Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Those Evil Initials


Long ago, I decided the most hated word in the genealogist's lexicon was "unknown." After receiving a coveted—and long-awaited—death certificate, that was the last term I'd ever hope to see entered on the section requiring information on parents' names. But it happens. More than I'd like.

I've discovered there is a second item to add to that list of least-appreciated terms, only this time, it isn't a word. It's a set of initials: "d" and "k." For those very same questions—father's name, or mother's maiden name—those nasty little letters stand for the dreaded "don't know."

When those of us in the SLIG course I'm taking this week—In-Depth African American Genealogy—witnessed that inconvenient appearance in a death certificate we were examining, though, I suppose I should be grateful for the learning exercise it prompted. In the case of a former slave, what might have seemed like a research roadblock—those evil initials—turned out to provide a lesson in inferences drawn from a multitude of documents.

Long story short, it may indeed be possible to derive parents' names from uninformed reports. This is good news for me, as I am deep in the midst of trying to find the family roots for former slave King Stockton of Wellborn, Florida. I cannot wait to apply the useful information from my SLIG class to this search I've been struggling with, off and on, for the past two years.

Nothing, however, is ever easy. Before I could bring this information to light in King Stockton's situation, our region in northern California was hit with a wind storm, cutting off our power supply. While I may be typing this post using a computer keyboard, my effort is no less antiquated than Abraham Lincoln's fabled attempt to read his law books by the glimmer of the fire place. When my battery runs out—soon—I will have to pick up the tale with tomorrow's post. And hope by 7:00 a.m., power will be restored to the region so I won't miss any more valuable information in the morning's classes.




  1. You are a trooper. I would be sitting by the fire with a glass of wine.

    1. If only, in this green-friendly state, we were still able to even have real fireplaces, I might have joined you, Lisa! But I also knew the real gems of this course would likely begin making their appearance with today's sessions. No way I'd be missing that!

  2. I understand the frustration of "unknown" and "dk." I've seen both on official death certificates for relatives. I'm looking forward to learning about the alternative sources for missing information in formerly enslaved AA's backgrounds. Thanks for your persistence.

    1. Oh, I know you would so have enjoyed hearing today's sessions! I will post more about some of the resources through the end of this week, but in this era of webinar genealogy meetings, if you ever get a chance to hear either Ari Wilkins or Deborah Abbott, take that opportunity.

      Ms. Wilkins, I noticed, made a similar presentation last summer for the North Carolina Genealogical Society, which the organization made available online for free for a time afterwards, and I know she and Dr. Abbott have both spoken at other organizations' events.

      I can write about some of the resources they mentioned, but they are so much better at presenting their case than I'd ever be able to do!


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