Mar 17, 2011 - Brick Walls    7 Comments

The Mystery of Minnie, Part II: A 91-year-old article surfaces

I got an e-mail over the past weekend that made me high-five my computer screen…the news I’d been hoping for! There IS an article about my great-grandmother’s death.

Three weeks ago, I put out some feelers to see if anyone would be able to do a newspaper lookup for me in West Virginia. I had narrowed down a couple of Huntington, W.V., newspapers that might have printed an obituary or article on the accident in 1919. (A big thanks to Bill Tucker who answered my lookup request that I posted on the Cabell County message board on As I mentioned previously, there is no death certificate on record for Minnie Johnson. I had an approximate time frame for her death because a Virginia researcher had found out (from a funeral home) that Minnie’s body was sent to Virginia on Nov. 22, 1919, for burial.

The article about the tragedy was printed on Nov. 21, 1919. The oral tradition in my family holds true: Minnie was tending to a relative’s hair and her dress did catch fire. But this article provides what a death certificate never could–the details of that night.

Minnie was making a midnight supper at home on an open gas stove. She had been cutting her nephew’s hair. When she turned to go into the kitchen, her dress caught fire. Hearing her screams, neighbors rushed to help put out the flames. Minnie was examined by two doctors, who made a grim prognosis after seeing the extent of her injuries. My great-grandmother died within three hours.

(Click image on left to enlarge article.)

Dr. Martin, mentioned in this article, is the doctor who delivered Minnie’s baby in the previous month. His name appears on my grandmother’s birth certificate. Another clue from my grandmother’s birth certificate is the occupation of her father. At that time, he was a delivery clerk. Now I know from this article that my great-grandfather worked for The Imperial Drug Co.

Honestly, it’s so surreal to look at this article and see answers to my questions. When I first saw it, I got chills. After all these decades of mystery, I still can’t believe I have something to verify Minnie’s death. It’s given a bit of closure to me and my family, who didn’t know the circumstances of our ancestor’s death for so long.

But this is not a closed chapter. There are more things I’d like to know–is there a baptism record for my grandmother in Huntington? Where on 3 1/2 Alley did the Johnsons reside? I hope that I can pinpoint at least a general location so that I can visit their old neighborhood.

7 Responses

  • what a great treasure for you to have an add to the records of your family history. This is such a great example of how newspapers can really help fill gaps in our knowledge. thank you for sharing!

    • I could not agree more. Newspapers are invaluable. In fact, I recently found a letter to the editor that my grandfather wrote in 1946!

  • This is very interesting and this is excellent source of information that helped put the puzzle together on what happened to your great grandmother .

  • How awful! This is the second horrifying death by burning I’ve read about on a genealogy blog this morning. However it is great to get this information about your family! Maybe you could find a map from that time period with the streets. I wonder if google maps would have it? Good luck!

    • Using Google Maps with Street View showed me Huntington, but 3 1/2 Alley wasn’t photographed. I did get a feeling of the immediate area, however. And I was able to track down a map of the area from 1921 which was also helpful.

  • Hey Sis,

    I am so happy that you found more information on your Great grandmother Minnie.
    It must feel good to put an end to questions of uncertainty.



    • Thanks! It really is an amazing feeling to have answers.

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