Guest blogger, Peggy Clemens Lauritzen, shares how to locate birth and death records for genealogy with a little known search technique. By using this approach, she found over 100 ‘lost’ children in her family tree. Read this amazing story and uncover the family members you never knew were missing.
I am an Accredited Genealogist. I teach people how to trace their genealogy – their family’s history.
I have not set out on a quest to discover the forgotten babies in my own family. It just happened.
Little Faye Stevens, youngest sibling of my mother, Ida Stevens Clemens, and the only other girl in a family of eight children. She died at age 3 of acute lymphatic leukemia.
It first began while perusing the West Virginia Death Records that are available online. My parents, along with a couple of my dad’s brothers and their families were living in the West Virginia coal camps in Logan County. I had heard my mother mentioned that her two sisters-in-law had a number of pregnancies, along with a number of miscarriages and premature births. Each of these aunts supposedly had 18 pregnancies.
I found a number of these premature babies listed, along with children that lived. My heart began to break, for I saw many causes of death that could have/would have been easily preventable today. Such causes included rickets, malnutrition, childbed fever and syphilis.
I found where many of these young ones were buried, for it was included on the death certificates. Some made the trip back to Olive Hill, Carter, Kentucky and a couple of others were buried in Logan County. Even though my parents knew the families intimately, not all of the babies were included in our records.
Another big surprise happened while speaking at a genealogy conference. I decided to go “live” onto FamilySearch.org and demonstrate different ways of researching. I don’t often go “live” while speaking, for I never know how many devices are updating, or what the bandwidth will be. I use screen shots almost every time. But here’s what happened.
Locating Birth and Death Records for Genealogy
While illustrating how one can do a “Parent Search”, I filled in the names of my mother’s grandparents, Benjamin Franklin and Celia Moore Gearheart, knowing that their daughter Cora would appear in my results list. I had checked it the evening before, and Cora was always the only one who appeared.
My mother knew this family quite well. They lived nearby. She played at their house. They died when she was well into her adult years. But, while I was waiting for the screen to load, I was taken by surprise. There appeared an entry for Matt Gearheart.
Matt. Who in the world was Matt?
I searched over all of the records I had, plus went into the files given to me by my parents, and there wasn’t any Matt listed anywhere.
First of all, Matt is not a name common in my family, or even in that part of Kentucky.
Second, he was born and died the year after my mother.
Sometime between when I was preparing for the presentation and when I went live, baby Matt appeared on FamilySearch, which I peruse on a daily basis. I had never seen his name before.
Citation: “Kentucky Death Records, 1911-1962,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NS7L-LB3 : 20 October 2016), Matt Gearheart, 1912; citing , Carter, Kentucky, United States, Office of Vital Statistics, Frankfort; FHL microfilm 1,904,689.
Third, I have noticed a tendency that when a child died in New England, they often named the next child of that same sex the name of the deceased child. That’s not always the case in the South. Many times, that child’s name was just not spoken again. It may have been just too painful.
I have now come across information on over one hundred babies. I have not set out to discover them, for I didn’t know they needed discovered. At times, we may see a gap in the usual number of years between the births of children that may elude to a miscarriage or death. But, in most of these cases I didn’t know to look. Little Matt was the last-born of a large family. He could have easily been forgotten.
But, he and 105 other babies are not forgotten now…
Many families who descend from old New England families, or who may have pioneer ancestry may assume their family is “all done”. I have learned that this may not always be the case – that there may be ones who may yet be discovered.
To see exactly how to use a “Parent Search” on FamilySearch, watch this short video:
Peggy Clemens Lauritzen, AG, was involved in genealogy before she was even born. The daughter of avid genealogists, she was spending time in courthouses and cemeteries while other children were playing on swings and going to the beach. The love of her family’s history has never left her. With her experience as a former Family History Director, she is a frequent speaker at genealogical societies, workshops, seminars, and webinars where she loves bringing genealogy to life. Some of those would include The Ohio Genealogical Society, The Ohio State University, Brigham Young University, and many other state and local genealogy societies. She has recently completed several Legacy QuickGuides on Appalachia, which are also available on www.legacyfamilytree.com and www.amazon.com, is an instructor at Ancestry Academy, and served as an Ambassador for RootsTech2016-2017. You can read more of her writings at Always Anxiously Engaged.