Sometimes we need to go well beyond “The Usual Suspects” and seek out “Keyser Soze” in our genealogy work!
I’ll admit it. “The Usual Suspects” is one of my favorite movies.
There are many reasons I believe this film is wonderful. First, I love that it was shot on a budget of only $6 million, that it was shown first at the Caanes Film Festival, but not even in competition,and gained its popularity from word-of-mouth. Of course I fully enjoy the story line, that Christopher McQuarrie won the Academy Award for the screen play and naturally that Kevin Spacey won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Roger “Verbal” Kint.
I won’t go into the story line here, but if you haven’t seen this film or haven’t seen it recently, I suggest you do so for some entertainment (if you like film noir) and for a genealogy lesson as well.
You see, I learned a very valuable lesson from “The Usual Suspects” for my genealogy. It is this:
Check out the usual suspects, but you might do better seeking out Keyser Söze!
You see, my family tree and my years of research are living proof that more often than you might think, the clues, the missing fact, the chisel to begin busting down that brick wall, will be found not in the usual suspects of your research but rather in the far more hidden world of ‘Keyser Söze resources’ …. those hidden, less well known, and alas a bit more difficult to find and access.
Certainly there are billions of records online and digitally available. However, remember this: One document may well be considered dozens of records. If the field in the document is searchable, then usually it is counted as a ‘record’. So that one line on your grandfather’s 1940 Census return might well qualify as a dozen records in the count. A birth certificate can often contain dozens of records all on its own as well. Not that it makes all that much difference, but it just shows that the huge number we often take comfort in and believe those who say ‘well, almost everything is online these days’ and results in sloppy, incomplete, and poorly done genealogy, ancestry, and family histories.
Also think about the fact that untold trillions of records are not even touched, let alone indexed or put into categories. This can be especially true if you ancestors happen to have emigrated from some of the lesser known genealogy countries in the world. For instance have you ever tried to find an online birth, death, or marriage record for Angola? Oh, and I do not mean the town in Indiana or New York.
I mean nothing negative by using Angola as an example. Actually I have traveled through Angola and love it and the people there. It was just a convenient example Plus the example of finding success in trying to track the Keyser Söze type of records can be carried on right here in the good old U. S. of A. The following are a few personal examples:
- While many military records are online through MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch, Ancesty.com, Fold3.com (the old Footnotes.com) and others, it wasn’t until I was able to research in the National Archives in St. Louis and review such items as Morning Reports and After Action Reports, which are not online yet, that I was able to find any information of value on my own father’s military service.
- Then I found even more valuable information at the US Army’s Quartermasters Museum. Plus some incredibly knowledgeable and friendly archivists there!
- An incredibly helpful set of records and documents that I found happened to be at the Bank of England’s Archives in London, England. They hold some truly amazing records from all the way to the 1400s and in my case had records of annuities granted in my ancestor Nicholas Phillipps estate to multiple heirs, with addresses and much more. These ledgers and records held tremendous information for me, which when coupled with some family wills and probate records opened up some wonderful findings.
- Speaking of wills and probate, I also needed to access wills in the United Kingdom, which were subject to probate after 1858. This means that, if you want more than the index listing, which you should, you need to access them at the United Kingdom’s Department of Justice, Probate Services and are not online. You have to request these forms in person, so you need to be there or have an ‘agent’, in my case a local researcher, Kristina Bedford with Ancestral Deeds.
- Also be aware that all indexed material may not digitally available. Such is the case with the United Kingdom’s National Archives. However, you can search those documents then order them from the United Kingdom National Archives via their Discovery online catalog. Be sure to search under the tab titled “All Collections”. That way if there is a document that is not digitally available, they will give you a free quote to have it digitized and sent. I have received a number of wills and Admiralty information using this system.
- Once you have a document, there is often times the challenge to read it! In my case I have accessed multiple U.K. wills from the 1500s and 1600s and the script and verbiage used can be almost like it is not written in English. That is when, even though you have the document, you might do well to consider using the services of a palaeographer such as the world-class palaeographer I use, Peter Foden.
- Just recently I also found an absolute treasure while searching through history books of Fraternal Organizations. I usually start with Google Books and move on from there to some of the large used book shops such as Alibris and Abe Books. Then to the smaller, more specialized shops such as the magnificent shop of Ivor Cornish, ABMRA Books in the U.K. and the equally impressive Zubal Books in the United States.
- And don’t overlook the smaller, specialized museums and smaller genealogy societies that also may not have their collections and information in digital form. I have had wonderful success with museums such as the Cranbrook (Kent) Museum, the Hemet-San Jacinto Genealogy Society, the Iron Range Research Center (in Northern Minnesota), which has a wonderful genealogy service, and many other semi-hidden gems!
So when doing your research, remember to always check your ‘Usual Suspects’, but to find some of the best genealogy gems in the world, you have to keep searching for Keyser Söze!