The day started innocently enough with a visit to the local history area of the library. Since we were doing genealogical research, and indexes were few and far between, one had to depend on the entries in the city directories and visits to the cemetery itself for dates.
The state of affairs was that the city did not let researchers look at their death indexes any more, although a few years before they did. And since one could examine the indexes year after year, death dates and certificate number could be found for free. After the policy changed the cost of the staff doing the research was $30 per name. It was not done on demand, and there was a good six-month waiting period for results. All in all, not a good state of affairs for the family researcher. A visit to the cemetery wasn't much more help. Dates on the tombstone were only by year. The burial books were lost. There was no newspaper index (and the Old Fulton Post Cards web site was not yet running). This is in upstate NY, and so one had to be creative.
At long last, some dates appeared in the city directories, at least for the adults who died (but not the children). We took those dates and went to the newspaper, and were there rewarded with "He died yesterday. Funeral tomorrow from Smith Brothers funeral home". Better than nothing but not terribly informative.
So off we went to the Smith Brothers Funeral Home. Except, when we got there, the man in the office said that the Smith Brothers had gone their separate ways, and that they only had half the records. But the second Smith Brothers funeral home was still in business "a ways down Central Avenue".
Needless to say, we got in the car and drove down Central Avenue to the second funeral home. This turned out to be a funeral home and lawn mower repair shop. This is no joke. As we pulled in the driveway we saw the chapel and heard engines being revved up. Walking through the chapel we came to the entrance to the garage and found the remaining staff of the Smith Brothers funeral home working on a lawn mower. Yes, they were still in business as a funeral home, but their main business now was, of course, lawn mower repair.
So we asked if we could see the funeral records for about 1910, which was the time period we were looking for. Sure, was the reply, follow us. And we did, past the mowers, past the chapel, and upstairs into a boarded up apartment "where Mom used to live until she died." Nice little apartment, but there was no desk or bookcase or anything looking like an office. One of the men went to the cupboards over the stove, and removed some food. Behind the food were the older cemetery records and funeral home records that we sought.
Great! We pored over them, took pictures of the related information that we wanted, looked at the ancillary papers, and even found some death certificates in the mix, which were an added bonus. After greatly thanking them for their time, we watched them box up the records, put them back, put the food back, and we all went back downstairs to the lawn mower shop. A final handshake and we were off on our merry way.
The moral of the story? Don't give up. Although this tale seems unbelievable, it is absolutely true and occurred within the last couple of years. The records were stashed in a hidden cupboard in an unexpected place, yet contained a great deal of useful genealogical information, as one might have expected. While most records are taken better care of, it's possible that a trip like this could happen in your own research. It is good to keep this in mind if you think that you just cannot find records anywhere you look. They may be in Mom's old apartment behind the sugar!
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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