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Working the Genealogy Verification Trail: A Case Study

November 23rd, 2022 · by Cyndi · No Comments

How do you know if a person is the one you think they are? Too many people who do genealogy just assume that the same name means the same person. That’s how you end up with family trees where a parent was born 50 years later than their supposed child. Sometimes you’re careful and avoid obvious mistakes like that, but still get caught up because two people might have the same name, even an unusual name, live in the same area, and were born around the same year.

I never assume someone is who I think they are until I’ve absolutely confirmed it through documents or other evidence. One mistake can easily snowball into 50 and ruin an entire branch of your tree.

The Verification Trail

Here’s an example from my husband’s tree that I did today.

Since the 1950 Census records became publicly available this year, I’ve been going through my tree to add it in. My husband’s father had an aunt named Annie Nitowitz who married Morris Kushner. They had three children, all of whom were my father-in-law’s first cousins. I found the couple and their two youngest children in Washington DC in the 1950 census. Easy peasy.

But where is their eldest, Louis Herbert Kushner who appears in earlier census records? He’s 30 years old in 1950 so chances are good he’s married, but I have no record of his wife or any children. There is one person with that name in DC in 1950, so maybe it’s him, but I don’t really know.

If this is him, then his wife is Irene (we even get the bonus of her maiden name, Weinstein, since her never married sister lives with them) and his eldest child is Allen.

I need more information than this. Yes, Louis’s age and location match (and even the middle initial) but his occupation is different from what it was in 1940 (not a big deal, but not a clue either) and there are no other pieces of evidence I can use from the census document to match them up. Under normal circumstances I might ask family members, but everyone I know from the relevant generations is gone.

So what do I know about Louis? Well, he was born in DC on 19 Sep 1919 and he died on 03 Dec 2006. I know this for sure because of the Social Security Applications and Claims Index which gives not only the dates but his parents’ names. It’s definitely the right Louis Kushner. (Note that I always use scans of original documents when available, but a lot of records online don’t have images, just transcriptions, which can be wrong or incomplete, but they’re the best we’ve got.)

Next, I found the DC marriage index. Louis Herbert Kushner to Irene Weinstein. This is the couple from the 1950 Census. Louis’ middle name also matches the Social Security Applications and Claims Index one. But it’s still not a slam dunk. The full certificate isn’t available so I can’t see Louis’ parents’ names. I’m reasonably sure it’s him at this point, but I still can’t be 100% sure. And I need to be 100% sure; I’ve seen too many mistakes at this level of certainty.

Next, I found the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File. At first glance it looks like there’s nothing extra that’s useful. It just confirms Louis’ birth and death dates and tells us he served in the Navy during World War II. But hey, there’s a social security number.

The Social Security Death Index matches the social security number and other info and tells us he lived in Florida before his death. But it doesn’t help us figure out if Irene is his wife.


I found a few other docs that confirmed things we already knew but didn’t bring us any closer to figuring this out. But wait, what’s this? A transcription of his obituary. This comes from, an expensive online newspaper clipping service that doesn’t have library editions (they have free days a couple times a year, very worth doing).

Without all the previous work I did, I might guess this was the same Louis and Irene (especially with the same child’s name, Alan) from the 1950 census, but I wouldn’t know if it was my Louis. But look, his date of death matches. We already established he’d moved to Florida. And here’s the bonus: his two siblings, Harvey and Marilyn, match up too.

Don’t assume, verify

And that’s how you work a verification trail. And how you add a new branch (and a new set of second cousins for my husband) to the family tree.


Categories: Genealogy
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