WWI draft card

The Grumpy Genealogist: 4 Things That Really Bug Me About Family History Research

By Susan Wallin Mosey

I try to be a cheerful and upbeat genealogist—but once in a while, even a real peach of a human being like myself just has to let off some steam.  Lately, four old and familiar issues in particular are really getting on my nerves, genealogically speaking…

1. The missing 1890 census.  Honestly, nearly an entire census lost?  How did this happen?  In all the United States of America in 1921, from sea to shining sea, there wasn’t one safe and fire-resistant building with a fireproof vault in which they could store the census records?  It wasn’t worth the price of one night watchman to make sure everything was okay?  And the worst part of it is, I’ve read that most of the records survived the fire (with water damage)—and they were kept for many years, while discussions went on about what to do next, before someone decided one day that the best thing to do was to just throw them all away.  Incredible!  When I think of all the loose ends I could tie up, all the mysteries I could solve, all the gaps I could fill in…  all those missing children…  sigh…

2. Those blurry, badly microfilmed World War I draft cards.  (see image above) I’ve read that after the cards were microfilmed (obviously by workers who were looking out the window most of the time), the original cards were discarded.  They threw them away!  Without anyone checking to see if the microfilm images were properly done before destroying the originals?  What I would like to know is this:  Who was the clueless government bureaucrat who made that decision?  I think his/her name should live on in infamy, like the person who threw away the damaged 1890 census.

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3. Census takers with bad penmanship. Seriously, who was the genius who came up with the guidelines for selecting these people?  Did they not have to give a handwriting sample, perhaps write down a practice family or two?  I would think the ability to write legibly would have been a primary requirement for the job of census taker, but apparently no one thought of that during the hiring process.  I suppose some of the census takers just got sloppy as time went on and didn’t care anymore.  Or maybe some of them got hired because they were some politician’s nephew—I suppose then as now, when it comes to obtaining gainful employment, it isn’t always what you know, it’s who you know.

4. Relatives who say “I really don’t have anything to share” when it’s pretty obvious that they do.  In this day and age of cheap Priority Mail and FedEx shipping, and scanners in practically every genealogist’s home or office, there’s no excuse for not sharing what we’ve got…  (Calm down, Aunt Emma, I’m not asking you to give it to me, just loan it to me!)  Yet I’ve had to ask some relatives five or six times, over a period of years, if I could borrow their box of family photos or papers.  Some are just too lazy to take the box down out of the attic or dig it out of the guest room closet, but some seem to be exhibiting strange territorial behavior.  Most eventually say yes—but a few hold out, as if “whoever dies with the most stuff wins.”  But everyone ends up losing that game.

Well, thanks for letting me vent…  What makes you do the “Silent Genealogist Scream”?

70 thoughts on “The Grumpy Genealogist: 4 Things That Really Bug Me About Family History Research”

  1. I don’t know if this is a valid complaint, but I think there are too many genealogists in my family. We are an old German family, settled in the same area for over 150 years. There is a great wealth of original documents, boxes and boxes of photographs and newspaper clippings, and many old, German books (one belonged to my Great-great-grandfather!). These were all kept by my great-aunt, a spinster and childless. She died two weeks ago and now I see that the genealogist a generation above me is getting all the photos, docs, and books. My grandmother’s sister has been doing extensive genealogy for over 60 years and I’ve asked if I can come with my laptop to her house and just record the information she has and scan the newspaper clippings. She thinks I want the actual books, though I’ve told her I just want the information, I won’t bother her at home, I’ll be quiet, but she keeps dodging me. Her and the older cousin getting the “goods” don’t seem to be taking me seriously when I ask them for a photo file or to record information. It’s getting frustrating and I’m very close to giving up. Anyway… that’s my rant.

  2. Also census takers who couldn’t spell and didn’t ask. My grandfather shows up as Ezra and he was really Edward C.

  3. I guess my biggest issue is with someone who will argue assumption or theory as fact. I spun my wheels for many years (lesson learned) by assuming someone else’s information was correct. That was many years ago, now I am maniacal about documentation. When and if that documentation is unavailable for any reason, I will always note in the comments (Ancestry.com) that this is “theory” or this is “assumed”. I wish others would do the same. Because we all know, once information is on the internet, whether accurate or not, everyone is slinging it into their tree. THAT makes me crazy.

  4. They, your ancestors, may not have been the ones that provided the information. A neighbor, a workhand or servant may have given the information. And, too, formalized names is more 20th century phenomina – that is until the advent of social security, people could pretty much change their names at will.

    While years could have been purposefully “shaved” from our ancestors lives, they equally may not have known truly how old they were. Tracking birthdays is a more “modern” convention – remember, people didn’t have calendars that they hung on the wall or propped on a desk – they simply may not have tracked the years.

    All reasons why to track the alternate spellings, variations and AKA’s (Also Known As) of our ancestor’s and their ages. And, too it is equally important to get to know the their F A Ns (Family / Friends; Associates; and Neighbors) with equal intimacy. The better we are at getting to “know” our ancestors and those they lived with / around, the better we will be at discerning whether we are following / tracking the right ancestor and climbing our – not someone else’s – family tree.

  5. I haaaaaate that so many people gave their nicknames to the census takers instead of their legal names. So infuriating. Also, the ones who blatantly shaved 5 or 10 years for the records.

  6. Linda Kirkpatrick

    Thanks! I have been researching for 45 years! and on Ancestry.com for a long time. I really need to look into what you wrote about on the new ancestry. Now with all of this said I am good for the future but what about the past?? lol I did have something listed on a tree that I was doing for a friend and I was sure of what I had but someone else was adamant that I was wrong so I pulled it and then discovered that I was right all along. Luckily I had pencil notes and was able to add it back. Many times I have almost made my tree private because of some of the information that I have that needs to be filtered through. I don’t like the monster that I have created and I do appreciate your hints and I am going to print them out! Thanks

  7. I save questionable information in a number of ways, but, NEVER on my tree until I am reasonable assured that it accurate.

    I am an ancestry.com subscriber and on ancestry there are two simple ways of doing this.

    1)Hints – if get a shaky leaf, I review it, if I am not sure about the accuracy – ie that it a document on my ancestor, I either just leave it where it is – do nothing or I save it to my shoebox. In either case, it remains there for further review and research until I make a decision as to whether to add it to my tree or to delete it. And, now with the roll out of “new” ancestry, hints can now be marked as “maybe / undecided” and saved to the ancestor’s profile. This does not add it to the tree, but does keep it for further review and research.

    2.. I also use Microsoft OneNote; others may use EverNote, If I’ve come across something that I think has something to do with my ancestor / family, I capture the image and the link as to where it can be found. I make detailed notes about why I think it pertains to a given ancestor; what questions I may have; and what I feel needs to reviewed further. It also does NOT get added to my tree until I am reasonably satisfied that it is accurate

    3) I also have geanology software – ie Legacy, Family Tree Maker, Gramps, etc. – If there is something that I’ve run across but I am not completely sure, I will capture the image, the source information – where I found it online (link), or brick and motor archive, etc. and I will return later to review and research it further. Putting it in the software does not add it to my online tree – if using Family Tree Maker, I just would not synch it with my online tree – until I am certain.

    4) A more manual and cumbersome option is to keep track of those documents / information that you’ve come across that require further vetting (research) in a word document or an excel spreadsheet. Again, I’d keep detailed notes . . . what document, what information it contained, where I found it, etc. And, I’d only add it to my tree AFTER I had satisfied myself of its accuracy.

  8. Linda Kirkpatrick

    I am guilty as charged of often saving something that I think questionable. That beats discarding it and then needing it later. I work and sometimes it is hard for me to check and verify immediately. I figure that it is my working tree and I often have a disclaimer that this is a work in progress. How do others save without adding questionable information to the tree that someone might see and believe???

  9. My pet peeve is when people do publish information/trees but have obviously not even done the simplest of cross-checks on their data. Some examples of what I have seen are …..
    1) The girl who was married BEFORE she was born!
    2) The wife who died BEFORE her supposed husband was born
    3) The man who died and then 5 years later appeared in the next census, still living with his family!!!
    4) The family that, according to the researcher, had their first child when the wife was aged 2 some twenty-odd years before she was even married
    5) The family line that lost a complete generation as the researcher had confused the son and father and had a mix of both sets of records attached to the same person in their tree ….. and he lived to be 120-something in the late 1800’s (according to the published data)! I will agree that the son had exactly the same name as his father, but it was obviously an error when the “same person” gets christened twice, about 35 years apart
    6) Where people have seen children’s names change between censuses and rather than check things thoroughly looking at nick-names or shortened “pet” names (e.g. Beattie for Beatrice or Nelly for Eleanor) have not merged but just Added them as new children. They then end up showing a family of 20 children when there were actually only eight!

    These were all linked to supposed BMD records, which under closer ONLINE inspection (not even needing to order full copies) were absolutely nothing to do with the person they were attached to or (in the case of point 6 above) were attached to more than one occurance of the child!

  10. Marthann Kohl-Fuhs

    that’s why I walk, record & photograph cemeteries;
    most of my living relatives don’t help
    my husband’s family is better about it, but even some of them are like mine 🙁

  11. Marthann Kohl-Fuhs

    what an idiot, about like the priest who refused to baptize my granddaughter because she is “illegitimate”, self righteous blank blanks

  12. I can agree with all comments and can relate to many. When I learned about Ancestry, I had gathered many years worth of family names and stories from my mom. I was very interested in preparing manually a family tree. I was able to start my family tree with the names already provided, which made it so easy followed by intrigue in finding more names and relationships, through FamilySearch, with people my family members had no clue of. My family members were not into keeping a tree. It was all by word of mouth. I learned that my cousin threw out all of my aunts notes and pictures of many family members of a few generations back, as a result of my cousin being a disgruntled spoked brat. Then I learned about Facebook. I told my mom I would be sharing with family the pictures that were stored in boxes with family members living in Mexico and Texas. Some family responded with some of their collection of pictures. I have asked them to post more family pictures specifically for the family tree. I have invited them into my tree, but it is so disappointing that they never responded, and again with a repeated request. One member posted a picture, but removed it shortly after. I was able to copy it before he did that. As for the DNA results, I have had people contact me to say we’re related. Their family tree is composed of all White members, mine is all Latino. They ask how we’re related, but I don’t know where to start looking. Some results I have to ask the person to allow me access to their tree. Others that I want to look at are private. I can’t understand why I would keep a tree private if I’m working on it. I keep it public to increase potential of finding more connections and for people to connect with me, which has been the case with several that I am interacting with. I find frustrating that when a birth parent is listed as the “natural” parent, the grandparents were not documented making me wonder if that makes it difficult for that baby, all grown up, or family, in completing that family line. Also, some border crossing cards don’t give much demographics on a person’s name, that is a very common name, making it difficult to positively ID that person being the one pertinent to the one you’re looking for. Many times, if I don’t have the document to back up a family member, I will not use someone else’s researched information. I am seeing too many errors and don’t want to duplicate it. In order to avoid posting the wrong person’s data, I use both paternal and maternal surnames. Within the Latino practice, father’s followed by the mother’s. Too many named their kids the same after ancestors. One person has entered the wrong names of ancestors as the children of the profile person, which was born early 1800’s and the children listed are from the 1700’s. How could they not notice this that is so obvious it is wrong? It is frustrating that in the Latino culture, when a baby died, the next baby was given the same name making it appear the person had two birth dates in error. I also find that the census ages collected are a couple of years wrong as well. I’m also finding duplicate documents in different volumes in FamilySearch, which I will have duplicate manual and documents stored in my PC. But, many people are very eager and willing to share data as well as tips. My kids don’t care for about a family tree right now, so I am working on this alone, to learn of my family and ancestors and as a challenge to see how far back I can go. I’m only at my 5th generation from mine. I am expanding sideways as well as back, slowly but surely. I hope to learn more tips, sites, do’s and don’ts. I don’t know of anyone living by me to sit and shate/learn from, so I also read what the more experienced have to say, attentively.

  13. It’s now been more than 15 years and my aunt refuses to allows me (or my moither) access to my grandmothers pictures. She doesn’t have time! My mother lives next door and still hasn’t seen but a handful of the pictures. Pictures of my mother as a baby/young child are being held hostage. These pictures do not belong to my aunt they were part of my grandmother’s estate and my mother was the executor of that estate. I’m convinced that we never see them.

  14. Oh, yes, Katy! This happened to my cousin’s search for our greatgrandparents’ wedding certificate. We had tried for years to find it, so she finally drove many miles to the courthouse in the little town where they had lived. She was directed to the basement where records were all dumped in a huge pile of dozens of boxes. Not to be outdone, my cousin spent a very hot Mississippi summer day in that basement, digging through the boxes. She FOUND IT! 🙂

  15. Yes it is. I found my paternal Gr Grandmother remarried with her youngest son & new husband in 1910 census in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I found their marriage records, and also found them in the same census year In Somerset, KY where she was living in 1900 census with my Gr Grandfather, who died that year. Both censuses were done in different months of that same year.

  16. My Mom and me had our DNA done, very enlightening and have tons of hits on 2nd to 8th cousins. Several folks from the same family appear to be related to me but I can’t connect the dots. Makes me crazy, I keep trying to fit the pieces together, going back, back, back then forward, forward forward and still can’t find that one puzzle piece that would bring the whole thing into view.

  17. My mother passed in 1990 from cancer, but her death certificate listed liver and kidney failure as primary cause.

  18. I have one to add. People who do their ancestry DNA test and it shows they are a match to you and they never post any kind of family tree. Sooooo aggravating. My husband does not know who his father is and we were so hoping we’d have a few clues to check out. He has a couple who are close (second and third cousins) and nothing, just a user name for them. Poor guy is starving for information and he checks his matches at least 3 times a day hoping to find something. We are new to this and realize there may not ever be an answer but sheesh! If you spend all the money on a dna test at least put something in your tree.

  19. I have been working on almost our whole family records beginning on Ancestry.com the years my husband was very ill (2000) It is now 2015 and I am the only one left in my own Family (ie Dad Mom Sisters and etc. I am therefore I have a very bog job to fulfill info on all of them. One sisters Oldest son is doing His families and keeping in touch with me. His Dad was the photographer thru the early years of every time we all got together and so that was easy. Along the way came my Dad’s Brothers Grandson and wife- in 2009 and they asked if they could copy pics I had of their family dating back to when our Dad’s were born. They are still keeping in touch now for any updates. I divided the Families up and made more trees. This helped me at age 85 (now) to keep things aligned. My Dad was born in Benton Harbor Michigan 1900 and there was a fire in the bldg where records were kept also (so he learned when applying for his S S ck in about 1962. To this date I believe I learned he had to have 2 witnesses that knew of his Parents and where he was born and signed an affidavit to the fact and that was accepted. My Mother had she not been able to get her Birth certificate could have used her Baptism records. I hope some of what i mentioned is helpful. Will keep a lookout for any further discussions on line with you all. My only Daughter is getting ready to put on CD’s all I have gathered and will keep in touch with my Nephew also who has most of the older photos of our Family get togethers.

  20. Sharon Case Smith

    What bugs me are the ones that post family trees on the web and assume they are the ones who have everything correct. I have found family trees posted by people who aren’t personally related at all and then others see it and start posting wrong data. How can anyone post information without actual proof? I wish there was a way to edit some of their messes.

  21. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m the only person in my family who actually cares about my family’s history, but I do find it aggravating that upon occasion some member of my family will email me and ask me to “send” them the info that I have. Nobody ever offers to “send” me the info that they have.

  22. As WWII service personnel were discharged, they were instructed (read, not ordered) to file a copy of their discharge papers and military record with their local county court house. A lot – not all – did. Recommend looking there. You never know, You, Susan Mosey, and others, just may get lucky.

  23. Yes, my grandpa’s WWI service records and my father’s WWII service records were lost in that fire, also. And I got my dad’s WWII medical records – but with mold stains and burn marks.

  24. I have an aunt like that. It’s a “whoever dies with the most stuff wins” attitude. And her two kids couldn’t care less about it all, and there aren’t any grandkids… I finally got her to loan me the photos of her brother (my uncle) with three presidents (he was a plowing champ) after years of her telling me she didn’t have anything… Then she softened up and gave me the originals (after five more years went by). And now two of the three originals reside in Presidential Libraries (Truman’s and Eisenhower’s). What if she’d held onto them and her kids threw them away, or put them away in their attics forever?

  25. WOW!!! He could ask if someone in the church would like to be the custodian of it?? Wow.

  26. It took me probably five years to get one cousin to loan me his stuff… And he was nearly 80 at the time. Every year that went by, I got more nervous! And his second wife might not have even kept the stuff, or for sure not known who to send it to after he died (me). Finally he sent it, and I scanned it all and put it on ancestry.com, so now it’s out there for all researchers – whew. But there’s plenty of other stuff that I don’t even know who to ask. I know it’s out there somewhere, but I don’t know who has it!

  27. Yep… It’s not important to them, so they don’t realize how important it is to us. Frustrating.

  28. I never thought of that. You can see how a careless doctor could make those mistakes. (Not that it’s a valid excuse.)

  29. Wow. Just wow… I live in the Midwest, and Rule #1 of living in the Midwest is, “NEVER, EVER store anything in the basement, sitting on the floor, in cardboard boxes.” It’s just asking for trouble.

  30. I have one aunt like that. She GAVE me everything she had, saying, “You’ll appreciate it more than my kids would.” Which is true – but since I scanned it, her kids can have a CD of all of it if they want one. It’s a win-win.

  31. Well, if that’s true, I sure wish somebody would re-scan them… I’d volunteer to do it myself!

  32. People into genealogy but can’t spell it (geneology or geneaology). People looking for their “descendants” (ie. ancestors), are two of my main pet peeves.

  33. While each example causes me sympathetic frustration, I kind of expect idiotic withholding from some of my fellow humans, even relatives. Some people are just nuts. All the more reason to maintain public family trees/research in my opinion; sometimes a total stranger will pop up and fill in blanks for which some relative has refused to provide their information. Sometimes collaboration gets around this kind of obstacle.

    Nowadays I reserve my angriest energy for any public entity that destroys or fails to adequately protect public records. I too am a victim of the St. Louis fire, but all too often local, city, county, and state institutions charged with storage fail to think of themselves as what they really are, which is archives. Sometimes they lose material even when they think they’re maintaining it; I’m forever at a loss for a death record from the 1890s because it resided in a county courthouse. When they moved their records to a new courthouse in 1986 they called upon volunteers to help physically move the boxes. A number of old records have since been found to have been stolen and that’s the most likely time for the theft to have happened. There’s no other explanation for it and they were probably harvested for personal use or sale. (Speaking of which, always check eBay from time to time. You can’t believe what gets trafficked.)

    Ditto with WA state archives in Olympia. The one court record I needed was in the middle of 15 folders discovered to be missing for the year 1887 when I made my research request a few years ago. Most likely someone stole the court record they wanted to hide/destroy and took the other 14 to disguise which one was their target. Archivists, librarians, and gen society oldtimers tell me this is common. This particular instance comes down to sloppy security protocols by the archivists, though whether the theft happened before the records were gathered at the county level or after they arrived in Olympia is also unknown, because the intake procedure was nonexistent.

    One of the things I’ve learned about the WPA during Roosevelt’s presidency is that as a rule college educated people were put to work in numbers similar to those better known from photos of men working on public projects in national forests, on highways, etc. This army of transcribers and bringers of order to chaos was responsible for much, perhaps most, of the archives and historic records we have to work with today, some of it going as far back as colonial times in the eastern states. To me they are unsung heroes.

  34. My gr-gr-grandfather Franz Polk and my gr-grandfather Ambrose Ciechanowski were two of the founders of Parisville in the “Thumb” of Michigan. When they left Poland (1854/1855), they sailed to Canada where they lived for about a year, working on the Grand Trunk Railroad construction project.

    We all like to search for the passenger records of our relatives. Well, it turns out that Canada decided that they should burn all such records from before 1865 in order to make room for other things. So, there is a big research hole I will never be able to fill.

  35. Thank you for voicing so many of my own frustrations. Speaking of fire, I found out that I can’t get my dad’s military record (which included medals) because all the records were stored in St. Louis destroyed 80% of the WWII veteran’s service records in 1973. Really? You are the national depository for these very important records and you can’t put them in a fire-proof place? Which is why my daddy never was able to receive VA benefits. Handwriting is another one, my poor mother’s name was so butchered by bad penmanship that the first letter of her name, “B,” looked like a “Z.”

  36. My dad passed after years of heart trouble. All the blood flow problems caused liver failure. I wasn’t there when he passed (had recently given birth) but found out later they listed cause of death as alcoholism! Cause of death is not always given by someone who knows!

  37. I’ve found a few duplicates. It’s not that they lived in 2 places, but they were home on one census and at parents or grandparents on another census within days or weeks. The census takers and/or family members weren’t thinking to note that they were already recorded on the first census. Then there’s the few “on the ball” census takers who note a family member on a different form than their family, but reference the family sheet and line number they belong to.

  38. Why does a cousin say her brother has all the photos from grandma and then turn around and say that she has nothing to share? or who has our grandfather’s journal and hasn’t transcribed it after several years. I can’t understand anyone who doesn’t care enough about family history to preserve and share what they have. I know I need to be better myself, but it is more of time restraints than anything else.

  39. We had a young pastor a few years ago who decided to clean house. He took all the old records from the church and threw them away. No one knew he had done this until long after the dreadful deed was done. Now the church is trying to rebuild what was lost, an impossible task. Some people look at old records as dust collectors with no worth.

  40. Duplicate(?) records. Is it possible the same family lived in 2 different cities in the same census year?

  41. When I first started “climbing the family tree”, I met a lovely lady at our Annual State Conference. She told me about her Cousin who would Never Share Anything, but thought Everyone Should Share With Her. She woke in the middle of the night to find the Whole House On Fire. She got out with her purse – Nothing Else.
    Since this was the Pre-Computer Research Era – Everything went up in Flames. Over 30 years of Research (hers & others),
    Not Sharing = No Backup

  42. Regarding #3, I remember looking at the 1900 US Census for Silver Lake township IA and thinking,’ WOW for a change, I can read all the names’. I have 3 generations of ancestors on that page so that census was especially important. I glanced at the top of the record and realized my grandfather had been the enumerator. He was teaching school, and saving money to buy an interest in the local general store. And he had beautiful handwriting. Almost makes up for all those unreadable records. But not quite.

  43. >> Those blurry, badly microfilmed World War I draft cards
    These cards might be located at a “local level.” The original WWI draft cards for Sauk County, Wisconsin
    can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society Library’s archives in Madison Wiscosin.

  44. My #5 is a corollary to #4. People who post DNA results or family trees on genealogical websites, but don’t answer messages. I believe that family research is a collaborative hobby. Yet people who appear to already be interested in their ancestry, don’t take the time to reply to a simple message. In the old days, we’d be thrilled to get a message and share. Not everything necessarily. But a little kindness goes a long way. We’d all be helping each other.

  45. As a corollary to #4, my #5 would be people who post their DNA or their trees on genealogical websites, yet if you send them a message, the messages are ignored. I feel that genealogy is a collaborative hobby. But even those who appear to be interested in family research, don’t give a simple response. In the old days, we’d be thrilled to get a message and share.

  46. From reading all the comments…looks like #4, our own relatives, are our worst enemies in all this genealogy stuff.

  47. THANK YOU! For sharing the same grips that I have. I knew I wasn’t the only one……….Even though these are the main grips, I do have a few more as well. (In no particular order) How can you get “proof with documentation” for something that happened in the south during the civil war and records and articles burned and lost during the war? Census records only go so far, and we know how much the census takers respected their jobs with accuracy. Your ancestors were poor farmers who didn’t read or write. Family members who had issues with other siblings and/or kin and didn’t want to be associated with them in any way possible. Other family members that share their work with stories, make believe families, and connections that have nothing to support the fact that they are decedents of “someone famous”. Sometimes, yes, there are ways to overcome these obstacles, but more times than not it can take years to learn the truth. Good thing we are all persistent in our endeavors!

  48. Lee, I’m sure they don’t seal their pictures because of people like you and me. It’s probably so they don’t end up published in someone else’s book and making money off of someone else’s photos.

  49. Living relatives make me want to scream and just completely ignore them for the rest of my life. I’m all too often right ready to share everything I have, but when it comes time for them to share with me…they disappear or completely ignore me. I’m still waiting on my husband’s close aunt to just give me the names of her husband’s parent’s names. She even took the time to write him a facebook message saying, ” …and let Missy know I haven’t forgotten about her.” Why didn’t she just write the names instead of wasting time writing what she wrote? This is just one tiny example. I enjoy working with the dead much better.

  50. So good to hear someone choice my same frustrations. One of mine is the PRIVATE trees, and putting their seal on pictures. Pictures and documents should belong to the whole family. I just don’t understand that thinking. They may have possession physically but they don’t own that information.

  51. The Feds aren’t the only ones that throw things away. We went to a county courthouse to get the probate packet of an ancestor and they gave us the packet…there was the will in it but that was all???? When I asked why the packet looked as though it had contained many papers because it was all ‘plumped’ up and, now, it only had the will in it, the clerk answered “Oh, we didn’t have room for all of those so we threw everything else away in all the packets”!!!! When she saw our horrified look, she said “Don’t worry, two old ladies always dumpster dive in our trash and they probably have the papers you want….” so she gave us directions to the next little town where the ‘two little old ladies’ lived. We visited the two nice, not so old, ladies and gave them some money and a list of what we wanted from the packet (we especially needed the complete list of the final payout of the estate) and left. Two weeks later, after we returned from the trip, all the info was included in a typewritten letter. We really would have liked copies of the original papers but we felt fortunate we had received something…and it did prove the link for my husband from his gr gr grandfather to his third gr grandfather so it was worth the trouble.

  52. #4 is the worst! My aunt has tons of my grandparents’ family photos. She has asked me about family tree info that I have discovered, but when I asked about the photos she stopped talking to me.

  53. I recently obtained my mother’s death certificate. It stated that “cause of death” was “malnutrition”. My mother had lung, liver and brain cancer. I asked my doctor about this and he said the cause of deaths should have been cancer. Now, I have to question all death certificates!

  54. Yes it is at times no fun, you are told someone will get back to and they don’t. I am still looking for a Mr Frank William Edwards from Smallfield Surrey England. He walked out (or so I am told in 1936) No one can or will tell me why. I don’t
    know his place of birth or death and very little hope of finding out.

  55. The same happened in our family. The oldest daughter was the gate keeper to what records the family had kept through the years. Unwilling to share, even temporarily, they were all lost to a house fire started by her niece sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom. It is hard to talk about it. When older and younger relatives ask me “What are you going to do with all of this information, all this research, what’s your point?” I just respond, if you have to ask, you would never understand.

  56. Something I’ve encountered, that I can’t wrap my head around, is a small town courthouse where many records were still not indexed, or organized in any particular fashion, only to be found in dozens and dozens of boxes in their basement. When pleading my case, to be allowed a peek, only to find out they had been “water damaged a few years back”. Gone and lost forever, birth certificates, marriage bonds..well you get the idea. Ironically, the same small town had a “Historical and Preservation Society”. What????

  57. Jim Appleby, Sr.

    Point number 4 hits home the hardest for me. My mother had ALL of our family photographs and always stalled when I wanted to have them duplicated. Years went by, after all my begging during that time. One year, they all got wet during a rainstorm and a leaky garage roof into an open cardboard box. Then came the period of trying to dry them out and separating them without damage. The final nail in the coffin was a garage fire and all of our old family photographs (some from the 1890s) were destroyed. It’s hard to talk about it.

  58. i agree 100% on items 1 & 3–the amount of info lost with one census is SO frustrating & trying to transcribe some of the horrible handwriting is tortuous!!
    I wasn’t aware they disposed of the draft records–unbelievable!!! Many of the records for my Louisiana relatives are easy to read but not the Illinois relatives!
    On your last point, I’ve experienced a mix of responses. Some have made it abundantly clear they do not want to be bothered. Oh, and wouldn’t it have to be the branch that inherited the old family homestead where large family reunions were held at one time? They have made it very clear should any unwelcome visitors show up, they will prosecute!! A large number just don’t bother to answer but then others give limited info & show up at reunions to see what we have discovered; they give themselves away with interesting reactions (Who told you??). Then there is the one-in-a-million: a cousin who received our invite or read the newspaper announcement & called one of my cousins to say he had something we might be interested in seeing–OH MY!! It was a very old briefcase that contained all the old ones from family reunion planning meetings, recorded everything done at reunions, the guest book where family members signed in for nearly 40 years! And each year, a small group would record all the births, deaths, marriages and those in the military during WWI & WWII–we have such a treasure!!!

  59. I think the national archives at Atlanta retain the WWI draft cards? I took a tour there in college as a part of a public history course and I remember being in a storage room and the archivist pointing out entire aisles of boxes marked WWI draft cards. Or maybe they just have a portion of them?

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