29 July 2010

Finding the Father by Searching for the Sons

I've had yet another experience reinforcing the necessity of researching entire families when presented with problem areas in research. It was one of those experiences that underscores all the research rules you learn when first entering genealogy (look at neighboring families in the census, research witnesses to documents, etc.)... those rules that I have, for the most part, stuck to, but some of which have fallen by the wayside in the general forward thrust of everyday research.

Such was the situation when I was trying to establish the death place and date for my GGGG-Grandfather, Robert May.

Good things happened for me when I searched the Sons of Union Veterans grave database. I had been researching Robert, and since I didn't (and still don't) have a firm birthdate for him, I was unsure about his potential Civil War service. I decided to check the SUV database on a whim, even though I estimated he was probably too old for service.

Finding results on Robert null, I tried a general May search, and found listed therein R. R. May, of San Jose, CA, my GGG-Grand Uncle! I had written about Richard recently in my post The Veteran Who Never Served, so finding that he had military designation for his burial was interesting enough, but I had been unable to find his death date until this time, so was happy to get a lead. I could have shrugged my shoulders and filed away the information without following up on it--after all, Richard, though interesting, is "only" a GGG-Granduncle, and not my direct ancestor. I could have re-focused my effort to find Richard's father Robert, and left the lead on Richard for another day.

Luckily for me, the May family is part of a very minute and detailed research project I am undertaking, in which I am truly taking the time to "do it right" and scrutinize each iota of information and follow each and every lead for everyone in the family group. With the information from the database I was able to call his cemetery of burial in San Jose (Oak Hill Memorial Park), which kindly mailed me information on his burial. Imagine my joy when I found out that Richard was buried with five other relatives, including his father, Robert May! According to information from the cemetery, Robert died in San Jose at the age of 91, on 29 March 1897. He was buried with his son, Richard, his daughter-in-law, Marion P. (Gould) May, two of his grandchildren, and a great-grandson-in-law.

I was lucky enough to stop by the cemetery when I was in San Jose recently, and visited the gravesite. I found the spot where my relatives were buried, but unfortunately, aside from Richard May's headstone, the lot only held some depressions in the grass to mark the other burials:

I have a death certificate for Robert May on order from the Santa Clara Recorder's office, which should (hopefully) arrive soon.

Taking information from the cemetery, I was also able to locate an obituary for Robert in the SF Call, 31 March 1897, page 4:
San Jose, Cal., Mar 30- Robert May, an old resident of this city, died at the home of his son, Robert R. [sic] May, last evening. He was 92 years of age and a native of England. He came to the United States in 1837, and twenty-five years ago arrived in California. May leaves two daughters and six sons, the youngest of whom is fifty years of age.

The news that Robert had died in San Jose was interesting, since as of the 1880 census he was still in Stanislaus county, where he had been since at least 1870. I had checked death records, wills and cemetery transcriptions for Robert in that county, and was frustrated to not find any evidence of death.

MOST frustrating of all? Upon re-reading a biography of one of Robert's other sons, I saw that the biography had said, explicitly that Robert had died in San Jose in 1900. While the year was off, I am still left unimpressed with my research skills, in that I didn't take the lead and run with it, and request a record search of Santa Clara death records as soon as I had read the biography! (And I don't want to be vindicated by having the death record not found... Please genealogy G*ds, don't let that happen!)

In all, it has been a major lesson for me in the merits of taking the time to discover all you can about associated family members, and not ignoring them in the pursuit of direct-ancestor glory. It seems totally basic, totally rudimentary, totally elementary, yet so incredibly easy for me to forget!

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