Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Tough to Track- Laurence Travis Murphy (1892-1954)

Courtesy Jack Cavanaugh - Kent, WA
This is another old family photo from Cleo Proctor Cavanaugh's album. The back says, "Aunt Etta's son -Mom's nephew", then in different writing, "Laurence Murphy". Aunt Etta would be my great grandmother Millie Proctor's sister, making Laurence my first cousin twice removed. I have no information about him at all, so I will have to search the available records to see what I can piece together about this confident looking young man.

His parents were Arthur Douglas Francis and Etta May (Travis) Murphy. According to Laurence's WWI draft record, he was born on August 12, 1892, in Sidney, Fremont County, Iowa.  In the 1910 Federal Census, he is living in Pierce, Page, Iowa with his parents and little brother Maurice. On June 5, 1917, when he filled out his draft card, he was single and still living in Iowa. He was described as tall, medium build, blue eyes and light hair. He was working as a drug clerk for C.A. Hill in Ottumwa. Interestingly, it is noted that he had "2 years of university training".

In the 1920 Federal Census, there is a Reverend Laurence Murphy working as an assistant pastor at St. Anthony's Church in Davenport, Iowa. The age is correct, but both parents are listed as being born in Ireland and "my" Laurence's parents were born in Iowa. The only other one who looks possible is a Lawrence Murphy in Chicago. He was born in Iowa and so were both of his parents, but he is listed as 31 which would mean he was born in about 1889. Since I am not satisfied with either of these, I can't be sure where he was in 1920, which is probably about the time this photo was taken.

The sign behind Laurence reads, "Sargent's". There was a Sargent's Jewelry Store in Mt. Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa. According to the Daily Reporter from October 27, 1879, the proprieter was J(ames) F(ranklin) Sargent, Jeweler, Watch and Clock Repairer. He was also a "dealer in school books, stationery, blank books of every description and a thousand other items". The store was located on the "North side of the Park, Mt. Pleasant". After James' death in 1899, his family continued to run the store, so it may have still been there in the teens and twenties. I don't know if the storefront in this photo is the same one, but I think it is possible.
[Update- I did some more research on Laurence's employer C.A. Hill listed on his June 1917 WWI draft card. Finally some luck! It turns out that C.A. Hill bought out W.L. Sargent's drug business in Ottumwa in 1917! According to the Bulletin of Pharmacy (Volume 31, part 1, page 45), Mr. Sargent sold Mr. Hill his business and gave him a long term lease on the building located on the corner of Main and Market Streets in Ottumwa. The article also noted, "The business will be continued under the name of 'Sargent's.'" So, we now know exactly where this photo was taken! Based on this new info, I will place the date of the photo a bit earlier - c.1917. Like I always say, persistence does pay off!]

By June 11, 1924, when Laurence married Ruth Hulda Jones, he was in Burlington Junction, Nodaway, Missouri. In 1930 he was still there, farming with his wife and two children - Bill and Patricia. A couple of trees on Ancestry have his death listed as occuring on Feb 20, 1954 in Maryville, Nodaway, Missouri, however I can't find anything in the Missouri death records to support this.

I spent a couple of hours researching Laurence and, unfortunately, didn't come up with much. Notably, I am missing his 1900 and 1920 Census records. I checked Ancestry, Family Search Beta, Iowa Old Press and Google without a lot of luck. Some people are just more difficult to research and I guess Laurence is one of them. Oh well, better luck next time!

Thanks for reading and please go here to read posts from my talented friends at Sepia Saturday.


  1. Like all your posts you carry us along, experiencing all the twists and turns and ups and down of your fascinating research. And the starting point is such a wonderful picture : that look of confidence and satisfaction.

  2. very interesting post and great photo!

  3. You are doing a great job here finding the facts. Not of importance but I lived in Sidney, Iowa in the seventies for four years. He was born there and moved on. Sidney yet today seems to be the place people move to from Missouri or Nebraska and then move on further north.

  4. sherlock strikes again!! the photograph is stunning, but you claimed to have little info, and yet... you cam through, adding that update. i have faith in you. you'll come up with something conclusive soon enough. go at it, girl!!!

  5. Thanks for the comments, my friends! I always appreciate the feedback.

  6. Thanks to Laurie for searching out Laurence's death certificate for me. The information on it confirmed his death date and place. It also gave the sad information that he died of a brain tumor.
    Thanks again, Laurie... I have the best readers!

  7. Here's the link-