Happy New Year everybody! I haven’t posted in a long while because I’ve been busy giving genealogy webinars, managing a child in remote learning, and going back to work myself.
The silver lining during the past year has been the webinars I’ve launched. I’ve seen an amazing response and more are to come. I plan to ask a few of my friends to join me for joint webinars, add workshops, and even some classes.
Now, on to today’s topic.
How many living descendants have you connected with since you’ve been researching your family?
If the answer is none, you are missing out on information that no database or repository can ever tell you.
One of the surprising things about this research for me has been discovering how few people actually had children. As a rough estimate, I’d say about 40% of my ancestors (including collateral) did not have children.
–Out of 12 surviving children of Levi and Beatrice Prather only 4 had children.
–Out of the 8 children of John & Mary Holt, only 5 had children.
–Out of the 7 children of Walter & Effie Springer, only 4 had children.
–Out of the 3 sons of David and Anna Crowder, none had children.
My grandmother told us that her brothers were in Okinawa during World War II. She believed they were exposed to chemical agents while there and this explained the fact that they could not have children. I am sure that was her best guess, and I have no idea if that is true.
In the past, they didn’t have the fertility clinics we have today to determine the real reasons for infertility. I imagine that many of those couples wanted children. It must have been difficult to be married for decades and not know why, as a couple, they could not conceive.
Many families unofficially adopted children, as was common practice in earlier times. Particularly with the high mortality rate, siblings and grandparents are often found in census records raising orphaned children.
The 1940 census
So when I find someone I in the 1940 census who has children, I turn into a madwoman. My hope is to find descendants and reconnect our families. I can’t tell you how rewarding and successful this has been for me.
The sources I use for this are relatively few:
- Online whitepages and people search websites
- Ancestry’s US, Phone and Addresses database
- Death certificates
- Google, Bing, Yahoo & Other search engines
Finding Simpson Family
For my Simpson line, the obituary of a man who died in 1994 listed his surviving daughters (with their married names) and the cities where they lived.
Given that, I scoured online whitespages, zabasearch and similar sites for addresses and numbers. The Ancestry Phone and Addresses database is also helpful, as is just searching the person’s name in Google or other search engines.
I often call every number I find online, but many of them are no good. Then I send postcards explaining my relationship, and try to assure them I am not some crackpot stalker;)
In this case, one card landed successfully with my newfound dear cousin Wanda. She was thrilled to connect our families, and she came with a wealth of knowledge, oral history & family photographs. She and my father are second cousins. Lucky me!
In a similar fashion, about six years ago, I found living descendants on this same Simpson family line. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when they attended our family reunion (at my invitation) and brought the photo albums filled with historic photos. They later invited me to dinner where we exchanged even more stories and photographs and research.
Finding Waters Family
That same process led me to connect with another cousin, Edwin, from my Eastern Shore of Maryland Waters line. He attended my alma mater, Morgan State!
He also is the first cousin I’ve met that grew up in the historic community of Upper Fairmount. His memory, records, photographs and kindness make me so happy we’ve met. What a sweetheart he is, in all the best ways.
In the picture below, Edwin gave myself and another DNA cousin a tour of the community, churches and cemetery in Upper Fairmount (today called Upper Hill).
Below are two of the many beautiful community pictures he shared with me. Outside pictures are rare so I am always thrilled see these:
A Few Tips
In 1940 if there were multiple children, you’ll have better luck finding those with less common names. Men are easier to find since their names don’t change. With death certificates, the informant’s address may be provided, and they are likely a relative.
Overall, I’d say finding as many obituaries as possible has been the biggest help. Obituaries uncover the married names of descendants and usually the cities they lived in.
Also, if they have a public or more high-profile occupation, you may find a person you seek named on the websites of those jobs. That’s why the Internet searches are useful.
There are numerous genealogy lectures available online at sites such as Legacy Family Webinars about finding living descendants. They detail many more ways to find people, but the sources I listed above are what has worked for me.
Of course this process isn’t always successful. Addresses are old, postcards are returned.
Everyone you find may not respond or may not be interested in family history.
But the many benefits of finding descendants have far outweighed that small number who are not interested.
In the comments, I’d love to hear from you on ways you found living descendants and how that discovery impacted your research.
Postscript: About 2 weeks ago I discovered a branch of descendants I’ve been seeking for 15 years! The whole family joined me for a two-hour Zoom call, and we are all just elated.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.