Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Misadventures in Indexing

Fine. I admit it. My indexing numbers are nowhere as big as Renee Zamora's. That's not to say I don't find it as meaningful. In fact, my problem is that sometimes I find it too meaningful. Take last week. I made the mistake of taking a batch of Louisiana Death certificates. Soon I was so drawn into these people's lives, that it took all week to get one batch done.

I started on the first certificate. Cause of death? Drowning. How sad. How old was this person? A ten year old boy. Wow; that is sad. Why did someone write "refugee" at the top?

Death certificate of drowning victim

Next certificate. Also said "refugee" at the top. Cause of death? Drowning! Wait a minute. Same name? No, this one was North Hudson's five year old name sake. Same date? Yes, 8 July 1927. Both in Port Barre, St. Landry Parish. Wow. Opelousas is crossed out and Porte Barre written in. Wonder what happened.

Second certificate, 12 July 1927 in Port Barre, St. Landry Parish.

Third and fourth certificates. Also refugees who drowned on 8 July 1927. Both named Hudson. North Hudson was here again, as informant. Does that mean he had to identify the bodies?

Another two drowning victims

Fifth, sixth, seventh. All children of Delphine Thornton, ages 13, 9 and 5. All 8 July 1927 in Port Barre. Oh, my goodness. She lost three children in whatever happened.

What did happen? It didn't take very long before Google had uncovered the Great Flood of 1927. The Mississippi had overflowed her banks during the spring runoff.

1927 flood at Moreauville

The two photos, below, show Kerr's Drug Store in Port Barre early in the flooding and 13 days later.

Kerr's Drug Store 10 May 1927   Kerr's Drug Store 23 May 1927

Displaced "refugees" were evacuated to neighboring communities.

Avoyelles Parish residents fleeing to high ground

I'm still unclear of all the goings on, but the floodwaters seem to have lasted for months. On 8 July 1927 I think the levee protecting Port Barre failed. It fell to the medical examiner in Opelousas to perform the terrible last reuniting of lost family members. I found myself feeling awkward, standing in the back, an unbidden guest, witnessing this pervasively private moment.

Then I thought that perhaps, if caring members of these families ever come looking for them, my indexing will easily bring them to this very same spot, let them see what I am seeing. I will have quietly slipped out the back, letting loving family unite again across time. And grieve. And remember.


  1. I'm so moved my this story! This is such a worthwhile program for the reasons you noted, but how amazing that we are also able to uncover the rest of the story so quickly. The internet is a fabulous tool for genealogists.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes I find it hard to index these death certificates and see the tragedies that happened to families - haven't uncovered one this big, though. Sad as it is, it will be a great find for someone in that family someday.

  3. I too have been working hard on these Louisiana death certificates, and have recovered several sad tales, one of a mother who killed herself and her two little daughters by turning on the gas in the kitchen stove. There were many airplane crashes near a military base during WWII. And so many deaths by things curable now. And at times, such seemingly inept medical recorders!

    Have you considered entering basic information on WorldConnect for the family you discovered, giving your sources? It would be an immediate way of getting family information into circulation quickly without having to wait for the index to appear?

  4. I finally called and got my indexing account put active again. Now I can help again too! :)

  5. I want to thank you and all your genealogical compatriots - from indexers to gravestone photographers - for all your hard work. Your last paragraph sums it all up. I've been the beneficiary of the work of total strangers - to find an online record or photograph about or of a family member that you've only just heard stories about makes the connection much more personal real. Once again, thank you to all for your work, your caring devotion and sacrifice.

  6. I have the same problem when I'm indexing.... While indexing the 1870 Texas census I found a guy who was 110 years old! Wow, but that wasn't the amazing part. He had been born in Africa, and came from Mississippi, and most likely survived through a lifetime of slavery. Just wow.....

  7. Genealogy, for me, becomes sort of an odd version of "people watching," especially when I'm not related to the subjects. I get caught up in the stories, and all the "what ifs."

    I've found I have to limit my indexing to only a couple sessions a month, otherwise I'll get too involved, stay up way too late, and get in trouble from my wife!

  8. Thanks for beautifully describing an experience many of us have had. One evening I indexed at least 10 people in the LA death certificates who died during a flu epidemic. My emotions were all over the place.

    I've been photographing and posting gravestones at a nearby veteran's cemetery. I received a note for a lady last week thanking me and telling me she hadn't seen her father since she was 5 and decided to Google him finding out he had died in April.


  9. Thanks for sharing. Just like us genealogists. We can't just be robots and index, we have to get involved in the story. And at least now it won't be lost in a cabinet somewhere, but will be available for their families to find.

  10. That is an awesome story. I also think about the people I'm indexing, but have never taken it any further than 'thinking'. That is SO neat that you did and found all that information. Someone will be VERY grateful someday that you have.


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