Monday, October 12, 2009

Sometimes Children Just Want to be Found

Last week I received a request from a researcher who had an urgent need for information from a death record so that she could prepare for an upcoming trip to Chicago. I told her I thought I could help and that I would have the record for her the next day.

Unfortunately, when I got home from the Family History Center I discovered that I had scanned the wrong certificate. It’s an easy mistake to make and it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I locate records using a regular microfilm reader and then I transfer the film to my scanner where I peer through a tiny magnifying glass to move the right frame into the scanning window. Sometimes it’s easy to misread the numbers.

So, having made a promise, I went back to the FHC to get the correct record. And it’s here that the story begins. I noticed that the child died of diphtheria and I remembered that the record that I had scanned by mistake had been for a child of the same surname so almost without thinking I moved the film one record forward to take a look. The next certificate was for a child who died of the same disease at the same address. Very likely a sibling. And the next record was for yet another child. Same disease, same address.

Within the space nine days in the summer of 1894 this family lost three young children, ages 3, 5, and 8, to diphtheria. I felt a deep sense of grief as stood by the reader. But I felt something else, too. I felt as if those children had wanted to be found. And I learned later that the researcher had been looking for members of this family for fourteen years.

A lot of times people people say, “Oh, you’re so good at finding death records” and it’s true that my experiences over the last few years have taught me a lot about how to search. But I can take no credit for this find. I think it was supposed to be and I think that I was simply the one given the privilege of making it happen.

How lucky I am to have a job with perks like that.

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