Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Discrepancy of Dates of Thomas Putman’s Death

Thomas A Putman, privately held by Diana Fancher, Toronto, Canada.

Every summer I send off for several death certificates from the State of Arkansas. I started with my great-grandparents, then my 2nd great-grandparents, and now I have moved up to my 3rd great-grandparents as many of them didn’t die until after the time from which the State of Arkansas started requiring death certificates be filed. This summer, I ordered the death certificates of my 2nd great-grandmother Rosalie Putman Lasiter and her parents, Thomas Adolphus Putman and Martha Ann Ward Putman.

Thomas Adolphus Putnam's Death Certificate, obtained by Ginger R. Smith, from the Arkansas Department of Health, Vital Records Section, Little Rock, Arkansas, 27 August 2012

I saw some interesting information on the death certificate of my 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas Adolphus Putman who died in 1918. His headstone lists his date of death as 21 November 1918. His obituary, which was published in the Southwest American newspaper in Fort Smith, Arkansas on 22 November 1918, says he also died 21 November 1918.
Here is a snippet of his obituary from the Southwest American newspaper (Fort Smith, Arkansas), 22 November, 1918, copied from microfilm at the Fort Smith Public Library.

However, Thomas Adolphus Putman’s  death certificate lists his date of death as 27 November 1918, a whole six days later than what the obituary said! Normally I would just write this off as a mistake or with the rationale that he died on the 21st, but his family waited a week before filing the death certificate on the 27th. This was often the case for families who lived in rural areas.
A physician testified that he had attended to Thomas from the 26th of November to the 27th of November when he last saw him alive. Death occurred at 8 pm. Although this information was filled in on the death certificate, no physician actually signed it. The cause of death was “paralysis” which usually meant he had a stroke, probably due to old age.

I’ve never really fretted over this next item that much because it’s pretty common to reside in one area and die in another, especially while visiting family or friends or working someplace else. But something about it just isn’t sitting well with me. Thomas Putman lived on Park Avenue in Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas when he died (see obituary). In fact, this land (he had 220 acres at the time) remained in the family up until the 60s or 70s I believe. And my great-grandmother, Louise Lasiter, lived down the street from this tract of land. Thomas’ death certificate says he died in Bloomer, Arkansas which is not too far from Fort Smith, just outside the city limits, about 20 miles away.  At that time, Fort Smith had about 30,000 people and Bloomer (population less than 1000 today) had maybe 20 families, if that, living there. So I’m not sure what Thomas would have been doing in Bloomer when his wife and children were living in Fort Smith. And I certainly don’t think there would have been any hospitals or doctors around in Bloomer, he would have gone back to Fort Smith to seek medical attention unless the town doctor came to the house he was staying in in Bloomer and tended to him there.
Other red flags about this death certificate include the name of Thomas’ father. My genealogy paper trail has Thomas’ father as Berry Barton Putman from Georgia. This is backed up with census reports listing a son by the name of Adolphus in Berry’s household. His death certificate says his father was William Putnam, also from Georgia.

The informant was also someone unknown to the family. It was a woman by the name of Georgia Card. I have not started looking for her yet. Thomas and Martha Putman had 4 daughters. One daughter named Rosalie, married James Lasiter and they had one son. Rosalie lived with her parents off and on when her son was young and they eventually moved a block down the road from Thomas and Martha. The oldest daughter, Nona Putman, never married and she lived in the home with Thomas and Martha until they died. Another daughter Annie married Aubrey Rhyne and they lived in the house after Thomas’ death with her mother Martha for a while and then I believe they eventually built a house on the same block. The youngest daughter, Pearl married Mr. Edward Fancher and they too remained on the block and eventually took ownership of the house and land where they stayed until the 70s when they sold the land. I guess if he really did die in Bloomer, maybe while visiting some family, then this Georgia Card might have been a distant relative.
Another discrepancy between the obituary and the death certificate lies within Thomas’ date of birth. His obituary says he was 73 years old when he died which would put his date of birth in 1845. His death certificate says he was 80 years old which would put his date of birth around 1838. The genealogy paper trail I have on him has his date of birth as April 26 1845 (headstone and county history book). The birth year of 1845 is supported by both the census reports with him living in the household of his father Berry Barton Putman and living as an adult.
When I presented these discrepancies on my Facebook page I got some feedback from fellow genealogist Michele Simmons Lewis of the Ask A Genealogist Blog who suggested that since the death certificate was not signed by the physician (and a date of removal/ burial was also not provided) that maybe the form was filled out by the physician’s assistant and he made the mistake on the date of death. So far, even with the obituary, headstone, death certificate, death index and census reports, it looks as if I need more evidence to confidently conclude that 1) the Thomas A Putman of the obituary of 22 November 1918 is the same man as the Thomas Adolphus Putnam of the death certificate of 27 Nov 1918 and 2) my 3rd great-grandfather Thomas Adolphus Putman died on the 21st of November 1918. It also looks as if I need to find out who this informant, Georgia Card is before I go any further. 
Here is the matrix I created to keep track of the information I gathered and where it came from. I can use it to get a glance of what sources had what information.

If you have any suggestions about the data I have presented here, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or email me at ginger.reney [at] Also, please check back often for updates to this post. I intend to follow up on who this Georgia Card was and why Thomas was in Bloomer when he died. I also need to find out if Thomas still owned the farm in Bloomer and if so, was he in Bloomer to check up on it or was he visiting relatives? When I looked back at my genie software to see where his siblings might have settled, I realized that I did not have any information on them. It would be prudent of me to track their whereabouts as well to see if any of them stayed behind in Bloomer or were maybe tending to Thomas' farm in his absence. 


  1. Grreat job putting your data in a format where you can easily analyze it!

  2. I am still inclined to think the death certificate is wrong. It is unsigned by the physician and thus unverified.

    Also, you mention that the informant, Georgia Card, is unknown to you. She is the one that gave the name William Putnam as Thomas' father. She did not know Thomas' mother's name which makes me think that whoever Georgia Card is, she didn't know Thomas's family past very well and could have easily made a mistake on the father's name.

    I would try and track down this Georgia Card and see what connection she might have. Was she a neighbor? The census records will tell you that. Perhaps she was a aunt by marriage or a cousin. If you find that connection then you will be able to say that this is the right Thomas even though the info on the COD doesn't match what you know.

    1. Hi Michele, thank you for the suggestions. I do believe you are right and we will have to investigate who this Georgia Card person was. I see a "part 2" post in the making...I will let you know what we find! Have a great weekend and thanks for taking the time to work through this with me.