The Stump Search

Dan Moyes

We once searched for a Stump and stumbled across a young woman named Shelly in the process.

Photo by Jesse Ballantyne on Unsplash

Stories should have a beginning, middle, and end. Here is the beginning:

Gene Stump was a cousin to my wife, Glenda. In the early 1960s, they had been occasional playmates. Together they roamed the summer fields, ditch-banks, and barns of their grandfather’s farm in Idaho’s Magic Valley. During that period of budding youth, when given the chance, Gene had taken advantage of Glenda, his younger “kissing cousin.” Circumstances never allowed this to progress very far beyond a kiss — maybe the stray hand under a blouse for a few moments? She didn’t object at the time and now says she was, in fact, flattered. Gene was the first boy to show her any interest and he always soon accompanied his parents back to their Nevada home.

A few short years later in 1966 or 1967, Glenda traveled with her father South on Highway 93 into Nevada for Gene’s wedding to a pretty young dark-haired woman named Ruth Ann. While Glenda remembers the trip, and remembers that Gene tried to kiss her at the reception, she is unsure of the exact date.

A few months before our scheduled wedding in the summer of 1968, Glenda told me that Gene and Ruth Ann had shown up in our home town of Twin Falls looking to settle there. They were driving a bold and loud bright-red V-8 powered Dodge Polara convertible.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw them, rolling up in their red hot-rod to my workplace at the Gulf service station out near the edge of town. I hadn’t often seen such a site in our quiet community. Did I say quiet? I actually heard them before I saw them. The booming radio playing an Iron Butterfly hit was loud enough to be heard for several blocks, even over the powerful throbbing of the nearly un-muffled 383 cubic-inch V-8.

Squealing up to a stop at the closest row of gas pumps, Gene hauled his 250 pounds of poorly toned and untanned flesh out of the driver’s side of the car, brushing back his long, thin, oily blond hair. He was dressed in a white t-shirt and blue jeans which hung too low for the time — white high-top sneakers without any visible socks, an unfiltered cigarette dangling from his lips. A strange, cloying smell seemed to hang about his presence as if his clothing had absorbed smoke from something sweet burning. His flushed pink face was scarred with past and current acne

“Fill ‘er up with high-test!” he commanded.

“Sure,” I replied. “Do you need anything else?”

“Yeah. ‘Ya might as well clean the glass.”

Through the bug-splattered windshield, as I scrubbed and polished, Ruth was an unavoidable site. Huge pink sunglasses over too much makeup and big 70’s hair ahead of its time. She wore only a bright-pink elastic tube top with small white polka dots. This garment, about two sizes too small to properly contain her, was combined with a pair of extremely short-cut white hot-pants which, like her hairstyle, was at least two years ahead of its time in our neck of the woods. Unlike Gene, Ruth was well-tanned with no visible white tan lines. Open-mouthed, she chewed a big wad of pink bubble gum as I scrubbed. Was it just my imagination, or did she wink at me? Hard to tell, with her behind those big sunglasses.

Grinding his cigarette butt (which I’d have to clean up later) onto the concrete apron, Gene said, “Glenda tells me that you’re her fiancé, Danny.”

Danny is not my name. My birth certificate says ‘Dan.’ Not Danny, not Daniel. Dan. My blue filling-station shirt said, “DAN,” in white embroidered script just opposite the orange-blue-and-white Gulf logo. Glenda knows I don’t like that particular diminutive and she wouldn’t have given Gene my name as Danny. But, with a weary sigh, I said, “Yep, that’s me.”

“Well, glad to meet ‘ya. I’m Glenda’s cousin Gene and the decoration there in the front seat is my wife, Ruth Ann. We’re lookin’ for a place to live around here and plan to stay, so we’ll be gettin’ to know ‘ya better.”

The windshield was as clean as it was going to get and I’d seen nearly all of Ruth, or at least all I cared to see, so I moved to the rear of the car and topped off the tank. Tightening the cap and hanging up the hose, I said, “Well, I don’t know of any place available right now, but from time-to-time, I see a ‘For Sale’ or ‘For Rent’ sign around town. You might want to check the classifieds in the Times-News. That’ll be $5.85. Do you need a receipt?”

“Nah, don’t need any paper,” Gene said, reaching for his back pocket. “Oh, crap! I’ve forgotten my wallet!” Jumping into the driver’s seat and firing up the engine, he said, “Put this on a tab for me and I’ll pay you next time.”

With another brief squeal of tires, away they went. I didn’t often question Glenda’s judgment, but these two just didn’t strike me as the “settling” kind. We didn’t do personal credit at the Gulf station — after all, credit cards were the new, hot trend — so I slipped six dollars from my wallet into the till and pocketed fifteen cents in change.

Gene and Ruth soon leased a big old house on 5th Avenue. They quickly filled it with fun, new items: A big color TV that could get all three channels and a pumping stereo, lots of nice furniture, shiny appliances, and plush rugs. Delivery vans made near-daily stops at the big house. Fresh out of high school and my parents’ home and needing a place to stay, I rented a room from them in that house. They generously knocked $5.85 off my first month’s rent, which I paid in advance.

The house wasn’t designed as a rental and I had to go through the utility back porch and the kitchen to get to my room. Neither Gene nor Ruth Ann were good housekeepers, preferring to spend their time smoking pot or sipping suds. We were plenty familiar with beer in Twin Falls, usually Lucky Lager or Olympia, but the idea of using drugs for recreational use was new to me. I’d heard of such, but it seemed it was usually those far-away, crazy Californians that did such things. Laundry and dishes didn’t get done; trash didn’t get emptied; nothing got put away. They had a big white long-haired dog they called ‘Squatch’ that left his loose hair, drool, and his waste products everywhere — where they stayed. Southern Idaho gets hot in the summer and the smell was not pleasant in this old home without air conditioning. I had to be careful where I stepped and always found it a relief to get into my neat and tidy room after navigating the sloppy obstacle course. Despite their differences, Glenda was happy to have her cousin and his bride in our lives though she made sure not to be left alone with him. She even invited them to participate in our wedding party. We spent a few evenings hanging out with them, discussing details of our upcoming wedding among other things. Gene and Ruth Ann shared stories of being newlyweds. Some of those stories were quite bawdy.

It should have occurred to me to wonder how Gene and Ruth Ann even managed, as neither one seemed to have a job or even a schedule. My parents, married for decades and both fully employed, didn’t spend money like Gene and Ruth Ann did. In fact, I don’t think I knew anyone who did! I was working double shifts to save money for the upcoming nuptials and to start our own home and didn’t see the couple very often.

I came home from work one hot summer day to find both front and back doors of the house standing open, the red convertible hooked to a large, heavily-loaded rental trailer, tongue near to dragging the ground. Squatch sat drooling in the back seat, Ruth Ann belted in the front passenger bucket seat. I asked, “What’s up?”

Shaking his head, Gene said, “We gotta go. Now!” Tossing me a key ring, he shouted over the roar of the engine, “Give these to the landlord.” Off they went. I felt dismayed for several reasons, not the least of which was my thought, “Where am I going to live, now?” My first full month of paid-up rent hadn’t even passed. I didn’t want to pay for the entire house and my name wasn’t on the lease, anyway.

Besides, Ruth Ann was to have been a bridesmaid and Gene a groomsman at our planned August wedding less than a month away. How could they just leave? Gone was the big-screen TV and the stereo along with the refrigerator-freezer and the washer and dryer — no doubt in that orange-and-silver trailer. Other furnishings were left helter-skelter in the house and in the yard.

Less than an hour later a sheriff’s deputy came by asking if I knew where they were. I didn’t — they never said where they were going. It seems their lifestyle was destined to be short-term, financed as it was by fraudulent credit accounts and kited checks city-wide. It must have been easier to disappear across state lines then, before the Internet and modern police tools. I never saw Gene or Ruth Ann again, and neither did Gene’s cousin, my then fiancé, Glenda. They left the house looking, then, much as it does now:

Image: Google Earth 2019

We had to recruit other friends to fill out our wedding party.

Now we fast-forward to the middle of the story:

By May of 2006, Glenda and I had been married for nearly 38 years. One evening, while relaxing in our San Antonio home, Glenda asked if I thought we could find Gene. She hadn’t seen or heard anything about him since that summer day in 1968. I’ve never been able to tell Glenda no, which may be one reason we’ve managed to stay married so long, so I started searching to see what I could find.

We were able to learn from asking other family members and from their records that Gene (Eugene Earl Stump) was born the son of Bonniejean Rose Stump (nee Kunkle) in Nevada in 1946 or 1947, and was married to Ruth Ann in Nevada in about 1966.

With this basic information, I began searching that relatively new device, the World Wide Web. I started with a Yahoo and Google search by name. I tried every other free search method I could find. Nothing. I tried over and over as time allowed over a few weeks. I did learn from my reading and searching that search experts do not recommend paying for any search information over the internet, except when you have to pay for an official government document such as a birth, marriage, or death certificate. So, I didn’t use any pay sites.

I used every search criteria I could think of. I looked for Gene and his parents, and a “Ruth Ann” that was married in Nevada. Still, I found nothing but yet wasn’t ready to give up.

One day while on Ancestry.com (to which I had a brand-new membership), I came across the “Long Lost Family Member” bulletin board at http://www.yourfamily.com/lost_family.html, a service I had been unaware of. This service allows you to “…search for lost relatives and missing people by name or keyword and check to see if someone is looking for you by posting a query.”

So I did that — after all, I had exhausted other resources available to me on the Internet. After my posting there, I set the search aside, still leaving several search scripts, or “bots” active.

On May 31st of that same year, after my birthday celebration, I was relaxing by surfing the web. And there it was: A reply to my query. Someone else was also looking for a Eugene Stump and had left me a message on the bulletin board. I responded with my name and email and asked them to contact me.

Later that day I got an email from a young lady from Sacramento, California. Her name was Shelly Thomas (name changed as she is a living person) and she, too, was trying to find a man named Eugene Stump. She gave me her phone number in her email, so at a convenient time, I called, introduced myself, and we discussed our searches.

Shelly had been adopted and renamed at that time but knew that her biological father’s name was Eugene Stump; that he had been born in Nevada; and that her mother’s name was Ruth Ann. Bingo — we must be looking for the same Eugene Stump. We continued to compare notes. Shelly said that her biological parents had divorced in 1980 or so, but had a trial reunion in 1985. The reunion ultimately didn’t take, but during the blissful honeymoon phase of the reunion, Ruth Ann became pregnant with Shelly, giving her up for adoption at birth in 1986. Shelly was adopted by a good family in Sacramento and had a happy life but was curious about her family history. She wanted to know about any genetic problems her future children may have. I told her a bit about Gene as a teen; the cousin-crush between him and Glenda (without any salacious details); Glenda’s attendance at the wedding of Gene and Ruth Ann in Nevada in 1966 or 1967; and our brief acquaintance with them in Twin Falls, Idaho in the summer of 1968. I didn’t comment on their lifestyle and sudden departure. I promised Shelly that I’d dig up some details on Gene’s genealogy and family history if I could, which would be hers, too, and pass that on to her by email.

Over the next few days, using my new Ancestry.com account and the predecessor to the current FamilySearch.org websites I more fully researched Gene’s (and Shelly’s) family tree. With this new resource, I was now able to find quite a lot — including information on her grandmother and her ancestry line back several generations. Prominent names from the history of Texas, Utah, and Nevada figured in the ancestry, such as Willis, Sevey, Kinnard, Dodge, and Fielding. I was still unable to locate any contemporaneous information about Gene.

One rich find was an electronic copy of a 280-page book titled, The Genealogy of the Descendants of GEORGE WASHINGTON SEVEY published in 1965. This book included the biography of G. W. Sevey himself. Old George, born in New York, lived from 1832 to 1902 and was buried in Colonia Juarez, Mexico. He was a truly wild and wooly western character known as a financier, organizer, and colonizer. At more than one point in his life, he uprooted his wives(!!) and family moving hundreds of miles to avoid prosecution for lawbreaking. It looked like Gene came by his slippery ways honestly.

After much work, I was pleased to be able to provide Shelly a chart of her family tree of her grandmother’s line and an electronic copy of the book, as G.W. Sevey would be her Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather.

Now, in keeping with tradition, the end of the story:

About a week after my telephone conversation with Shelly a message popped up on my PC when I logged on — a search bot had found a hit on a Eugene Stump, born in Nevada in 1946. I clicked on the link and was taken by surprise to an obituary. Gene had passed of a heart attack in Sacramento on May 31, 2006. The very same day Shelly and I first spoke. In the same town she lived in. As they do, the obituary gave a few brief details of his life. Shelly was not mentioned, but his earlier marriage to Ruth Ann in Nevada in 1966 was mentioned.

It was difficult, but I dialed Shelly and gave her this news and later sent her a copy of the obituary. So very close. So very far away. We never did locate Ruth Ann, but Shelly now knew more about her father than his name, and she had information about her father’s family for several generations back, including the story of one old lion. I was so sorry to tell her of Gene’s death but glad we could provide a link to her story. We still stay in touch through Facebook. Shelly has since moved to Texas and married in Austin in April of 2019. While we may not all live happily ever after, life does go on.

In addition to a beginning, a middle, and an end, stories traditionally have often had a moral. The moral of my story is simply this: Don’t give up; don’t let yourself be stumped in your searching. We may not be in control of what happens, but we can influence the impact of those happenings. Because Shelly encouraged me I didn’t drop my search and was rewarded with her gratitude for the things found.

End notes:

Some of the tools I did use during my online searching include:

http://itools.com/search/web-search

https://www.facebook.com/ (brand new in 2006)

https://www.myspace.com (very popular but being overtaken by middle-school mentalities — which may be preferable to what’s happened with FB since 2006)

https://www.zabasearch.com/ (also quite new in 2006)

The Social Security death index through Ancestry.com https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/ssdi/

Public record searches as may be found at www.VitalRec.com

Additional information regarding the story of G.W. Sevey:

The 280-page book titled, The Genealogy of the Descendants of GEORGE WASHINGTON SEVEY was published in 1965. I have no information about when it was digitized or who did that work. This book included nearly 20 pages of the biography of George Washington Sevey. Old George, born in New York, lived from 1832 to 1902. He was a truly wild and wooly western character known as a financier, organizer, and colonizer. He meant to take part in the Gold Rush of 1849 but, sick and left behind by his company, ran out of money and had to take a job in Salt Lake City, UT. There he converted to the Mormon faith and eventually took three wives into his household after settling down to build a town now known as Panguitch, Utah (where Glenda’s grandmother would later be born). He later moved to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to avoid prosecution for polygamy. He was well-known in and about El Paso, Texas, where he traveled near daily to conduct business by way of telegram and U.S. Mail. Later he moved to Colonia Juarez, Mexico, and settled near the Romney family, with whom he was well acquainted. After his death, he was buried in Colonia Juarez.

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