Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad is, I admit, a rather specialized database—though it was just bolstered by a major update that fills in the years 1910–1962. These are records created by American consulates overseas when a U.S. citizen (other than military personnel) died within their district. My people are pretty much homebodies, so I don’t have any relative I know of in the database. Which is really too bad, because these can be fascinating records.
Sometimes you get just the basic form. Forms varied a little over time, but they looked something like this:
You may find names and addresses of family, both back in the States and abroad, plus details of the burial and death, perhaps an occupation or naturalization information.
But that may be just the beginning. If you do find an ancestor in this database, make sure you check the pages immediately preceding and following the record (with the arrow button at the top right of the screen) because sometimes there is an entire file.
You might uncover a little mystery about a family fortune:
You might learn that your aunt who died when the Titanic went down had an apartment in Paris:
If you happened to be related to Reverend Edmund A. Neville, who died in Saltillo, Mexico, in 1913, you’ll get a good chunk of history. There’s a letter from the vice consul detailing Reverend Neville’s return to Mexico shortly before he died and meetings he had in Washington, D.C., and New York. A newspaper clipping from the Mexican Herald talks about Neville’s extensive travels, including his encounter with cannibals in New Guinea. There are also details of his last day and sudden passing, plus a list of his effects.
William Poland’s attempt to dive from the mast of the S.S. Silver Sword generated six pages of documentation. FBI head J. Edgar Hoover himself took an interest in the 30-plus pages on Fred Curtis Thornley. And the file for Sinclair Lewis, America’s first Nobel Laureate in literature, contains more than 100 pages of correspondence and other paperwork dealing with his estate. So if your ancestors had a bit more of the wanderlust in them than mine and you do find one in the Deaths of American Citizens Abroad database, cross your fingers. You may be in for some eye-opening armchair (or computer desk) travel.