Wednesday, May 11, 2016


The Grim Reaper

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes - Benjamin Franklin

None of us get out of this life alive. - Elbert Hubbard

Only the good die young.  - Billie Joel

Death is an unfortunate byproduct of having lived.  - Kathy Petras

Yes. Death is a fact of life. It is also one of the pieces of information that we, as genealogists, track down on our relatives and ancestors. And for all of its certainty, the details surrounding a death can be elusive.

These are the sources that we commonly use when searching for information on someone's death.

1. Vital records - have only existed in the U.S. for the last 100-150 years
2. Cemetery records - only as good as the stone they are written in. Early settlers in Ohio often used sandstone for tombstones. With acid rain, they are quickly deteriorating.
3. Church Records - can go back hundreds of years. Or not exist at all.
4. Obituaries - reserved only for the well to do until about 125 years ago. Access depends on  preservation of the newspaper.
5. Wills & estate records - if a will goes through probate, someone has died.
6. Land records - property has to be dispersed after a death
7. Pension records - benefits stop after death, and they often will mention if the soldier has had more than one wife.
8. Mass or memorial cards - given out at the funeral home.

Most basic genealogy books or classes will cover each of these resources in more detail.

929.1072 HER
929.1 CAR

But when someone dies, we lose access to an incredible archive of colorful and fascinating information. Every time someone dies, we lose their stories, their histories, their memories, and everything they knew of their family. This is the reason that genealogy teachers urge their students to interview their living relatives as soon as possible, starting with the oldest first.


Every genealogist I have talked to has a story about having lost the opportunity to reclaim and document the luscious details of someone's life. We always think, "I have time to do that later."

But the truth is, we don't know how much time anyone has.

Not Aunt Bonnie.
Not Uncle John.
Not me.
Not you.

One of our jobs, as genealogists, is to recapture those details in documents left behind. So we scour old newspapers for articles on births, marriage and deaths, but also for the bowling scores of Uncle Jack, the school play that cousin Dick was in, and the banquet that Aunt Blanche organized. We dig out old yearbooks for the photos and clubs that Uncle Charlie was in in high school.

1952 Martel High School Yearbook
Uncle Charlie is second from left in top row.
Cousin Dick Axline
Marion Star 23 March 1963 p. 7

This spring has been particularly difficult for my family and friends.
We have lost four matriarchs of our families.

In Loving Memory of

        Mary Ann DiSalvo PETRAS 1923-2016*
        Ruth Ann Sisson MASON  1940-2016
        Phyllis L. Knudsen DUTA 1932-2016
        Dixie Lee Mason FIRSTENBERGER 1938-2016

*Only one was interviewed for her life story. Mary DiSalvo PETRAS was a "Rosie - the - Riveter" during WWII. She worked in several defense industries and wrote to many service men. Her brother Joe took a picture of her in two piece bathing suit that she could include in her letters. Her strict Sicilian parents were unaware of her activities. Her brothers would sneak her out of the house so she could go on dates.

P.S. My colleague at the Lodi Branch had this to add:

I read your blog and couldn't agree more (gave my mom a history book to fill out when my children were born). Anyhow, here in Lodi we have tried getting people to use our recording studio to record family history with little success, so if you ever have anyone who wants to interview family members and get a recording please send them our way. 

So head on over to the Lodi Library with your relatives and record their histories!


Elissa S Powell said...

There is a free webinar on how to find cemeteries and tombstone symbolism On Friday, May 13 at 2 pm through Legacy Family Tree:

Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL

Anonymous said...

Another powerful blog...

Anonymous said...

Another powerful blog...