Most of you ( perhaps, “both of you” might be more correct) who regularly read my blog know that I am a bit of a goofball. If you happened upon this post via some random search terms, just understand this is so. For me, like many who use the same mechanism, comedy is a defense.Those of us who are practitioners of the ridiculous find it far easier to be funny than serious. In fact it’s actually better, because most people who pride themselves on being very proper and dramatic make us giggle, and comedy makes them mad…so we win. However, despite my silly exterior, I am a very serious researcher. As such, I normally get all excited when new databases come online. This was not necessarily the case with a recent addition to FamilySearch: “Ohio, Stark County Coroner’s Records, 1890-2002”
Let me preface these thoughts/questions with some information. My father, Terry Lee Staats, who lived in North Canton, was killed in a car crash outside of town on 31 Oct 1971. The more astute among you will realize that was Halloween (it took me years to figure that out). If you are familiar with the area, it was basically at the intersection of Middlebranch and State Roads. My dad was the driver – two were killed, three injured. My dad was one of the killed. I was only two, so I have no memory of him. I often thought I did have one “memory,” but it could just as likely been a dream that later turned into a “memory.”
Upon first seeing the database, my thoughts were purely genealogical: “Awesome, I wonder if there is a file for Terry Lee Staats?” So I fired up the browser and looked at what was there. The actual case files only go to 1927, but the index is complete. And there he was, my father, Terry Lee Staats, in the coroner’s index. Was I ready to look at a coroner’s report? Was I ready to learn about what happens in cases of death by auto accident? As I pondered these questions, the thing that kept going through my mind is this: if this file had been about my 3rd great grand uncle, I wouldn’t have even hesitated to order it. I never knew my 3rd great grand uncle. I never knew my father. I never knew any of my clients’ families. So why would it be different? But somehow, it is. I’m not ready to order this file.
I’ve always thought, or at least assumed, that one of the primary reasons I became interested in genealogy was that I never knew my father. But when it comes time to apply the methodology and thoroughness with my own father that I would use with a “regular” ancestor, I find myself struggling.
I can’t say for sure what the theme of this post even is, but I felt compelled to write it. It made me question some of the things I’ve dredged up about my ancestors, and whether or not I would have done so if I was more closely connected to them. I did an obit look up for a client today, and discovered I was a little uncomfortable using the section title “Death Notices” in the citation. Is the quest for complete genealogical knowledge really that important? Did it matter that my father (or substitute YOUR ANCESTOR HERE) died by such and such a method, and what the circumstances were surrounding his death, contributing factors, etc?
My answer, after much mulling over, is: yes. Yes, it does matter. The devil is in the details, as they say. Those details will tell the story generalities don’t. And like it or not, it’s the truth, and isn’t that what we’re after as much as anything? (Records don’t lie, right?
I guess the important thing is how we as genealogists (and descendants) treat that information. But I’m still not ready to order that case file.