Friday, July 10, 2009

Why I mailed chocolates to Iowa

I've been wanting to start a genealogy blog for awhile, but I couldn't figure out what of value I could contribute. Although I, of course, am very excited to discover that my great-great-grandmother's maiden name was Buzzard, you probably don't want to hear about this discovery in great detail unless you share my Buzzard ancestry.

And I'm new to genealogy in general, so I don't have brilliant tips and tricks and resources to share.

So I've decided that I'll share not my discoveries or my research methodologies, but my adventures. I'll write about the things that, as a new genealogist, confuse me or excite me or freak me out. And if you're new too, maybe you'll take comfort in the fact that somebody else is confused or inordinately excited. And if you're experienced, maybe you can share some words of wisdom.

To that end, here is my dilemma of the week: I am not very good at collecting records that are not online.

Oh, I know how to find them, of course. I know that if I would like the death certificate of my great-grandfather, who died in Iowa in 1949, I should contact the Iowa Department of Health, or possibly the county clerk in the county he died in. I know these things. But I am overwhelmed by protocol. Can I actually ask the Department of Health for a death certificate? The website says that I can receive a certified death certificate if I'm a grandchild, but I'm a great-grandchild. Will I go to all the trouble of getting an application notarized and sending fifteen dollars only to have my request turned down?

Well, I don't really need a certified death certificate. Does that mean I can just ask the county clerk? Is it the county clerk I'm asking? I know how to find the address of the Lucas County Courthouse, but I feel silly sending a letter to the wrong person asking for something they might not do.

So the death certificate thing remains a mystery, pending a trip to a notary, but I think I've got one success. On a whim, I emailed the Lucas County Historical Society, asking if their newspaper index included the year 1949, and if so, did it include an obituary for Orlan Wells.

Why, yes, they responded, their index includes 20 articles about Orlan Wells, with tantalizing descriptions like "blaze destroys residence north of Russell," "family injured in runaway," and "candidate for clerk of District Court." (Ah ha! My great-grandfather my have been at one point the county clerk. I wonder if he got letters from confused genealogists.)

So this sends me into my perpetual, "Well, what's the proper protocol here? Do I just ask how much it would be for copies? Maybe they don't do copies. That would be rude to ask for a price when they don't even do copies to begin with." But of course I asked about copies.

And now I'm sending the Lucas County Genealogical Society the fifteen dollar check they asked for. And a little box of chocolates, which they did not ask for, but I'll be contacting the Lucas County Genealogical Society a lot. I figured it can't hurt to begin the relationship with chocolate.


  1. Everything goes better with chocolate. The Seattle Public Library has a little chocolate stand. I'm hooked as I'm sure the Lucas County Genealogical Society is hooked on you!


  2. I think you will find that, should you happen to send a request for information or for a record to the wrong department, it will eventually get routed to the right one. Bureaucracies work slowly, but they usually like to put the right round peg into the right round hole, overall. Take that from one who has worked in the federal civil service and who also served in the military. Routing to the right department is usually raised to at least a science if not a high art in most of these agencies (smile).

    Welcome to the world of genealogy. I look forward to following your progress, and offering what help I can.

    I think great-grandchildren usually can get death certificates too. I certainly had no trouble getting a document on the death of my great-grandfather in Indiana (I live in Florida). In fact, the farther removed in time, the easier it is to get the document. I know Florida restricts access to documents unless you are a very close relative to 50 years. It usually is a very good idea to either telephone, if you can, or write (with a SASE enclosed for their response) for information as to fees.

    Sometimes you will find forms online for ordering documents. The Tennessee State Archive has such a form, on which I ordered my great-grandparents' marriage certificate. Other states and even counties or municipalities might have such forms online, too. I think Cook County, Illinois (Chicago) does, if I remember correctly. I got my great-uncle's death certificate by using their online form. Just print it out! It is becoming so easy.

    And a lot of these jurisdictions will post their fees online, too, so be sure to check the website first.

    So I think it's great that you are sharing your adventures as a novice genealogist. You'll enjoy the experience.

  3. footnoteMaven - I've heard many good things about the Seattle Public Library, but this goes toward the top of the list. All institutions should feature chocolate. :)

    Karen - Thanks so much for the advice. You know, for some reason it hadn't occured to me that I could just *call* first, rather than sending a letter and hoping for the best. I will definitely keep that in mind.

  4. This is super. I just discovered your blog from Elyse's Genealogy Blog. You left a comment there. I just started a new blog too. Your first post was fantastic. You noted the same questions that I have been thinking about. I am BRAND new to genealogy and blogging. I'm afraid in my blog I'm going to share the boring discoveries of my particular ancestors and their names however ;) I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  5. Welcome Jessica, and I am fairly new to both blogging and Genealogy, I rarely post too due to the fact that I don't feel I have noteworthy postings! There are fantastic bloggers out there but also very supportive, welcoming and we all understand each other. You are already doing a fantastic job. Look forward to reading your blog.

  6. Hi, Jessica! I really like your first post. You are a very good writer. I too used to have the same questions. At first, I was a little hesitant to call a courthouse for fear I would not really know what I was asking for and if they would actually have it, but it gets easier every time you do it. I have learned to really appreciate those counties that have discovered a thing called the Internet and post their forms and fees online.

  7. Chocolate solves a multitude of problems! :) Good luck on your genealogical journey!

  8. i find it very intersting that you have an ancestor with the maiden name of buzzard. wow. i've also found that most states i'm researching have ordering information online. death certificates seem pretty easy to get especially after a certain time passes. they seem to be more tight fisted with birth certificates.