Research can be tough.
I say that not as a fun opening cliché or an attempt to state the obvious (though, in retrospect, I suppose I have inadvertently accomplished both), but simply as the truth. There are some projects where the reality of situations years and years ago seems to actively elude the researcher, and unfortunately, I can say with some confidence that I feel the 8601 case is one of those instances.
I have spent a bit of time over the past week or so looking into Marvin B. Cunningham and his wife, Mary, who were suggested as the potential builders/original owners of the home on 8601 Dixie Highway. It’s been…interesting. Inconclusive, but interesting.
My first hit for Marvin B. Cunningham on ancestry was his death record. He was listed as having been born on 21 Jun 1897, died 25 Apr 1976.
I then jumped into the census records and found him almost immediately in 1900 at the tender age of 3, living with his parents, Alexander (40) and Ida (33) at a home at 2318 4th Street, Louisville, KY. His was a full house with five other children and one servant listed as well: Carl (14), Bruce (12), Alice (9), Margaret (6), and Louis (9/12, born Sept of that year). The most interesting tidbit from this census record is that in the census, Marvin was reportedly born in May, whereas in his death record and on his tombstone, he was listed as having been born in June. However, I believe this to a be a minor discrepancy that is likely nothing more than an error on the part of the census-taker–hardly a novelty.
In 1910, Marvin B. Cunningham (13) is still living with his parents, Alexander (52) and Ida (43). They are now at 1328 South Second Street, Louisville, KY. In the home are Carl (24), Bruce (22), Alice (19), Margaret (16), and Alex Jr. (4). According to Ida, she has 8 children, 6 of whom are living. It would appear based on the number of children in this census that Louis (the infant in the 1900 census) died and another child also was born and died between census years.
In 1920, Marvin (23) has struck out on his own. He’s now married to one Mary Cunningham (21) and they are living on 18th Street, Valley Station, KY (no house number given). To make things better for the young couple, the newlyweds are hosting Mary’s mother, Emma C. Adams (51).
After 1930, Marvin and Mary drop entirely off the census record radar. Unfortunately, I’ve also run into this little snag while conducting research, and there are a few possibilities as to why this has happened:
- 1. Marvin and Mary moved out of state.
While it’s possible that the couple picked up and relocated elsewhere in the US as there are a few Mary and Marvin Cunninghams in the US in 1930 and 1940, I don’t believe this is the case. The Cunningham couples that could be our Cunninghams claim to have been born in entirely different states from our Cunninghams. Their ages also don’t line up very nicely.
- 2. The census records are incomplete.
Because ancestry.com is a relatively new site, this happens more than you’d like to think it does. I’ve been ready to take a bat to the computer in an attempt to coerce the internet into coughing up the record I need only to go to the local library, conduct a manual search of the census records and find the information I need ready to bite me in the face. After heading home to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I did a second search and hit the same problem–the records just aren’t there.
Mary and Marvin may be one of the unfortunate couples whose information didn’t make it, wasn’t linked correctly or simply hasn’t been added yet to the 1930s/1940s census records.
- 3. Mary and Marvin moved locally, but lived in a rural area that wasn’t consistently surveyed by the census-takers.
This is another possibility. Because people back then had a tendency to be a bit more casual and arguably a bit more transient to boot, Mary and Marvin may have chosen to live in a rural location–say, 8601 Dixie Highway–before such a location had a formal address. It’s also possible that if such a location was, say, a hotel, that the census taker skipped it, assuming that no one lived there permanently.
It was with this in mind that I opened the search from the census records to the public directories in Louisville and Valley Station. What I found was telling.
In the late 1920’s to early 1930’s, the directories show a Marvin B. or M.B. Cunningham whose only address is listed as the “L&N” (railroad line) and whose occupation is listed as either salesman, fireman, or hostler (stableman). As you may recall, the house at 8601 sits right on the train tracks–the old L&N line–and was rumored to have been a depot at one point. Was Marvin working on the L&N as a fireman and working at the 8601 location when it was a depot/hotel as a hostler, picking up salesman work when he needed to? It’s very possible.
After 1933, the records resume in the 1940’s and 1950s. Marvin is consistently listed as a fireman working on the L&N line, though his addresses are a bit more specific in these entries and place him in Valley Station proper versus in the country. This would be consistent with what has been suggested about the Hicks family, however–that the Hickses bought and took up residence at 8601 in the 1940’s.
Below, I’ve made up a table with the information I was able to gather from the public directories between 1928-1959.
|1928||Mary A. & Marvin B. Cunningham||Valley Station||None|
|1928||Ida M. % Marvin B.||Valley Station||None|
|1928||M.B.||L&N r Valley Sta||Fireman|
|1929||M.B.||Valley Sta||KY Auto Parts Co.|
|1930||Marvin||Lyon Battery Wks||Salesman|
|1931||Marvin B.||L&N r Valley Sta||Fireman|
|1932||Marvin B.||Route 5||Salesman–Koch Auto Elec Co.|
|1933||Marvin B.||Valley Sta||Salesman–Koch Auto Elec Co.|
|1946||Marvin B. & Mary A.||L&N r525 Denmark||Fireman|
|1956||M.B.||L&N r RD 3 Valley Sta||Fireman mmo|
|1959||Marvin B.||L&N r1807 Whitten Dr||Fireman|
Having exhausted ancestry’s public directories, I headed over to the land office for Jefferson County and searched for Marvin Cunningham. I found zero records. A few popped up for Mary Cunningham, but they are not visible via the internet and would require an in-person investigation.
In many ways, this information just opens up more questions. Did Marvin work at 8601? Was he a hired hand for either the family that resided there or the folks who owned the building as a hotel? Did he build the house at 8601 while working and/or living at a location nearby? Was he the one who sold the land and house to the Hickses in the 40’s or 50’s? At this point, it appears that only a trip into Louisville to check out the land records, census records and other related historic documents will tell.