Saturday, February 7, 2015

Working On a Family Puzzle

"Puzzle Pieces 2" by By Patafisik, via Wikimedia Commons

It was one of those events common in families.  A gathering following the death of a dear family member.  The shared remembrances of that special individual.  And questions about where certain people who were not present might be.

Recently the death of a cousin provided me a chance to use some of my genealogy research skills to help the family locate some of the missing relatives.  It turned out to be an interesting experience.  It was an opportunity to show that we can search for the living as well as the dead using similar techniques and even similar resources.

Step 1:  Begin with what you know.  Just as with researching an ancestor, I started with the available information. Fortunately, some years ago a descendant chart for this branch of the family had been found at a relative's home.  Our copy of the chart provided the full names, birth dates, names of spouses, as well as names of children.  From the ancestor's family of six children, there were also 14 grandchildren and a number of GreatGrandchildren listed on the chart.  It was a lot of specific information which helped us begin the search for the other relatives.

Family members quickly determined there were four of the grandchildren who needed to be located and notified about the death in the family.  In the interest of family privacy, I'll call the four Relative A, Relative B, Relative C, and Relative D.  There were also so vague tidbits passed along concerning the four.  Things like, "I heard he died several years ago", "I think she and her family moved out west a while back", and the expected "I haven't seen her at any family gatherings in a long time".  Before long, another family member was successful in finding a current phone number for Relative C, and our list of missing people dropped to three.

Step 2:  Formulate a specific research question or focus.  For starters, we needed to obtain a current address and/or phone number for these three family members.  It was important to determine if any of them had passed away and whether or not they had any children who needed to be notified.

Step 3:  Document all of your research.  For the sake of the estate, this could mean keeping a record of all telephone calls and correspondence, keeping printouts of information found online.  It also means maintaining a record of where I searched and was unable to find any viable information about Relatives A, B, and D.  All like citing your sources in researching distant ancestors.

My research concerning Relative A started with looking for him on both and; nothing there.  Next I examined the online index of the city newspaper in the area where A had lived; again no information in the newspaper's archives.  It took googling A's name to stumble upon information.  I found a link to a website for a now closed high school.  In the "In Memoriam" section of the website, I found A's name listed among the deceased of the class of 195x.  A's name was not a common name and his birth date indicated that he probably would have graduated in the class of  '5x.  Included in the Memoriam section was a touching remembrance written by a classmate relating how he and A had kept in touch until going into the Army and ending with condolences to A's sisters (Relatives B and C).  This pointed to solid information that A had passed away.

A visit to the Veterans Administration website confirmed A's death.  Using the VA's gravesite locator , I found the entry for A which included his birth date, death of death, and grave location.  Additional information on the VA site confirmed that we had located the correct individual.  A look on provided the address of the cemetery, telephone number for the cemetery office, and even the GPS coordinates for A's grave marker.  All of this provided a good start on the information which was needed concerning A.  That left a search for A's widow to determine if there were any living children as none had been recorded on the family tree chart in our possession nor was there any mention of children on the findagrave memorial page.

In looking for Relatives B and D, in additional to checking on Ancestry and FamilySearch, I checked to see if either were active users of social media, specifically Facebook and LinkedIn.  Neither seemed to be on Facebook but there was someone with B's name on LinkedIn who lived in California.  I definitely needed more specific information.  We opted for a trial subscription to one of those many people locator websites.  Through, we located information about B by searching for her name and that of her husband.  After finding the same partial address for B and for her husband, it was worth spending a dollar to get B's complete address and telephone number.  Another partial check off the list as there was now to way to hopefully contact Relative B.

A took a little longer to find information concerning D.  Again nothing on,, Facebook, or LinkedIn.  Once again googling helped me out.  When I googled D's name + maiden name + married name, I was surprised to find an interesting link to a newspaper article.  From the newspaper article I learned that D had remarried and now had a new married name.  Again, we knew this was about our Relative D because of the town where the wedding was held and a wonderful tidbit concerning how "coffee and cake were served at the home of the bride's mother, Mrs. xxxxx".  Now there was a different name for which to search.  And now the search continues for D with her new name.

A special thanks goes to the National Genealogy Society for featuring an informative infographic Finding People on their blog UpFront With UGS.  The blog post also references other articles worth reading, all on the subject of locating living people.

As with any type of family research, it is never completed in one session.  Each bit of solid information forms another part of our reasonably exhaustive search.  Like the answer to the old riddle, you just eat that elephant one bite at a time.

Lessons Learned
  • Start with what you know, in this case names from a branch of the family tree written down some 30+ years ago.
  • Use a variety of points to establish that the information located is actually about the individual for whom you are searching - name, location, spouse, children, age.
  • Draw from a variety of resources in your research - genealogy sites such as and, social media sites, newspapers, online people locators, and just plain googling a name when all else fails.  If you draw a blank with one resource, look using another.
  • It is important to document all the places you search for information.  It is worth noting when you find nothing as well as when you find an answer to that question.
  • Take a break.  As interesting or important as a research quest may be, a rest, a break can help you approach the matter with a new perspective or new strategies to follow.

1 comment:

  1. I entirely agree with your mention of formulating a specific question you want to answer via research or a specific focus for your search. Like you, I'm starting from what was done earlier and then once I have a basic knowledge of each individual, I can do a better job of figuring out what I really, really want/need to know. So often I want to know "why" and that's something I can only guess at--but with good research, my guesses will be more educated. Thanks for sharing your ideas!