Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Research Success Finding Living People

As CVGS Research Chairman, I was asked by a local cemetery correspondent to help a couple who were looking for information about the wife's father, who had died in San Diego and was buried in the cemetery. The couple were looking for ways to contact the children from her father's first marriage, and hoped to find information about the father's ancestry. I contacted the couple, asked some questions about the family, and agreed to help them.

For privacy reasons, I'm going to use "Seaver" as the surname in question here, and false names for each person. The actual surname is probably a bit more common than "Seaver."

This was a typical 20th century research problem - the father was born in 1920 in Texas (according to the California Death Index and SSDI) and died in 1987 in San Diego County. His mother's maiden surname was given as "Landers." There were no obituaries printed in the local newspapers. There were several entries in the San Diego city directories and telephone books in the 1980 to 1986 time frame that reflected "Mr. Seaver's" second family, and provided his home address.

There were four key factors in solving this problem and finding contacts for my correspondent.

1) The Texas Birth Index provided an entry for the birth of Mr. "Seaver" on the same date, but in 1919 in a certain county. It also listed three given names for Mr. "Seaver" (e.g., "James Turner John Seaver"). However, no parents names were listed in the birth index. The full name was critical (and lucky) to solving the problem.

2) The 1920 US census showed a "Seaver" family living in Texas in the same county with parents named "Thad" and "Sandy" and a 4 month old male child named "Baby". The 4 months corresponded to the difference between the known birth date of "James" and the date the family was enumerated in the 1920 census. Was this the right family? Maybe. This provided possible given names for the parents, ages and birthplaces. There was no listing of any of these people in the 1930 census.

3) In the Texas Birth Index, four children were born to "James Seaver" and his wife "Sharon Hunter" between 1940 and 1960 in a neighboring county - and one of the records in the index listed the father as "James Turner John Seaver." This data provided the names of the children (three boys and one girl), and the youngest son was named for his grandfather - "Thad Seaver." The given name "Thad" was so unusual, that it was apparent that this was probably the right "James Seaver." The other given names were more common, so I thought that I would try to find "Thad Seaver" in current "living people" online resources.

4) I tried a number of the "People-Search" services - most of them will give you a tease - "we have listings for 'Thad Seaver' in our databases - please pay money." The most useful resource was database for "U.S. Phone and Address Directories, 1993-2002." This listed "Thad Seaver" at several addresses by year, with phone numbers. The latest address and phone number were also in the "U.S. Public Records Index" database on Ancestry, and named his family members and their birth years.

I passed all of this information (plus info on the births, marriages, deaths and children of "Thad" and his siblings) to the couple. They contacted "Thad Seaver" and confirmed that this was the correct family - that he knew about the second family of his father, and provided more information, including details of the family and an older brother's phone number.

This turned out pretty well - my correspondent was satisfied with the effort and has made contact with the family. If they want more research on the ancestry of "James Seaver" I will pursue that also.

I used only public records available online for this research. A private detective (which I would have recommended if my search was unsuccessful) could have probably found the family members quicker. There is also the issue of "invasion of privacy" here - the phone call to the family was a risk.

There was also the issue of luck - California and Texas birth, marriage and death indexes are in online databases (some available for free, some in subscription databases). If it had been other states that don't have online VR databases, my search would have probably been unsuccessful.

My purpose in writing about this is to show that this type of search can be successful, although there is the luck factor involved. After sampling the free side of the "People-Search" web sites, I will definitely use the databases first in the future.

What is your experience with this type of research? I am leery of the privacy issues, and would appreciate you opinions about that issue too.

1 comment:

Miriam Robbins said...

Randy, in the past 9 years, I have had four opportunities to help people connect to long-lost family members who contacted me after seeing my online GEDCOM database at WorldConnect.

First off, my GEDCOM is filtered beyond WorldConnect's automatic feature of 70 years. I have all information filtered (unavailable for viewing by anyone on the Internet) on living persons or persons without death dates who were born within the last 100 years. In each case, someone contacted me because they saw the name of a deceased person on my database that they recognized as being related to a long-lost family member.

In every case, I told the person who contacted me that I would do what I could to connect them to their living long-lost family member(s), but that I would need their contact information and would contact the other person myself. I did so, and got permission from the one being sought to give the seeker their contact information. In all four instances, none of the people that I contacted refused to keep their contact information from the one seeking them. If they had, I would have honored their request, as I am sure you would in the same situation.

It is definitely rewarding and gratifying to assist people in reuniting with each other!