My second job
I wasn’t looking for a second job, but a new job seems to have found me.
It came about as a result of an inquiry from one of my cousins for family information about my siblings and me so she can update the details of the family tree for my father’s side of the family. The refreshed compilation will be provided to attendees at our family reunion this summer.
I first sent e-mail notes to my siblings asking them for updates, hoping they would supply the requested information by e-mail or telephone. That effort is at the 50% mark—of the six (of eight) siblings I contacted, only one proactively supplied information, and I have since talked to two others about the matter. The remaining three are difficult. One is not detail-oriented, so requests for wedding and birth dates make his eyes glaze over. My relationship with the next one is oil-and-water, so I’m doubtful of a favorable response from her. I’m happy to report that I get along reasonably well with the last of these three, but her relationship history is colorful enough that she is a bit defensive about the details. Still, we are individually and collectively part of at least two larger relationships (our paternal and maternal family trees), so I remain hopeful that they will be at least reasonably cooperative.
By now you have correctly concluded that my recent “second job” is our family’s genealogy.
Thanks to the work of others over the years, our father’s side of the family tree is as complete and accurate as possible through our European great-grandparents. It’s a much different situation on our mother’s side of the family. That half of our family tree is, unfortunately, mostly bare. Both of our mother’s parents were born in North Dakota of Russian immigrants: he in the late 1800s, she in approximately 1908. My grandfather’s union with my grandmother was his second marriage; the first was short because his wife died less than two years after they were married. Tragedy didn’t end there: our grandfather died (either a suicide or murder) when our mother was only 7 years old; our grandmother died when our mother was 16 or 17. At some point between those two events, our mother and her sister were sent to foster homes, and their younger brother was institutionalized.
So it is—I’ve been engaged these last several weeks searching on-line sources (ancestry.com, familysearch.com, etc.) to find whatever records I can about our family’s existence beginning at the dawn of the 20th century. U.S. census records from 1920 and 1940 are helpful, the state’s 1925 census less so—my maternal grandmother was living with her parents in 1925, but I have yet to find similar records for my maternal grandfather or for anyone in my father’s family. Is it possible that some areas were never surveyed? Were the records somehow lost or destroyed?
Successes in this venture are few and far between. I celebrated when I found my grandfather’s 1918 draft registration card because it simultaneously confirmed his birthdate and his first wife’s given name, but I haven’t been able to find anything beyond that. Locating birth, death, and marriage certificates from the early twentieth century is difficult. I learned recently that North Dakota didn’t centralize birth and death registration until 1907; until then, this information was maintained at the county level. Full implementation of the state mandate likely lagged into the late 1920s. Beginning in 1925, marriage information was supposed to be reported to the state, but original licenses and certificates are (still?) filed at the county level. Thus, my next obvious step is to contact the several counties around where my grandparents lived to determine whether they have birth, marriage, or death certificates for any of our family members.
Wish me luck—I need all the help I can get!