December 9 – Grab Bag
Author’s choice. Please post from a topic that helps you remember Christmases past!
I’m taking license with the prompt for today. This is a Christmas present for this year rather than bringing up memories of Christmases past.
What happened at work yesterday is a large part of the reason I do what I do. [NOTE: ALL names and places have been changed for privacy.]
A gentleman came into our library with an application for the birth certificate for his wife’s adopted sister. He’d been to the Bureau of Vital Statistics and they’d told him they couldn’t help him–they would not issue him a birth certificate nor would they issue one to his wife for her sister. They suggested he come to the Historical Society. We get these customers often–the state does not have any sort of public record index nor do they provide any sort of access for any vital records from any time period.
I began the reference interview to try to determine what we could do for this man. We do have newspapers from across the state so sometimes those will provide birth information. Through the years of being a librarian, a genealogist, and an all-around curious person, I’ve helped people with these sorts of research problems–it’s always a circuitous path with lots of unknowns. And it usually takes a lot of time and effort. He said he’d been working on this for 16 years.
When I started asking questions, he said the family had been very closed-mouth, not unusual in these situations. But he thought she might have been adopted by the daughter of a friend of the family–that was the family story, maybe, if the below-the-surface talk could be believed. And he knew that person’s name. Let’s call her Roberta.
So we started looking. We found the family in the 1920 census living in the community he remembered. The potential adoptive mother was married to Marvin Morgan (name changed)–our customer didn’t know she’d been married. But he was sure this was the person he’d heard might be the adoptive mother–he recognized her parents names as well as hers. The young married couple was living with her parents in the small town our customer knew as their home, and they had no children of their own listed on the census. So we looked for them in 1930 to see if there was a child listed in the household, but we couldn’t find them listed–either the grandparents or the adoptive parents. The husband had been listed as working in the oil fields, so they could have moved anywhere to find work in that time period–the depression and Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl.
We decided to take a look at the SSDI. Marvin’s name was common but not exactly as common as, say, Bob Jones. We found a “Marvin Morgan” listed who died in 1975 in Gotham City, Oklahoma, who was the right age and who had received his Social Security card in Oklahoma before 1951. We thought he was a likely candidate based on that much info, and there were no other candidates with this munch potential. It was at least an hypothesis to test, a lead to follow.
My colleague trotted back to get the city directories. Listed in the Gotham City city directory was Mrs. Robert Morgan, retired. Was this Roberta or was it someone who was still using a husband’s name? We kept looking until we found the year she was no longer listed in the directory. HOWEVER, we went a step further, looking up her address in the back of the first directory that she was not listed.
A person by a different name was living at that address, but the phone number had remained the same.
What did this mean?
Using the name listed at the address, we went back to the front of the directory and found the wife’s name matched the information the customer had for the sister’s name! Woo-hoo!
Then, with trepidation, we put her name into the SSDI. We found a death date for a person who matched what we knew so far. Sure enough, she’d died in September of this year.
We went on and found a death notice that included her funeral date and the funeral home.
It was bittersweet, but rewarding. He was thrilled and so grateful.
It made my day. We didn’t even charge him for the copies we’d made for him. In about half an hour, we’d answered a question this family had sought for years. The answer usually doesn’t come that quickly nor that easily. We were aided by the fact that the sister’s name had not been changed and that much of the family whisperings turned out to be valid.
It wasn’t the hoped-for outcome, but it still felt like a gift to both his family and to my coworker and to me.