Roots of our family stories lie in the art of oral storytelling. This tradition of storytelling is a source of family history that establishes a foundation for knowledge of family. As families grow and family elders transition, we recognize the importance of adding researched records to our historical collections to preserve both oral and documented stories.
Through research of historical records, we have the opportunity to retrieve available information to expand awareness of our families. Searching diverse collections of records enables us to document life events, to enhance our stories.
Answering Questions to Develop the Story of a Distant Cousin
We learn to pursue historical records to further support our family’s lineage, life events, migration patterns and more. Following a research trail of relevant source documents, enables us to “fill in” blanks for direct family and can also lead us to extended family lines.
I want to share a research path I followed to identify information about extended family in my ancestral Borah line. The entire case is not presented here, but the source records featured here provide an example of how records and analysis help us to document family relationships.
The absence of birth and death certificates did not prevent me from identifying the birth, death and World War I military service records relevant to a first cousin twice removed, Ezer H. Borah. The collected sources provided evidence, in an indirect way to answer my research questions for Ezer’s life and death events.
Ezer was born 28 March 1888 in Owensboro, Kentucky to John Borah and Eliza Bracken. Kentucky did not yet require reporting of birth and death records, so many of these events were not documented as an official county record before 1911. Instead of a birth certificate, I identified Ezer’s birth date on his World War I Draft Registration Card from 1917. Ezer, likely provided the vital information about himself to draft board registrars, which included his birth date, current address, occupation and marital status. His name, on the signature line, may or may not be his actual signature, as it is difficult to distinguish it from the other writing on the card.
Ezer not only registered with the Indianapolis draft board in 1917, he was inducted into the Army to serve in the 368th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division. The 92nd Division was created as one of the African American combat units in 1917, to serve a segregated U.S. Army. We learned Ezer’s probable death date because he was reportedly killed at the battle of Argonne in France on 27 September 1918. The transcript listed him as “Missing In Action” because his burial location is unknown.
The state of Indiana prepared a “Gold Star Honor Roll” in commemoration of the men and women who died in service during World War I, and Ezra [Ezer] H. Borah was included. These transcripts, documenting Ezer’s service during World War I indicate that original records may exist in the National Archives regarding his service record. This is a next step in documenting Ezer Borah’s military service.
Population census schedules for Daviess County, Kentucky provide documentation that John Borah’s wife (Ezer’s mother) probably died before 1900, as his household enumeration (listing him as “John Borr”) noted his marital status as widowed. The census schedule also provided evidence to support Ezer’s birth month and year (March 1888).
An 1882 Marriage Bond, filed in Ohio County, Kentucky documented the intent to marry by John Borah and Eliza Bracken. This marriage record provides documentation to indirectly support that Eliza was the mother of Ezer Borah.
In summary, my research yielded findings to document Ezer aka Ezra Borah’s birth date and location, his probable parents’ names, his World War I service in the segregated 92nd Infantry division, and his probable death date and location in France during the war. The sources were not the traditional documents that directly answer our research questions about birth and death; however, they provide indirect evidence to answer those basic questions.
Source documents don’t provide us with the artful storytelling of the oral tradition, but they allow us to piece our family story together through records and analysis of the evidence. We are able to bridge the gaps between oral family stories and records that document life events and deaths of relatives. These sources are valuable gems in our collection and enhance how we chronicle our cherished family stories for generations.