Sunday, November 9, 2014

Photograph: Genealogy Mystery

The Pennsylvania death certificates on helped me solve a genealogy mystery. You see, the photograph below was in a box with other loose photos that were passed to my father after both of his parents died. But we had no idea who some of the people were. And if you look closely, you will notice something that I missed several times when I looked at this photograph. The man in the middle is missing his right arm. Who was he?

My grandfather and his sister are the children in the first row, and I know the photo was taken before 1918 because, as I wrote in an earlier post, that was the year their mother Albertina died of the Spanish Influenza. She's in the middle of the back row. The only other people I know in the photo are my 2nd great-grandparents: the woman seated in the front row is Mary Baker Klein and the man in the back is her husband Jacob. The other three are a mystery.

I felt the man had to be a close relative because the little girl (my great-aunt Mildred) was leaning against his leg, something I don't think a child would do to a stranger or someone she didn't see often. But I had no idea how to figure out his identity, so I put the photo back in the box where it stayed for several years.

When added a batch of Pennsylvania death certificates up to the year 1944, I entered each family surname into the search box and found the death records for many of my relatives. When I looked at the image of James Baker's death certificate, I knew I had the answer to the mystery of the photograph.

James was a younger brother of Mary Baker Klein, was born in Canada in 1861, and died in Pittsburgh on June 29, 1944. The cause of death was listed as congestive heart failure due to hypertensive heart disease. And next to Other Conditions was written "old amputation of right arm from accident 40 years ago." It was a great genealogy moment.

Please post a comment if you have a similar story of how a death certificate helped you solve a family mystery.

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