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A Genealogical Story: Part 2

It's 2002. I have a piece of paper with a limited family tree on it and a 3x5 card with a name. It's a woman's name, but it isn't: it's Mrs. husband's name. I got precisely nowhere quite quickly.

By the end of 2003, I'd moved across country. In 2004 I went back to the Netherlands to visit family again, this time with my fiance. In 2005 I moved back to Seattle and had a son. In 2006 we moved back to the east coast. In 2008 I had a daughter. In 2009, I got a death announcement for my father's cousin's husband the same month I moved to Massachusetts. Also during this time, I signed up ancestry.com and took a few whacks at the problem from the known-dead side: my great uncle. I found his naturalization paperwork, and it mentioned a daughter, which gave me three names for the girl who would become Mrs. husband's name. Unfortunately, not only did her father decide my grandfather should be Sam and he should be Harry, he decided their last name should be Smith. While I absolutely sympathize and wholeheartedly endorse the decision as a person, as an amateur genealogist it makes me want to cry. Fortunately, the daughter had married a man with a highly unusual surname, and one with an easily identifiable identity: Jewish.

I spent January of 2011 sick with a series of colds. I had a very short attention span, a laptop, and ancestry.com to help me out when I got sick of facebook games. I went after my other known-Dutch heritage (the Poldervaarts of the reunion), because I had great documentation and I was going in the right direction (backwards). After some random googling and finding other people's stambooms with relevant names in them, I quickly stumbled upon genlias.com, which is the national collection of civil registries in the Netherlands. That got me back to the early 1800s. Eventually, I realized that the local registries sometimes have more information than genlias has, and worked on Tresoar for a while, getting me even further back.

This was a very mechanical process: enter name. Pick the right one (usually pretty obvious). Look at the record. If it is a marriage record, add the spouse, add approximate birth dates, add parents for both spouses. Enter both names. Look for children. Add children. Lather, rinse, repeat. Look for death records. Look for birth records for the parents. Look for marriage records for the parents. Etc. I wasn't even doing anything sophisticated involving property records.

While I was in there, I figured I might as well go tracking up from my grandfather and his siblings (and across and down, as well, where I could find marriages and birth records -- records for living people don't seem to be accessible online in genlias).

It occurred to me, looking at all those marriage records, that I might be able to answer some long-standing questions about my maternal grandmother's ancestry (known non-Dutch -- the only one of four) if I could find her marriage record. I was reasonably certain she married in Manitoba, and when I discovered their marriage records were online (at least sufficiently old ones), I typed in her name and her husband's name and was utterly stunned to not only find the record, but to discover Canadian marriage records had parents' fields and they were all filled in. Once I had the information in my tree, it showed me someone else's tree that had a similar group of people. An exchange of messages later, and I knew I had the right people. Between his (and his wife's) work (his wife is a distant relative on that side), and other trees on ancestry.com, I kept tracing lines back until I got to pre-Revolutionary War Kentucky and decided to do something else for a while.

With so many surprising successes, I decided to take another shot at Mrs. husband's name. I revisited that naturalization record. I tried to find the (now lost) paperwork (it'll turn up). No luck, but my memory is good enough to remember _that_ name. After all, husband's first name was the same as her father's and that last name was memorable. I got a social security death record for Mr. and Mrs. husband fairly quickly. Next up: what happened to my great-aunt? In the course of searching for her (and great-uncle's) marriage license on the Washington State digital archives website, I stumbled across Mrs. and Mrs. husband's marriage license.

The marriage records have scanned copies of the license which inconsistently have ages of parties and consistently have witness signatures. Mr. husband and one of the witnesses shared that unusual last name, which sent me back to the 1930 census record. That column that looked like "Turkey" was now quite clearly "Turkey" and I was deeply suspicious of Mom ("Molly") and Dad ("Sam"). I started thinking maybe what my great-uncle and grandfather did was awful common.

But now what? I had probably topped out on Mr. husband. I was totally failing on my great-aunt: no name, no death record, no marriage license, no birth record, no nothing. The goal, of course, had changed. With Mrs. husband deceased, I needed to find kids, and I wasn't going to find birth records for living people online.

Back to googling, where the brothers first names and that unusual last name found me a Sephardic congregation in the right metropolitan area with a list of members who served in various wars. How encouraging! Then, in a bizarre twist, I found headstones for everyone (including "Molly" who, as suspected, wasn't born "Molly" and "Sam", ditto) which got me birth dates and death dates and reassured me that this name _really_ was as unusual as I thought it was. I dutifully transcribed the information into ancestry.com without giving a lot of thought to the location of the headstones. Then I thought, jeez, what if they're in totally the wrong place? Up I go in the website to try to find an address. Which I did.

For the first 23 years of my life, I lived in a house on the corner of a cul-de-sac and a busier street. On the other side of that busier street was a Jewish cemetery (that regular readers of this blog know my father made dumb jokes about "they're dying to get in there", "they make great neighbors because they are quiet"). I walked around in that cemetery. Mostly, it was the big thing that I had to go around (it was fenced) to get to my best friend's house. But since I was about five, "Sam" was buried there. "Molly" joined him, and, after I graduated from high school, so did my father's cousin's husband. After I moved out, that witness on the marriage certificated was buried there, too.

On the day that I was pole-axed to discover these relatives were buried across the street from where I grew up, I had woken up thinking I had a good explanation for doing a messy, sprawling, family tree with no discipline, that just went wherever it took me: who knows who might be living down the street from you, a relative not even very distant, if you don't do a big enough tree to find them all?

My first thought was that I really should contact the Sephardic congregation; they could clearly put me in contact with relatives, especially since my father's cousin's husband's headstone said "beloved husband and father", which suggested there really were children out there to find. Much later, however, I asked the question I should have asked much sooner.

What institution documented our lives during the mid 20th century? The newspaper.

I signed up for the Seattle Times archives ($26.95 for one month of access, up to 100 articles). I found an obituary for my father's cousin's husband, listing the survivors which confirmed I had the right woman and got me names of three children and the existence of four grandchildren. Further searching found me spouses for some of the children, and birth dates on two of the grandchildren and occupations for a couple of the children.

At that point, I resorted to facebook. Because who wouldn't? And there they were: the names I had and a few more besides that looked like the grandchildren of the woman I had started out in search of and perhaps some spouses. They interconnected through each other's friends pages. So I sent one of them a message.

And she replied. She is indeed the daughter of the woman I went in search of, and she is curious about her Dutch heritage. I picked the daughter, rather than a son or grandchild. Her name is her mother's, reversed. I figured such a woman would surely be the guardian of any saved papers and her brief message confirmed that as well. I've barely been able to think all day, I'm so excited, which is why I took a little break to write all this down.
Tags: daily activities, genealogy
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