Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how various kinds of genealogical records can help determine your ancestor’s age.
One of the most important—but often quite challenging—pieces of information we need in our genealogy and family history work is discovering the age of the members of our family trees. All too often, finding a birth record for some of our earliest ancestors is not always possible, so we need to work through additional family history records and information to see what we can determine as to the age of a particular ancestor.
Fortunately for us there are a number of genealogical resources we can use to find the age of our ancestors, or to verify an unnamed record that we may have come across in our ancestry research.
I am sure you all are familiar with some of the genealogical records that can help us determine our ancestors’ age. Certainly number one on the list is the actual birth record. However, these records are not always available, especially within certain timeframes and family situations.
Fortunately on GenealogyBank.com there are not only newspapers containing birth records, but also such invaluable resources as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), covering the years from 1936 to 2011 and containing over 89 million death records. Many of these SSDI entries contain, if not an actual birthday, an estimated age that can be an invaluable lead in our efforts to find out the birth range of an ancestor.
Add to the SSDI all the military records in GenealogyBank’s various collections, such as casualty lists, pension requests for Revolutionary and Civil War veterans, and widows’ claims—there are a phenomenal number of resources to help you determine the age of your ancestor.
But to me, the real genealogy gems are GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. With newspapers from all 50 states, covering the years 1690 to Today, containing more than one billion articles, this huge online database features birth notices, obituaries, news articles, engagement and marriage announcements, social columns, and more. And best of all, every one of these types of articles can offer us opportunities to find age-related leads for our family history and genealogy efforts.
Newspaper Casualty Reports
One article-type that has proven quite useful in my own family history research has been newspaper casualty reports from World War II. For example, I had been struggling with one of the branches of our family tree when I came across this article from a 1945 Ohio newspaper. It contains a casualty list for servicemen from the greater Cleveland area.
This historical news article reports that Robert G. Vicha was wounded. It also gives his home address (4779 Osborn Road, Garfield Heights), his mother (Mae Vicha), and his age (20). This small item gave me several leads that helped me locate more information, enabling me to add this ancestor to my family tree.
The next item I discovered was again in the Plain Dealer: the obituary for Mae (nee Gottfried) Vicha. This obituary provides confirmation of the home address as reported in the earlier 1945 casualty list article, her husband, three children, a grandchild, and siblings. It wasn’t long before I was able to match up census records and other genealogical records to add a fuller picture to this branch of my family.
Historical News Articles
And of course there are some news articles that, while not the most pleasant of topics, offer us many clues for our genealogy work. This was the case with an article I found in an 1897 Ohio newspaper. This old news article, while explaining in some rather gruesome detail the suicide of James Knechtel, also gives us his approximate age, his home address, and the facts that he was married and had three children. These genealogical clues were crucial given the fact that James was baptized as Vaclav and took the Americanized version of “James” at some point after his family settled in Cleveland. This article’s information was enough for me to find James and his family in the U.S. Census records and City Directories to identify this ancestor and record him in our family tree.
Newspapers hold a wealth of detailed personal information to help determine ages and other important data about our ancestors for our genealogy and family history work.
What types of records have you used in your family research to discover the ages of your ancestors? Please share your most frequently-used resources, biggest research challenges and genealogy discoveries.
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