Tombstone Tuesday: Oscar Garnett Compton, A Case Study in Historical and Ancestral Research

TombstoneTuesday    Today’s Tombstone Tuesday article is a bit different since I’m presenting it as a case study.  Specifically, what search techniques can you use when you hit the so-called “brick wall”?

I was chatting with a friend before church on Sunday and talking about my efforts to start a business specializing in historical and ancestral research.  She shared a bit of what she knew about her husband’s birth father (he and his brother were adopted by an aunt and uncle).  She mentioned they knew his name (Howard Clyde Compton) and where he was buried (San Antonio, Texas) but nothing else.  My curiosity was immediate piqued!  After locating Howard’s page on Find-A-Grave and verifying that was the correct person, I was off and running on a quest to unravel a mystery.  NOTE:  Be sure and click on the images below to get a better view.

First, of course, I found out everything I could about Howard and, surprisingly, found his death certificate.  Death certificates usually contain a wealth of information about a person, including their birth date, occupation and parentage (not always, though, as you’ll see a bit later).  From his death certificate I found the names of his parents:  Oscar G. Compton and Civil Grant.  Howard was born on January 4, 1910 and died on May 31, 1973 at the age of sixty-three and was employed as a baker in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas.  Another clue to his identity and that of his parents: he and his mother Civil Grant share a grave stone:

HowardClydeComptonAndCivilGrant_GraveStoneI believe that Civil and Oscar had divorced at some point, but haven’t found any records yet.  One of the first records I located for Oscar was his obituary published in the San Antonio Express on January 25, 1932.

OscarGarnettCompton_Obit(SanAntonioExpress_25Jan1932There was no mention of Civil, leading me to conclude they were no longer married.  The obituary, however, mentions his brothers and his still-living children.  Some good information, but not quite enough because I still did not know who Oscar’s parents were.  His death certificate proved to be a “brick wall” (temporarily at least).

OscarGarnettComptonSr_DeathCert_smAccording to his obituary he had been living in McAllen, Texas and was in San Antonio, possibly visiting his children, at the time of his death.  The obituary did mention his living children:  Bonnie Louise, Howard, and Cecil Inez.  There was another child, however, whose story I need to tell before returning to the mystery of Oscar’s parentage.

I knew that there had been another child born in 1911 because I found his death certificate as well.  He was Oscar Garnett Compton, Jr. and across his death record was a startling notation: “Killed by Mexican Bandits”!

OscarGarnettComptonJr_DeathCert_smI wanted to know more, of course, so I searched for “May 5, 1916″ and found the story of a raid by some of Pancho Villa’s gang in tiny Glenn Springs, Texas in Brewster County on that day.  Although the story had mis-identified Oscar, Sr. as “C.G. Compton”, I knew I had the right persons because of the death certificate.  On that day, Oscar Garnett Compton, Jr. was murdered by the bandits.  Oscar, Sr. had apparently taken his daughter to a neighbor’s house and left his two sons alone.  Upon returning, he found Oscar, Jr. had been killed and his other son, a deaf mute, was unharmed.

I began to wonder if the deaf mute was Howard Clyde (although an article I found referred to him as “Tommy” – not sure why but perhaps some sort of a nickname?).  Let me backtrack a bit before I relate how I made the assumption that perhaps Howard Clyde was the deaf mute.  I knew the birth mother was Neta May Leavitt, and knew that, according to her obituary, she had attended the Texas School for the Deaf.  After seeing the bandit story and knowing Neta May’s background, I made the connection (and later verified that indeed Howard was deaf – he and Neta May were classmates at the deaf school).  Thus, I believe that my friend’s birth father witnessed his brother’s murder at the Glenn Springs raid.

Now, back to Oscar, Sr. and his “parent-less” death certificate.  Since that document did not yield the information I was searching for, I turned back to his obituary, and specifically the list of his siblings.  His World War I draft registration card had recorded his birth date as February 23, 1882 and a family researcher had recorded on their tree that he was born in Williamson County, Texas, so I started there.

I thought that probably at least one of the brothers listed was older than Oscar.  Sure enough, I found “R.J. Compton” listed on the 1880 census in Williamson County.  His father was G.F. Compton and his mother was listed as Atla Compton.  That helped, but what did “G.F.” stand for (hate those lazy census takers who used only initials!).  Luckily though, another record had popped up on the same page as the census record with a link to a death record for Golding Freeman Compton – bingo!

After a quick search at Find-A-Grave, I was able to locate the entries for Oscar’s parents, although on the grave stone the names are “Golden Freeman” and “Altala A.”.  I believe “Golding” was his actual first name (as it turns out, that was his father’s middle name), but was either mis-spelled on the stone or perhaps that might have been a nickname.  Following a little more research, I discovered that Oscar’s mother was named Altala Augusta Robinson (at least that’s the surname on their marriage record, although her first name was spelled “Amala” – close enough).

GoldingFreemanComptonAndAltala_Gravestone_smAnother record linked on the Find-A-Grave entries for Golding and Altala was for a son named “Lewis Freeman Compton” – the other brother listed in Oscar’s obituary: “L.F. Compton”.  I also found a copy of Golding’s death certificate and the contact was his son “R.E. Compton” – the other brother!

So, don’t ever give up even if you find a record like an obituary or death certificate that doesn’t appear to have the information you’re looking for – keep digging and take the “back way” if you have to!

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.


  1. Can you contact me. My grandmother was the young boys sister. She was born a year after his death. We are just finding out about all of this.

    • The research I was doing was for a friend whose birth father was Howard Compton. I guess you would be cousins.

  2. How does Nita May Leavitt fit in with the Compton’s? I must have missed something.

    • Nita May was Howard Compton’s wife… I believe they probably met at the deaf school in Austin (she was deaf as well). Nita May is my friend’s birth mother. He was adopted by his aunt (Nita’s sister) and her husband and raised in Clayton, NM.

      • That was amazingly quick! Thank you so much for the response. I am related by marriage to Lewis Freeman Compton and am working on this line. Some of them have been a bit elusive. Interesting study though. I love puzzles!

        • I’ve been working on the Compton line of late — Lewis Freeman Compton’s great grandfather would qualify a descendant to join Sons or Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Quite the entrepreneur and his father was named Lewis too.

          • Definitely some interesting stories in this line. A descendant could also join Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution also through James Compton (1756 – 1811). I particularly like the stories of Abraham Golding Compton & family’s trials and tribulations with the Northern troops during reconstruction after the civil war and the burning of Brenham. Are you an ancestry member? Would love to see your work on this family.

          • Yes I’m on Ancestry and this tree is labeled “BoydMiller”. I work in Family Tree Maker and I’m not sure all the notes transfer over when I sync the tree. AG Compton wasn’t around for the reconstruction. I have evidence he may have lost his shirt in the Civil War and maybe went back to New Jersey to borrow money from his father (just my theory/speculation). Within a short time after a news piece appeared saying he had lost it all there was a death notice in some Eastern newspapers. He died of consumption I think. Anyway, he left his widow back in Texas and I suppose she dealt with the war aftermath with her children. AG was quite the entrepreneur — sold just about everything — land, household goods . . . and slaves. I found many articles and other historical documents about him. I have access to three subscription newspaper sites, but a lot of it came from Portal to Texas History which is free. Just type “A.G. Compton” in the search box (search everything and be sure to put in quotes). If you’ve never used this site for Texas ancestry it can be a gold mine of information.

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