Feature Article: Stay Calm & Keep Searching

A genealogist said she found her relative in GenealogyBank's Recent Newspaper Obituaries archives, yet reported she couldn't find him listed in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and wondered why not.

That's odd—let's look at it. The answer, it turns out, teaches a valuable lesson about genealogy research.

OK—here is her ancestor's obituary, for William Henry "Nick" Gardner, Jr.

News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), 16 September 2010.

Now let's look for his record in the SSDI. A direct search using his first name, last name and year of death should find him for us.

That search pulled up 23 search results—but none of them was our target person.


I see in his obituary that his nickname was "Nick." Let's search using that name instead of William.

That produced one search result—but still not the target person.

OK. Let's try a different approach.

We could expand the search by using the surname "Gardner" alone with no other terms. But we know by experience that a search that broad for a surname that common will produce too many search results.

So let's narrow and focus the search by adding some key terms.

We know by the obituary that he was born in 1925, died in 2010, and lived in North Carolina.

Let's search using his surname and all three of those criteria.

This gave us six search hits.

The second one is our target person!

Now we see why he was difficult to find in the SSDI.

His obituary gave us his full name, William Henry Gardner, Jr., but his name was given to the Social Security Administration as "W. H. Gardner" and that is the way they entered it into the SSDI.

Bottom Line: Begin your searches with the assumption that your target person is in the SSDI. If you don't find him on your first search, be flexible and use different search terms to find him. By expanding and focusing your searches you just might find your relative.