More Goodwin Finds

For a genealogist, happiness is sometimes finding an obituary, especially for people who died before official records were kept. Newspaper archives such as and (both require paid accounts) are great sources. Actually finding the person you look for can take a lot of time and creativity in spelling and truncation, but older papers (and older issues) are being digitized and added all the time, even for smaller jurisdictions, and I periodically continue to search for people in my direct line that have holes in their history.

A few weeks ago I wrote about finally finding an obituary for my g-g-grandfather Lemuel S. Goodwin, who died in 1907 in Suffolk, Virginia. I’d been trying to find that information for 45 years. His wife Mary Jane Thach Goodwin (well, his second wife – he had three) was my g-g-grandmother and she was another who died without any records that I could find. He was listed as a widower in the 1900 census, living with his daughter Beulah. Nope, couldn’t find her either, although I did find unsourced family trees at Ancestry that indicated she died in 1901.

Until this week. First I found Mary Jane’s obituary (above) which told me her maiden name and that, though she lived on Market Street with her husband of 42 years, her funeral would be at Bethel Church in Perquimans County, NC. I already knew that both she and her husband Lemuel were born in Perquimans County and had lived there for at least half of their married life. I knew that they had two married daughters living in that county at the time she died. But it was a big surprise to see that the funeral was there, and gave me a clue to look for burial also in the county, probably in a family cemetery (because I haven’t found it yet).

Then I found Beulah’s obituary in a different paper but also from Norfolk, VA. This one made me so sad because it described Beulah as a consistent member of her church, “bright and winsome, young and pretty and had many friends.” She died of consumption, which today we know as tuberculosis. It was was the leading cause of death in the United States, and one of the most feared diseases in the world. It was also the cause of death for Beulah’s brother William, who died in 1899. I still can’t find Beulah’s burial information but am hoping that eventually I’ll find her with her parents somewhere in Perquimans County, NC. For now, I’m happy to know where they died and to give them some closure, at least on my tree.

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, 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,, 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.

#52Ancestors – #11 Lucky Meeting with Louise Dail

Forty years ago I took a break from courthouse research in rural Perquimans County, North Carolina, to buy a soft drink at a store across the street. The nice lady behind the counter saw my notebook and asked if I was doing genealogy research. I wasn’t used to anyone knowing what I was doing research-wise and was surprised at the question, but was shocked speechless when she then asked, “Which Goodwin are you descended from?”

It seems everyone in the county is related to the Goodwins, one or more of them. I had been getting hopelessly confused by just how many Goodwins I was finding, all with the same sets of first names (William, Job, John, Caleb, Henderson, George). They appeared in Perquimans and neighboring Chowan Counties in the late 1600’s and have been farming in the same areas for two hundred and fifty years.

Our chance meeting led to a remarkable find. Louise told me I had to go to Raleigh to look at estates administration records (now digitized and available at FamilySearch) for Perquimans County. In one of the Goodwin files there was an heirs list dating to the early 1800’s. It didn’t sound very plausible to me, but what did I know?  Louise didn’t remember exactly where, just that it existed.

Before this meeting, I had really only looked at records for known ancestors instead of  everyone with the same surname. Louise taught me the valuable lesson of doing more than that. Following her advice, I looked through estates records for everyone named Goodwin and found a goldmine in the files for John Goodwin, not someone I even knew I was related to. He was actually my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, which this document confirmed. Without Louise’s information, I might have just skipped the file.

GOODWIN John - Children - from Probate Records 1855

For there was exactly what she had told me about: a list of heirs of John Goodwin who died in 1815. A piece of property was in litigation at the the time of his death that prevented the estate from being closed. For the next forty years, various combinations of heirs had petitioned the court for their share of the estate. But in 1855, they finally did it together and submitted an heirs list to the court clarifying who was entitled to shares of the states. Voila!