31 December 2007

Miami: One woman's obsession

Many genealogical resources have been created by one person with a passion, an obsession or simple frustration from a lack of resources in some area.

The results range - in Jewish genealogy, at least - from Susan King's JewishGen, Stan Diamond's Jewish Records Indexing Poland, Steve Morse's One-Step Pages, Steve Lasky's Museum of Jewish Family History and a host of other dedicated individuals who have created important singular resources.

JewishGen began as a small bulletin board; JRI Poland is the result of Diamond's search for relatives with a genetic problem; Morse's site stemmed from his frustration with the Ellis Island search engine; and Lasky wanted to honor his family. Today, these major sites hold many resources, useful tools and unusual collections of information. They are frequently updated and growing, sometimes with the assistance of large numbers of dedicated volunteers.

These are only four of a large number of Jewish genealogy sites. There are literally thousands of other genealogy sites focusing on ethnic, religious, country-specific, general and other topics; new sites appear daily.

In the obsession category, a Miami, Florida woman, 74, has compiled a 4,000-page and growing obit index and acquired the nickname of "detective of death."

"Looking for details about your great-grandfather's death 45 years ago? Searching for survivors of the friendly neighbor who died without a will? Can't find your long-lost cousin's grave?

Ann Josberger McFadden is the woman for you. She is a sleuth, a sort of detective of death, a woman who has read and indexed thousands of published obituaries and researched the unusual history of a handful of South Florida cemeteries.

For fun."

McFadden fell into this research to help her brother search family roots. He quit after a month, but she's still at it. Her husband thinks she's a bit crazy.

Tracing her roots led McFadden to Philadelphia, where she was born and spent her first 12 years. When she tried to get a copy of her great-grandfather's obituary, however, her request and the $5 fee were returned because there was no index of obituaries and no one to do the research. Figuring Miami had the same problem, she took it upon herself to index obituaries from The Miami Herald, Miami News, South Dade News Leader and Miami Times.

She began with 1940 to 1950 -- and never stopped. "Word got around that I was doing this, and I started getting calls for obituaries from other years. Somebody needed to find a person who had died in 1960 or 1970 or 1935. And so I said, 'Oh, why not do all of them?' " She now has about 120 years' worth of records.

She became a fixture at Miami's main library, and completed the huge obit index that is expanded every year. The Miami-Dade Public Library genealogy manager says she gets many obit requests: "...if we didn't have Ann's work or an exact date for the person, we could be reading microfiche for months and maybe not even find it."

Miami's "detective of death" has also indexed adoption, military and probate records and put together a short history of a handful of local cemeteries. Other librarians say her job has made their work much easier.

Read more here.

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