Saturday, July 15, 2017

Death Will Bring Us Together; or, Look to the Future to Learn the Past

A classic problem: a woman born in the early 1880s appears in her parents' household in 1900 with a stupendously common name for the time (Mabel). And then she vanishes, whether into death or marriage I can't tell. Two potential husbands fail the test, as marriage records show their Mabels as having the wrong parents. The known parents don't show up in her household in later years, nor she in theirs.

It's an old lesson but it bears relearning. We often bewail our failure (or our parents' failure) to learn all the genealogical details we might have obtained from elderly relatives, but we often also ourselves fail to seek out their knowledge in records they helped create.

When Mabel's mother died in the 1930s, the newspaper death notice -- in infinitesimal, worn type -- named an extra daughter (as Mrs. H. Husband, naturally) living on the other side of the state. Mrs. Husband appeared again as the informant on mother's death certificate, with a tiny scrawled street address as well. Case closed when Mr. Husband's death certificate bore the same address. Strictly speaking, I didn't even need to know that her name was Mabel!

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