Tuesday, April 05, 2005

When NOT to find a cousin

From: CherrylM
How can I get information on a cousin from a funeral home that does not respond to my letters? I live in Louisiana and the funeral home in question is in New York City. I've tried calling but no one there seems helpful. I'm trying to find the family of a cousin who disappeared from here in the 1940s. We don't know what happened to him except that he joined the Army. He entered in 1946 and was discharged in 1953. I've received his military records but it does not give the last address where he lived. I'd like to find some one who knew him and possible have a picture of him. How successful do you think I'd be if I used a FOIA request on the funeral home or would this even have an effect? I do know that he died in the Veterans Medical Center in New York City in 1984. I even had someone to check for obituaries but came up blank. I do know that he was married before he left here and was divorced. I'm in the process of finding out if his former wife is still living. She would be in her eighties if she's alive. I'm not sure if they ever had any children. Your help and guidance is greatly appreciated.

Doing skip tracing on live individuals is not in the normal scope of genealogical research, unless it pertains to your direct line. The cousin himself chose to remain aloof during his lifetime for some reason. The individual you seek is an x-wife, and working "down" her subsequent marriages for descendency chart isn't the usual course for family historians.

Your cousin's former wife apparently doesn't want much to do with his family or she would have kept in touch. How many divorced women of her generation did? Divorce typically brings rifts between families, with effects running through several generations. She may have married again, and that is another reason for her dropping your side of the family. Cousin or not, please remember:

Genealogists seek to understand "WHO ARE THE PARENTS?" to quote George K. Schweitzer.

  • YES, we document current generations.
  • YES, we collect information on collateral lines as we stumble across it.
  • YES, we work the ancestral collateral lines to get around brick walls.

Working on a dead end descendency line is better saved for the time when the US census records for 1940-1980 are available to the public. It isn't like there is someone who could have inherited the family bible to give you advice as to "WHO ARE THE PARENTS?"

If I were the funeral home director, I would probably have responded in a like manner. There are all sorts of bogus firms offering to look for "possible heirs" and "missing family members," etc. Your story, as explained, probably didn't sound like a legit genealogical query. If there was no death notice in the newspaper for a death that occurred in 1983, that is most odd. How you ever found the name of the funeral home, I simply don't know. Turning up the heat flashing "Freedom of Information Act" will probably only raise the ire of the funeral home director.

Curiosity killed the cat.

Go forward on a line that has more potential to explain YOUR direct ancestry, not your elderly cousin's x-wife and possible descendants. We don't want to give the poor woman a heart attack.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207

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