Searching for a Baby in an Oil Boom

April 1, 2011

Sperry, Oklahoma

This house was in an oil field camp. I suspect it was a boarding house; I doubt company houses were anywhere near this grand. Photo credit: Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society.

Remember how I said genealogy wasn’t supposed to be this easy? I take it back.

Maybe it was beginner’s luck. Or maybe it’s only easy when Shivelys are involved. In any case, the Easleys in my tree need to pull up their socks and help me smash this brick wall. After all, it was searching for an Easley (my mother’s older brother who died in infancy) that first got me started in genealogy. You could say that looking for Baby Sam was my gateway drug. So I figure the Easleys owe me.

Anyway, I had the day off work last Friday and had to run an errand in the Big City (aka Tulsa), so I decided to drop by the county health department to see if I could get Baby Sam’s birth certificate. I had previously searched for his death record without success, but I filled out the form and took a number. After waiting for what seemed like forever, I presented the form to the young woman at the window. She told me that, because I wasn’t an immediate relative, not only would they not give me a birth record, they wouldn’t even attempt to search for one. Now I understand there are privacy issues, but for pete’s sake — my Uncle Sam was born and died more than 90 years ago! I explained to the clerk that all immediate relatives were deceased, both parents and both siblings. That I only wanted the record for genealogy purposes. No go.

Frustrated, I headed back home to Sperry. As I pulled into town I noticed that there was a car parked in front of the church I suspected my grandparents might have attended. I stopped and went in to see if the church had records back that far. The car in the parking lot belonged to the pastor. I introduced myself and explained the situation. He was very nice and wanted to be helpful, but that particular church had only been in existence since the 1960s. I was 0 for 2 for the day.

But since I was there, I decided to stop by the town office again to see if I could get any more information. I know from the 1920 census that my grandparents lived in Sperry and my grandfather worked for an oil company. The state was in the middle of an oil boom during the time, and workers flooded into small towns like Sperry hoping to make a fortune. Housing was in such short supply that many companies put up camps or housing communities right next to the drilling sites. The town clerk who had helped me look for cemetery records a few months ago was in the office and very graciously spent some time answering my questions about the town and the oil camps.

I don’t know whether my grandparents lived in such a camp or in the town. I suspect from the occupations of their neighbors on the census that they lived in town. But if they did live in one of the outlying camps, the town clerk suggested, baby Sam could very well be in a cemetery in the surrounding area. She recommended that since Skiatook was and still is the next big town (“big” being a relative term) it might be a good idea to have a look at the archives of the Skiatook newspaper. There might be a death notice and possibly information on oil companies operating in the area. I thanked her profusely. Then she recruited me for the fledgling Sperry Historical Society.

Later that afternoon, I checked the website of the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City and, lo and behold, they have the Skiatook paper on microfilm back as far as the early 1900s! I see a a trip to Oklahoma City in my future. (And perhaps FTU’s Newspaper Research 101 class.) Maybe all of this is a long shot, but I don’t care. I just want to find some proof, however small, that for a brief time little Samuel Easley belonged to this world. I already know he was loved.

—Nancy


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Nancy Shively of Skiatook, OK. Read all her posts at Family Tree University.

4 thoughts on “Searching for a Baby in an Oil Boom

  1. Check the rolls of the gas company for which Sam’s father worked, or, if they had a union, check the rolls of them.
    Check also the fraternal organization to which he might have belonged.

  2. I hope you find what you’re looking for, Nancy. I, too, have had a myriad of adventures at the Vital Records office here in Oklahoma City. However, I do think they would let you have the birth certificate–there’s a very big chance there won’t be one, but I always think it’s worth a try. So when you come to OKC to visit the Historical Society, I recommend you give it another try. Do you have a death certificate for him? I’ve seen them (the folks at the window at Vital Recs) look at a death certificate and then issue a birth record.

    And when you come to OHS, look me up. I’m there 4 days a week and those newspapers are a treasure trove!

  3. I too have had the frustration of not getting information due to not being an immediate or direct relative of the deceased. New York state is famous for this. My husband & I went to find the grave of his grandmother and found no stone even through his father had sent money to help pay for one. When we asked how to order one, found out that since we were not direct immediate relatives of the person originally paying for the plot we had to find a living direct relative to okay our paying for the overdue maintance fee and then only after all of that could we with permission pay to have a stone place on the grave. You would think that the willingness to pay all fees would make and difference. Now I am trying to find any living children of my husband’s uncle who died a long time ago, location unknown. Good luck with your search. Margie

  4. Donna- Great idea about the fraternal organizations! I’m pretty sure my grandfather was a Mason.

    Debra- I had them look for a death certificate first but they didn’t find one. I did look on the OK vital records website and genealogy is clearly listed as a reason for obtaining birth records! I’m going to print it off and take it with me next time. Please look me up on facebook (Nancy Allen Shively) and let me know when you’ll be at OHS. I’d love to meet you!

    Margie- Why do people have to make things so difficult? People are so privacy paranoid these days. Good luck in your search!

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