21 March 2010

Imaginary Walls and Barricades: Blake - Cunningham Study

Compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
March 2010

Time and time again patrons and clients will stipulate that an individual and/or family resided in a given county, town and state. It conjures visions of barb wire around the county and flood walls at the river that allow no access to get to the other side.

When Edna Blake Merritt died 11 May 1922 at Barboursville, Cabell County, West Virginia The Huntington Advertiser wrote that "she lived in that vicinity during her ENTIRE life." Edna was born 14 December 1848 and this article stated that she lived all 73 years in the same area.

Edna was the daughter of John W. Blake and wife Nancy Kinnard who had married 01 January 1846 in Cabell County. Cut and dry, right? It appears to be clean, concise information verified with a West Virginia death certificate and the marriage record of her parents.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Genealogy should not be just about filling in names and dates. It should be about what the individual and family did with that life. Starting a chronology into the life of Edna Blake took some twists and turns. In fact, I find 9 year old Edna living with her father John and another wife Frances in Clay township, Gallia County, Ohio in 1860. She had two brothers Albert and Frederick Blake that were never mentioned in her obituary. The Blake family had no barrier crossing the Ohio River.

Further research shows that John Blake's second marriage to Frances Cunningham, 22nd November 1853 was announced in the Ironton Register which is in Lawrence County, Ohio. Frances, born 1836 in Virginia, also had a step mother , Rhoda Snapp Kilbourne Cunningham when she was about the same age as Edna.

Edna's geographical bounds broadened yet again when John and Frances Cunningham Blake took the family to Indianapolis where they appear in the 1870 census. Her father worked as a bookkeeper and a hack driver if you believe two separate entries that appear in Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana for that census year. Edna, now 21 years old, lists her occupation as a seamstress. This snapshot of her life changes the simplicity of the obituary written about her.

Since this blog is about Eastern Kentucky, we will give the family yet another geographical move. Edna's father and step mother moved to Ashland, Boyd County, Kentucky in 1880. Edna was back in West Virginia by 1874 and in 1880 is found in Barboursville with husband Joseph A. Merritt and three children Fannie, John B and Erwin all born in West Virginia. If a researcher only reviewed Cabell County records, the 1880 census showing Edna, her husband and children, all born in West Virginia, would lead you to believe the obituary saying she lived there her entire life.

John and Frances Cunningham Blake crossed the Big Sandy River returning to Cabell County, West Virginia, in their later years. Once again a glimpse suggests the family unit might have been in the same area for over 70 years. We now know differently.

Don't get wrapped up in barbed wire, narrow boundaries and the written word as gospel. Follow the trail, walk the path and enjoy the journey.


  1. Love your statement, "Genealogy should not be just about filling in names and dates." Once an ancestor is viewed as an individual in history, research becomes so meaningful and rewarding.