Monday, May 7, 2012

He Died Mysteriously

My ancestor, Stamey Thomas Craver (1891-1918), died rather mysteriously and I'm trying to figure out his cause of death.  He lived his whole life in NC, and died in Forsyth County. His death certificate is on-line at and in the NC Archives but there is no cause of death!  He died November 7, 1918.  Family lore is that he was struck by a train.  That's all anyone remembers. I even checked the original death certificate at the NC Archives - it's just like on The cause of death area is blank and there's nothing on the back or penciled in or on the next or previous page.

I searched the newspapers on and I checked the Winston-Salem Journal on microfilm at the State Library in Raleigh and couldn't find any mention of accidents or Stamey just prior to or just after November 7. 

I emailed the NC Medical Examiner office, and their response is below -- they don't have any records that go that far back.

Any further ideas for how to solve this mystery?

The first thing that I do when I encounter a male death in the 1917 to 1919 timeframe is consult my database of known dead in World War One. There were five Cravers, but none from NC or named Thomas. Sometimes it pans out, mostly not.

I have a great uncle that was struck by a train. But there was a newspaper article and fortunately a piece of paper in his pocket with the name and address of his brother in Oklahoma. That was how the family learned of the death of Worton French Scott, hit by a train in California. Family lore has it that he rode a lot of trains.

Blank causes of death are not unheard of. Probably means that there was the expectation of a coroner's inquest. So you headed down the right path to find the coroner's report but probably went about it in the wrong way. A coroner would be responsible for providing his findings to the appropriate court. So in the absence of a report from the medical examiner I would look in Forsyth County court minutes. The county court, according to the "Guide to County Records in the North Caroline Archives" has court minutes from 1915 to 1931 on film. Can you figure out the name of the coroner at the time in the records. Try looking for him in newspaper articles. It could be that at the time of the death the person, because of the trauma of the accident could not be identified so the article is about an unidentified person being hit by a train.

Also in examining the possibilities for court records in the county there are two boxes of Railroad Records, 1870 - 1930. Can't imagine what they are, but they must be worth a look. I believe that you should also look for suit between the family and the railroad. Could it have been a wrongful death?

Looking at is only one of the places to look. And the Winston-Salem Journal is a good place also, but again only one of the places to look. There might have been more than one paper in Forsyth County at the time. So that should be examined to see what other papers should be consulted. It is also possible that he was struck by a train in some other place than Forsyth County and came home to die. So the accident was in one jurisdiction and the death in another. Where did he live in the county in relation to the railroad? There is a good NC railroad map for 1900 online, just Google it. It looks like two different rail companies ran through the county in that timeframe.

There is of course the possibility that the train that he was hit by was a foundry train. It looks like he was an iron moulder the year before his death. You should look for the company records and see if his death was a result of being hit by something at work. My own great-grandfather was a moulder who was hit in the head by something while he was working at the Newport News Shipyard in the early 1900s. 

It looks like he might have been working for Briggs-Shaffner Company and they still exist today. Now the question for the other readers is how did I know that he was a iron moulder and worked for Briggs-Shaffner in 1917?

Hope this helps.



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