Tuesday, February 3, 2009

San Diego John Doe is George D. Schott

"Geary found Orville Schott in Pleasanton with the help of amateur genealogists, and a 24-year-old mystery was solved."

That is the 43rd paragraph in a 47 paragraph story titled Answers found in county push to identify the nameless dead by David Hasemyer published today on Page A-1 in the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper. The focus iof the article is on Gretchen Geary of the Medical Examiner's office in San diego, whose job it is to try to resolve these "Unclaimed Persons" cases. It's a great and sad human interest story - man found dead in a parking lot in 1985 with no identification, buried in an unmarked grave, Medical Examiner's office re-opens cold cases, fingerprint match found, name is George D. Schott. Now, how to find and contact the family?

Da-da!!! Call in the Unclaimed Persons team that Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and Marcy Brown founded in 2008. Assign a team of 485 crack genealogy researchers to solve the problem without contacting anyone that might be involved. It took five days to find certain relatives, and about five weeks to make sure that they had the right person.

People with a Facebook account can join the Unclaimed Persons group and read this and other case studies. They are fascinating threads of dedicated people working together to solve very complicated research problems involving living people - who are the relatives of the unclaimed persons.

A short history of the key finds in Case #49 - George Donald Schott includes:

* 13 November 2008, 6:44 pm - case file opened by the Case Manager, Kathy. Known facts were white male, birth date, parents names (apparently from the fingerprint file), and death date (from coroner record).
* 13 November, 7:19 pm and 8:16 pm - SSDI entries of parents in Ohio found by Barbara and Lorine.
* 13 November, 8:32 pm - name of wife in Alameda County CA newspaper announcement found by Alisa
* 13 November, 8:37 pm - newspaper article of 1976 arrest in Alameda County of GDS found by Barbara
* 13 November, 8:43 pm - divorce record of GDS found by Linda in Ancestry
* 13 November, 8:46 pm - birth records of two children found by Linda in Ancestry
* 13 November, 8:58 pm - son's phone book info found by Barbara in People Finders
* 14 November, 1:50 pm - Google search by Randy finds online article about GDS's wartime friend Orville Clayton - son's name is Orville C.
* 18 November, 8:04 pm - Linda finds GDS's daughter's married surname in marriage records, and then a birth record for the granddaughter, and it matches the writer of the online article. This was the clincher.
* ?? November - Case Manager Kathy sends the information found to the Medical Examiner's office with contact information for the family.
* 19 December - Coroner's office tells Kathy that the contact was the family and that they are appreciative of the effort.

There were 109 posts in this thread by 9 researchers. The case was solved within a week, but it took awhile to tie up all loose ends and ensure that the identification was correct. On 13 November, there were 47 posts in the first four hours of investigation.

My part in this was to spend an hour at the library looking for city directory entries for George D. Schott, and an hour online looking at San Diego and Los Angeles County deed, probate and criminal court records. Plus the Google search on the 14th. Funny how something so simple can be really important, isn't it?

All of these Unclaimed Persons cases are real challenges because they usually involve persons who left few tracks in public records and probably didn't want to be found. The Group has attacked 68 cases so far, and 37 have been solved, with 8 pending.

One benefit of participating in the Unclaimed Persons group is that it really hones your research skills in finding records of dead and living persons. Many of the researchers in the Group are not well known genealogists - but they are all dedicated and wonderfully persistent researchers.

Well done - Unclaimed Persons Group! It's nice to be recognized in the newspaper too, even if it's only one sentence in the article!

The article notes "the rest of the story":

"Schott was stunned to hear from Geary. One of George's daughters had seen him a few months before his death, when he was working with a traveling carnival. They didn't know he was on the streets of San Diego.

"'We finally know what happened,' Schott said. 'After all these years we had answers to our questions.'"

UPDATED: 3 February, 1 p.m. - corrected factual error, and added times of posts on Facebook group.

1 comment:

Barbara Lass Grempler said...

Randy, Are you registered with the paper? If so, put in a comment about the "amateur genealogists" and our Facebook Group. Barbara