Baker County Funeral Home Records
An Introduction (written about 1956)
J. Parley Thomas, chairman of the Baker Ward, Union Stake (now Baker 1st Ward, La Grande Oregon Stake), Genealogy Committee has recently brought some valuable records to the Genealogical Society (of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) for microfilming. These records consist of over 12,000, 4 x 6 cards, on which the Baker Committe has typed 75 years of funeral records, 1875 through 1956, of Baker County, Oregon, probably the first project of its kind in the church. It all started when an attempt was made to copy grave marker inscriptions in the old cemeteries. Markers were lost, the writing on hundreds of others were obliterated, or unreadable and those that could be read were meager details, usually just the name and birth and death dates. Sexton records also wre very incomplete and lacking in information. This area was settled in the wild and wooly days when a human life did not mean much and practically no records had been kept prior to 1875,w hen West and Co. Started operating a funeral parlor and began individual records. West and Company is still in business, (Jan 2001, Gray's West and Co. Pioneer Chapel) even though the original owners are long since gone, but the present owners were found to be very cooperative when they learned what was wanted and allowed their entire set of books to be taken to the Ward Genealogy rooms (which were then located at the old Baker LDS chapel just down the street) where the committee set to work transferring vital statistics and information to the small card index, where it would all be arranged alphabetically for use in their own research. Samples were shown to Brother Archibald F. Bennett (who was Director of the Genealogical Society) who wanted permission to microfilm them for the church library in Salt Lake City. The cards have already proven of great assistance in the local ward. Found in the records are vital statistics of the deceased, and in addition, whenever it was available, the names of the parents and their birth places were entered, and attached to each entry, an obituary clipped from the local newspapers, often giving locations where the family had lived and dates, occupations, date of entry in the United States if foreign bron, lodge and church affiliations, and the names and addresses of all known survivors. Card were also completed for those who died elsewhere and were brought to Baker for burial, as well as those whose bodies were shipped to some other point giving the location of the actual burial. The other funeral parlors were contacted and were equally cooperative and the committee have worked diligently for the past year so that it is estimated that at least 95 percent of the deaths in Baker County from 1875 are included in this set. Many proofs of the 'Hand of the Lord' were apparent in searching these records in finding so many entries that had no bearing except for our use, and all this in a community LdS member is less than 3 1/ 2 percent of the population, with no members in this area prior ot 1890. (that was 1956). One example of a marvelous work was shown in the fact that one company operated a funeral parlor for fifteen years and when they sold out they did not leave the old records in the business, and it was understood they were destroyed and would not be available fo rus, but by the time we were ready for them one of the other parlors turned up some common school composition books, in which a clipping file had been maintained, indexed and dated of all the funerals they did not handle, so the obituaries of these fifteen years records came to the committee, resulting in some 900 additional cards, of lost ? records. A great amount of credit is due a few members who worked hard and faithfully on a somewhat tedious job, with no thought of reward except to help others in their research problems. Zella Smurthwaite, Marion Heilner, Josephine Boyer, Dona Curts, deserve high praise for their work. Several others helped in a lesser degree. Supplements covering later records and some fill-ins will be added each year. The Baker Ward Committee will be very happy to furnish information from their files to anyone interested and if apparent errors are discovered they will gladly recheck the original records in an effort to obtain correct information. J. Parley Thomas 2516 Valley Ave. Baker, Oregon Note: Mr. Thomas has been deceased for several years now, along with those 4 named ladies.
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