Skillbuilder: Fattening Up Your Family Tree

Do you have an ancestor who’s branch is bare of leaves? How about family reunions where the family just isn’t as thrilled about your latest death certificate discovery? © 2011 LaDonna GarnerWell perhaps you need to revamp your research with more detail and fatten-up your skeletal family tree.

Compiling a family tree doesn’t have to be boring. Just let a member of the family read your latest software data and you’ll know if your family’s history is lacking some meat on it’s brittle bones.

So what’s a family historian to do?

Put some life back into your research! It is not difficult. By adding a bit of context and historical background to assist the document, you can retell the story of each ancestor.

Let’s have a mini workshop here and try adding some of that C & HB to this individual:

  • Benjamin Follett died on 22 December 1884. He was under 1 year of age. He was buried in the Potter’s Field, St. Louis, Missouri.
  • This is all you know regarding great-uncle Benjamin from a tombstone; his life being very brief.

Begin looking at this information from a questionable standpoint:

  • Do you know his cause of death?
  • Was his cause of death unusual today?
  • Did he or other family members die during an epidemic?
  • What other health concerns were plaguing the city or neighborhood?

A look at Benjamin’s death register entry:

© 2011 LaDonna Garner

Register of Deaths in the City of St. Louis (1884), 810.

© 2011 LaDonna Garner

Register of Deaths in the City of St. Louis (1884), 811.

Benjamin was an 8 days old, African-American, lived in the rear residence of 922 N. 7th in the 2nd ward of St. Louis, and died from Infantile Convulsions and Testro Euteric.

With these clues you can add some extra details by…

  • describing the terminology used in the cause of death. A 1938 medical dictionary I have on hand states Infantile Convulsions was a condition caused by constipation. Testro wasn’t discussed but Euteric regarded the intestines.
  • canvasing the surrounding register page for other ailments. Recent St. Louis deaths were caused by Diphtheria, Pneumonia, Phthisis (consumption), and Scarlett Fever.
  • canvasing the remaining register for additional deaths that occurred in the second ward. Just next door, a 2nd ward neighbor lost a 3 month old to Inanition. Inanition according to the medical dictionary was a weakness or exhaustion due to improper nutrition.
  • adding maps of his residential area help visualize the neighborhood and the area encompassing the second ward. Ward maps changed frequently so find one closest to the date you are researching.

    © 2011 LaDonna Garner

    1878 Pitzman's New Atlas of the City of St. Louis, Mo. --Reprint, St. Louis Genealogical Society

Bringing your ancestors to life by enriching their stories will surely make the family history enjoyable and place it in the spotlight at the next reunion.

Leaf’n through time,

This entry was posted in Skillbuilder, Understanding Documents, Vital Records and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Skillbuilder: Fattening Up Your Family Tree

  1. Veronika says:

    Could be difficult to get practiced persons on this matter, but you be understood as you understand what you are posting about! Cheers

  2. L K says:

    Good idea. Family members are more interested in details. They make things more personal.

  3. Lee Evans says:

    Thanks LaDonna. This info. helps me when taking another look at my father’s death certificate. Makes better since to me now.

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