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 (,, 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!

9 thoughts on “My second job

  1. Good luck on your adventure! My niece is really in to genealogy, so she’s been putting our family tree together. I did a little on my husband’s side, but didn’t pursue it past when they came to America.

  2. I most definitely do wish you lots of luck! I’ve been fascinated by family history since I was a little girl and I used to pester my grandpa to draw out bits of our family tree for me. I’m scared to make a start now because I know I’ll get a second job too

  3. Wanda, I admire you for taking on this responsibility. I know it is daunting, but I also know you have the determination to see it thru to the best of your ability. I know as you discover hidden gems of information you will smile with glee, and that will spur you on, and on and on. Finally you will bring this addition to closure. But I know that even after you get it as close as you can, that over the years to come you will update it as you discover additional information. That is just you nature, and that’s a good thing. Take care, Bill

  4. Good luck with this second job of yours – it is a real commitment to do this kind of historical searching. One of my Dad’s cousins was really into genealogy and was able to provide us with quite a bit of information about my father’s maternal and paternal ancestors – going back to the Revolutionary War. I used Family Tree Maker to document the information. It was definitely an interesting project.

  5. Wishing you the best of luck, Wanda! And there really is an element of luck involved, I think. I got into genealogy a few years ago and found it fascinating…and difficult. My family also has many twists, turns, and dead ends…and an astonishing amount of unknown parentage thanks to illegitimate births in almost every line. Then there are those moments that seem almost miraculous, such as when I discovered the identity of my biological paternal grandfather, and then found a photo of him in a 1936 newspaper, that make the struggle worth it. The internet is a wonderful thing!

  6. Good luck from me. I am the keeper of our family tree…what a labour of love and very time consuming! My husband and I were only talking about doing some work on ‘the tree’ over breakfast yesterday. I do remember the difficulties getting information out of people still with us though. I thought it was easier to research the folk no longer with us!!!

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