Ways I’m Genealogically Lucky

Ways I’m Genealogically Lucky

My biggest genealogical frustration is the gap in records about my great-grandfather’s family from 1918 to 1924. Where were they? Not in the 1920 census, unfortunately for me.But I did luck out, research-wise, in a number of ways. Maybe counting these blessings will bring on good genealogical karma:Ninety-eight percent...

My biggest genealogical frustration is the gap in records about my great-grandfather’s family from 1918 to 1924. Where were they? Not in the 1920 census, unfortunately for me.

But I did luck out, research-wise, in a number of ways. Maybe counting these blessings will bring on good genealogical karma:

  • Ninety-eight percent of the deaths listed in the Social Security Death Index occurred after 1962, the year the index was computerized. By all rights, my great-grandfather, who died in 1949, shouldn’t be included. Yet he is!

    Once I had his SSN, I sent off a request for his SS-5 (the SSN application) and learned his parents’ names and where he lived and worked at the time.

  • The only WWII draft registration cards available for research are from the Fourth Registration or “Old Man’s Draft” of men who were 45 to 64 years old on April 27, 1942. (Privacy laws have closed registrations of younger men.) Eight states’ cards have been destroyed, and online databases (a free browseable one on FamilySearch and a searchable one on fee-based Ancestry.com) aren’t complete. Lucky for me, I found Great-grandpa’s card.
  • My dad has a copy of his dad’s resume and a job application from the 1940s. In neat, square writing, my grandfather detailed his employment background. His answer to the criminal offense question tells of a fine he paid after a fender bender with a streetcar. “I was not intoxicated and I don’t drink,” he stated emphatically.
  • My mom’s sister was way into genealogy, and before she passed away five years ago, she gave me copies of her microfilm printouts and family group sheets. The family’s home burned down not long after she died; I feel fortunate to have her papers.
  • Once I found my great-grandfather’s obituary in the Cleveland Necrology File, I was able to track down the right funeral home and send an e-mail. Someone faxed his funeral record within days. With today’s privacy hyper-concerns—and the fact I’m not planning to be a customer of the home anytime soon—the response was unexpected.

Of course, I’m very lucky and very glad that it’s part of my job to keep learning about genealogy and stay up on new resources. Click Comments below to share your genealogical blessings.

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  1. Great post Diane! We genealogists often spend too much time lamenting over the loss or absence of records rather than considering ourselves lucky for all the lucky genealogical successes. My biggest bit of luck came from an unknown employee of the New York State Department of Health!

    My great-grandmother was adopted immediately or soon after her birth in 1889, and although I knew the date and place of birth, I was uncertain as to her birth name or the name of her parents. I sent away for a birth certificate from the NY DoH with all the information I had. The searcher was able to find and retrieve the correct birth certificate based only on the place and date of birth – although there was a name listed for the mother, there was NO name listed for the child at all! Although there was certainly only 1 record for that date at that place, I consider myself very lucky that the DoH employee took the time to find this certificate and send it to me based only on the chance that it was the right one; they could have sent back my application and told me that there was no record of the name I sent to them!

  2. My lucky streak seems to circle around one fabulous fact: my family is from Pittsburgh, PA and the surrounding towns of Western Pennsylvania. They have lived here for 250+ years. And I live here now. I can drive to one of the many Revolutionary era cemeteries in a half hour. I can go into the city for birth, marriage, death, deed, etc. records very easily. I know the library backwards and forwards. The steel mills, the coal mines, the railroads, the rivers. They are Pittsburgh’s history and they are my family’s history. I am able to learn more and more about my family because I know Pittsburgh so well and I am able to learn more and more about my home city along the way.
    The best example of this is a brick wall on my father’s father’s side. 4th great grandfather appears in the 1880 census and the 1910 census but nowhere in between. 1890 is a loss but 1900 should have had him. I searched and searched by name and finally searched by location. I knew his address and was somewhat familiar with the wards of Pittsburgh in the early 1900. Page after page following 2nd Avenue out of town until there he was. His name was spelled wrong, but there he was. And next door were more with his last name. I hope this will help me sort through his immigration brick wall, but the 1900 census brick wall is gone!

  3. I don’t know a lick of German, so on a trip to the Family History Library a few years ago, I expected to struggle through films of handwritten parish records to locate my Bavarian great-grandparents.

    Lucky for me, I discovered that some years ago, the local record keepers had helpfully transferred all genealogical details from the area’s parish records onto standardized family group sheets–allowing me to trace the lineage back another 120 years in a single afternoon.

  4. I’m lucky because 2 descendants of old New England families (Barber &amp; Spencer) met and married in Champaign Co., OH. I quickly discovered that old New England families are really well documented!

  5. I feel fortunate to be connected with a large number of researchers who are interested in the same family line as me. Through this network, which includes a number of people who religiously share information, I was able to get ahold of an 1841 newspaper article that described an Indian attack on the homestead of one of my ancestors. Prior to this newspaper article, all I had was secondhand information that it had occurred. The newspaper article brought a new level of truth to the infamous incident.

  6. Many years ago, while living in Tamworth, NSW, Australia, I started speaking to the man researching next to me. We were both researching our ancestors from Tasmania, Australia. We exchanged the names we were researching. He asked me if my Seabrook was a builder. His wife’s ggg grandfather had been apprenticed to mine and he actually had a copy of the apprenticeship papers at his house. My Henry William Seabrook’s signature was in the document. I later used this signature as part of the front cover of my book.