Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Search: More Dead Ends


While I have been able to make some progress recently on tracing back along the branches of the family tree (more on that next week), I have also encountered a number of roadblocks. It hasn’t been a matter of being able to find the right person to call, it is largely a matter of records no longer existing. Of course, there are also a few instances where I simply don’t have the access to the records. Really it is the combination of these two situations that has forced me to find other avenues to find the information for which I am searching.


I previously wrote about my numerous interactions with the Philadelphia Police Department and the discovery that most personnel files have long since been destroyed. While I was able to piece together a few aspects of John Uttley’s service, there are still many holes and questions that remain. However, sometimes we have to be satisfied with what we have and take some measure of contentment knowing that we have been able to confirm that he did serve, how long, badge number, and rank. Some people don’t even have that much information.


I ran into a similar situation as this when I called the Narberth Fire Department the last couple of weeks to try and get more information about my grandfather who was a Captain with the volunteer company. As it turns out, after years of renovations, moving buildings, leaks, and other instances, all the records prior to 1970 have been lost. However, I was still able to find out that, late in life, he was on over two dozen calls. Thankfully, there are some photos in the family from this time.


As I waited for Narberth to return my call, I also reached out to the current incarnation of Autocar now located in Indiana to see if they had any of the personnel files from the early days on the Philadelphia Main Line… this is where my great grandfather spend nearly his entire working life. I can’t say I was surprised when the woman on the phone informed me that only the name has been transferred over the years and the whereabouts of the files are unknown. There still is a chance that these records exist but now it is a completely different task trying to figure out where they ended up… I guess it is time to reach out to a variety of historical societies.

Lastly, while conducting the aforementioned outreach, I also looked into trying to secure my grandfather and great grandfather’s service records from WWII and WWI respectively. While these records exist, at least most of them, only next of kin are allowed to order the files. The simple translation is that I have to have my father submit the request in order to get these copies. Sometimes these extra steps seem to add up but at least there is a simply solution.

What I have found throughout the process and the point that has been driven home again and again is the simple fact that we, as a family, must keep our own records. If you want to know the story of your family and you want future generations to know about the family we can’t rely solely on the depositories found in other places. At the same time, make it known that you have certain records and share them with anyone who is interested in learning about the generations that preceded them. In other words, don’t let someone else control your family story… don’t be afraid to be the family historian.