Last week, I mentioned I had reconnected with a long lost friend from high school and then I thought I’d contact one of my roommates from college. I had spent my first Thanksgiving away from my family with her and her family in Houston. We used to exchange Christmas cards, but I hadn’t talked to her in years.
With all the worry about this virus, I had been thinking about her quite a bit, so I decided to call her. She lives in Alaska and the time zone is three hours different than ours. The phone number I had for her was probably 20 years old and didn’t work. She doesn’t do Facebook or email, and I was stumped. Finally, I realized I am “friends” on Facebook with another woman from college, who was good friends with her, so I messaged her to get the phone number. She called me, and as we talked, I told her that I was the director for the Grace Armantrout Museum in George West. The lady in Houston said, “That sounds familiar, I think I came to the funeral for our friend’s mother in George West back in 1995.” I asked why she would be buried in George West, and she said that was where she grew up.
I grew up in north central Texas and went to college in Abilene, 100 miles from my home. At that time, I had never heard of Three Rivers or George West. I don’t remember ever discussing with my friend where her grandparents might live. I went to “Find A Grave.com” to see if her mother was there, and sure enough, she was buried in the George West Cemetery. The guy who had created her memorial page was Kevin Mackey.
I called my friend in Alaska and left a message. Two days later, my friend returned my call. We had a great visit for nearly an hour. I told her about the museum, and she said, “I knew Miss Grace Armantrout. She and my grandparents were good friends, and she was collecting things for her museum back then.” Who would have ever guessed back in 1976, that a new friend in college would know someone and the city, and place that I would work 44 years later?
I encourage you, in this time of upheaval and uncertainty, to reach out and find those best friends you’ve had through times of your life and touch base with them. If you’ve kept up the friendship through the years, that’s even better. Our friend L’Ella Dean Thurmond had friends from her elementary school days with whom she still talked on the phone and saw from time to time, until she passed away. Contact those elderly family and friends and let them know you care. Ask them questions and write down their stories. Your histories are important.
Charlie Stewart called the museum last week to chat for a bit. He plans to come again when this “sheltering in place” is done. He seems to be doing well. We also had a message from Gary Roach, a cousin to Charlie, I think, who had some questions about a couple of members of his family: Stanley J. Stewart, the photographer, and one of his brothers, Leroy Albert Stewart, who had died after an incident with a car in Three Rivers in 1934. He wanted more information on what had happened.
I knew I had heard the story from a source or two, but I thought I had also read it somewhere. First, I checked “Find A Grave.com”, then “Portal to Texas History”. No luck, but I did find a couple of obituaries for others to chase down. Then I remembered that the William Jasper Armstrong family history book had been donated to the museum a few years back and that there was a connection between the Armstrong and Stewart families. The book was written by Geraldyne Spencer of Kenedy, who is related to the Armstrongs. She had typed obituaries for lots of the relatives in that family book. Sure enough, I found the one for Leroy Albert Stewart. I sent a copy of it to Gary, and he thanked me and said it helped answer some questions.
Gary’s mother was Ida Armstrong Roach, and Leroy was her cousin, about three years older than she. She had looked up to him, but she said he had a bad habit of heading off somewhere and then changing his mind and direction in an instant, often in the middle of the street even. Apparently, that is what happened, and he stepped back in front of a car and was hit. He was taken to the local doctor’s office, treated and sent home. Later that evening he got to feeling worse and was taken to the hospital in San Antonio, where he died the next day due to a blood clot in the brain. Gary had thought he had died in Three Rivers and didn’t know why the death certificate was issued in Bexar County. Now he knows.
One of the more interesting stories dealing with family history and “Find A Grave.com” was from Kevin as we did the LOC memorials for “Find A Grave”. Kevin found a tombstone for a young man of 21, named A. S. Blackmon who had died in 1895 and was buried in the Latham Cemetery. Through research of several sources, Kevin found information that he had been murdered by hanging, by a jealous girlfriend and her father. Kevin posted the story on the Grace Armantrout Facebook page. He soon heard back from a couple of the boy’s relatives. They knew he had been hung, but the story had come to them that he was a horse thief. Now, thanks to Kevin, they knew he was a murder victim, not a criminal. So, please write those family histories down, keep the stories straight. We would love for you to share them with the museum when you are done. We will do our best to preserve them for posterity’s sake.
We look forward to the days when we can be together again in person. When this health scare is over, we look forward to seeing you at the Grace Armantrout Museum. God bless and stay healthy.