Quite recently, they proved themselves once again.
I was searching for information about the death of one Thomas J. BERRY.
From a census record, I knew that he was alive in 1870 but nowhere to be found in 1880. In fact, by 1880, his wife had remarried and his children were listed as the stepchildren of her new husband. So what happened to Thomas J.?
Many documents which pre-date “required” record keeping are hit and miss when you search for them. Fires, floods, theft, the Union army, and “we didn’t do that then” are some of the reasons records don’t or no longer exist.
I walked into the Schmidt Library in Frankfort, Kentucky with my fingers crossed.
A check of the records they held regarding deaths for the county revealed the availability of microfilm containing death records from 1852 – 1910. The check also showed a book by Elizabeth Masterson in which she transcribed the county deaths for the years 1852 – 1854, 1856 – 1859, 1874 – 1878, and 1894. I elected to begin with the transcription in an effort to save eyesight.
And there it was:
BERRY, Thomas J
d Jan 4, 1887
c shot and killed
Holy smokes! What happened? Who shot Thomas J.? And WHY?
I immediately skated to the microfilm, knowing from previous experience that sometimes transcribers don’t include all of the information in a record in their transcription for various reasons. While the transcription also provided the name of Thomas J.’s parents, which I did NOT know until that point, I was greedily hoping for more facts and wanted to use the original document—or at least a picture of it—for proof of death.
There were no additional facts on the register, but the microfilm revealed a transcription error.
Thomas J. did not die on Jan 4, 1887, but on Jun 4, 1887.
Huh. Well, that’s why you always try to find the original record. People make mistakes.
For most of the entries on the page, the place of death was simply the county. But for Thomas J., the city was listed. I decided to turn to my faithful friends, the newspapers, via my favorite online site, Newspapers.com, to try to find more information on Thomas J.’s “killin’.”
I searched “Barbourville newspapers” first—surely a killin’ right there in town would have
made the paper, right? Unfortunately, The Mountain Advocate didn’t come into circulation until 1904.
Not to be stymied, I got more specific and searched “shot”, “killed”, and “Berry” with the date of June 1877 and selected "Kentucky." 15 matches.
Scrolling through the thumbnails, “Man named Jay Berry, was shot” caught my eye. It was in Stanford, Kentucky Interior Journal’s Friday, June 15, 1877 edition. Clicking on it, I found one answer:
Deeper digging in an ever-widening circle brought me to a June 14, 1877 clipping in The Cincinnati Inquirer with more details:
A search of the court records for the county should provide interesting testimony and may answer the “What happened?” and “Why?” questions that still linger, but that search would have been incredibly tedious without the name of the defendant. Thanks, newspapers!