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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Filling in the blanks - Elizabeth TREGONNING's death

I feel a little unsettled if I don't have a death record for each of my ancestors - my deceased ancestors, that is! Who knows what the might have got up to?

One death record that took me quite some time to track down was that for Elizabeth TREGONNING. This story starts in pre-digitisation days... Yes, I have been tracing my tree for that long... No, I am not that old!

Elizabeth was born in Avoca, Victoria, Australia in 1858. The Victorian birth, death and marriage records are pretty good. Even before they were available on CD and online you could look at the well-organised microfiche yourself, and there was enough detail in the index to be confident of having the right person before you sent your money off for a copy of the certificate. Not that I don't have one or two certificates for entirely unrelated people with similar names to my ancestors... But with hours of careful searching, I couldn't find a record for her death.

When CD indexes became available, the search possibilities expanded. I tried again. I tried spelling variations. I tried wildcards. What if she went by Liz, or Beth, or Bessie? I tried both her maiden and married (FRENCH) surnames. I tried leaving off her surname and putting her maiden name in the father's name field, in case she had married again. I tried every search I could think of. Still no luck!

Time went by, this thing called the Internet appeared, and I made connections with other researchers. There seemed to be a consensus that Elizabeth had died in Queensland, Australia in 1930, having moved there with her daughter Bessie and her husband. "Great! Could you point me to your sources?", I asked... Apparently not. The information had been compiled by an individual I never managed to contact (seemed to have a defunct email address) and then picked up by others without verification. The information going around also had one of Elizabeth's sons dying in Queensland in the same year - which I knew to be false - and had my grandfather married to the wrong woman, albeit a woman with a similar name to my grandmother.

With doubt in my mind, I tried the Queensland records. I only had access to the index on microfiche, so I pulled out fiche after fiche, trying all the surname variations. Still no luck. I left it again. Where had Elizabeth gone?

At some point, I determined yet again to find her. Still following the Queensland theory, I asked for help from one of the mailing lists. Someone directed me to a searchable cemetery database for Brisbane, Queensland where I found an Elizabeth FRENCH who had died in 1952 at the age of 95. That fitted nicely with my Elizabeth's birth year, but wait, 95! For a minute there I felt silly. Had I left off looking through those Queensland microfiche too soon, assuming she wouldn't be THAT old? I didn't think I would have... but I had been very tired of hunting fruitlessly through the fiche... it was possible.

My self respect as a researcher was restored when I went back to the fiche to get the index details and saw that when I was looking, the fiche for the year of her death had not yet been released! I couldn't have found it myself! I got the details, ordered the certificate and confirmed that this was indeed the Elizabeth I had been seeking for so long.

S0, that is the story of the long search for Elizabeth's death, which ended in a different State and 20 years later than I expected. Her very long life is an even longer story that has left me with more puzzles, but I will save that for another time.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent detective work! Persistence does pay off ~ eventually.

    Caroline Pointer
    Family Stories