By Dawne

I once heard it called “bulldog genealogy,” the tendency not to give up when the answer didn’t come easily, but to keep chewing on the problem from different directions until success was achieved. The worth of this technique was proved for a patron and me one evening recently in The Genealogy Center.

He came into The Center looking for information about the death of his much older sister in a house fire back in the late 1940s here in Fort Wayne. He thought the year was about 1947, because she was born in 1931 and he believed she died at age 16. He was nearly certain that she was buried in Lindenwood Cemetery, because he remembered his father and mother going out to the cemetery to visit his sister’s grave when he was small. But he had been to Lindenwood and the cemetery had no record of someone with his sister’s name buried there.

We checked the Lindenwood interment books here, even though those records are taken from the cemetery’s records and so likely would not be different. We also checked the obituary index with no luck. “Could she have gone by any other name?” I asked him. He didn’t think so. We tried the newspaper subject index, which isn’t very useful for this type of search, and my colleague, John, suggested that he check the collection of photocopied firefighters’ scrapbooks. Still no luck.

Finally, I opened our Lindenwood Cemetery abstracts database on The Genealogy Center’s website and searched by first name only. Then I scrolled through the list, looking for young women who died in their teens in the late 1940s. One jumped out – An Ethel May who died at the age of 18 in 1949 and was born in Arkansas, which the patron had told me his sister was. But this Ethel had a different surname than the one we were searching.

I checked the local obituary index and found an entry for the Ethel buried in Lindenwood – on Page 1 of the newspaper, a good indication that this was a news story rather than a standard obituary. And the article confirmed that we had found the correct person. The young woman died in a house fire at the home of her father – who had the surname that the patron had given me. The girl must have been newly married, because she was “Mrs.” in the article.

As I was brainstorming with the patron before deciding to comb the Lindenwood abstracts, I kept thinking that there must be something else that we could check. We had talked about death records, but the library does not have them from that time period and the Department of Health requires an exact date, which he did not have. I suggested talking to relatives, neighbors and friends of the family, but he said there was no one still around who would know any specific information. We discussed pursuing funeral home records, and that might have been his next step.

When you come up against that brick wall of a problem that you feel should be solvable, it probably is. You just haven’t figured out how to solve it yet. Sleep on it and maybe additional avenues of pursuit will occur to you the next morning. Put that problem aside and work on another for a while, then go back to it with a fresh outlook. Trade problems with a friend, or let someone else look at your research and give new suggestions. Think like a bulldog and don’t give up!