Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - And a Mystery - George J. Keener revisited

I posted this tombstone previously in June of 2009.  At the time, I couldn't figure out why the wife was listed - as she was no longer his wife (although I could find no record of her death, so I haven't a clue the circumstances).  

I recently obtained an abstract of his obituary and it left me with even more questions.   So I started at the beginning of his life again and tried to map out what I know about the family.    I am still left with the same questions and cannot seem to solve the mystery of his headstone and his obituary nor find any deaths or burials for his three wives...

George J. Keener was born 26 May 1852 (date according to his death certificate is 1853), to Samuel B. and Mary Johnston Keener of Taylor County WV.   On 12 Apr 1868 he married Tryphenny S M Thomas in Taylor County WV.    In the 1870 census the couple is found living with his parents, along with their new daughter Mary.    I cannot find any further records of this wife in the county or surrounding area. It is assumed that she died prior to 1872...

On 23 Apr 1872 we find another marriage record for George J. Keener and Letis A. Poling.   This union resulted in the following children:  Amos, Nella, Virginia, Isaac, Selena, James, Rachel and Ray.  All of these children were born between 1873 and 1887.    In the 1880 census, Mary (the daughter from his first marriage) was listed in the household of her Grandparents Samuel and Mary. 

In the 1900 census we find George J Keener at the age of 48 with yet another wife, Nora age 27, (aka Honora, Hanolla, Hanna).  Two of the children of the previous marriage are listed in the home (James and Rachel) and he and Nora have another 4 children: William, Samuel, Harry and Clarence.   Another son, Robert would be born later in the year.    

In case you've lost track, thats a total of 14 children born to this man and his three wives.

So where is the confusion or the "mystery?.....   here


First problem with the headstone is the year of death.  It appears that it says 1925, but his death certificate issued by the state of WV clearly states March 1, 1926.    The bigger problem with this headstone is that Lettie Keener is noted as his wife when his last wife was Nora (note the certificate states he is a widow so Nora clearly died prior to him) - this would be yet another death certificate that I cannot find.   It is possible that only the children from the marriage to Lettie were involved in his "arrangements", which would also explain the obituary - which left out all of the children born to Nora, listing only his first daughter Mary and the children born to Letting who were still living.

G. J. Keener Passes Away. The Grafton Sentinel. Grafton, WV. March 2, 1926.

Abstract--Geo. J. Keener, s/o Mrs. and Mrs. Samuel B. Keener, died yesterday at the home of his daughter Mrs. H. McWilliams, 720 Pearl Street. Inflamation of the stomach was the cause of death. The deceased was 72 years, 10 months and 2 days old, and had been a resident of Taylor county practically all of his life. He has been in ill health for nine months. He is survived by five daughters, Mrs. David Mowder, Wheeling; Mrs. Irvin F. Kinter, Fairmont; Mrs. Claude Griffith, Mrs. Logan Trader, amd Mrs. H. McWilliams, all of Grafton; two sons, James B. Keener of Fairmont, and A. S. Keener of Grafton, one sister, Mrs. Margaret Utterback of Brownsville, Pa. Funeral services were held in the home of Mrs. H. McWilliams. Interment was in the Philippi cemetery.

This obituary raises yet another question about the interment - George was buried at the Current Cemetery in Taylor County, not at the Philippi Cemetery which is in Barbour County (this would be the county that Lettie's family was from).  

So, please weigh in - why are there no death records for any of his wives?  Can anyone find them?  I have searched the WV Culture site thoroughly, all counties, all dates..   I cannot find anything that fits.  Where are his wives buried?    And something I may never know - why did Lettie's children not list the others in the obituary and why did they put her name on his headstone? 


  1. The obvious suggestion is that the children of Lettie had issues with his third family. The reasons - pure conjecture without more information.

    Have you found a marriage record for the third marriage? Divorce records? While the certificate states he is widowed it does not name his wife. If Lettie's children excluded Nora's children from the obituary, perhaps they ignored the marriage on the death certificate, too. It's clear errors were made in recording the date on the headstone, in the information in the obituary. The question is whether they were deliberate or simply mistakes - or both.

  2. I wish I could offer some assistance, but what fascinates me about this tombstone is the home-made quality of it, making it all the more poignant. It seems as if a family member just carved the name and dates into a piece of stone -- or if done for payment, someone who was just offering services without much training in calligraphy. It seems very basic and therefore even more real. I don't know much about tombstone creation, but I can almost picture the person creating this. Good luck with your research.

  3. Anonymous11/1/12

    I can help, I actually work at Bartlett Funeral Home who provided these services. We have been in business for 104 years and have records back to 1908. Please email me the info you are looking for at cflesher@mtnfg.com. Searching these old records is one of my favorite past times, when I can actually find the time, so it may take a little while, depending on how busy we are. Please provide names, and if before 1942 please provide date of death, if possible.