Shut Up, and Keep Digging

October 13, 2009

Anybody else old enough to remember “Mommy, Mommy!” jokes? Backhoe

Q: Mommy, Mommy! I don’t want to go to China!

A: Shut up, and keep digging.

That’s how I feel researching my family history sometimes. I keep digging and digging, and the hole gets bigger and bigger, but I never seem to arrive.

Case in point: my great-great grandfather, William Thomas. I’ve been searching for his death certificate for twenty years. It doesn’t help that both of his names are very common, but even so … twenty years? It’s in the 20th century, for heaven’s sake!

But I am a bulldog, and once I get a hold of a bone, I keep digging at it.

Yesterday, I found it. William H. Thomas. Born 15 March 1848 at Stinson, Carter County, Kentucky. Died 16 September 1927 at Marytown, McDowell County, West Virginia.WilliamThomasdc

He was not in the state where I expected him (Kentucky). Nor was he in the county in West Virginia (Logan) where I have looked for him.

He lived much longer than I thought, so my searches were futile back in the day when you had to specify a span of predetermined years.

He’s listed only by his initials, so he didn’t come up when I initially searched the West Virginia database. In fact, they’ve got his middle initial wrong, so even if I had searched for his initials, he would not have come up.

His wife wasn’t much easier. Her name is Sarah Thomas — equally common. But at least with Sarah, I had an idea when she died (the 1940s or 1950s — 1954, as it turned out). And I knew the family had moved to West Virginia by then.

When I realized through census work that many of their children lived from 1910 through 1930 in the county where Sarah died, I went back to the West Virginia database and searched just that county for every person with the last name Thomas. Then I ground through hundreds of death certificates. In the early years, I found several I didn’t know about — mostly infants that died between censuses, but about halfway through it got tedious. I almost bailed, certain there was nothing more to find.

I did mention I’m a bulldog, right? I never let go of a bone, and this might have been a tiny, dry bone, but it was still a bone. I kept digging, and it paid off.

But I’m going to take the lesson in the photo above: if you have to dig to China, rent a backhoe. Anybody who’s ever searched for death certificates by sending $4 to a Vital Records department to have them search a span of two years recognizes things like the WV database and Ancestry.com for what they are: very powerful tools to help you dig.

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4 Responses to “Shut Up, and Keep Digging”

  1. Judy said

    I almost recognize your hole – seems to be a twin of mine. Well I have two, both birth related and a bit further back. Congrats on sticking with it!

    Now how good are you on digging for stuff over 200 years old? Excuse me while I go back to Ancestry – got a freebie this week – first name of a gggg grandparents and her maiden name! Guess this is my reward for looking for other stuff LOL

    Keep digging,
    Judy
    per my grand daughter many years ago ” Genealogy is finding all those dead ancestors you didn’t know you had” hey, she was 5 at the time!

  2. LOL. Yup, big holes are the most common result of digging for family history.

    Congrats on the maiden name! That’s fabulous!

    And your granddaughter’s a genius. Exactly.

  3. […] Digging Up Stones there is a good post about finally finding that document or piece of information you’ve been […]

  4. it is always interesting to know each of our family history ‘

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