So I wrote a post about using census records in your research and taking full advantage of every bit of information contained in them. And I was one of the worst posts I've ever written and to this day I go back and forth when I think about deleting it. That experience taught me I am not a teacher. So I stuck with what I knew best -- telling stories.
But then I realized my stories sometimes contained research case studies -- not tutorials on how to do something in the abstract sense but rather how I did something to solve a specific research problem, using a tip or technique I learned from someone else. So today I'd like to present a case study, using a lesson gleaned from Hilary Gadsby's great post, Killing Them Off -- It Can Help Knock Down Those Brick Walls.
I have begun reviewing the beginning of my tree -- me -- working backwards and reviewing my research and what gaps I would like to fill in about each person (not quite a genealogy do-over, but sort of). As I got to the siblings of my paternal grandfather, I realized I did not have a death date for my grand uncle, Leo James Jennings. So that was my goal: to kill off Leo.
|Effie Davis (Beard) Jennings; Leo James|
Jennings' mother, who died in 1906; photograph
courtesy of Janie Darby
The first thing I did was write down what I already knew, how I knew it, and transcribed all the records I did have.
- He was born on 29 October 1898 and that his parents were Charles Edward Jennings and Effie Davis Beard. I could surmise he was born in Roanoke, Virginia, as his parents were living there during the year of his birth.
- In 1900 he was living with his parents, four half siblings and his older sister in Roanoke.
- His mother died in 1906 when he was eight years old.
- In 1910 he was living with his widowed father and three living siblings.
- His father sent him to live with his half sister in Erwin, Tennessee by 1911, when his younger brother (my grandfather) was placed in an orphanage.
- He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1916 at Big Gap, Virginia.
- His father died in 1917.
- He was discharged from the Army in 1919 and had served as a Sargent with the 104th Supply Train
- He married Bonnie Sue Wolfe sometime before 1920.
- In 1920 he and Bonnie Sue were living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and he worked as a mechanic at a tobacco factory
- In 1922 he and Bonnie Sue were still living in Winston-Salem but he was now working as a machinist at South Royal.
- In 1924 he and Bonnie Sue had a son they named James Wolfe Jennings; the son was born in Appalachia, Virginia.
- On 10 August 1932 he was admitted to the U.S. Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Sawtelle, California, and suffered from myocardial degeneration, cardiac hypertrophy, conjunctivitis, and deviated nasal septum. His marital status was listed as divorced.
|Sawtelle Veterans Home; photograph courtesy of the California|
Historical Society Digital Collection
Frankly, I thought he was near death then, but couldn't find a death or burial record of any type for that general timeframe. So, I started researching his ex-wife, Bonnie Sue. I learned:
- In 1930 Bonnie Sue was divorced and living in Appalachia, Virginia, and was the proprietor of a grocery store.
- In 1940 Bonnie Sue was widowed and living with her father in Orlando, Florida.
- Bonnie Sue died in 1969.
The 1940 federal census and 1940 Orlando city directory entries for Bonnie Sue seemed to confirm Leo's demise. Why no death record? After broadening my search and not concentrating on his death, I discovered a 1940 census record for Leo. He was alive!
- In 1938 he was living in Los Angeles, California, and was working as an engineer for Econolite Corporation.
- In 1940 he was living in Calabasas, California, working as a supervising inspector of traffic signals, and he was married to Kathleen G. Jennings, who worked as a secretary at a law office. They owned their own home and had a live-in housekeeper.
So I started trying to kill off Leo again with a different date for his possible death. I finally got a hit from Find a Grave worth pursuing. A Leo J. Jennings was buried at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. However, the date of birth and the date of death were listed as "unknown."
I clicked the cemetery link and discovered the cemetery had a website. So I clicked through to the cemetery site. On their home page, I discovered a burial search. I used it and lo and behold there was Leo's death date: 8 October 1973. He certainly lived longer than I would have suspected with all the heart and respiratory issues he had in 1932.
Further research, included finding Leo's funeral notice in the Los Angeles Times, dated 5 October, which indicated he was buried on 8 October. His Department of Veterans' Affairs BILRS Death File listed his death date as 3 October 1973.
|Screen shot of the burial search results for Green Hill Memorial Park,|
Rancho Palos Verdes, California
Confusing with so many possible death dates, but I was successful in killing him off. The beautiful thing about this case study is that once I entered his death date in my Ancestry.com tree, I started getting lots of hints about his second wife, Kathleen, who likely would have been a brick wall since I did not know her maiden name at the time.
So Hilary was right, killing them off can help break through those brick walls in your tree, but be sure you explore each record and source thoroughly. Keep clicking your way through the information.
I'm signing off now to resume killing some more of my pesky brick wall ancestors.
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Newly Discovered Photographs
The Mother Nobody Knew
A Lover Not a Fighter