Orphan Rescue: From Nursing Home to Nursing Home, by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

I’m on the orphan heirloom trail again! If this concept is new to you, it’s when folks write to me about items that have come into their possession, but don’t belong to their family. I do the detective work to track down the family of origin, they kindly return the item, and then I write about the rescue. If you’re curious, I invite you to browse through these earlier rescues.

The Greening Bible
This time out, we’re dealing with a Bible. I received the following message from Shari Mockensturm:

The mother of a friend of mine somehow acquired another family’s Bible back in the forties. Since Eleanor “GI” (Webb) Johnson (nicknamed “GI” because she served in the Women’s Army Corps) is now in a nursing home, she turned the Bible over to her daughter, Carolyn, who then turned it over to me in the hope that I could locate a descendant.
I have traced the family forward to cousins Hartwell M. (Melvin?) GREENING, b. 30 Jan 1905 in Toledo, Lucas Co., OH, d. 14 Nov 1961 in Los Angeles Co., CA, and Alfred P. GREENING, b. 2 Mar 1898 in MO, d. 21 Apr 1964 in Placer Co., CA.
I would greatly appreciate some help in locating a GREENING descendant of one of these men so that we can give the Bible to them. (It also has some wonderful family photographs in it.) I have no connection with the GREENING family, but as a family history researcher, I know how thrilled I would be if someone returned a family heirloom to me.

Hmmm . . . this was intriguing. Another family’s Bible kept since the 1940s? Better yet, Shari had already done much of the sleuthing. I just had to find a way to bridge the last half-century or so. The hunt was on!

A Running Start
One of my favorite search tactics is finding youngsters in the 1930 census, and that’s exactly what I did in this case. I located Alfred Greening in Sacramento, California, with his wife and a daughter. Equipped with the daughter’s name (in the interest of privacy, I’m leaving some names out) and the fact that she was born in California, I went to the California Birth Index, 1905-1995 and quickly plucked her out.

She was born in 1922, so I was hoping she was alive. But after entering her first name and exact birth date in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), I was disappointed to find that a likely candidate for the daughter had passed away in 2004.

Losing Steam
At this point, I hit a brick wall. Try as I might, I couldn’t get traction on the family of this recently deceased woman. How could I find out if she was Alfred Greening’s daughter? As I sometimes do in these situations, I decided to try going backwards to come forward.

The California Birth Index had kindly given me the maiden name of Alfred’s wife, so I tried searching with her name. That’s when the magic of OneWorldTree became apparent. Although there were no relevant hits on the name in Ancestry World Tree, OneWorldTree helpfully offered up a possibility. I took a look, and–-yes!-–her husband and daughter had the names I was hoping for!

Back on Track
When I clicked on the daughter’s name in OneWorldTree, I realized why I had stumbled earlier. She had married five times, leaving a somewhat confusing trail.

So now it was time to return to the California Birth Index to see if she had any children of her own. I methodically searched under the surnames of each of her husbands and up popped a single candidate–-a daughter born in the 1940s.

At this point, I tried this granddaughter of Alfred’s in the U.S. Public Records Index and U.S. Phone and Address Directories, 1993-2002 but with only partial success. I could find an address but not a phone number. And when it comes to orphan rescues, it’s a good idea to talk to the person in question to make sure you’ve located an actual family member (not to mention, to get a feel for whether they’d appreciate the family treasure you have to return!).

Shari on the Case
I snooped around a bit more and managed to locate a phone number for the father of Alfred’s granddaughter. He was crowding ninety, but was a possible source of information for his daughter’s phone number, so I contacted Shari and presented her with the granddaughter’s snail mail and her father’s phone number.

Fortunately, Shari’s not the timid type. She picked up the phone and called the father. As sometimes happens, he was cordial, but attempted to play gatekeeper, asking Shari to send the Bible to him.

In general, it’s best to get the item directly to the target descendant, so Shari wisely declined his offer. Fortunately, during the course of their discussion, he mentioned that his daughter had six children of her own–-including a few details that Shari was able to share with me.

Another Round
Now it was back to the California Birth Index for yet another go. It took some effort, but working with this index and the public record and phone databases, I was able to surface a daughter of the daughter of the daughter of Alfred (follow that?).

Shari got on the phone again, and as she informed me in an e-mail–-SUCCESS! Alfred’s granddaughter told Shari that her mother was in a nursing home with a terminal illness and that she would be “thrilled to see what has been found on the Greenings!” She also thanked Shari for not sending the Bible elsewhere, as she didn’t believe it would have found its way to them.

Another Rescue Mission Completed
Thanks to Shari’s determination and a dash of bravery (admit it, cold-calling strangers can be intimidating!), the Greening Bible has traveled home. If you’ve got any stranger’s family treasures, just share a few details and maybe yours will be next to travel home!

Postscript: This article is dedicated to Eleanor “GI” (Webb) Johnson who passed away earlier this year shortly after this rescue was completed.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, co-author (with Ann Turner) of Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree (as well as In Search of Our Ancestors, Honoring Our Ancestors and They Came to America), can be contacted through www.genetealogy.com, www.honoringourancestors.com, and megansrootsworld.blogspot.com.

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5 thoughts on “Orphan Rescue: From Nursing Home to Nursing Home, by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

  1. I was fascinated at the research you did. Congratulations!
    I am interested in your checking the “California Birth Index”
    I would be interested in an Ohio Birth Index but don’t know how to get it.

  2. I loved the story of ‘The Greening Bible’. I am surprised this is an ancestry.com site as I used to post messages on the ancestry.com message boards when I found family photos/bibles at antiques stores offering to purchase and ship to interested family members. The family would then reimburse me for the purchase and shipping. (I sent the receipts with the items.)

    I was contacted by site administrators saying I had broken ‘policy’ and would be banned from the site if I continued. I wrote back explaining what I was doing and asked if there was an appropriate place on the message boards, but never received a response.

  3. This story made me think of the wonderful items my grandfather made. A 24 hour clock, which was large and made out of yellow oak, and a beautiful ornate hall tree. It had a bench built into it and I have seen many over the years, but they are “plain” compared to the one he made. I think the hall tree was made out of maple.
    My Aunt had those items in later years, along with a huge framed portrait of herself when she was small. When she died without issue in 1971, her 2nd husband denied me these items, even though other family members when to him and suggested that I should have them.
    I assume he sold them to some antique dealer. They would not have near the value to anyone else that they would have for me.
    Is there a place where one can post items that they are looking for? I would of course expect to pay fair market value.

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  5. Found this searching Melvin. Am descended from Sarah Hartwell who married Jonathan Melvin II. He had a son Ebenezer, whom, I believe went to Maine……………hmmmmmm

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