|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.
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.
AND EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US REGRETS NOT TAKING THAT ADVICE!
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.
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!