Getting in touch with older relatives is one of the most important things a genealogist can do. As I explained in the Kazakos story, older relatives can give us a firsthand account of the information we have been researching. Ever since I started conducting genealogical research, one of my main goals was to find out what happened to my grandpa’s sister. In fact, I wasn’t fully aware that he had a sibling until he passed away. It would take me four years to finally find her. When I finally did, however, I ended up finding out a lot of information that I otherwise never would have known. This discovery would also lead me to find the ancestral villages of the Hiebel family.
Why was it so difficult to find her? How did I locate her? What valuable information did I discover as a result?
- The Problem:
My grandpa’s family and her family had not kept in contact for decades, so this would make it as difficult to find her as any other distant cousin. From the little information I had, she had been married twice. She had four kids with her first husband, and moved to another state with her second husband. I knew the surname of her first husband, but wasn’t sure if I had the right spelling as I could not find any information on him or their kids. I also did not know the surname of the second husband or which state she had moved to. Perhaps the biggest issue was that I didn’t know whether she was even still alive. When I originally wrote this story back in 2014, she was 89 years old.
- How I Located Her:
Great Grandmother’s Obituary: There are many times during our research we find things when we are looking for something else completely. At the time I was looking for my great grandmother’s obituary (Martha Hiebel, the mother of my grandpa and his sister) from the 1970s. When I discovered this obituary, it provided me with my grandpa’s sister’s 2nd married name, and told me that she was living in Aurora, Colorado at the time.
WhitePages: Once I had a full name and location, I was able to locate her on WhitePages.com. This information can sometimes be outdated, however I didn’t find any death records or obituaries for her. This led me to believe in the possiblity that she still might be alive! Her phone numbers on the website were old (I called every number listed), so I had no way to contact her.
Marriage Record: When contacting distant/lost relatives, I prefer email for first contact over phone calls anyways. My idea now was to find one of her sons on Facebook, but first I would need the correct spelling of her first husband’s surname. Some deeper searches into Chicago marriage records led me to find her marriage to her first husband, and the surname was spelled differently from the variations I had tried before.
Facebook: Once I had the correct spelling of her son’s surname, I found one of them on Facebook. While these relatives had not been in contact with my extended family for decades, at least I had the advantage that my first cousin once removed had met my grandpa’s family before and knew who they were (As I previously stated in the Stahl Reunion story, first contact with a long lost relative can be awkward in the beginning). I quickly recieved a reply back and discovered that my grandpa’s sister was in fact still alive! After a few short emails, he provided me with her current phone number.
- What I Discovered:
When I first called her, we spoke on the phone for a while and she was able to confirm much of the research that I previously discovered. Hearing personal stories about the ancestors I had found from a primary source was something I never would have learned from the information within records alone.
For years I had wondered if the Thomas Hiebel of Belle River, Minnesota was my 3rd great grandfather. She had told me that as kids, her and my grandpa went up to his farm when it was owned by his youngest daughter and her husband (Frances and John Kuhne) after his death. Stories from a primary source such as this can help us confirm theories we can’t fully prove.
While most of this information I already knew, I did learn the exact date of immigration for my Hiebel family from her. This would lead me to find their origins in Bohemia! I would also later receive pictures from her of my great grandfather, his siblings, and my 2nd great grandparents (some of these are posted at the end of the Edward Hiebel Sr story). Anyone who is thinking about trying to get in touch with a distant relative, I strongly urge you to do so. You never know how much you will learn for your research!