My husband walked back to the car holding the latest Family Tree Magazine, which is always a treat, and...
A letter from the FBI!
Alas, do not get too excited for me. It was a letter informing me that they did not have any files or records on my great-grandmother's first husband, Joseph William St. Onge.
However, that is not a huge disappointment. First of all, I'm thrilled at how quickly the FBI responded to my FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request. From the time I sent it via email until the day I received the letter, it took less than 30 days.
Second, I'd like to call your attention to Sharn White's August 11, 2012 blog post, "N" for Negative Evidence. As she reminds us, not finding something in our research is just as vital for helping us reach our conclusions, as finding something is.
A letter telling me the FBI does not have a file on Joseph does not mean I should toss it in the recycling bin and move on. I should document the letter in my family tree database, file the letter away with other physical documents I have on Joseph St. Onge, and focus my attention elsewhere.
Since he supposedly went to New York, perhaps he was incarcerated there. That means I should start learning more about the criminal justice system in that state, and find out if there's some sort of organization, board or other entity to which I can write for information.
While it can be disappointing to do your work, only to find nothing, negative evidence is part of the process of elimination. In some instances it can help dispel family tales. In others, it can help you redirect your research.
So don't let a lack of records get you down. Note your research (i.e. "Researched all birth records for New Bedford, for 1880-1885"; did not find one on John Smith"), and forge ahead!
And if your research brings you to the FBI, keep in mind they were established in 1908, they do not keep a file on every citizen in the United States, they have very few records prior to the 1920's, and their Records Management Division is very efficient. :)
Copyright (c) 2012 Wendy L. Callahan