Genealogy–It’s Not Just About Dead People

My expertise is in finding ancestors—anyone born before 1940—because I usually begin with the 1940 census.  Deceased ancestors are usually listed on sites like Findagrave or records pop up at or  For the most part, genealogy is about finding these ancestors from decades and centuries before us.  Sometimes the quest is to join a lineage society (DAR, SAR) or to prove a relationship to someone famous (or infamous).  For me, I just want to know who was living when, and where, and how they fit into the history of America.

But genealogy is not always about dead people—sometimes it’s about the living!

A few years ago, I helped a friend’s mother locate her birth father.  It is a great story: young girl in Germany meets US soldier.  She gets pregnant; he ships home…to his wife and family!  The friend knew the name of the soldier, and utilizing the same techniques I use to find the long-ago deceased, I found the birth father.  Unfortunately, he was deceased, but he had other children and there was a reunion of these siblings.  (There was one more brother, and I’m still waiting for something to unlock to discover his whereabouts.)

Another friend, hearing about how I helped this previous family, asked me to try and find a cousin who had been adopted after his parents divorced.  Adoptions make it tougher, but the family did know the adoptive family’s last name.  I found him.  Another reunion took place.  I’m glad to have been a part of making the connection.

Recently, as part of the research conducted for my sister-in-law, she asked if I could find some people who might still be living.  Some of the people were deceased, but often they have brothers or sisters, or children, living who are willing to connect and talk.  I have had some luck using Facebook to find people—even people in their 70s and 80s—grandparents like to see pictures of their grandkids!  So, I use every avenue I can think of to locate missing relatives and friends.

Most recently, a former student contacted me to see if I could locate the half-sister of her grandfather.  She gave me a name, an approximate date of birth and place, the mother’s maiden name, and a possible state of residence.  “Do you think you can find her?”  I can find a lot with very little information, but a woman, who probably married, and could be anywhere in the US…or the world!  The last contact between the two siblings was in the 1950s.  Would she even be alive?

I took this challenge.

Starting with what the family already knew, I began searches for the names involved.  I found census records for the father’s side.  I found directory listings in the 1940s.  Eventually, I found the marriage record for the father and the mother of the half-sister.  The family knew the father died, but what happened to the mother and half-sister after that was a mystery.  I located the mother as a widow in a city directory.  She was a widow in 1948, and at this time it would’ve been difficult for a single woman with a child to make ends meet.  I wondered if she might have lived with relatives.  Knowing her maiden name, I searched the directory and found a man who was living at the same address!  It was her father.  With that information, I was able to track down brothers and sisters.  In one brother’s obituary, he named a sister—obviously the mother of the half-sister I was looking for—but she had a different last name!  This led me to another marriage record.  That led me to newspaper articles naming the half-sister with her step-father and mother in Iowa.  Then the trail ran cold.  Every person I located with the right name had the wrong birth information.  There were no obituaries or profiles at Findagrave, so I was pretty sure the half-sister was alive.  She most likely married, moved on, and I found myself with the proverbial needle in a haystack.

I concluded my research, met with the client, and gave them everything I had found including the phone numbers for two aunts of the half-sister who might be alive.  I cautioned that the phone numbers might be outdated.  The family was ready to try.

I am so happy to say, the numbers were good, the aunts were alive, and my client’s grandfather has spoken on the phone to his long-lost half-sister.  A reunion is planned for the end of summer.

I love looking for missing ancestors, but truly, reconnecting families with lost relatives makes the quest of genealogy honorable and important.


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