Today’s Tip: Little things mean a lot … and I DO mean A LOT! Don’t overlook what you might think is simply minutia. It can contain some very important clues!
Today’s tip comes to you hot off the press of an experience I had yesterday. I was doing some research on Ancestry.com and I found a new listing for my great Aunt and her son. I noticed it because it held a new wife for the son and a chilld. As a far as I knew, this son, while married, never had any children. These facts were born out by obituaries, family who knew him personally, and other first-hand, direct knowledge. But, hey, I really only knew his mother and not my cousin, so who was I to not investigate!
I contacted the tree owner and was told a very believable tale of a two-year affair while in the Service and a child. Much of the story made sense. Much of the story fit my cousin’s life as I knew it. In the most gentle fashion I could, I took off my family hat and put on my genealogist hat and began asking questions. Yes, she had my cousin’s birth certificate. No, her father on her birth certificate had been altered to show her step-father, who adopted her at age 6. Yes, she had military records and the birth date was the same. Yes, she had a hand-written envelope from her mother that had contained an early child-support payment from the city my cousin was born in. She knew several of his jobs, which I did not, but then again, I did not know much about this cousin. Boy, it looked more and more like a new discovery to me!
But then I kept asking the questions: Smaller questions. More personal questions. Still trying to be positive, but also probing for that evidence. While I asked, I opened up my electronic profile of this cousin on my tree.
I looked at my file. The first thing I saw was copy of a letter I had that my cousin had sent home during World War II. I knew it to be ‘authentic’ since he spent about half the letter ranting about my grandmother, my father, and my mother! I asked if she would fax me the envelope she had so I could see the handwriting. She agreed.
I waited for the fax and then took a look. There were several letters, especially the capitals that were decided different styles. Plus they were key letters. Two were in his name, so hardly the ones you would change, but hardly solid evidence since I am no handwritting expert! My first sign of doubt.
The next thing I noticed in my file was that I had a photo of this cousin in his military dress uniform in a formal photo. What did her records show for his military service, I asked. She said he was a 1st Lt in the Army. Actually, she added, the Army Air Corps. Ah ha, I thought!
I went back to the letter. There in the middle of the rant against my grandmother was the statement that my cousin was ‘only an enlisted man’, no 1st Lt for sure!
I pulled up the photo of my cousin again and began an internet search for his medals and shoulder patch. First, I found the medals, which, while I found it interesting that he was an expert marksman, didn’t help a ton. Then I found the shoulder patch! Clearly he was in the Army Services Forces branch of the US Army, not the Army Air Corps!
Where did she think he served, I asked? State-side the whole war, she said. Two years of affair proved that, she said. I looked again at the letter I had. Post marked the Philippines, Feb 1945. Nope, not the USofA at all!
So now I was getting more certain that we had two different folks, not one — as this person claimed.
Now the genealogist in me took off and I realized that while there was a coincidence or two and some similarities, these were by no means the same person. A quick look at Ancestry.com and I provided her with four similarly named fellows who just might fit her outline. No evidence, but way more doubt!
I have now sent for my cousin’s military records file (it is over 62 years ago, so they are public record now) and I will seal my decision based on its contents, but I feel certain now this was a red herring. Well meaning, I am sure, but erroneous all the same.
And it all really came down to the patch on his shoulder in an old photograph.
Little things really do mean a lot in our work, so don’t overlook the details!
Onward To Our Past,