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?