|Curry Wolfe in Murfreesboro, standing|
by the graves of some of her ancestors
In all the histories written on Judy Garland, you will read about her father, Frank Avent Gumm, but very little is found on his siblings. Frank's family consisted of his sister, Mary, older brother Robert Emmet, and two younger brothers, William Wade and Allie Richardson.
So, the search for Mary began. The census, legal records and property records showed that Mary was around during the early years of Frank's youth. Then, suddenly, she disappeared! Curry and I searched high and low for her, but to no avail. We could not find a death record, marriage record; nothing at all for that matter.
Finally, one day, it hit me. In the early days, when a parent died, their property was left to the children, the records of this included the daughter's spouse. Back to the property records I went. Now I knew why Oscar and Mary McPeak were there! Oscar was Mary's husband. But once again we were stuck. We could not find Mary! The only difference was that I knew I was looking for Oscar and Mary McPeak.
During the spring of 2006, Curry was in Salt Lake City taking a genealogy course. While she was there, she agreed to do some special searches for me. Late one afternoon she called. "I've found Mary!" she said excitedly. "There was a front page story in the Rome, Georgia newspaper." It was a tragic story. A story of a woman so ill, she drowned herself in the river. Now we knew what had happened to Mary, but the story was not over. Where had Mary been for the last 8 years?
In the meantime, I returned to Murfreesboro and connected Joy Nelson, a 2nd cousin of the Frank Gumm. Searching through her grandmother, Nannie Gum Rion's belongings - things her father had kept, she found a post card from Mary. Mary had children! Two little babies, who had been sick. At the same time, another family member shared photos with me of a family reunion that had taken place in Huntsville, Alabama, toward the end of Mary's life.
|Rare Unedited photo of Mary and|
husband Oscar McPeak around 1918
(c) Gibb Family
Over the next several years I was able to trace Mary and Oscar's travels - as detailed in my book, "From Tennessee to Oz - The Amazing Saga of Judy Garland's Family History." Mary had traveled from Tullahoma to Michigan and back to Tennessee, to Alabama and finally to Rome, Georgia. Then, in the last hours before finishing my book new papers arrived detailing Mary's husband, Oscar's time in prison. More shock and tragedy.
Still searching for the children, I checked baptismal records, birth records, death records and cemetery records, but I could not find any record of them. It almost seemed as if they had never existed, but that post card was real. Are they buried in Murfreesboro in an unmarked grave? What happened to them? Perhaps someday the truth will come out.
Judy never met her aunt Mary. Mary died in 1919 - although from suicide, all the symptoms found mentioned in the local paper point to cancer. The medical records probably no longer exist Judy's sisters, Mary Jane and Virginia, were taken by their parents to meet Aunt Mary. In fact, they stayed in Alabama at her house for a month.
One of the most painful days of my research was the day I arrived in Rome. Trembling, I did what I knew I must -- I walked in Mary's footsteps; walked her final path to the bridge crossing the river where she had thrown herself in - an act meant to end her terrible pain and to spare others that pain as well. How do you describe such a walk? Now she is buried on a hilltop, just across the way from Mrs.Woodrow Wilson. Another sad day was the day a photo arrived from another family member. The photo had been taken of Mary's grave the day she was buried. One can only imagine how heart sick her brothers were as they stood before her grave that day. Frank Gumm boarded a train and the funeral was held until he arrived.
And so, this is Mary's story. Her death was tragic, but not shameful. She grew up in a difficult home, took care of her brothers and her father who was deeply troubled. She laughed and sang and, finally, when some might consider her an old maid, she married and had two little boys. Her husband went to prison, she lost her children, and then her health. I do have a special place in my heart for Mary. I wonder if Judy ever learned the story of her aunt. If her father had lived longer, she certainly would have.