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A Detective Story

Genealogy Essays:

Recording Adoptions
How do you draw adopted children in a family tree? (2011)

Those Elusive Edes
9 lessons learned about finding people in the census. (2009)

The Joys of Inveterate Button Pushing (2004)

Who's Your Daddy?
Genealogy versus family history. (2004)

Suspicion Meters
Your program doesn't have one, but you do. (2004)

Estimating Dates (2002)

A cautionary tale (2002)

Count Your Blessings
1988 and now (2002)

The Grand Chase
How my individuals connect (2002)

What makes a family? (2001)

A genalogical detective story (2000)

Eben J. Cady
Musing about a tombstone (2000)

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(First posted on the GenForum.com Success Board
21 July 2000)

It was a dark and stormy night . . .
and I had a clue. Jennie Pettet had married Lew Lee Garr, according to their son's obituary. Who were her parents? It would take someone clever, daring and above all, in Isaac Asimov's words, devilishly handsome to find out. I took a slug from the fifth of rye in the bottom drawer of the file cabinet, slipped on my .45's and set out to track her down. (+1.45 reading glasses, that is. They used to be +1.5, but they got dirty.)

My first stop was the Mormons. Most of them are decent, hardworking people, but their site hides a lot of dirty little secrets. Kids born out of wedlock, kids born not quite far enough into wedlock, divorce, death; it's all there in black and white, with a little green tree at the top. Genealogy is a tough job, but someone has to do it. The Mormons were a pushover. First name, last name, spouse, click on search and -- Bingo! I only got one hit, but it was the right one. Jennie and Lew married 28 Jun 1885 in Montgomery County, Kansas. Bill Clinton should be so lucky. If he got the peace agreement he wanted from Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak as quick as I got the data I wanted from Family Search.Org he'd get the Nobel Peace Prize and enough falafel to last him fifty years.

Over to Gen Forum. I searched the Garr surname page for Pettet and the Pettet page for Garr. I came up as empty as a bookie's pockets the day after the favorite wins the derby. Nothing. Nada. Zip. If anyone had heard of my couple, they weren't talking. I took another slug of rye.

Surnames aren't the only forums in town. Over to Montgomery County, hoping someone had seen something - and would talk. I saw a guy named Moon who answered queries about marriages. One of those people we call Angels, who gives more than he takes. I asked him if he could help. He could. He wrote back the next day. The book said Jennie and Lew were married in the house of George "Pettel". "Pettet" looks a lot like "Pettel" if you forget to cross the "T". The county clerk and I may have had a mutual acquaintance; an amber friend who lives in a glass house, wears a cork hat and dulls fine motor skills. Back to the Mormons, looking for George. There he was, George Washington Pettit or Pettet, whose daughter, Regina, married Lee Lew Garr. Pettit, Pettet, Petite; the exact spelling was a small matter to me. Jennie, Regina; Lew Lee, Lee Lew; it all fit. With the help of Mr. Moon I'd just put six quick shots in the ten ring of Family Group sheets. I was as happy as a cat sleeping on a pile of warm laundry. I put a couple of shots into myself while I was at it.

Back to the GenForum Montgomery County page, I posted the ancestors I'd found, just to let the other angels know they didn't have to poke through their books for me. That didn't stop Heidi G., who has a book of Crawford County Biographies and was willing to use it. She found Joseph Pettet, MD, Regina's sister. He'd moved to Crawford County. Heidi copied it in for me - and any other Pettet researcher who wants to see it. Regina's dad, George Washington Pettet, served for almost 5 years in the 26th Indiana Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. He fought at Vicksburg under Grant. Her grandfather, Bergen Pettet, came from France to settle in Boone County, Indiana. I'd never have known those treasured family facts if not for the good Ms. G. What a wonderful lady! Where would we be without Angels willing to share? Lost. As lost as blind people calling for help at the school for the deaf is where. I was as happy as a cat sleeping on a pile of warm laundry whose human opens a can of smoked oysters and offers to share.

I recorded the data, sent off thank-you letters and decided I'd done enough genealogy for the night. I'd log out and read a book - maybe a good hard-boiled detective story.

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This page updated: June 21, 2014