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Sunday, December 20, 2009

FInding an Ancestor Who Disappears

Ed's Question:
William J. Page/Paige was born in Bangor, ME, in May 1882, son of Oscar and Martha (Cowan) Page. He was married in Veazie, ME, in 1905 to Margaret Jenkins, who was from East Boston, MA. They lived in the Bangor area, but moved back to Boston by 1919. After their last child was born in Boston in 1924, William left his family. His wife was unable to locate him and evidently had him declared dead, since in the 1934 Boston City Directory she is listed as a widow. (However it is said that he kept in touch with his older daughters.)

William is not in any more Boston City Directories. I did not find him in the 1930 Census in Maine or Massachusetts. I did not find his death record in Maine or Massachusetts, from 1924 to 2005. He is not mentioned in the death notices of his father or siblings. I haven't yet found his mother's date of death. When William's wife died in 1946, her death record implied he was alive, age 57, but the wording of the form is "Age of Husband if alive." Her death notice said he was dead.

I would like to know what happened to him and where he died. Do you have any suggestions of other places to look?

Ask Olive Answer
Hello Ed,
It looks as though you have done a thorough job in your search for William. I am heartened to see that you have attempted to follow the siblings for a clue to William's whereabouts. Many times we find references to siblings and in-laws in obituaries which help to narrow time frames and offer other locations to search.

I would not put too much credence in the "declared dead" assumption: oftentimes directory listing information is supplied by neighbors. If his wife did have him declared dead, you would find reference to that in Boston court records. Those court records will state what efforts were made to contact William, where he was last known, etc.

The apparent contradiction between Margaret's death certificate which implies that William is alive, and her obituary which states that he is deceased, is not an unusual occurrence. Death certificate information is accurate when the person supplying that information is fully informed, and calm in an emotional moment; obituary information may have been hastily given, incorrectly transcribed, or supplied by someone not fully informed.

As you already have the information about the deaths of William's father and siblings, it might be useful to look at probate records. Occasionally, we find a gem "Notice to Heirs" which specifies who may be entitled to share in the estate, and what the executor did to notify them. If Oscar owned land, follow the real estate transactions: did the surviving children sell the home? If William was alive at the time of the estate distribution, he would have had to sign papers indicating that he had received his portion.

The Bangor Public Library has a number of resources which might prove helpful.

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