Genealogy is a Superpower

I pushed the “send” button.  And then I cried.

I know, it sounds dramatic.  Admittedly, I was up late the night before working on research, but this was a man’s LIFE.

Last night, I came across a newspaper article a friend had posted on Facebook.  Her local county coroner’s office was looking for help identifying the families of two veterans who had died in the last month.

The coroner’s office had used its resources, with help from the police and the local veterans’ service commission, but had come up empty-handed.  They would have to rely on tips from the public to find the families of these men.  And if that failed?  The Veterans Service Commission would provide a small stipend for burial assistance and contact the National Cemetery Administration and the VA to help arrange the burial.

These men would have been honored as vets and buried, but their families might never know what had happened to them.  What a tragedy!

It felt a little cocky to start the research.  After all, who am I to think I could do better than the people who had already been tackling this problem for weeks?  Certainly, the resources at my disposal were far fewer.

But I made headway.  Years of practice locating living relatives came in handy.  My genealogy skills proved their worth and I found the family of one of the men.  I prepared a sourced report and emailed it to myself so I could contact the coroner’s office in the morning.

I woke up this morning with mixed feelings.  I was confident that I had found the right people.  I was eager to help return a lost sheep to the fold.  But I also questioned myself.  Self-esteem has always been a problem for me.  Was I really capable of doing this?  Had I made a mistake?  Were these people going to think I was crazy, calling out of the blue and saying that I knew who this man’s family was (without ever having met them)?

But a friend posted a video to Facebook.  One that I seriously needed to see.

It was time to ask the universe.

I called the coroner’s office and emailed them my report.  Then, as I mentioned before, I cried.  I cried because I had taken a leap of faith; I had trusted myself to be good enough.  I cried because there was a man who might not ever be remembered properly if I wasn’t willing to do what I could do.  I cried because I actually DO have the ability to make the world a better place.  It didn’t happen the way I imagined it as a child, but that’s what I had always dreamed about: changing things, making things better, having an impact on the lives of others.

For lack of a better term, it was like using my powers for good.

Genealogy isn’t just putting together charts and holding on to old dusty photographs so that future generations will remember.  Genealogy is here and now.  We have the power to do something amazing, if we are willing to try.


Research Vacation

As you may or may not know, my husband is British.  The rest of his family still lives in the UK, so every other year or so, we go over to see everyone.

Luckily for me, that also means a research trip!  This time, we will have the opportunity to spend a week in Scotland.  My husband and mother- and father-in-law are kind enough to have offered to watch the kids for a day so I can go to the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh.  Let me tell you…I CANNOT WAIT!

scotlandspeople centre

I have been there before, but it has been several years.  As much as I enjoy the ScotlandsPeople website, it is really nice to be able to preview all the BMD certificates I’m interested in without paying for each individual view.  I can choose some of my stickiest problems and explore until I find an answer.  (You hear that, Smiths?  I’m coming for you!)

In addition, I plan to visit the Historical Search Room for the first time.  After obtaining a Reader’s Ticket, you can view records held by the National Records of Scotland.  Some of these records have to be requested in advance as they are held off-premises.  You can search the catalog here.

The particular item I am most interested in is the paternity decrees from the Paisley Sheriff Court.  My husband’s third great-grandmother, Jean Lochhead, was widowed in her early thirties.  Her first husband, John Renfrew, had been a blacksmith in the Williamsburgh section of Paisley.  With six children to raise on her own, Jean decided to continue her husband’s business after his death.  At the time the 1841 census was taken, Jean’s household consisted of her and her children, as well as three young smiths who were likely her employees.

One of these men was John Brown, whom she would, the following year, pursue for paternity of her young daughter, Grace, my husband’s second great-grandmother.  I am hoping that Grace’s paternity decree will hold more detail than that given in the abstract available on  At this point, I have been unable to find John Brown at any point following the 1841 Census.  Grace did not use her true father’s last name or even acknowledge him in records in her later life, listing herself instead as the daughter of John Renfrew.  It seems that John Brown was likely a bit of a bum, but it would still be nice to trace his line further back and to be able to say, genetically, *this* is where our family comes from.

If we get the chance, I also want to visit the Heritage Centre at Paisley Central Library.  This location holds the poor law records for Paisley from 1839 to 1930.  Jean Lochhead resided in the Burgh poorhouse for at least the last ten years of her life.  This could possibly be a treasure trove of information.

Have I mentioned that I’m excited about this trip?!

What is your favorite research location?  Have you found an amazing record that broke straight through your brick wall?