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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Color me frustrated: Where is the Death Source Citation???

My 3rd great grandfather was James M (possibly for McGraw or McCraw) Combs.  I know where he was born, who his family members were, and a few interesting tid-bit stories about him, but not his death place or date.  Usually this wouldn’t be a big deal except that I have seen a metric ton of death dates out there for him…without a source citation.

Cousin Debby is my Combs family research partner.  She is the one who gave me this date first.  Her information came from other Combs family members, who got it from another Combs family researcher many years ago.   Unfortunately, this gentleman is now gone and no one in that chain is certain on what happened to his research notes.

The family lore that has been passed on to me by these cousin researchers is an interesting one.  In the end they all agree on his death date, but no one can give me a source, preferable one that I can see and read myself.  Below I have outlined the story of James’s life as I know it. Maybe someone out there will be able to help me.  Worth a shot.

James M. Combs was born to Charles Combs and Abigail Reavis Brassfield in 1820 at Surry County, North Carolina.  He was the oldest of 8 children, all but the last 2 born in North Carolina.  Before 1845 a portion of the family moved to Indiana, with the presumption that several of the sons and older daughters stayed in North Carolina with their new families.  From the court house record I know on 23 February 1845 James Combs and Mary Jane Hayden were married in Orange County, Indiana.   Her family had moved to the area from Mercer County, Kentucky shortly before then as well. You can read about her family under the Hayden links on this blog.

From US Federal Census Records I know they resided in the following places:

·         1850 Franklin Township, Owen, Indiana
·         1860 Center, Greene, Indiana
·         1870 Center Greene, Indiana
·         1880 Columbia City, Dubois, Indiana

For a bit of geographic perspective, Orange County is 2 counties southeast of Greene. Owen County is immediately north of GreeneCounty, and Franklin Township is near to the Greene / Owen County line.  Dubois County is a neighbor county to the southwest of Orange County. 

He is listed as a farmer in the Censuses, married only to Mary, and they raised 11 children. As of yet there are very few other records that I have been able to locate on James besides his Civil War Draft Registration (on Ancestry) from June 1863 for the Indiana 7th.  Then there is a giant hole.

Family lore and legend tells that James, Mary, and several of their children moved from Dubois County, Indiana to Wabash County,Illinois between 1880 and 1885.  From what I have been told James shot someone who was, well, trying to court his wife.  How much of that, if any of it, is true I don’t know.  I have been looking through what I can find on line to prove it since I have not made it back home to search there.  According to the Combs researcher the family moved to Keensburg, Wabash County, Illinois where James died on 23 January 1885.

In August last year I contacted the County Clerk Office in Wabash County.  It was a very nice phone call; they were very friendly and helpful, just in case you need to contact them too.  The clerk searched for any trace of him in the county and called to tell me she couldn’t find any.  She looked though the death records, cemetery listings, probate records, and real estate deeds as well.  I was very disappointed, but at least that is one county court house searched.  While I was on the phone with her after the search was complete she said it is entirely possible that he did die in the county but since his wife was still alive there may not have been a probate as she would have inherited it all.  Also, he may have been buried in a small graveyard or on private property which would mean that he may not have been recorded in their cemetery listing.
Mary Jane abt 1874
Picture thanks to
Cousin Debby

After James’s death Mary moved onto Missouri with 2 of her sons, John Wesley Combs and Daniel Webster Combs.  I have found records for them there and have a picture of her tombstone from Willow Springs, Howell County, Missouri.  I even went so far as to look for James there too, just in case.  No luck.

I will keep looking, digging, and annoying my family with this mystery.  It really bugs me that so many people have latched onto this fact with only the word of others without seeing any evidence.  I would be thrilled even if that evidence was written in a research journal where someone had documented the fact when they found it with all the information on where it was located.  At least it would be something.


  1. What an absolutely fantastic photo of the marble sculpture. Where did you get it?

    No wonder you are frustrated. You have been doing so much searching!

    I have only one suggestion, which is probably somewhat lame. Do you have an Ancestry family tree going, or would you want to start one?

    Many times, if you type in a presumed ancestor with a presumed birth and death date--into an actual tree you are making--then Ancestry's "hints" machine will start grinding away, and you may be presented with a number of possible sources. That's how I've discovered FindAGrave, state death certificates, SSDIs, Obituaries, and so many other sources for family members in my tree. Not to mention endless census accounts.

    It's sort of like "casting your bread" upon the Ancestry waters, and then seeing what comes back.

    Good luck!

    1. The image is a picture from Wikimedia. If you click on the title under the picture the link will take you to the page (

      Yes, I do have a tree online. Unfortunately Ancestry has not been able to help me except in the terms of Census records, the Civil War Registration, and member trees. As of this morning (I went and checked just in case) there were no other hints for my James Combs. Which, for as uncommon of a name as Combs is, there were quite a few men...just not mine.

      One day, I hope, there may be a nibble latest pleas for help.