click to view original photo

The Compleat Database: Life Events

Life events make genealogy more interesting and our ancestors more intriguing. They also provide us with yet another research tool. Life events are often documented, leaving us with more genealogical data.


Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by:
Word Count: 897 (approx.)
Labels: Census 
Short URL:

Life consists of events well beyond birth, marriage, children, and death. Every person's life is filled with events.


Some databases provide a database field for an ancestor's occupation. Go a step further and cite the company where your ancestor was employed. You just might discover your ancestor's name in a history of the company or newspaper reports. Either might include photographs.

Occupations can provide additional clues, especially for those individuals whose names fail to appear in census enumerations. Migrant workers, because of their transient way of life, might have been on the move when the enumerator called. And migrant workers could have been employed in an array of occupations.

During the Gold Rush, miners were not only away from the family home but they might have been moving from one mine to another during the census, in search of a productive site. Along with the miners, there were support services such as those who cooked, did laundry, and carried the gospel to the mines. The same is true for logging camps and other migratory workers such as surveyors.

A bit later, the Chautauquans travelled the country. Almost all were single adults and travelled extensively during the spring censuses. Look for their names on Chautauquan playbills. The University of Iowa libraries have the best online collection of Chautauquans. If you're looking for Katharine Ridgeway and can't find her in her native Georgia, search for her in Boston where she attended the Boston School of Oratory. Later, you might find her in on the Chautauqua circuit.

The great thing about being employed by Chautauqua was that the various circuits published extensive biographies about the entertainers. Every town, big or little, where the Chautauqua set up its tents for a week or so, these biographies were reprinted in the local Chautauqua program.

The more aware you are of an occupation, the more information you will find. Search for union member and activity information, especially for auto workers. Centennial events often published newspaper supplements or short histories about local businesses. Look for your ancestor in the group photos.


Along with occupations, comes retirement. It may seem like an odd thing to include in your database but it can be another source for tracking down your ancestor. Retirement notices sometimes appear in local newspapers. Pay attention to them. They may include a sentence or two about how your ancestor retired in Waterloo, Iowa – and moved to a retirement community in Arizona or Florida. Suddenly, your search will take a different turn.


People move. It is a fact. We move for a million reasons. It is a common myth that relocation is a new phenomenon in the United States. The fact is that we have been a transient nation from the beginning of time. The original Native Americans migrated by the seasons. The European arrivals quickly migrated from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific.

Local newspapers prior to 1900, in particular, published gossipy little paragraphs about who was moving and where they were heading. More recent newspapers publish notices on the business page about people who are transferring to a new position elsewhere – and the newspaper in their new hometown might announce their arrival. Don't overlook city-based magazines that cover local business.

Military Service

Military records are a wealth of information. These records are online at numerous locations. Unless you have looked at military registrations, you may not have discovered that they contain information beyond the enlistee's vitals. The registration form includes the name of someone the military can contact in the event of an emergency. In most cases, that name is the parent or spouse of the enlistee. Military registrations also include the place of birth, and physical notes such as whether someone has a disability. They may include where the registrant was employed at the time of registration. Newspapers frequently publish military information such as when someone ships out, when they come home on furlough, and when they are discharged. Local volunteer organizations often keep lists of who served in each military effort.


This one seems pretty far-fetched. Hobbies are a life event that might have placed your ancestor in the news. Your ancestor may have demonstrated their hot-air ballooning hobby at a local celebration or entered their pie-making skills in the state fair competition. They made the news and their hometown is always part of the story. They may have gained notice in a national publication related to their hobby. You'll most certainly find more personal information about them.

Social Security Number

After a person dies, their social security number can become public. You'll find SSN searches available at a number of sites. The first SSN was assigned in 1936. Until 1972, SSN's were assigned based on geographic location. The digits of an SSN can help determine where your ancestor was living when they applied for their social security number.

The greatest exception is the SSN 078-05-1120. This number was printed on sample social security cards that were included in wallets sold by Woolworth's. There are documented cases of this number being assigned to numerous people, who believed the card in their wallet was their social security number, between 1938 and 1977.


Life events are documentable events. Include them in your database and you may find an array of sources and useful information that you might have missed otherwise.

Watch for upcoming topics:
  1. Death data
  2. Property ownership
  3. Legal events
  4. Marital status
  5. Politics

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

<< GenWeekly

<< Helpful Articles