Thursday, July 25, 2013

Copy once, look twice -- or something like that

I have written before about the importance of looking hard at even the most tentative clues in genealogy -- census records that don’t seem worth examining because the dates, birthplaces, or even surnames seem too far removed; references in letters that don’t look pertinent, and on and on. Well, here is another example, from my own research:

I’ve always copied down a lot of items just because they seemed, at the time, to have some connection to my surnames, however slight.  But all too often the notes get consigned to a folder where they lie, forgotten.  In this case, while trying once more to find out what happened to my great-aunt’s son, Franklin Lee Parkison, I was going back through a collection of those set-aside notes. What caught my eye was a pencilled notation I must have made in the days before computers, from the WPA’s “Index to Death Records for Jasper County (Indiana), 1882-1920.” It read: ParkiNson, Frank S., white, male, single, age 56, died 19 July 1919,  Rensselaer, Indiana.  Well, to start with, the surname has an “n” (but Parkison is often misspelled that way), and the middle initial is wrong.  Then, my faulty math led me to dismiss the possibility that this might by my guy. Let’s see, 56 from 1919 means a birth year of 1863. Oh oh. That actually matched what I did know about Frank’s birthdate, as did the likely place of death. (I knew from a letter by his mother that he had been in that area three years earlier.)

As anyone else who searched in Jasper County knows, there hasn’t been much available at the Family History Library (though they seem to have acquired more public records recently). So my searches there have not been fruitful. In a flash of inspiration (why did it take me so long?), I decided to go directly to the source for this WPA index. It was a simple matter to contact the Public Health Department in Rensselaer and learn the procedure for obtaining the death record for this so-called Parkinson individual.

When it arrived, lo and behold, the names of his parents matched, confirming that their “Frank S. Parkinson” was really MY Frank L. Parkison! (Unfortunately the document was a transcription, not a photocopy of the original, so I couldn’t tell how the errors happened.)

This solved, for me, what had been a very long-standing search for the date and place of Frank’s death. (There was another Frank Parkison in the area at the time, which confused matters somewhat.) Now, with a confirmed date of death in hand, I have queried the local library to see of there was a death notice or obituary which give more information.

How many other notes to I have lying around, just waiting for a fresh look and possibly a new interpretation?  What about you?


On another note:
I recenly mentioned a newspaper article about the smart phone app that Icelanders have, which can confirm the relationship between two possible “kissing cousins,” a necessity in this enclosed and isolated society, where nearly everyone is related to everyone else.  As it happens, I was travelling in Iceland last month (really!), and was able to ask our tour guide about it. She confirmed the program's existence as well as its usefulness "for the young people, of course."  Nice to get it from the source!


Alex W Fraser, Rhoda Ross said...

Very interesting article and so true, so easy to mis interpret hand writing. A double, triple look is always a necessity in doing genealogy research. Even then it can still be questionable.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have copious notes, which I haven't looked at in months. That's because I keep making more notes. It's happened more than once that I've been on the computer, hunting for some info on a relative, and then I realized, after looking thru my notes, that I had that bit of info all along. Aargh! Oh, well. Also, I found that bit about the Iceland app interesting, too!