 cents per printout on the microfilm machine), they can hire someone to do this for them (cost unknown), or they can send $7.50 to the Library and staff will find the notice, print it out, and mail it to the person who requested it.  When the same person is in the index more than once, and this information is provided as part of the request, we will copy each and every notice for this one price.  Over the past few years we have been fulfilling around 250–275 requests per year.

How can this information be used?  Well, anyone who knows anything about Genealogy knows that an obituary can be either a wealth of information, or it will only provide a death date.  We have seen a few where the only information in the newspaper was, “So and so died this past Tuesday…”  But we have also seen the information provide names of spouses, children, parents, the street they lived on, what they died from, and/or other interesting and valuable information.  It is kinda like playing the lottery, sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t….but I think your chances of winning “valuable information” from our database are much better than winning anything of value from the lottery.

Each week a fellow Rotarian and local Pine Bluff resident, Joe Dempsey, sends out an email with his “photo of the week”.  On Sunday, September 20, 2009, his photo was from Maple Hill Cemetery near Helena, Arkansas.  It was a statue of a Dog, and is best described in Joe’s own words:   “Pedro, I surmise, was the beloved pet of the late Dr. Emile Overton Moore.  As he has done every year since 1895, the loyal hound waits in perpetuity for his slain master.”  He went on to say that “Dr. Moore died at the hand of a fellow man.”  This intrigued me, so I checked the Obituary Database to see if the Pine Bluff newspapers carried the story.  Joe had included the inscription, which in part read, “DR. EMILE OVERTON MOORE,  BORN OCT. 2 1854, MURDERED FEB. 16, 1893”. 

Here it is Monday morning, I have lots to do, but I am “caught up” in it.  I search the database for EMILE OVERTON MOORE, and get no hits.  I search for EMILE, since this is not a common name, and get some hits, but not for anyone by the last name of MOORE.  Starting to think that I was chasing an imaginary dog, I decided to try one more search, MOORE 1893, and I got some hits, two hits which were just what I was searching for.

Above, results of the search.  Below, the information provided when the first record is clicked.

I asked Jana if they would get me copies of these two notices, and after I read them, I sent them on to Joe.  Joe gets them on Tuesday, sends me a “BIG THANKS”, edits his “Photo of the week” posting where he adds the following:

Newspaper accounts of Dr. Moore’s murder took a different tack than the verbiage etched in stone. On page six of the February 24, 1893, Pine Bluff Graphic, this account is found: “Dr. Overton Moore was shot and instantly killed Thursday evening of last week by Dr. C. R. Shimault. It is claimed the shooting was in self defense.”

A couple of days earlier on February 21, 1893, The Pine Bluff Weekly Press Eagle printed this report on page two: “Dr. Overton Moore was shot and killed by Dr. C. R. Shimault at Helena last Sunday. Moore began a quarrel with Shimault because the latter had responded to a call to attend to one of the former’s patients. The deceased was a very dangerous man and a terror to the community when drinking.”

The newspaper accounts agree that Dr. Moore was murdered and “whodunit.” They disagree on the exact date. We would probably all agree that Pedro was probably the most despondent of all. (This information was kindly furnished by the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System).

This just goes to show you the type of information you might get from newspaper accounts of deaths.  There was no obituary, just the story of a shooting, which caused the death of Dr. Moore, which led to a wonderful monument with a statue of Pedro on top, and which eventually led to Joe’s picture, which you can see when you visit his “Photo of the Week” for Sunday, September 20, 2009.