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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Proctor

How to Use Genealogy to Find Next-of-Kin

Magnifying glass on its side

I had every intention of posting something new every month, with the thought I’d focus this space on a mix of personal family history and histories of notable women. But because life intervened, instead I’ll share an update about what I’ve been doing.

 

Genealogists like meetings! There are a lot! In addition to being added by the Board of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, I joined two APG special interest groups (SIG), one for writers and the other for forensic genealogy.[1] The Writers SIG offers a variety of presentations. One I’ve thought a lot about lately was by author, genealogist, and librarian Erin E. Moulton.[2] She spoke about her research into one of the harsher pieces of her family history. She eventually published the article on Medium.[3] Although Erin’s talk was months ago, I think of it often.

 

I joined the Forensic SIG because forensic genealogy fits well with my legal experience. And almost all my research and writing energy has been centered in this field. Media stories usually discuss genetic genealogy, but not every forensic case relies on genetic material to prove kinship. In fact, many do not.[4] That is true for next-of-kin research, where I’ve spent most of my time.

 

Much like traditional family history research, next-of-kin genealogical research uses paper trails (like vital records, census records, probate, and city directories) to look back a generation or two from the deceased person (or “decedent “) and then move forward to find living next-of-kin. For instance, in a recent case, we had to do our best to establish the large number of children the decedent’s parents had, and then research whether the decedent’s established siblings had offspring. And, since the decedent’s siblings were all deceased, if the nieces or nephews had also died, we had to identify any great-nieces or nephews.

 

Because next-of-kin research requires delving into the past to reach forward to today, it can also reveal facts lost to time or even hidden from living family members. I’ve found short-lived marriages not recorded in other family trees, which require research into whether there might be any children with a claim to the estate. Although irrelevant to the research objective, divorce decrees can reveal ugly allegations. Death records might include babies or children who did not live to adulthood. When I find these hidden stories, whether a brief marriage, abuse allegations, or tragic infant loss, Erin’s talk comes to mind.

 

Genealogy calls upon the skills I gained in my two decades as an attorney, including thorough research and careful analysis. And next-of-kin research sometimes also requires me to use my witness interviewing skills. I’ve worked on complex matters, like the example listed above, and simple two-hour research projects. If you need help finding next-of-kin, please contact me.

 


[1] Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), Committees, https://www.apgen.org/cpages/committees : viewed 30 November 2023. APG, Special Interest Groups, https://www.apgen.org/cpages/special-interest-groups : viewed 30 November 2023.

[2] Erin E. Moulton, https://www.erinemoulton.com/ : viewed 30 November 2023. Jackie Harris, “This NH librarian traces female ancestors’ stories through community cookbooks,” 24 November 2023, https://www.nhpr.org/nh-news/2023-11-24/this-nh-librarian-traces-female-ancestors-stories-through-community-cookbooks?fbclid=IwAR3L-tUxIakHQtiy4IKqbC1MQXTqZlXu_yJEViKXOMrcQakp3JwT-90aQIE : viewed 30 November 2023.

[3] Erin Moulton, “It’s yesterday’s sad story. It’s tomorrow’s as well,” 28 June 2022, Medium.com, https://medium.com/@erin.elizabeth.moulton/its-yesterday-s-sad-story-it-s-tomorrow-s-as-well-ae6829c50f63 : viewed 30 November 2023.

[4] The International Society of Genetic Genealogy offers a great explanation of the various uses for genetic genealogy here, which include things like unknown heir cases, military repatriation, and mineral rights. International Society of Genetic Genealogy, “Forensic Genealogy,” https://isogg.org/wiki/Forensic_genealogy : viewed 30 November 2023. 3 Aug 2023, 21:05.

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