About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 25 times over and a great-grandmother of 19. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega with Genealogy Journeys where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that can be found at http://genaandjean.blogspot.com and more about my own business projects is on my Circlemending website.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

I said I search for dead, not living, people

The second of the two "connect living family" stories from the Nashville episode of Genealogy Roadshow dealt with a young lady whose father was unknown to her. I would estimate that I spent a good thirty hours on this story, with many, many successes along the way.

Luckily, Sarah knew the name of her father (who had died in San Francisco a number of years earlier) so I got onto the SSDI to get his exact (or nearly exact) death date. From there, I checked the California Death Index and located an abstract of the certificate, but it was not complete (only part of the mother's maiden name was listed). I contacted a genealogist in the Bay Area and asked her to get a copy of the certificate, which she did. With that document, I had the full maiden name of the decedent's mother and the name of his father (Sarah's grandparents). I tracked the father's line a little way, but got tangled in the different lines for the surname; I changed direction to the mother's line and was able to track her back to the East Coast.

Sarah's grandmother came from Connecticut and her line took me to the immigrants mentioned in the Nashville episode of the show. There were a lot of name changes happening (both actual changes and misspellings) but the Polish roots were relatively clear from the beginning of the search. To follow the family from place to place, I used city directories and learned that Sarah's great-grandmother was an early female employee of the Fuller Brush Company in Hartford, Connecticut, working as a "matron." The great-grandparents' immigration data was located, some by me and some by one of the production team members, who was the one to do the tracking into the original village in Poland.

Finding living family is often a back and forth procedure, and here is a perfect example of this as I went backwards, then forwards, then back again to pick up the history of a second husband, another alias for the great-grandmother, a move across the country, etc. I contacted the Bay Area genealogist again for other death certificates and a marriage record, giving me the needed name of the death informant. This coming forward again led me to Sarah's father's sister (Sarah's aunt) who had attempted to reach Sarah when her father died. Armed with the aunt's information from her mother's death certificate and a telephone number Sarah had from years before, I was able to get in touch with living family, connecting Sarah to her father's family, as you saw on the episode.

Lesson learned: Sometimes using the RootsWeb mailing lists can help with finding others researching the same line (while I was not able to connect with others searching for the same line I was, I used some regional mailing lists for help in finding information about research in specific areas - in this case, Hawaii). I also used some "finding living people" websites for phone numbers and email addresses of people who might be related. I had some interesting conversations, but did not have any luck with them . . . this time.


  1. Jean - great research stories! I would love to learn how you were chosen to be a part of the research team and maybe some tips on how aspiring genealogists might get to that point.

    1. Kenyatta Berry recommended me. They were looking for So. Calif. Researchers. Having a CG and PhD didn't hurt. I am giving a presentation at the APG PMC in Jan in Salt Lake that addresses the issue of climbing the ladder.Joining APG is most important... I didn't look anywhere else for on site help.