Monday, August 26, 2013

Wonderful Find: Church Published Obituaries

I know, I know. It has been two months since my last posting. How time flies! In those two months, I've managed to get a lot of research done. My most recent and exciting find has been the obituaries of my great-great-grandparents, William Harmon Proffitt and Emmer Link (Baker) Proffitt.
Rev. William Harmon Proffitt

Emmer Link (Baker) Proffitt

I read several moons ago about the United Methodist Church's Genealogy Search service provided by the General Commission on Archives and History. For $30, they will do up to one hour of research on any ancestors that were ministers or missionaries of the United Methodist Church (UMC) or any of its predecessor churches. I knew that William Harmon Proffitt was a Methodist Episcopal minister in Oklahoma from about 1900 until sometime between 1930 and 1940. I knew this because a) my grandmother is still living and he was her maternal grandfather that she knew personally during her childhood and b) he is listed as a minister in all census records from 1900 to 1930. In 1940, his employment status is listed as Other. I presumed he had retired from the ministry, as he was approaching 70 years old.

I've been focusing my research on my Proffitt ancestors lately, as part of my efforts to get all sources for my great-great-grandparents into my RootsMagic database and properly organized in my paper files. I'm also trying to make to-do lists for each of my great-great-grandparents and actually accomplish the tasks on the list. One of the tasks for William was to request the research provided by the UMC archives. I figured it couldn't hurt to see what they had in their files. It only took about 2-3 weeks and I received the obituaries via email that were originally published in the West Oklahoma Annual Conference Journals for 1944 (William) and 1950 (Emmer). 

For those of you who don't know the church history, the present-day United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 with a merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Prior to that, The Methodist Church was formed in 1939 from a merger between the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. The Evangelical United Brethren Church was formed in 1946 from the merger between the Evangelical Church and the United Brethren in Christ. 

An annual conference is an organizational unit of churches in a given geographical area. Each year, an annual conference is held and attended by both lay members and clergy from that geographical area. The appointments for clergy are announced at the annual conference and various other administrative type topics are discussed. The annual conference journal is published once a year and contains information about clergy, churches, and ministries of the conference. Among other things and lucky for me, it contains obituaries for church clergy and their spouses.

Below is a transcription of William's obit:

William Harmon Proffit was born July 12, 1871 at Chestnut, Sevier County, Tennessee, and departed this life at the Alva, Oklahoma, Hospital July 3, 1944.
In Tennessee he attended school and grew to manhood, entered the Ministry and at the age of 25 married Emmer Link Baker. In 1900 with his young bride he moved to Oklahoma and served a number of pastorates with the United Brethren church. In 1911 he transferred to the Methodist Episcopal Church, serving his first pastorate with the Methodists at Quinlan, in Alva district. For 18 years he served a number of pastorates in Northwest Oklahoma. While serving Quinlan for a second time, because of poor health, he was forced to retire in 1934.
In addition to his wife he is survived by three sons, Foster of Oklahoma City, James of Jenks, Oklahoma and John of Bartlesville, Oklahoma; four daughters, Golda Curtis of Waynoka, Oklahoma; Kathrine Marshall of Omaha, Nebraska; Hassie Mertena of Ponca City, Oklahoma, and Bessie Kruse of Oklahoma City, and one brother, Samuel Proffitt of Longdale, Oklahoma.
Reverend Proffit was an able preacher, studious, and a man fully devoted to the ministry. He faced life's problems cheerfully and courageously.
Funeral services were conducted at the Waynoka Methodist Church by the pastor, George B. Baker.
There were several pieces of info that I did not know prior to this obit, the most noteworthy being that he was actually a United Brethren minister for at least 11 years or so before he became a Methodist minister.  I had no idea. Now I've got it on my to-do list to research the United Brethren churches in Northwest Oklahoma and East Tennessee. I also did not know when he retired. Now I know that my assumption of sometime between 1930 and 1940 was correct. As a side note, his birthplace is likely supposed to read "Chestnut Hill, Jefferson County, Tennessee." It is right near the border of Sevier County.

Emmer's obit provided interesting information as well:

Mrs. William H. Proffitt, nee Emmer Link Baker, was born September 20, 1875, in the state of North Carolina, and passed away at Waynoka, Okla, July 5, 1949.
She was married to Mr. Proffitt in 1896 while he was serving as a local Methodist preacher in Tennessee. Their lives were spent together in parsonages in Tennessee and Oklahoma.
They came to Oklahoma in 1899 and filed on a homestead near Buffalo but later sold the relinquishment and Mr. Proffitt gave his time to the ministry. While the northwest section of the state was developing, Mr. Proffitt worked for some time with the United Brethren Church. Later he became as accepted supply with the Oklahoma Conference and then became a conference member in 1921. He was forced to retire from the active ministry because of ill health in 1935 and he and Mrs. Proffitt settled in Waynoka. He preceded his wife in death in 1945.
Seven children were born to this couple. N.F. Proffitt followed in his father's footsteps and became a Methodist preacher. He also preceded his mother in death. Six children survive: James Proffitt of Gage, Mrs. Golda Curtis of Waynoka, John Proffitt of Bartlesville, Mrs. Katherine Marshall of Omaha, Nebr., Mrs. Hassie Mertena of Ponca City and Mrs. Bessie Kruse of Oklahoma City. Fifteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren also survive.
Both during the years when her husband was in the active ministry and in later years, Mrs. Proffitt's life was given to the service of Christ and His Church. There was no task too humble for her to undertake. She asked only that she might use well the talents which had been entrusted to her. When no car was offered, she walked to do God's errands. She rejoiced to see flowers at the altar of the church on a Sunday morning and planned her garden to this end. These flowers reflected the love in her heart. The gardens around the heavenly mansions and in the parks of God's Kingdom now have another gardener and she is happy there working to maintain the beauty of the better home.
Funeral services were conducted at the Waynoka Methodist Church, July 7, 1949, with Rev. George Parkhurst, district superintendent, Rev. George Baker of Weatherford, and Rev. Henry Morton, pastor, having part.
According to her obit, there was actually a homestead filed for in Buffalo, Harper, Oklahoma in 1899. I have it on my to-do list to request a lookup in the Federal Land Tract books on microfilm at the OK Historical Society. The cost is only $10. This will give me the location of the application and patent that I can then order from the National Archives. One discrepancy, though, is that they were living about 90 miles from Buffalo at the time of the 1900 census. Another interesting point is that is says he worked as an "accepted supply" with the Oklahoma Conference. I've googled this and found out that "supply" is a term to akin to interim pastoring. Between the two obituaries, it sounds like perhaps he pastored churches for short periods of time as an interim pastor for about 10 years before he became a full-time pastor in 1921. This obit makes it sound like he was a Methodist pastor in Tennessee, but worked with the United Brethren in Oklahoma. His obit made it sound like he was a United Brethren pastor in Tennessee. I will need to research this discrepancy as well.

My next stop is the Oklahoma City University Archives, which holds all the records from the Oklahoma Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The records of the annual conference will list the annual appointments of ministers. From 1911 onward, I should be able to find his appointments.

I need to figure out where the United Brethren records are in Oklahoma from 1900-1911. I would like to verify my great-grandmother's supposed birthplace of Crescent, Logan, Oklahoma, in 1908. If I can find out where her father was appointed, then maybe I can confirm her birthplace. I suspect that she was not born in Crescent. This is the birthplace listed on her death certificate, but it was given by her husband, who was obviously not present at her birth. She met my great-grandfather while she was teaching in Crescent, but I don't think that she was born there as well. Her parents moved all over the state because of her father's work as a minister, so I think it would be too much of a coincidence that she was born in the same town where he met her.

Have you tried finding obituaries for your ancestors in church publications? If not, I highly suggest you give it a try. You never know what you may find!