Wednesday, November 1, 2017

With Reservations and Reluctance

So many people are so excited about researching their family history through these newfangled online websites that often we forget that some come to genealogy research with reservations and reluctance.

I am working with a gentleman now who I will call "Mr. S" who is only doing his genealogical research for his daughter. She desperately wants to know more about her ethnic origin and lineage; in part because her husband has a long well-research family history that stretches back to the 12th century. With all these 30-60 minute long television shows that make this all look so quick and easy, it's challenging to impress upon people that research takes much much longer than that. Sometimes it takes years to find information about even one's own grandparents. And Mr. S's circumstances have left him little information to work with. Mr. S grew up in foster care, separated from his siblings, and apparently lied to about the details of his parents' lives.

Together he and I came across a Social Security Death Index (SSDI) record for a man who had the same name as Mr. S's birth father but the dates just did not seem correct. The date of birth was much further back that either of us expected and the date of death was nearly 20 years after the year he was told his father had committed suicide. Additionally the SSDI record indicated this man obtained his SS# in Georgia; a detail Mr. S had never heard before.

Unsettled by the record, I went home and investigated further. I was unable to find this man, who may be Mr. S's father, in a 1940 census record on Ancestry. On a whim I tried looking for him in the 1940 census using instead. Sure enough, I found a record. In 1940 this man was living in a boarding house in New York City. Upon closer examination, another man with the same last name was also living in the house, presumably his brother,  his first name was Sidney. Now Sidney is not a bizarre first name but it certainly is not common. AND Mr. S had a brother of his own named Sidney. At that point, I was pretty convinced that these men were Mr. S's father and uncle and that the SSDI record was for his father.

Further confirmation came when I looked more closely at a death record Mr. S & I found together for his older brother who died at birth in 1941. That death record taken from the NYC Municipal Death Record Index through FamilySearch stated that the child died at the same address of the boarding house.

Mr. S's father wasn't born in the 1920s as we estimated, he was born in 1907 in Georgia. And he didn't die in the 1950s, he died in 1976.

I think these are painful truths for anyone in Mr. S's situation to have to face. It's hard enough to have had a difficult childhood, to have to rehash the details of it can be incredibly painful and frustrating.

I am not certain Mr. S's daughter will appreciate how much of a success this find is given how little detail we had. Sometimes adding just 1 more generation to the tree is as much as one can get.


  1. In addition to this being a good reminder that even finding one generation can be time-consuming and difficult, this is also an excellent example of a disparity of interest in family history between generations, usually for painful reasons - the younger generation is interested in their family tree, but their parent was in foster care or adopted or abandoned and doesn't want to relive and rehash the details. I know many people who start researching in secret to keep their parent from experiencing that pain, but it also removes that parent, who might have some valuable details, from the process, making the research harder. Family history research is not fun and exciting for everybody!

    1. Amen cousin-friend. Not everybody is into this genealogy stuff and although those of us who are are often disappointed by that fact, family and the past are not something everyone wants to deal with. People should respect that.

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  3. Mr S. Story sounds like my fathers story. My father was told his father died when he was 2 yrs. old around 1916. With your help we found out he died about 1958. With your wonderful work, I found his grave in Pinelawn National Cemetery buried not far from his son (my father). This is still a big mystery and needs more investigation. We did find him on the 1940 census and a draft card. I can’t imagine how you father would have handled that news. However I’m still stunned by that and need to peruse the life of my Grandfather. Barbara G.