From the 1950s radio Dragnet to modern-day television's CSI and Law and Order, I've been a fan of police procedural shows. These classic programs, I believe, carry a strong message for genealogists: if the evidence at your disposal doesn't tell you what you need to know, don't just give up — pursue more evidence.
Let's say you're trying to pin down the death date of an ancestor so that you can look for an obituary and determine a relationship. A standard technique is to contact the church the deceased attended and ask for funeral information. Church secretaries are wonderful people. But sometimes even they cannot find that data for you in old, semi-organized handwritten listings. Perhaps the records were lost in a natural disaster.
Would Sgt. Joe Friday throw up his hands in despair and go find a less-frustrating line of work? No! He'd look for some other approach.
You should do the same thing. If it's a larger cemetery, ask about lot cards. A lot card is a document giving all the information about a given plot: purchaser, purchase date, burials and names, a veritable treasure trove. The cards are likely kept by the cemetery administrator or the sexton.
But what about a small, perhaps obscure cemetery whose administration is difficult to determine? Absent a walk-through, this is where a genealogist should start pounding the pavement (or cyberspace). Seek clues elsewhere. There are wills, property transactions and tax records at the county courthouse; city directories at the library and historical society; census records; newspaper microfilms; Genweb message boards; genealogy club meetings where you can put your questions to experienced colleagues.
The TV show Who Do You Think You Are makes genealogy look deceptively easy. In reality, those genealogies of famous people are painstakingly assembled by teams of researchers taking a lot of time and unearthing many sources. You have to do the same thing. Cases (and genealogy problems) don't solve themselves.
Yes, it's a lot of work. But there's a reward at the end. As Sgt. Friday always put it, Just the facts, ma'am.
Resources: The Scranton-area Genealogical Research Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania has acquired some valuable newspaper microfilms. The society now has microfilm of The Scranton Times/Times Tribune 1905-1947 and 1960-2010 as well as The New York Times 1937-2009. It also has 90 books of indices of those editions of The New York Times and the Lackawanna County Deeds Books 1-1999. The research center is at 1100 Main St., Peckville. For information on hours and membership in the group, call 383-7661 or go to www.grsnp.org.
News Notes: A new owner will take over Ancestry.com. According to the Associated Press, a group led by European private equity firm Permira Funds will buy the system for an estimated $1.6 billion early next year. Ancestry.com said there will be no anticipated changes in its operating structure with the deal, the AP reported.
A project at the University of California carries a message applicable to all recent immigrant families. The project consists of making audio recordings of the personal stories of Vietnamese people who came to America after the war ended in the 1970s. Some of those families, the Associated Press reports, had to endure great privation once North Vietnam absorbed the entire nation and were not able to leave for many years. An estimated 1.9 million people of Vietnamese descent now live in the United States, with a large concentration in California.
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader genealogy columnist. Reach him at [email protected].