I waited a long time for this

Lemuel S. Goodwin Obituary, 1907

This morning, after researching this family line for at least 45 years, I found the obituary for Lemuel S. Goodwin. He was my grandfather’s grandfather, born in Perquimans County, North Carolina in April 1833. He moved to Suffolk, VA at some point between 1880 and 1892, when his daughter Josephine married William Myers. The last we knew of him was the 1900 census when he was a widower living with his daughter Beulah.

But wait, there’s more!  I found a tiny newspaper clipping from Dec. 1903 with news that he had obtained a marriage license with widow Mrs. Martha Elizabeth Spivey. He’s not in the 1910 census, so he had to die in there somewhere. She died in 1930 and is buried next to her first husband with no mention of Lemuel. So maybe he died before they could get married?  Mystery!

This morning I found his obituary at GenealogyBank, a newspaper database that I was thinking I might cancel. Ah, maybe not.  No wonder I never found it, with one name truncated and one name misspelled. But this is the guy. Lost but now found.

Lemuel was married three times. His first wife, Sarah E. Long, died one day after the birth of their daughter, within a year of their marriage in 1856. Ten months later, on Christmas Eve 1857, he married Mary Jane Thach, my great-great-grandmother. They were married for 43 years and had eight children that I know of. At some point between 1880 and 1892, they moved from the farm in Perquimans County to Suffolk, Virginia, where Lemuel worked in the City Market. Their son William died of consumption in 1899 and Mary Jane followed in the spring of 1900. Lemuel was listed as a widower in the 1900 census, living with his daughter Beulah.

But that was it. It was too early for state death records in Virginia and I found no property or probate records and no cemetery records for any of them. Maybe they returned to North Carolina for burial but I found nothing there either. All of the family trees I found on Ancestry and FamilySearch have Lemuel’s death date as “after 1900”. I was determined to find him, but it took a very long time.

Last year I located a tiny notice in the Norfolk Landmark newspaper from December 1903 that a marriage license was issued for Lemuel S. Goodwin and Mrs. Martha Elizabeth Spivey. Hmm. Who was she? Where did she come from? And who was Mr. Spivey? I did some poking around at Newspapers.com, one of my favorite sites, and found a fascinating article about Peter Spivey’s burial in 1899 at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suffolk, VA with his elaborately carved tree memorial. His wife Martha Elizabeth was buried next to him on her death in 1930.

So what happened to Lemuel? Why isn’t she buried next to him? What was he, chopped liver?

Not exactly. Lemuel and Martha were widowed within a year of each other and were neighbors on Morgan Street in Suffolk. Martha had small children – her youngest child was only a few months old when Peter died – and she was 25 years younger than Lemuel. We don’t know for certain but it is probable that they married for companionship and to help Martha raise her young family.

In March 1906, Lemuel was “confined by illness to his home on Morgan Street” [Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), Thursday, 15 March 1906, p.7, col. 3; digital image, Genealogybank.com, accessed 5 August 2020). A year later he was agained confined by “serious sicknesss” to his home; his obituary ran in the Virginian-Pilot on Sunday, 20 October 1907. It mentioned that a service would take place at the Christian Church the afternoon after his death, but a burial spot was not indicated nor has one been located. We know his widow Martha was buried next to her first husband; Lemuel quite probably is buried next to Mary Jane, his second wife. I haven’t found her grave yet either. But I haven’t given up.