It is good to be reminded from time to time that even when it is carved in stone, it can be wrong. Errors are known to occur on tombstones which were carved years later, especially when it is a joint tombstone only inscribed on the death of the surviving spouse. But in this case, it is rather surprising that an error could be made after such a short time. Edmund’s widow Iva died 16 months later, and a joint tombstone was erected.
The tombstone gives his date of death as July 20, 1893. I found this to be incorrect. The route by which I came to discover this mistake is interesting, more so than the new date. What originally struck me as odd about Edmund’s date recorded on the tombstone was that there were two newspapers being reporting on the Hopkinsville area at the time, both have all copies for that period surviving, and neither had an obituary for him. Col. Edmund G. Meacham, also known as Edmund Jr, was a prominent citizen, and had been an election official for his district in the 1850s. The Editor of one of the newspapers, The South Kentuckian (later The Hopkinsville Kentuckian), was Charles Mayfield Meacham, a first cousin once removed (Edmund was his grandfather’s brother’s son). It seemed most improbable to me that his passing would go unmentioned in the newspapers. I searched a few weeks on either side of his tombstone date and could not find an obit.
I then consulted the newspaper abstracts that have been published for certain limited periods in the 1880s and 90s, and found these two brief reports:
“Col. Edmund Meacham, an old and highly esteemed citizen of this neighborhood, is not expected to live many days longer; his case is a very remarkable one, he has what they term the St. Vitus dance, he sleeps but little and then his hands and feet are in motion all the time.” - The South Kentuckian, March 16, 1880.
“Col. Ed. Meacham is very sick at present.” - ditto, May 11, 1880.
However, reading forward for a year from May 11, I could find no further mention of him.
Then, I came across two contradictory passages in Perrin’s book on the history of Christian county, published in 1884. The first occurs under the description of Calvin W. Meacham; it states: “His father, Edmond Meacham, was born about 1811, and is still living.” The second, under the description of Calvin’s brother John Milton Meacham, says: “… his father, Edmond, the son of Edmond, Sr., the son of Joseph Meacham, died in this county.” What is even more surprising is that these two sentences are only a few lines apart, on the same page. Perrin clearly needed some editing, but I thought this might be a clue. Perhaps Edmund died sometime in 1883 or 84, and one source of Perrin’s information was aware of it, the other not.
This possibility spurred me to scan all of The South Kentuckian from 1882 through 1884 for any mention of Col. Edmund’s demise, but there was nothing. I then sought out all references to marriages, deaths and other events where the parents might be mentioned, but as luck would have it, none mentioned Edmund and Iva.
Beginning to feel challenged, and needing to put the spirit of my great-great-great-grandfather to rest (and my own as well), I undertook a complete scanning of The South/Hopkinsville Kentuckian from 1884 up to 1893, reading all the local news stories where deaths were likely to be reported. I had noticed previously that sometimes there would be a formal obituary, but more often a death would simply be reported in a correspondent’s report from a small community, like Sinking Fork or Crofton, along with other tidbits of news such as who killed a big rattesnake, who got involved in a fight, whose tobacco crop was lost, who ran off with who’s wife, etc. Reading through these papers took months, and provided me with lots of entertainment and information about rural/small town life in the 1880s. But finally I arrived dismayed at the end of July, 1893, with no mention of the death of Edmund. Resisting an impulse to give it up, at the prompt no doubt of that restless ancestral spirit, I carried on and suddenly there it was. A small paragraph leapt off the page:
“MEACHAM - Col. Edmund Meacham died Tuesday at his home in the Bluff Spring district, within a mile of where he was born 85 years ago. He was a soldier in the Federal Army, where he obtained his military title. He was one of the oldest citizens in the county and had lived all his life in the same neighborhood.”
This was in The Hopkinsville Kentuckian of Friday, August 25, 1893, so his death occurred on August 22. It is clear now that the tombstone inscription was a guesstimate, or someone’s foggy memory, not simply an error in the day or the month.
Since the document nearest to the event is considered the most reliable, the obituary has priority over the tombstone, and puts in question his date of birth as well. He should according to the obit have been born in 1808, or possibly late 1807, not October 6, 1809 as the tombstone records. Unfortunately the transcript for his family bible (see A Bible Record for Edmund and Iva? ) has an unclear entry for Edmund: “Oct. 6, 188?” This is the only entry for him, and it appears to be a birth date, but the last two digits are obviously not transcribed correctly, most likely not being legible. Perhaps that explains why the birth date on the tombstone is wrong. And, the failure to enter his death in the family bible could be what ultimately led to the incorrect date of death being put on the tombstone as well.
Supposing that he was born on Oct. 6, 1808, the obituary would be just about right, in that he was very close to 85 when he died. A touch of literary licence could be expected. On the other hand, if the tombstone birth date is correct, he would have only been 83 at death. Again, the obituary takes precedence, since the age reported at death is primary evidence.
Census records do not help much, and they seldom are accurate enough to resolve fine-grained questions like this one. The 1850 census has him aged 42 when enumerated on Sept. 17, 1850, whereas the 1860 census records him aged 53 on Aug. 31 of that year. These are mutually contradictory, and neither agrees with the tombstone birth date. They also do not agree with the suggested date of Oct. 6, 1808, but the preponderance of evidence would support it.
In sum, the dates for Edmund should be given thus:
Oct. 6, 1808 - Aug. 22, 1893 (tombstone, obituary and bible transcript do not agree; death date taken from obituary; birth date from combination of sources)
Hardly an improvement over what was a nice neat set of dates, but sometimes the reality is hard to uncover.
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