This past week or so, I was helping one of my friends with research in Arizona (of all places). Arizona is an interesting place to do research, mostly because of the kaleidoscope of people who have come to the state from all over the world. He was trying to find dates for a Great-grandfather who had come to the state from somewhere else and had died in Arizona. His focus was on a marriage date and to find valid birth information, including a place, if possible. He had the usual story about the family searching for this individual for years and concluding that he couldn't be found, and certainly, it would be impossible to find the correct names of his parents. To compound the problem, his Great-grandfather's surname was Brown.
The first thing we did was to look for a death certificate in the Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates website. The ancestor's given name was Samuel and so we did a name search. Guess what? No results. One thing I have learned is that a lot of people are not too particular about spelling. Apparently, all of those family members searching for all of those years hadn't tried looking under the surname without a given name. After scanning the list for a while, we found him with his name "Samual Lamual Brown." Sort-of like Samuel Lemuel Brown, don't you think? Of course the Death Certificate gave his wife's name, Serna (sort-of like Serena) his birthplace in Oklahoma (the family always thought he was born in Texas and so forth and so forth. Well, with a little more information, we began to see if we could find a marriage date and place.
We soon learned that he had lived in Cochise County. The county seat is Bisbee, Arizona and so I suggested that my friend call down to the County and see what they might have for him. I have had a few legal issues to resolve in Cochise County and I happened to know that if you call the county they are very willing to help. My friend called down to Bisbee. The next week when I saw him he was so excited. He had called the Clerk of the Court and had immediately located the marriage license, which the Clerk e-mailed to him. With a few more phone calls he found his ancestor's employment records, his tax records, his membership in the Fraternal Order of the Eagles and many more records.
Could it have been a problem with a misspelled first name that stopped the family from finding Samuel Brown all these years? Yes, that could have been it. It is also likely that records are becoming more and more available. But because Samuel's name had been misspelled, or maybe not spelled the way his family expected it to be spelled, he had remained hidden for years. It is also a good lesson to learn, use the telephone to call to the record keepers. They just might not have a lot to do that day and be willing to answer questions and even send copies of documents.