Coroner’s Inquests

If your relative died under suspicious circumstances, there may have been an inquest into their death. These records, in the United States, typically start in the late 19th century, but there are exceptions. Generally they are local (city or county) records and they may or may not be available online. Testimony of witnesses and doctors may be included. That testimony may give additional insight not only into the death, but also the life, of your relative.

Henry Goldenstein’s 1921 death in Kansas City, Missouri, was actually investigated by a coroner in Adams County, Illinois.

Was Your Relative a Writer?

Your relative may not have written the “Great American Novel” or otherwise noteworthy fiction, but it’s possible he or she wrote something else that was published.

Old newspapers may have contained a letter from your ancestor (either as a letter to the editor or as a “local correspondent). Trade publications may have contained a “how to” or career-based article written by your ancestor or about your ancestor. Publications of social or fraternal organizations may have also contained some of your ancestor’s writings.

Digital images of newspapers are available on a variety of online sites, both free and fee-based. Other publications may be available digitally at Google Books,, or other archives of digital images of out-of-copyright publications.

Another Immigrant Generation?

Be open to the possibility that more members of a family immigrated than you think. Family tradition was that an ancestral couple married in Switzerland and then migrated to the United States in the early 1850s where others of his family had settled as adults. Seemed like a very reasonable story.

Turns out that the wife immigrated as a child with her parents and that her future husband immigrated as an adult from a nearby village with members of his own family. She was not the only one from her family to immigrate as the family tradition seemed to suggest.

That Submitter May Know Nothing

The person who submits a photo of your ancestor to FindAGrave, FamilySearch, or any other site may potentially know absolutely nothing about your ancestor. It is very possible they found the photo while browsing the internet (often obituary pages, but not necessarily), saved it (with no citation), and uploaded it.

Consider a reverse image search at Google to see if you can find other locations where the image is posted–perhaps by someone with more knowledge about your ancestor or perhaps where the image was posted originally.

Inheritance Clues?

Early in my research, I was unaware that my 3rd great-grandmother had two husbands with whom she had children and that I descended from her first marriage. There was a clue in their estate records. A big one.

The 3rd great-grandmother and her husband died a few years apart and their estates were settled separately. The notice of “impending probate” listed more heirs for the 3rd-great-grandmother than the one did for her husband. A daughter and children of a deceased daughter were mentioned in her probate, but not in that of her husband. No heir or family member died between the death of the 3rd great-grandmother and her husband.

At the time all heirs should have been notified. The fact that they had different heirs, technically “heirs-at-law,” was a clue that all of her children were not all of his children–particularly the daughter who was only mentioned in the 3rd great-grandmother’s estate and the deceased mother of the grandchildren who were also mentioned in the 3rd great-grandmother’s estate.

They weren’t “forgotten” from her husband’s estate. They were not mentioned because they were not his children.

Grabbing the First One: Does It Fit What Is Already Known?

A reminder:

Don’t just grab the first record that seems to match the names of the individuals for whom you are looking and assume that it’s the “right people.” It may or may not be them. There can be husband and wife couples with the same or similar names living in the same country, state, county, parish, etc.–particularly if the names are relatively common. Those couples can be unrelated to each other, particularly if the geographic distance is significant. They couple be cousins of the couple of interest–which still means that you’ve got the “wrong people” just wrong people who are related.

Records in the United States all indicate that my Irish immigrant forebears were in Canada by the mid-1860s and that they started having children by the late 1860s. US census records and later death records for the children all consistently indicate that the children were born in Canada or in the United States–some providing a specific location in Canada which helped me to locate the parents’ marriage record. Fully researching the family where they settled also resulted in the location of a brother of the immigrant and that brother’s records allowed me to locate where the family was from in Ireland.

A researcher insisted the couple was married in Ireland because a couple matching their names popped up in an index of Irish marriages–no explanation for the geographic discrepancy. The date was inconsistent with other information known about the couple and their children. It could be that the couple who popped up in the index was them–but the researcher would need to explain why since that date and place was chronologically and geographically inconsistent with what is already known. And there already was a marriage record for that couple with the same names in the place their children were born a year or so before the oldest one arrived.

That couple is probably them.

Don’t Just Scratch the Surface

From a while back…

While viewing a newspaper account of a relative’s accidental death in 1906, I noticed a reference to a woman’s murder in an adjacent county. She was shot by her husband. Somewhat curious, I decided to do a little “quick” online research into the woman and her husband.

She was mentioned in quite a few online trees, but none referenced her short marriage to her husband or the circumstances of her death.

It was easy to see in this case why nothing else had been located:

  • The woman was born after 1880 and in 1900 was living with her parents.
  • By 1910 she was dead.
  • Her tombstone does not mention her husband’s name–just the names of her parents.
  • The marriage records for the county where she likely married are not online and not microfilmed.
  • The court records for the county where the case was held are not online in digital format. They have not been microfilmed.
  • Most of the references to her murder refer to her by her husband’s name–using “Mrs.” almost consistently.

Another reminder of the importance of getting beyond what is easy to find and not relying on the online trees.

It is easy to understand in this case why her married name was not put on her tombstone (she’s buried with her parents) and why the family may not have mentioned her marriage and her husband.


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Good luck with your research!


Backtrack that Name?

A distant cousin of mine used the name “Hobby.” I knew that his immigrant parents had likely actually named him “Habbe” and that “Hobby” was the spelling he used because that’s how his name sounded to an American ear.

My first reference to a relative in the US was as “Jede.” I know that her name was most likely “Tjede” because that name was more common in her ethnic group and would have sounded like “Jede” (or perhaps “Chede”) to an untrained ear.

If your ancestor has an atypical name and you are aware of their ethnic group or linguistic history, ask someone familiar with the language what the name could have been in their original tongue. That may help you to find them in records of the old country.

And keep in mind that anyone can speak with an accent. That’s how my ancestor Susannah ended up having her name occasionally written as “Susannar.”