by Molly McKenney, Reference Librarian
Recently a patron came in with an unusual request– he was filling out his passport application and one of the questions on the form asked what his parents’ birthdays were, a question he did not know the answer to. Since they had both passed away decades ago, it was unlikely a traditional internet search would turn up any obituaries or other information. After he told me he did know their places of birth and their years of death and place of burial, something clicked. Aren’t those the same pieces of information the library’s genealogy databases ask for?
The 1940 census is the most recent one that has been made public by the government and contained in the HeritageQuest database, so I decided to start there. Inputting the information he was able to give me (name, location of birth, and approximate birth year), I was able to find his father’s exact birth year. His mother was unfortunately not listed in the census, possibly because she was only around 9 years old at the time.
On to my next strategy – the Find a Grave index in HeritageQuest. Using his father’s birth year that we had just found out to narrow the results, I was able to locate the record for his father’s grave, which contained his entire birthday. From there finding the record for his mother’s grave was easy (they were buried together).
I know I’m not alone in feeling intimidated by genealogy research, but it’s interactions like this that make everything seem that much more accessible, and there’s nothing like the satisfaction you get when you’re able to find that elusive piece of information that just might make someone’s day.