MORNINGS ON MAPLE STREET VOLUME TWO

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Giles Newsom, Page Three

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Giles Edmund Newsom. Photo by Lewis Hine.

About a week after I posted this story, I contacted the editor of the Gaston Gazette, hoping that the newspaper might publish a story about my search for more information. Wade Allen, a reporter, contacted me, and soon an article appeared with the headline, "Man wants to learn more about Gaston child laborer."

Several weeks later, I received an email from Alta Mitchem Durden, a local historian. The following three paragraphs are excerpts from that email.

"I've spoken with Joe Castevens, Landscape and Maintenance Supervisor/City Arborist for Gastonia, regarding ownership of, and burials at, Hollywood Cemetery. According to Mr. Castevens, in 1918 a five-graves burial section was purchased by R. L. Newsom, who was buried in Section R, Lot 163, Western Half, in 1949 at age 71. His wife, Minnie Newsom, was buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in 1927, but the cemetery records do not indicate the precise location; however, it is presumed that her burial is next to or near that of her husband, R. L. Newsom."

"Mr. Castevens also has records for two other people named Newsom or Newsome who are buried in the same cemetery, but their graves are nowhere near Section R, Lot 163, Western Half. Within the next few days, he will make an inspection of that part of the cemetery in order to try to determine how many of the spaces contain unmarked graves and how many are empty, and will give me a call back with results."

"It is my thought that perhaps R. L. Newsom bought this cemetery property in 1918 occasioned by the death of his son, Giles Edmund Newsom, in that the wife of R. L. Newsom, Minnie Newsom, died in 1927, or nine years after initial burial space purchase."

Thus began a chain of events which ultimately led to Giles's death record in 1918, thanks to the persistence of Ms. Durden, and Brian Brown, Reference Librarian at Gaston-Lincoln Regional Library in Gastonia. Here is what the three of us found.

Giles Edmund Newsom died in Gastonia on October 18, 1918. He was one of many victims of the so-called "Spanish Flu" pandemic. I searched the Gastonia death records for October 1918, and 40 of the first 50 people listed died from influenza, most of them between the ages of 1 and 30. According to Mr. Castevens, Giles's name does not appear in the Hollywood Cemetery records, but it is likely that that he was buried next to his parents in an unmarked grave. At the time of his death, Giles was working at Modena Cotton Mills, despite his missing fingers.

Though I had not been able to find Giles's death record, Brian Brown did, after noticing a death certificate for Chas. A. Newman, and a subsequent newspaper death announcement Charles Adam Newson. It was obvious that Newman (or Newson) was actually Giles. He was born on August 29, 1900, the same date as Giles listed on his 1918 draft registration. He had the same parents as Giles did. And census records and obituaries for family members clearly confirm that his parents had only three children, Giles and two younger children, Barney and Margerie. And no one named Charles Newman, born about 1900, appears in North Carolina census records in 1900 or 1910.

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Death certificate for Giles Edmund Newsom, incorrectly recorded as Chas. A. Newman.

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Newspaper death announcement for Giles Edmund Newsom, incorrectly named Charles Adam Newson.

How could his name have been so badly misspelled on his death certificate? It occurred to Brian, Alta and me that if one says Giles Edmund Newsom quickly and carelessly, it sounds somewhat like Charles Adam Newman. The informant listed on the death certificate was not a family member; it was Chas. Ford, the undertaker. He could have easily misstated the name, or the clerk could have misunderstood the name. Of course, the mistake was repeated in the newspaper death announcement, and then misspelled again (not Newman, but Newson).

In his photo caption, Lewis Hine stated: "His father (R.L. Newsom) tried to compromise with the Company when he found the boy would receive the money and not the parents." Ms. Durden decided to explore this issue. Did Giles receive compensation? If so, how much? As a retired legal secretary, she knew where to look. She found probate records indicating that Giles received a settlement of approximately $360.00. As of January 30, 1921, more than two years after Giles's death, the amount was $421.56, with accumulated interest, but was held by the attorney/guardian of the estate. Despite several inquiries, no records were found to indicate the disposition of the funds.

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Poor Giles. He was forced to work under dangerous conditions when he was far too young. He lost two fingers in an accident. Despite that, he returned to work in the textile mills, and was employed in a mill in Gastonia when he succumbed to influenza. He was buried in an unmarked grave. And now we know that his name wasn't even correct on his death certificate, and he never received any money from the settlement.

I filed an application with North Carolina Vital Records to have his name amended on the death certificate. I explained his circumstances, and provided all the necessary documents to prove that Chas. A. Newman was Giles Edmund Newsom. After waiting more than a month, my application was denied because such an application must be filed by a blood relative. I called and explained that I could not locate any living relatives, and asked why they couldn't just make the correction, given the overwhelming evidence. But they refused.

So I tried the only option I could think of. I contacted William A. Current Sr., a North Carolina state representative from Gaston County, and asked him to intercede, hoping that his political influence could persuade Vital Records to make an exception. He and Wendy Miller, his legislative assistant, agreed to help, and they kept me posted as they contacted several top officials at Vital Records and the State Registrar's office. Unfortunately, they received this final reply:

"After acceptance for registration by the State Registrar, no death certificate can be altered or changed except by formal request. The State Registrar is responsible to adopt rules governing these requests and the type and amount of proof required."

"To begin the process to change a death certificate, your constituent should complete and mail or deliver the request on the form provided (attached) with a $24 search fee (nonrefundable). They will need to note on the form what type of change is needed and why. The request will be evaluated and the registrar will respond in writing as to the approval/denial or if there is more information needed."

That is precisely what I had already done, but to no avail. So I have submitted a correction to Ancestry.com, where I found the death certificate. And I have (unofficially) corrected the death certificate myself.

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"Unofficial" correction of death certificate.

And finally, I decided that it was time for a grave marker to be installed at Giles's family plot at Hollywood Cemetery, 94 years later. I emailed Alta Mitchem Durden about this, and the next day she replied:

"I've just spoken with a friend of mine, Leon Wyant, who owns and operates Wyant & Son Monument Company in Gastonia. Leon had already read the article in the Gazette and noticed my name as a contributor. After I mentioned to him your interest in having a memorial erected for Giles in the Hollywood Cemetery, he asked me to have you give him a call, and that ‘we can probably work something out.'"

And so I called him. He graciously offered to install a flat marker, at no charge, and subsequently made arrangements with cemetery supervisor Joe Castevens. I suggested that the marker should say simply, "Giles Edmund Newsom 1900 1918."

Rest in peace, Giles.

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Courtesy of Mike Huffstetler.

On behalf of the descendants of Giles Edmund Newsom (whoever and wherever they may be), my heartfelt thanks to Alta Mitchem Durden, Brian Brown, Leon Wyant, Joe Castevens, Wade Allen, Mike Huffstetler, and the late Lewis Hine.

*Story published in 2012.

Steve and Emily (Fairlamb) Parker have added Giles to FindAGrave.com. Click this link.

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