When I was a young girl, I loved scavenger hunts. At a party, I would receive a list of ordinary things to collect from neighbors homes, along with one or two not so ordinary things. The party host would divide the partygoers into small groups and off we would go on our own little treasure hunt. Once we had collected all of the items; or, at the appointed time if we had not collected every item, we would return to the party home and compare treasures. It was a very fun game filled with thrills of treasure seeking.
As an adult, I have a daughter who loves scavenger hunts of a different nature. She is a teenage Genealogist sleuth. She combs the internet, lists, books, old letters, documents and any other thing she can put her hands on, seeking information on our ancestral lineage. When she finds her treasure, she is filled with excitement and happiness. I have seen her diligently search for one bit of information for years on end, meeting one disappointment after another. She remains ever conscientious though, knowing that if she remains focused and ever hopeful, her search will find success. She has much more faith in the process than I.
When I was an intern for my professional license, I worked at a very old funeral home in Dallas, TX. The building was huge and had those six feet wide columns across the front porch. One day at work, I set about clearing out an old bookcase upon which sat a large collection of lovely leather bound books. I would estimate that there were at least 40 of these books on the shelves. They were very old, and some were showing signs of deterioration. I asked the Funeral Director in Charge (FDIC) what he would have me do with these old, dusty, musty smelling, leather bound books. He said, “Just through them away; I don’t know why we have them.” His remarks startled me, and I have never forgotten them. These old leather bound books dating back to the 1800’s were hand written ledgers, containing the vital statistics and personal impressions of the FDIC on every person this funeral home had buried for over 100 years. Can you imagine coming across such a trove of hidden information?
My mother was a genealogist. Perhaps that is where my daughter inherits such passion for her skill. I remember my mother taking trips to the Deep South to visit old cathedrals in search for lost information in her family lineage. Instead of spending our summers as our friends did, on the coast or at amusement parks, my siblings and I were packed into my mother’s station wagon to visit old relatives and catholic priests all summer. We would return to our home just in time for school to begin. Each day after school, we would sit and work on our studies. My mother would sit at the dining room table with us. She would comb through her newly acquired documents in search for elusive ancestral linkage. She, like my daughter, would revel when she would find her bits of hidden treasure.
While writing this story this morning, I have placed a phone call to the old funeral home in Dallas where I interned. The secretary has not yet arrived at work, so I have left a message for her. I pray those old leather bound books filled with lost treasure have not been destroyed as the FDIC suggested. I hope to rescue them and digitize them so that if there is a genealogist out there searching for a lost member of their family, they might find their treasure through my efforts.
Before becoming a funeral practitioner, I did not know about these books. My mother would have jumped for joy if she had ever come across such a hidden treasure. I hope that if you are searching for lost genealogical records, this information might help you find your lost loved ones.
When I was a young girl, I loved scavenger hunts. Gone are the days that I searched for common items. I am now embarking on a hunt for hidden genealogical treasure, and mortuaries are my oyster.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer. I write books, weekly articles and brief tips on understanding and coping with grief. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.