A few days ago, I was thinking about something from my early childhood, the incident of a neighborhood kid drowning in the Ohio Canal that was across the street from our house. The only concrete information I had was that his name was “Dougie.” Parents repeated this information to their kids for years. It became an urban legend – “Dougie, The Kid Who Drowned In The Canal.” I wondered if it happened as I remember it being told to me. Who was Dougie? Where did he live? I was told I played with him, but I don’t remember that.
I have an inquisitive mind and the internet has provided me with endless hours of discovery (and the wasting of time.) I belong to an Akron Ohio (my hometown) Facebook group, and questions and debate come up all the time about what former businesses were where on such-and-such a street. I have learned how to use the Historic Akron City Directories which can be accessed online through the Akron Public Library. There are two parts to each year’s directory: the first part has all the streets listed alphabetically and who lived at each address, and the second part has the people and businesses listed alphabetically and where they were located.
I turned to my Akron City Directory for 1958 and found out who all my neighbors were back then. For some reason, I thought Dougie lived across the street. I took the last names of my neighbors and went to my account on Ancestry. I plugged in Douglas and the last name. No hits on Boulevard St. down at my end of the street.
I entered my home address on Boulevard St. into Google Maps, zeroed in on the Ohio Canal across the street, and figured out what was the nearest street to the Canal that was still in my immediate neighborhood but NOT on Boulevard St. I came up with West Thornton St., a street that is at least still there after Opportunity Park razed that end of neighborhood in the 1970s. I got the range of addresses for that area of W. Thornton St. and went back to the Akron City Directory. For both sides of the street, I wrote down all the last names for a block in either direction from the point closest to the canal.
Going back to Ancestry and plugging in those last names and Douglas as the first name, I got a hit on Douglas Ferrebee who was born in 1953 and died in 1960. He died in Akron. Did he live with that Ferrebee family at 262 W. Thornton St.? The name in the directory said that “Ferrebee, JA” lived there. That’s all I had, and there were a number of Ferrebee families that lived in Akron. I found Douglas Ferrebee’s brief birth information on Ancestry. In the space for Other, it listed Carmichael. From experience, I know that the name listed there is the mother’s maiden name. So… Ferrebee/Carmichael. Would that lead me anywhere?
Through all the meandering I did on Ancestry, I found the marriage license for J. B. Ferrebee and Mildred Carmichael. Well, J.B. didn’t match up with J.A. living on Thornton St., but I’ve seen worse mistakes in printing — way worse! All three — J.B., Mildred, and Douglas — are buried in a cemetery in Pennsboro, West Virginia. (Small world. My father moved to West Virginia after his retirement and lived in the tiny town of Pullman, right nextdoor to Pennsboro.)
I still hadn’t proved that Douglas lived on Thornton St. I was thinking, thinking, thinking, and just pulling up stuff on Ancestry, my brain trying to figure out how I was going to take circumstantial information and turn it into a concrete link. I do not take circumstantial data and turn it into fact, not without having proof. This is particularly true when I’m working on family tree data.
Somewhere during all this pondering and trying to find obituaries and such, I happened upon a link that I’ve seen before on the Ancestry site. It asked me if I wanted a subscription to newspaper articles found in thousands of newspapers for decades. Seven-day free trial? I have nothing to lose! I signed up. My hometown newspaper, The Akron Beacon Journal, was available and I search for Douglas Ferrebee, hoping to at least find his obituary from 1960. Here was the article:
The “urban legend” was real. What I remember being told about the incident as a kid in kindergarten was real. The only two things that I had incorrect was that Dougie did not live “across the street” (not on Boulevard St., anyway), and he was not four-years-old when he died, which is what I had recollected from the story. However, there it was, in black-and-white and available on the internet 56 years later.
The truth is out there! You just need to know how and where to look! (If I had had that newspaper archive subscription at the outset, I could have saved myself a lot of searching once I had the link between Douglas and Ferrebee, but the route that leads to discovery is not always a straight line!)