Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Father's past: Uncovering another family

I am a newbie to genealogy. In the 1930 census it lists my father, Richard Louis Janning married to Shirley (?) with a son Donald age 4. My parents were married in Oct. of 1931. I cannot find any info on Shirley or Donald. My parents are from Dayton, Ohio. Can you give me any hints as to how I can find info on Shirley and Donald? I don't know if my father and Shirley were divorced, if she died or what. Any help would be appreciated. I found your web site listed in a book I recently bought called Genealogy Online by Elizabeth Powell Crowe. I was impressed with her book and your web site very much. -- Thanks.

WELCOME to the wonderful, and often surprising world of family history research. You have apparently uncovered your first "mystery," and as always we will proceed with non-judgmental caution. This is not the last time you will encounter unusual, misleading, confusing or conflicting information about your ancestors.

Ol' Myrt suggests that you IMMEDIATELY:

1. PRINT the page with the 1930 US Federal Census entry for Robert L. Janning, with wife Shirley and son.

2. ATTACH a page explaining what you've found, being sure to detail how it does not "fit" with what was previously known about that ancestor.

3. CREATE a list of alternative record sources to review to determine the veracity of the census record, and to prove or disprove the relationship of this census entry with your known ancestor.

THE REASON WE TAKE THESE THREE STEPS is to leave an audit trail for those that follow. Often even the most diligent genealogists must do other things (like eat, sleep, work, answer the telephone, etc.) and can forget where we were in our research.

Now to help you accomplish task #3, Ol' Myrt has the following suggestions:

-- LOOK AT COUNTY COURTHOUSE RECORDS FOR DIVORCE. Since the census record for your father indicated he resided in Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio, I'd look to see what's available first on microfilm through your local LDS Family History Center. To find one near you, go to

I checked the online catalog of microfilm at
By clicking the "PLACE" button and specifying "Montgomery' as part of 'Ohio" (without quote marks). It would appear that court records of divorce are not part of the microfilm collection. This means you'd need contact the courthouse directly, inquiring "for a divorce decree circa 1930-1931" for the two individuals in question.

-- LOOK AT THE BIRTH RECORD FOR SON. The local genealogical society made an "Index Dayton births 1923-1942" and it is available for a nominal rental fee through your local LDS Family History Center on FHL US/CAN Film 1763581. Given the exact birth date, and other identifying information you can obtain a copy of the birth certificate.

-- LOOK AT STATE OR COUNTY DEATH INDEX FOR SHIRLEY. According to the Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists from explains "Death certificates from 1908 to 1944 are available on microfilm through the Family History Library." The Family History Library is the "parent" library in Salt Lake City. You can borrow most microfilm through you local Family History Center.

WAIT A MINUTE... I was reading a little more in the Family Tree Resource Book, and find there is an online death index for Ohio located at:

It took a little searching, but the actual address of the death index 1913-1944 is:

Being the overly curious type, I searched for Shirley Janning in all counties of Ohio, and did not find her in the index. Either she did not die during the time period covered by the database, or she had a different name, or the marriage ended in divorce, or...

As you can see, the list of ideas can go on and on, if you are careful and don't jump to conclusions.
One other thing to remember. IF YOU DETERMINE that your father had a family prior to the marriage with your mother, this means that Don is your half-brother. Eventually you'll need to prepare for meeting him. If your father played things so close to the vest, Don may not know of your family either. Consider that Don also may have been legally adopted by Shirley's subsequent husband, so Don's last name will have changed. In this last case, it may be impossible to ever meet this half-brother. It will be most interesting to see how this works out. Let me know how your research progresses.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Snail Mail Address:
227 Bellevue Way NE PMB 544
Bellevue, WA 98004

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