Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nancy Drew and the case of the missing death date

That's the question of the day - when did John Ricklefs die?

So, I finally heard back from the Massachusetts State Archives - they seem to keep a tighter lid on their records, as they reminded me about the 75 year period that has to pass and all the records they do NOT make available, ever. Which seems to be most of them.

But they do release prison records. And as we all know, one of the many states in which Great Uncle Jack was incarcerated was Massachusetts. So Mass. will give me those records.

But first I have to send them a copy of John's death certificate.

As genealogists, that's one of our favorite questions - when did someone die? Fortunately, there are many ways to find that out. If someone had a social security number, you can look them up in the Social Security Death Index. You can look in newspapers to see if you can find an obituary - that's how I found out when John's father, also John Ricklefs, died. Some places, like New York City and the state of New Jersey, will have online indexes of death records for certain years. Sometimes you go to visit someone's grave and discover the death dates of other family members, either by a tombstone inscription or a cemetery plot listing. Sometimes you can narrow down the window enough to just ask for a search to be done for multiple years.

Unfortunately, I have no idea when John died. He had no social security number as far as I can tell. I can't find an obituary. I don't know where his parents are buried, so I don't know whether or not he might be buried with them.

This is what I do know - according to his World War II Draft Registration card, he was living in New Jersey in 1942. He was born in 1887, so if we assume he lived no more than 100 years, that still gives us a 42-year window in which he could have died. And on top of that, I also can't assume that he died in New Jersey. So in theory, if I can't discover any more information about the end of his life, I would have to send away to at least two states - New Jersey where he lived and New York, where his family lived - and possibly a third - Florida, since he had a sister who moved there, and ask them each to do a 40-plus year search for his death record. Oh, and also take into consideration the very, very, VERY many spellings of his last name.

I definitely cannot afford to pay how much that kind of search would cost.

And so my search for more information continues, as it always does for us. I've delved into his death date before and backed away because of how daunting that search is, but I am so, so curious about his time spent in prison in Massachusetts - I know almost nothing about those years - and so in order to get those records, I need to really buckle down and start thinking outside the box, start thinking like Nancy Drew, about how I can solve this latest mystery in John Ricklefs' life...

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