The Dark Side of My Family History
I’ve been a history buff for as long as I can remember. A few years ago I became curious about my own family’s history. I started an Ancestry account and began tracing my ancestors. My second great grandfather’s name was William Otenbarger. For a few years he was only a name and a couple of dates in my family tree. One day I did an internet search and found a newspaper article. The article called him, William Otenbarger, the Osborn child murderer and it spoke of a court trial in Xenia. I was very curious about this so I went to the Greene County Archives. The staff was very helpful and even scanned and emailed over 50 pages of court records to me.
The records told me that my ancestor was being tried for murdering his three year old stepdaughter, Lizzie Shearer. He hit her in the head with a hatchet. He stated that it was an accident and she ran behind him as he was chopping kindling. Witnesses testified that there was no kindling on the property and that day he used corncobs to start a fire, not wood. There were many witness accounts of previous abuse of the little girl at the hands of my ancestor. Neighbors had seen him hurting her and had heard his parents speak of the abuse. His parents denied saying anything about the abuse in court and William’s wife, the mother of the child did not testify. People had heard him yell and threaten Lizzie. Neighbors seen him dragging her across his yard, throw her into the front door on two different occasions and roughly pull her off a fencepost to the ground. The doctor who examined her also noticed old and new bruises all over her body. After a long court trial, William Otenbarger was found guilty of murder in the second degree and sentenced to life at the Ohio Penitentiary. He was later granted a second trail and the outcome was the same.
I ordered his prison admission record which told me what he looked like. I also discovered that William received a pardon after serving only 12 years in prison from some newspaper articles. He was given the pardon because he had perfect behavior in prison.
There’s something unpleasant in everyone’s family history. William’s immediate family may have stood by him, but his descendants do not. As researchers, we take on the task of finding and passing on our family’s history. As I pass down the good things other ancestors of mine have done, I’ll also pass on William’s story. The crimes he committed against a defenseless child will not be forgotten.
Greene County Archives
Daniel Burwell my four times great-grandfather lived in Franklin County, Ohio all of his life and most of that in and around Columbus. As a kid I heard a bit about the Burwells from my paternal grandmother Doris who spoke about grandma Burwell (Mary Eaton Burwell) Daniel’s wife. Upon the death of my grandparents I received many photos and family history, but not a lot of genealogy on the Burwells.
From continued research at the Ohio History Center Archives/Library more on the Burwell family was filled in. Recently while updating loose documents to my Burwell binder I realized there was no death record for Daniel Burwell inside. Thinking he would not have an Ohio death certificate as those started in 1908 and he died in 1907, I searched for a Franklin County death record to no avail. Stumped I asked about this at the reference desk at the archives library and it was suggested to check the City of Columbus Board of Health Death Records.
The what? The City of Columbus Board of Health Death Records!
I learned that Columbus was experimenting with death certificates which are very similar to the Ohio state death certificates I was used to seeing. The Columbus city death records are available from about 1875-1903. While Columbus death certificates are available from 1904-1908! The state of Ohio certificates do not start until late 1908/early 1909.
The Columbus death certificate gave Daniel Burwell’s birth date, 27 April 1833. I had never seen the month and day before and his birth year was confirmed. The record also confirmed his parents’ names, Daniel Burwell and Maria Rusk, but it also gave that extra info of birth place. Both were born in Pennsylvania. I knew they were married in 1826 in Baltimore and that one of Daniel’s brothers John Phineas Burwell was born there as well. One interesting thing on the death certificate is the doctor who attended Daniel and signed the certificate was John H. Hanes M.D. husband to Daniel’s daughter Amelia. Mary Eaton Burwell, who passed away in 1922, was the informant on the death certificate. Both Daniel and Mary are buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.
The Columbus Board of Health death certificate, while one document, added new info, renewed my interest in researching the Burwell family and started me digging deeper into the Columbus Board of Health Death Records for other family names who died in Columbus.
The Ohio History Connection
Finding Clockmaker Thomas Nauman in Ohio
In 2000, a 25 year project, Clockmakers and Watch¬makers of America, was published. It was a joint effort with Chris Bailey, an ex-clock museum curator, my wife Sonya, a Library Science major who extracted information from every known source, and me, who wrote the entries. We worked hard to get the first edition published before Sonya’s death on Christmas Eve 2001 and continued working on a second edition and following leads.
Ralph, a friend of mine in Texas, discovered and bought an American grandfather clock by an obscure clockmaker, Thomas Nauman, which had a long history in the Shenandoah Valley. The only thread of information on Nauman was a clock by him in Columbia, Pennsylvania, signed only Thomas Nauman on the dial with no place.
Our online researcher from Arizona, the late Doug Stevenson, found traces of a Thomas Nauman born in Pennsylvania about 1749 who had moved to the Shenandoah Valley in the early 1770s. He served in a German speaking regiment during the Revolutionary War. Doug found traces of Thomas Nauman who had moved to Ohio in the early 1800s. Was he our Nauman?
From the Clark County Public Library in Springfield I found that Thomas Nauman, Revolutionary War veteran, had come to Clark County to receive his promised land. He died in 1821 and was buried at the Vale Rd. Cemetery, less than 10 miles from my home. I felt the search was starting to warm up, but was given a blow when the library turned up a reference that said no probate records existed in Clark County before 1837.
The search lay fallow until I made my first visit to the Clark County Historical Society at the Heritage Center and found the original probate log. We swung open the probate index book to the “Ns” and the first entry was for Thomas Nauman, a record that supposedly didn’t exist. A few minutes later I was reading the Nauman probate record for anything that would lead me to believe this Thomas Nauman was a clockmaker.
Then there it was. “Patrons for clock wheels,” an inventory note that conclusively proved Nauman was a clockmaker. It was all there, but I didn’t read any more of it until Ralph arrived from Texas. Within a week he was here and the discovery became greater, the story told over and over.
Clark County Historical Society
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