One Piece of Evidence is Incomplete: Methodology and the Genealogical Proof Standard Helps Tell a More Robust Family Narrative

The Genealogical Proof Standard states that we should do reasonably exhaustive research, as well as analyze and correlate our evidence (among other steps).[1] A common beginner’s mistake is to find a single document and believe research is complete for that person. Searching for more documents is the task of a diligent researcher. One document rarely tells the whole story, as it is incomplete.

Two narratives will be told, the first explaining the events described in a telegram, and the second narrative will provide more details regarding the telegram and surrounding events, correlating the facts.

telegram

Figure 1 — “Virginia Vessels (Cross) Scrapbook, Telegram” (telegram from Virginia Cross to Allen Cross, June 15, 1945), Mark Cross personal collection.

Narrative A

Virginia Cross kept a scrapbook, which contained a telegram. In reading the telegram, the facts literally on the page include:

  • Telegram was sent from Vine Grove, Kentucky
  • Telegram was sent to Corporal Allen P. Cross
  • Telegram was sent to an APO (Army Post Office) in San Francisco
  • The body of message reads “Dad Vessels passed away June 15 [1945]”
  • Telegram was sent from Virginia

From these facts, one could easily determine that Corporal Allen P. Cross was in the US Army, likely in the Pacific Theatre, in June of 1945. However, we do not know how these three people are related to each other, unless we obtain other documents.

The relatives of these people already know that Virginia Vessels married Allen Cross. “Dad” Vessels was her father. She sent the telegram to her husband in 1945 during WWII, informing him that her father died.[2] This date corroborates the date on the death certificate of William Roy Vessels.[3]

While the two documents of the telegram and the death certificate corroborate the death date of William Roy, this is still an incomplete narrative as it is a singular element. Additional research reveals more.

Narrative B

Now, let us connect the dots and explain more details of the family narrative, using additional sources.

Virginia Marie Vessels was born 9 March 1928 in Hardin County, Kentucky to William Roy Vessels and Sarah Catherine Ray.[4] In 1930, the family resided in Hardin County, Kentucky.[5] By 1935, the family had moved to Los Angeles County, California.[6] The family likely moved due to hard times during the Great Depression. William Roy found work on the oil rigs in Long Beach, California.[7]

William Roy’s mother, Celestia Greenwell Vessels, died on 1 June 1945 in Hardin County, Kentucky.[8] Several of the Vessels family members in California traveled to Kentucky for her funeral. While in Kentucky, William Roy became ill, and died of complications of a heart attack and a burst appendix on 15 June 1945.[9] Virginia buried both her grandmother and her father within two weeks in Kentucky.

The siblings of Virginia are identified in the census records.[10]

Virginia’s brother John Paul served in WWII. In 1945, Virginia could not know the fate of her brother. Today we know John Paul served in WWII,[11] Korea, and Viet Nam, and died in 1977.[12] During his military career, he was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart, among other citations.[13]

Virginia’s brother William Henry also served in WWII, but met with a different fate. He was killed overseas on January 16, 1945 at the age of nineteen.[14] This was only five months prior to the death of Virginia’s grandmother and father. He served in the 272nd Infantry, [15] which fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where family lore says he was killed in action.[16]

Virginia Marie Vessels and Allen Paul Cross had a son during the war.[17] When Virginia’s father died in June 1945, her son was an infant. As was common at the time, she likely wondered if her son would ever know his soldier father. As it turns out, Allen did return from the war, and he and Virginia had a total of seven children.[18]

Comparison of the Two Narratives

Narrative A tells us that Virginia’s father died, and she sent a telegram to her husband informing him of that fact. Her husband was overseas in the Army during WWII. This information is gleaned from primarily two sources, the telegram and the death certificate of Virginia’s father. Note that Virginia’s father and husband are not identified with only these documents. The dots are not yet connected.

Narrative B provides more detail, with many more sources. Virginia is identified as daughter of William Roy, sister to her brothers, and wife to Allen Cross by these additional documents.[19] Virginia was born in Kentucky but raised in California. Some family members traveled to Kentucky for her grandmother’s funeral, and her father became ill on the trip and died about two weeks later. Virginia had two brothers serving in WWII, one had been killed in action just five months prior to the Kentucky funerals. Virginia and her husband Allen had a young son born during the war. Virginia’s husband was also serving in WWII and both were well aware of the hazards of war. With several family members now deceased, Virginia sent a telegram to her husband, telling him her father died, whom her husband in all likelihood had met. Virginia’s husband was unable to comfort or console her as he was overseas fighting the war.

Narrative B also illustrates the FAN Club [Friends, Associates & Neighbors] research methodology advocated by Elizabeth Shown Mills.[20] Many of these additional facts are not directly about Virginia, but about her family members. These family events undoubtedly had an impact on Virginia.

Conclusion

Narrative A provides some important, but scant, details regarding the event of the death of Virginia’s father. Narrative B provides many more important and relevant details, including FAN Club research.

We do not know exactly what Virginia was thinking or feeling, as there are no surviving letters or journals that describe this time of her life in her own words. However, for any human with emotions and empathy, the facts speak for themselves. Virginia had a challenging time near the end of the war, with several family deaths occurring quite near each other, both overseas and away from her California home in Kentucky.

While the telegram provides important information, by itself it is only a singular element in a larger story. The Genealogical Proof Standard suggests additional steps in research. With reasonably exhaustive research, and analyzing and correlating the information, more details are uncovered, and a more compelling story can be told. At the heart of genealogy, we gather many solid facts, with source citations, so we can tell a compelling story.

footnotes

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards: 50th Anniversary Edition (Ancestry.com, 2014).
[2] “Virginia Vessels (Cross) Scrapbook, Telegram” (telegram from Virginia Cross to Allen Cross, June 15, 1945), Mark Cross personal collection.
[3] Registrar of Vital Statistics Kentucky, “Death Certificate No 12428, William Roy Vessels” (June 15, 1945).
[4] Cabinet for Health and Family Services Kentucky, “Virginia Marie Vessels Birth Certificate, Cert #4102231” (1928).
[5] “1930 US Federal Census, Population Schedule, Hardin County, Kentucky, Page 1A (Penned). Dwelling 6, Family 6,” FamilySearch, accessed August 19, 2019, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XM6G-KYD.
[6] “1940 US Federal Census, Population Schedule, Los Angeles County, California, Downey Township, Sheet 23A (Penned), Household 560,” FamilySearch, accessed August 19, 2019, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9MT-8X3J?i=45&cc=2000219&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AK97X-P6Q. The 1940 Census records that the Vessels family lived in the “same house” in 1935.
 [7] “World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, (4th Registration) for the State of California, William Roy Vessels” (April 25, 1942), Record Group Number: 147, The National Archives at St. Louis, https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=1002&h=12955879&ssrc=pt&tid=114630085&pid=130135264287&usePUB=true.
[8] Registrar of Vital Statistics Kentucky, “Death Certificate, File No. 12292, Selestie Vessels” (June 1, 1945).
[9] Death Certificate, William Roy Vessels.
[10] “1930 US Federal Census, Hardin County, Kentucky.” Also see “1940 US Federal Census, Los Angeles County, California.”
[11] “U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 – John Paul Vessels Ancestry.Com,” accessed August 19, 2019, https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=8939&h=2053041&tid=114630085&pid=130135264171&hid=1036530007741&usePUB=true&_phsrc=ivO1235&_phstart=default&usePUBJs=true&currentPageIsStart=.
[12] “John Paul Vessels (1916-1977) – Find A Grave” accessed August 19, 2019, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/24335202/john-paul-vessels.
[13] “Virginia Vessels (Cross) Scrapbook, John Paul Vessels Disposition Form” (US Army Disposition Form, after 1953), Mark Cross personal collection.
[14] “William Henry Vessels (1926-1945) – Find A Grave,” accessed August 19, 2019, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/74352587/william-henry-vessels.
[15] Ancestry.com, “U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963, William H. Vessels, Serial No. 39580850” (n.d.).
[16] Rod Vessels, “Rod Vessels Family Tree Maker Genealogy Database: Unsourced Genealogy” (July 12, 2011), Mark Cross personal collection.
[17] Name withheld for privacy, living person.
[18] Names withheld for privacy, living persons.
[19] Some documents not cited here for privacy of living persons.
[20] “Elizabeth Shown Mills Genealogy – FamilySearch Wiki,” accessed August 19, 2019, https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Elizabeth_Shown_Mills.

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