Saturday, June 9, 2007

Genealogical Research

As I noted a couple months ago I’ve been doing some genealogical research. It’s been fun. Beyond discovering I’m maybe, perhaps, possibly descended from Chaucer.

This past week I added an entire branch to part of the family tree. The brother of a great-great grandmother, and all his descendents. Beforehand all I knew was the name of the brother.

That’s rather exciting, and several of these new cousins live in Chicago, which isn’t too far. I see a possible reunion at a Cards-Cubs game in the future.

Somewhat sadder has been the death certificates I’ve found of great-great aunts and uncles who never made it out of childhood. A common occurrence in the first half of the twentieth century. But either having blocked it from their mind, or not wanting to pass on the painful memories, the parents and siblings never said anything to their children and grandchildren, so the names were completely lost, until uncovered in Missouri’s online archives.

I must say I am really impressed with the archives. They’re scanning in every death certificate from 1910-1956. (And I have the impression that in 2008 they will add 1957, etc) They have some records prior to 1910, but counties weren’t required to keep them prior to 1910, so the archives are a little spotty. Those that aren’t scanned in yet, can be ordered for $1/copy. Compare this to Illinois, where nothing is scanned in, and ordering a copy costs $10. Those copies can add up when you’re doing a lot of research.

It sounds gruesome to be ordering death certificates of your ancestors, but they contain information such as the names of parents, date of birth, and cause of death.

Another great resource has been census forms. In the US they’re available online through 1930. There’s a federal law making them private for 72 years, so 1940s won’t be released until 2012. Genea-Musings has some tips on searching the census databases, since the information was spoken from the individual to the census-taker, and then handwritten, so the indexing of names wasn’t 100% accurate where spelling is concerned. Phonetic spelling of names aren’t uncommon.

One of my most interesting discoveries, I think, is the sister-in-law of my Great-grandfather Barney. The faux-Irish great grandfather I’ve mentioned before. His brother married Sarah Nathan while they were still in England. That was the name in the British Marriage Index. I have every reason to believe that is the name she went by — so lets call it her maiden name. However, her father wasn’t named Nathan. OK, yes, her father’s name was Nathan. First name. She was “Sarah daughter of Nathan” without the “daughter of” which is really confusing for research. And this wouldn’t be all that surprising if we were talking 19th century Europe and not 20th century England. Of course, her parents were 19th century Europe. Luckily her death certificate didn’t ask for her maiden name, but asked for her father’s name. So with that information, I went to the 1901 England census, and found all her brothers and sisters. Because the English census taker, obviously, asked the father for his name, and then assigned the last name to everyone. Why wouldn’t he?

In order to get the right answer, you need to ask the right question.

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