What Happened to Ethel May Fazenbaker Murphy?

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What Happened to Ethel May Fazenbaker Murphy?

Thank you to Shelly Johnson for sharing this story with us.

Whatever happened to Ethel May Fazenbaker Murphy?

Growing up I had always heard about Ethel Murphy, mother to my great grandmother Frances May Catherine Murphy Fazenbaker Knepp. When I started doing genealogy about twenty five years ago I asked my mother Virginia Catherine Miller Johnson about her family. She told me that her grandmother’s mother disappeared and that family “lore” had it that (and I am always skeptical about family lore) that she was killed in some sort of accident around November of 1908 or 1909. I thought, OK, I can start looking to see what I could possibly find. Of course, this was all before the internet.

When societies and governments started placing their documents online, such as vital records and newspapers, naturally I started looking for Ethel. Ethel was born in February 1889 to Ralph Hilary and Frances Soredo Metz Fazenbaker. She married William Thomas Murphy on December 23, 1907 in Piedmont, Mineral County, WV. She had her daughter Fannie Catherine on May 8, 1908 at Gilmore, Allegany County, MD.

William Thomas Murphy remarried Lavina Josephine Deremer on 17 October 1910 in Mineral Co., WV. They had a child named Eva Rose Murphy born March 27, 1913. Sometime between May 8, 1908 and October 17, 1910 when William Thomas Murphy married Josephine Deremer, Ethel disappears.

According to family lore, Ethel died in some sort of “accident.” I have searched newspapers, death records, cemetery records and wills and so far I have not found any evidence of Ethel dying in or around Allegany Co., MD or anywhere else for that matter. I discovered a will for William Thomas Murphy and it does not mention his first daughter Fannie at all. I wonder now if my great grandmother ever knew she was a Murphy and that she had a half-sister.


William Thomas Murphy is living alone when the 1910 census is taken. Ethel’s mother, Fannie Fazenbaker comes and gets Fannie, I know this because she is living with her grandparents in 1910. She continues to live with her grandparents until their deaths. I have speculated as to what kind of “accident” Ethel could have had back in those days and to say the least I am hard pressed to find any newspaper article that even has her name.

My great grandmother went to live with her mother’s parents and took on the name Fazenbaker as her last name, I cannot find any documentation that proves she changed her name but that is what her name was when she married. I have looked at all of the siblings of Ethel trying to track down obituaries to see if they may have named her as a sister, but to no avail. I found a copy of some bible records and they do not mention her at all. I am at a loss as to where to turn next to find dear old Ethel. I cannot imagine her just up and leaving her daughter behind, maybe she did die in an accident and I sure would like to know when and where.

I have searched the Cumberland Times, and the Cumberland evening times and have found nothing. I have searched the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, MD for death certificates and have found nothing. So short of banging my head against a wall I am convinced that maybe the family secret is she either ran off with another man or divorced her husband. Alas I will keep looking as more and more sources become available because I am determined to find her.

Have you ever encountered a “missing” ancestor? Did you have any luck tracking them down? 

Image: Marriage Certificate of Ethel and Thomas

About Shelly:

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Hi, I am Shelly Johnson and I have lived most of my life in Maryland.  I love genealogy, so much so that the last three jobs I have held have been with the National Archives, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and currently I work for The Generations Network or, as most of you call it, Ancestry.com. I work for the Document Production Team as an Imaging Specialist.  I am going to school and looking to get a degree in history and hopefully someday I would like to run an Historical society or Museum. I have a lot of interests besides genealogy. I love to read, and I also love music. I have a dog named Petie who is part pit/lab.  I love cemeteries. Some say I am obsessed with death, don’t know why causes of death fascinate me or why obituaries turn me on, hmmm strange. I am currently working on an obituary index for my hometown newspaper that went out of business two years ago. I have published two indexes and a cemetery index for St. Mary’s County, MD.

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  • Alice Benson
    April 20, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Loved your story. I had a mysterious greatuncle died at age 33 in 1905. I obtained a death certificate (after getting a couple of wrong ones because he has a common name) as well as a coroner’s report. Never would have thought they would still have that from NY city in 1905. Turned out he died of a fractured skull on Christmas Eve in a working class area with many bars. Familysearch microfilm confirms he was basically on probation with the church. Letter from family friend states he was going “from saloon to saloon”. I will make sure he gets a headstone for his grave. Keep on looking. Ethel is out there somewhere, waiting for acknowledgement from SOMEONE!

  • Jennifer Gray
    April 20, 2013 at 8:40 am

    I had the same problem with my gg-grandmother, Alida Christina Hallenbeck. The only way I even had a name for her was on her daughter Alida Christina Covell’s NYC marriage certificate in 1893. My “family lore” was also that she had died in an accident when Alida was young, along with her husband. Alida was then raised by her aunt. I came across bits and pieces of the story over the years. Found proof that Alida’s father had died in NYC in 1871 (when she was turning 5) of kidney disease but was not buried with a wife. Found that Alida was living with her aunt in NYC in 1880. Found a woman with the right name b.1841 living with her family in Albany, NY in 1850 and 1860. I didn’t find the “smoking gun” until the 1875 NYS census was indexed on familysearch last year. There was young Alida living with the suspected grandparents in Albany but no mother. Turns out that mom, called Tina by the family, went to SF after her husband’s death. There she may or not have married a journalist named Samuel Seabough but does have his daughter in Sept 1880. He died in 1884. Then the 1892 NYS census was indexed and there are Tina, Alida, and young sister living together in NYC. Some time after that they must have had a falling out and were “dead” to each other. I did notice that your couple had to get married and may have been quite incompatible. Perhaps he wasn’t even the father and was doing Ethel a favor to give the child a name. It would be wonderful if Ethel made a new and happier life for herself far away as my Tina did…

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