For some time, I have been working on a genealogical mystery related to famous author Mark Twain. Visit http://www.marktwainoline.com to follow the story. Two days ago, my cousin and I were contacted by a German film maker about developing this story into a documentary! After some discussion, it looks like this project will be going forward. We are hoping that with the filming of this story, perhaps it will draw enough information out of the woodwork to prove (or disprove) once and for all our belief that Mark Twain’s gene pool did not, in fact die out. Stay tuned!

Funeral Home Records for Genealogy Research

Funeral home records are a commonly overlooked source for family history research. I spent years trying to track down a somewhat distant relative who was rumored to have an old family Bible. Sadly, I did not know her married name. One day, my brother was visiting and we were discussing this dilemma. He said “Don’t you have her mother’s death record? Does it list the funeral home?” I pulled it out and sure enough, the funeral home was posted. The woman had died in 1975 so I figured it was a long shot, but I made a call. To my astonishment, the folks there spent over 45 minutes digging into old files and came up with “Cousin Pat’s” married last name and the city she had lived in at the time. With that information, I tracked her down and met a delightful woman who did indeed have a family Bible with data that went back to the late 1700s! She also had old letters and a host of other memorabilia including an 1845 teaching certificate for my great-great-grandmother.

Since then, I regularly call funeral homes when I am doing research for clients. They often have data about the family of the deceased that the cemetery would not have and even sometimes keep obituary copies in the file.

Have you discovered footnote.com?

I think we all tend to get in the habit of visiting our favorite family history websites like ancestry.com and can get tunnel vision about what else is out there.  Recently, through www.linkedin.com I found a genealogy discussion board that mentioned www.footnote.com.     I headed there and was very surprised to see that NARA (the National Archives) has partnered with this site and is slowly adding some incredible images !  For example, for Civil War researchers, they have scans of  pension cards.  Now, ancestry.com has had them for a long time, but these cards seem to be different.  Many have actual death dates for the veterans where the ancestry.com versions do not.   As the unofficial historian for www.robinsonsbattery.com, I am on a constant hunt to find the death dates for all the soldiers who served in the 1st Michigan Light Artillery, Battery C (”Robinson’s Battery:) and I found several more this way!

Indications are that this site will eventually add images of the actual pension records themselves.  That would be a monumental task!  At present, you have to spend about $75 to get a single soldier’s file so that will be incredible. 

Certain parts of the site are free but an annual subscription gives you full access.  I believe it was less than $70 for a full year.  You can also share information and make annotations to documents that others can see.  Navigating around the site is a bit clumsy but the original documents make it well worth the cost!!


As I have been doing more heir tracing, it makes me want to shout to everyone: “DON”T DIE WITHOUT A WILL OR TRUST!” You have no idea of the mess you will be leaving behnd! Sure, you won’t be there to see it, but some poor court administrator or attorney will be tearing their hair out trying to decide who gets your worldly possessions! If you really don’t care where things go, it would still be better to designate a charity to receive things rather than leave it all up in the air. Or should I say “up in the heir”? Sorry, couldn’t resist!