Question: My father is the illegitimate child of a 15-year-old girl and a married man. He was born in Bartlesville, Okla., in 1923 and was reared by his real father and his wife. They kept his birth mother's identity and the circumstances surrounding his birth secret from others, though my dad was told what his real mother's name was.
My father is one of the finest men ever, and for 64 years he has wanted to know about his mother and would give anything to find a photo of her.
Can you help us? Our efforts have been misguided and in vain so far.
Answer: If your father's birth mother was 15 in 1923, that would mean she was born in 1908. Possibly she is still living, and she may wonder what happened to her son. I hear from many birth parents who gave up their children years ago, all wanting to know how to find them.
Start with the 1910 Soundex Census of Oklahoma. It's available on microfilm--ask your local librarian how to order it.
Perhaps both families were living in the Bartlesville, Okla., area at the time of the 1910 census. This is where you have to start your search.
Because you know the full name of the birth mother, look for her as a 2-year-old in these records. That would then give you her parents' (or guardians') names, plus names and data about any of her brothers and sisters. It may be through these families that you will find the photograph your dad seeks. Look for the paternal line also.
Washington County, Okla., of which Bartlesville is the county seat, has marriage and court records since 1907. Write to the county clerk (always enclosed an SASE) and ask for a check of the brides' index in the marriage records there for the years 1908-1918 for your real maternal grandmother. Possibly she married in that county, and you can learn her married name, giving you clues to pursue. If you locate her in the index, send for a copy of the marriage license and application. It will cost a few dollars, probably less than $5, but could contain information invaluable to your research.
When researching in a small community sometimes a letter to the editor of the local newspaper brings results. No matter how secret your paternal grandfather and his wife thought they kept facts about this birth, there probably were others who knew. There may still be descendants of your families living in this area who could supply you with leads to find your real paternal grandmother and/or locate a photo of her.
Q: When writing to Swedish agencies (or any foreign ones), will requests in English be acknowledged, or should you have your letter translated to the language of the country from which you seek information?
A: The majority of governmental agencies in Western Europe will answer short letters written in English. However, few genealogical requests are short, and we tend to lose something in translations. It is best to write in the language of the official whose help you are requesting.
The mistake most American genealogists make is trying to contact officials in the old country for information that is usually available in this country.
Secondly, we fail to do our homework by hunting for birth and marriage certificates in Sweden when we don't even have the death certificates of all our grandparents who died in America. Often the information we seek is on the American documents we haven't bothered to locate.
Some records may not be available in this country. If you reach that stage in your research, then by all means write to old-country officials. Check with a nearby university (modern language department), LDS (Mormon) Library or your local, friendly genealogical to find someone who, for a modest fee, will write the letter in Swedish (an read the response) for you.