Genealogist completes book

Friday, January 2, 2004
Joyce Whitten of Black Oak completes her first volume of Monette newspaper obits and death notices, dating back to the 1920. (Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)

Joyce Hambleton Whitten of Black Oak has completed another one of her major historical gleanings in a book titled "Monette Arkansas Newspaper Obituaries and Death Notices, 1920-1927."

Whitten is a noted genealogist and collector of historic data and information. She finds early Buffalo Island newspapers especially intriguing. She has spent countless hours researching and transcribing the death notices, compiled in her book, in hopes they will help people trying to make a connection to family members having lived in the area. Her book contains formal obituaries, death notices, funerals attended, thank you notes for condolences, murders and suicides.

Whitten obtained her information from microfilmed copies of The Monette Sun-Times and Lake City Times found in the Craighead County and Jonesboro Public Library. To date, there appears to be no surviving issues of these papers from 1928-1929.

The Monette newspaper was established in 1909, and an all-out effort has been made to secure copies and take them to Little Rock for microfilming. Pages of the fragile newspapers were seldom numbered, filmed in reverse order, and not always in chronological order, and sometimes a dated page was inserted between those of another dated issue. In other words, it takes time to locate an obituary on the film.

Not only has Whitten collected obituaries from old newspapers, but she has also personally photographed tombstones in the Eastern District of Craighead County (over 3,000 digital photos) and listed them by cemetery and surname, for easy access. She is well known for her thoroughness, resourcefulness, and processing techniques, when it comes to names and dates. She has worked out a method of filing that allows her to take a surname and cross reference it between cemetery census, tombstones and names gleaned from the printed word.

"I have made every attempt possible to verify dates against existing tombstones," Whitten said. "When the burial site is noted in the item, the cemetery transcriptions have been checked whenever possible. Regardless of whether a marker is found or not, it is so noted following the item, printed in brackets, using italic print. Occasionally from personal knowledge of the area, I have checked the closest cemetery records. For instance, a person who died at Lake City might be buried in that cemetery or depending on the time of year, due to ground water, he or she may have been buried at the Bowman Cemetery. Persons who died at Caraway, which was not established until about 1928, were most likely buried at the Mangrum or Black Oak cemeteries."

Whitten has a surviving page from an old newspaper, which included an obituary for Etta Lenora Glump Safley, which she believes must have been published between June 13 and 15, 1911. The obituary, believed to be the oldest existing obituary found from the Monette newspaper, is included in Whitten's book in honor of Willie Mae Safley Whitten, her mother-in-law.

Mrs. Whitten and her husband James live just east of Black Oak, next door to his mother, Willie Mae Whitten. The Whittens are both interested in history and often team up to do local research.

"My love for Buffalo Island people started 26 years ago in Michigan, when I met James," Whitten said. "James told me so many interesting stories about the people of Buffalo Island that I found completely intriguing. The stories came to life when we moved here. I am still fascinated by the stories.

"I started my book in 2001, before my mother died, and had a hard time getting back into it again."

"Each obituary has a story in itself. Some of the older obituaries are so flowery, and expound in great detail, about the person that had passed away. There is more there than just facts and dates. There is often great detail."

Whitten is busy compiling a second volume of obituaries and death notices.

"There are always a lot of holes in the research," Whitten said. "So many newspapers are missing, with 1920-1935 having only scattered issues. I have three years done, so far. I have indexed 1962-1968 obituaries also."

Whitten has been a genealogist and historian for over 32 years but quickly admits to having always loved old things, of all varieties. She is an avid collector of many things, such as Santas, dolls, bears, elephants, and historic family memorabilia. She has four Christmas trees up in her house, with one especially for her husband, decorated with John Deere tractors, lights and miniatures.

To say Whitten collects Santas is an understatement, as she has them on display in every room of her house at Christmas. The Santa total is 1,048 now, thanks to a recent shipment from her cousin in Wyoming. Whiten opens her home during the Christmas season to visitors, who call in advance wanting to see her vast Santa collection.

Whitten is a very interesting person to know, as she has a keen mind and quick wit, and is well known for her restoration projects and documentation. She probably knows more about people on Buffalo Island than most people who have lived there all their lives. It just goes to prove that knowledge of a subject does not always come from being physically around it for a given length of time, but rather the quality of time spent interacting thereon. Whitten has indeed chosen to spend quality time around Buffalo Island, getting to know the people and their ancestors. She reads everything published about the area, in depth, cross-references it, analyses it, and ponders over it, hoping to catch a glimmer of history that has been overlooked, as she sheds light on an interesting subject or person.

For more information about Joyce Whitten or her book, she can be contacted at or 870-486-2234.

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