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Finding Names

After my aunt died this winter, I continued to work on the family tree on my own.  It was slow-going and frustrating.  I had filled in everything I could find on my own, and now I was just randomly Googling combinations of names with the hope of finding an obit or some synagogue announcement that would give me another of the missing ones.  There was one flimsy branch of the family tree which was barely filled in.  It bothered me.

My cousin sent me a large stack of his mother’s papers a few weeks ago, and I started to sift through them.  And there, as if I was getting to have one final conversation with her, were the names I was looking for.  I started sobbing, feeling such a huge sense of relief that I had a few more names; certain that it would be an easy search to bring me more.

Of course, that wasn’t the case.

I Googled for a few hours and then stopped, and then Googled some more the next day and stopped, growing more and more frustrated that no one was alive anymore that would know this information.  I kept walking away and returning to pick at the tree, and finally, last week, an obituary popped up, listing one of the people I was trying to find.  The man had died a few weeks ago.

There was no wife listed and no children; only his parents and sister who predeceased him.  They listed his degrees and his former position as a professor.  I found his old address online.  He lived alone in an apartment, which was probably now filled by someone else.  I read his former students’ critique of his teaching style.

I ended up calling his department at the university, where the sympathetic secretary passed me along to HR.  Yes, they knew him.  No, they couldn’t tell me anything about him.  They promised they would get someone in touch with me who could answer my questions, but no one called me back.

I waited a few days and used my last idea: I called the funeral home.

The funeral director looked through his papers and told me that the executor of the will arranged the funeral.  There were no children, and only an ex-wife that he divorced decades ago.  There were no other names he could give me because there were no other names written in the file.   He promised to pass my number to the lawyer who arranged the service.  I’m still waiting for that call too.

Each time I call one of these ridiculous places such as the university or the funeral home (do I really expect his old workplace to be able to name his cousins?), I feel this need to explain that I’m not crazy; I’m just sentimental, and I hate the idea of these people not appearing on the tree as if they never existed.  Part of me agrees when people say that I’ve done a great job; I’ve collected hundreds of names.

But all I see are those missing spots on the tree, the names I didn’t collect.

Any other ideas from people who are skilled at finding obits or marriage records?


1 a { 07.28.14 at 10:03 am }

Everything I have is from ancestry.com, and most of that is from census records. It’s been nice for me that someone has done much of the work for me, and that my family was always rather elderly and I’m only the 3rd generation born in the US. That limits my searching capabilities.

2 Persnickety { 07.29.14 at 2:01 am }

Our jackpot on names was having a semi famous relative, where lots of genealogy was done for us ( names back to the 12 th century). It also helps when it is a landowning family in an area where the estate is inherited by the nominated heir, not always just the eldest. Very careful records are kept.

On the other side, names came from various other relatives who were interested in the issue, so my Mum’s cousin, and her great uncle, did some of the work in building the information.
Ancestry does have different subscriptions for different regions, so if you know that there are relatives from a specific area, you could use that.

3 Luna { 07.29.14 at 1:53 pm }

Your post brought me to tears. In my own family where we have an odd assortment of estranged, feuding, and or ornery elderly members who could very well die alone and seem to have nobody in their lives. You are doing admirable work for future generations by putting those names down. I was wondering if he might have had neighbors you could contact or a guest book from the funeral that might give any leads? Good luck in your search!

4 Tiara { 07.30.14 at 6:54 am }

I really wish I knew how to help. I love the show “Who do you think you are” on TLC & fantasize being able to have that kind of access to records & the time to dedicate to the research.

My aunt (who also passed away in the winter) had gathered our family tree on her father’s side all the way back to the 1st ancestor to come to North America, a French Huguenot escaping persecution in France. Interesting stuff but she never got the time to research her mother’s side & that could have been equally interesting, including a grandfather who was the warden at the Kingston Penn here in Ontarion & a grandmother that was born there! At the Penn! I just don’t know how to go about doing the research.

It’s all very important to me since I only have knowledge of 1/2 of Elena’s ancestory, I’d really like to provide her as much as I can.

5 Battynurse { 08.09.14 at 11:53 am }

No ideas although I understand. I’ve been digging so much lately for more on a name too. While I have so much more than I did there is still so much unknown.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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