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
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.