PLUNK GENEALOGY -- see "Family" label on this blog and/or write Mike at

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Indiana Plunk: The Search for History

Mike started looking into his family’s genealogy when he was about 30 years old. It wasn’t an online research project at that time. He went to libraries and looked at obituaries in old newspapers. He went to courthouses to study old documents. On occasion, he even sat in “viewing” rooms where he had to keep his hands on top of the table and was presented fragile, ancestor’s wills and last possessions. Mike traveled down old country roads and sought out cemeteries. Far different from what he does now from his laptop.

One afternoon while on one of his searches down a backcountry road, Mike pulled up at a weatherworn house where a woman in a long, cotton dress was sweeping the porch. He got out of the car, and she sized him up pretty quickly. City dude. Slightly hippie looking. City car. She put down the broom, went into the house, then re-opened the door letting out a pack of dogs that headed straight for Mike who quickly decided to get back into the car. He was several miles down the road before it dawned on him to wonder why the pack of dogs was inside the house instead of in the yard.

It was around that time, that an anonymous call was made to Mike’s home. The male voice on the other end left a message, more precisely a warning. Mike was advised to back off from what he was doing. “He doesn’t know what he’s stirring up,” said the caller. Genealogy was looking a lot more like an Indiana Jones thriller.

In that period, Mike also learned about two segments of his family: the River Plunks and the Running Plunks. River Plunks lived around the Tennessee River and seemed to be a rough bunch. (See the movie “Walking Tall.”) Mike’s predecessors didn’t live close to the river so, by default, they were among the Running Plunks. The origin of that label remains a mystery, but we’d guess that it was a River Plunk who placed the threatening telephone call.

Most recently, Mike found a way to order old family death certificates. They not only provide valuable information about who’s related to who, but also gritty details about the causes and methods of death.

Some were sad like the 20-year-old woman who died some weeks after giving birth and was followed three months later by the demise of her infant. Her time in the family was so brief that Mike had never before seen her name. A 14-year-old boy died of a skull fracture and broken neck when he was thrown by his runaway mule. Another ancestor was hit by a train. A father and son both died in the same hospital for the mentally ill.

One Plunk died as a result of a duel – in 1916. Who knew men were still dueling at that late date! There was a death account that caused Mike’s son to raise an eyebrow. The death certificate stated that a woman came home at mid-afternoon and found her husband dead. The report said that he’d shot himself between the eyes with a .22 rifle. James asked, “How did they know she didn’t do it?” No witnesses; no questions.

And one rowdy fellow met his end in a 1949 brawl causing the death certificate to list as cause of death both blunt force trauma to the head and a gunshot wound to the neck. I suppose the coroner couldn’t make up his mind.

He must have been a River Plunk.

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