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Question:

I am looking for my 2nd great-grandfather, Edward Whalen. He was born 1853 in Northampton, MA. His parents were Edward and Julia (Salois?) Whalen from Ireland.

In 1878 he married Catherine (Katie) Smith in Chicopee, MA. According to the federal census, in 1880 he and Catherine were living in Huntington, MA. They had three children between 1880-1887: Mary Agatha, Edward, and Julia. That is the last he is heard of. In the 1900 census Catherine is a widow.

In a family tree of a distant relative they have written that Edward died in May 1887, but I have found no evidence of this date.

I have spoken with the town clerk in Huntington and there is no record of him dying in Huntington and he is not buried with his wife.

Answer:

Begin your search by assuming that he died in Massachusetts. You can take two approaches to confirm that. (You already checked with the Huntington town clerk to see if he died there, but that will not confirm that he died while traveling in another town, etc.)

1. Contact the Massachusetts Archives to see if they have a copy of his death certificate anywhere in the state of Massachusetts. Contact them at:
http://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arcsrch/vitalrecordssearchcontents.html

2. No matter where in the country he died, the widow should have started probate proceedings to legally pass along his "worldly goods." This would give the family the "legal" right to the home, property etc.

Contact the Probate courts covering the towns where they lived:
  • Hampden County Court (covers Chicopee, Massachusetts)
    Probate and Family Court Department
    50 State Street
    Springfield, MA 01102-0559
  • Hampshire County Court (covers Huntington, Massachusetts) Probate & Family Court
    33 King Street, Suite 3
    Northampton, MA 01060
You want to see if they have a record of his "probate."

Remember: his estate would be probated with or without a will. Often the records are filed separately, so have the court check both sets of records.

There is another option—although it is more of a long shot.

If you find that there is no death certificate anywhere in the state and that the widow did not file to probate his estate, then you need to see if he simply abandoned the family and lived in another state.

Since divorce was a major embarrassment and legal inconvenience/expense to all concerned, some individuals simply left. The abandoned wife would refer to herself as a "widow" and life marched on.

He could have relocated to another town or moved across the country.

You'll want to search census records for the 1900 through 1930 census to see if there are other "Edward Whalen" entries that seem to match your ancestor.

Let me know what you find out and we'll strategize your next steps.