I was at work a couple of weeks ago…

and the phone rang. I answered and an elderly gentleman, he was very polite, introduced himself and explained that he wanted to look at old copies of the local newspaper.

I work in a library, not a local library which you would expect would have copies of the local paper on microfilm, but happily for him one that did have copies of the newspaper he was looking for. The gentleman explained, after a little questioning, that he was looking into an accident that occurred in the area in the 1930s that resulted in 2 deaths. I suggested that he could come into our library and use our resources, however he said he had tried and this proved physically impossible for him – there is a very steep hill to climb and he found he could not do it. I offered a couple of alternatives, including contacting his local library for assistance, however by this time I was completely hooked and wanted to help, so took down all the details and said I would ring if I thought of anything else.

First I used Trove to search their collection of digitised newspapers and found a few brief articles about the accident. The gentleman’s main aim was to find out where one of the deceased persons had been buried though, and these articles did not mention those details. It was clear I would have to scroll through the microfilm – shudder. As I set myself up to use the ancient microfilm reader, (knowing my kids would have to wait to be picked up from kindy because their mama was dealing with some sort of genealogy obsession), people I worked with walked past exclaiming at the fact I was using this dreadful old machine.

It didn’t take long though to find articles about the accident. There were a few reasons for this: it was, and still is, a small country area where events such as this occur very rarely; the deceased came from well known local families and they were both young men in their early 20s; and most usefully, there was an inquest into the accident that therefore included a lot of details.

The one particular piece of information I was looking for eluded me though, until I had nearly given up hope – a hint of where one of the men had been buried. I had found a burial notice that mentioned where the other man was to be interred, but not where the second man was to be – which was what the gentleman caller was looking for. I had looked in what I thought was all the likely places, personal notices, death notices, obituaries etc., but had failed the first time to look at the large article about the accident itself, that contained a few paragraphs about the young man’s funeral that had been held the day before and where he had been buried. I very easily nearly overlooked this because I was in a huge hurry, (picking up tired, hungry kids from kindy was clouding my mind), so was extremely excited when I spotted it. This taught me to always look more widely than just those areas you would normally expect a death/funeral notice to be.

I quickly copied everything I had found to my flashdrive and took it home to print and label with sources etc, then rang the gentleman to ask if I could post it to him. He didn’t answer, but returned my call nearly a week later. His mobile had been giving him trouble but he was very happy to hear that I had an answer to his question. I said I would post the information to him, but failed to ask what I really wanted to know – who were these people he was researching and was he related to one of them?

I posted the articles and had almost forgotten about them when my mobile rang last week and I heard the elderly fellow’s voice. He was calling to say he was extremely grateful for the information and that it had answered a lot of questions for him.

I did end up asking him why he was looking, (after about 5 minutes of trying to work out the most polite way of doing so), and he told me that one of the young men had been his birth father. His mother was unaware at the time of the accident that she was pregnant, also unmarried, and at the time this occurred this was not socially acceptable, so he was adopted. He was happy to now know where both men had been buried, but also many more details of the accident as reported in the newspaper due to the inquest.

I enjoyed being able to help this gentleman, particularly because he was so grateful and this is what I would love to be doing all the time – but also because it turns out he knows my father from fishing on the beach!

Happy searching!

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