The Genlighten Blog

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Featured Provider: mollykennedy


(Death record obtained by Molly for a Genlighten co-founder’s research project)

Provider mollykennedy offers “Illinois-based genealogical and historical research, for hobbyists, heir-locator services, researchers and authors.” Her listings include Illinois death certificate retrieval and statewide obituary searches. As one Genlighten’s earliest providers, she’s completed 275+ requests with a long list of positive feedback from satisfied clients.

How did you get started doing genealogy research?

All four of my mom’s grandparents were born Ireland. Mom was (and still is, at age 93) proud of her Irish heritage but as a kid, when I’d ask Mom for details, she’d just tell me “What do you want to do that for? All you’re going to find is a bunch of monkeys!” That phrase was enough to trigger my own Irish bullheadedness. A few years ago, I asked Mom why she used that phrase to shut down my genealogy interest. She told me that THAT was what her own mother told HER, back in the 1920’s-1930’s!

How have you developed your research skills?

From 1998 – 2003, I was a volunteer for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK). My RAOGK “offers” were Illinois death certificates, 1916-1947, and central Illinois county (Sangamon, Christian) research. Over half of the RAOGK requests were for other types of records so I tried my best to learn where those records might be stored.

Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?

Don’t know if I have any “superpowers” but if I do have any, they might be that 1) I’m too stubborn to give up easily; (2) I have a gift for numbers of any kind; and (3) sometimes in my dreams, the dead person(s) I’m researching show me clues as to where to search.

Describe a challenging research problem you’re proud of having solved.

If I ever write a book, it will be about “Finding Anna.” Two Army families were stationed in Germany in early 1950’s. Both transferred back to the States in 1953. One family had no children; the other had 3 kids, daughters Helen and Anna, aged 5 and 3, born in Texas, and toddler son Bob, born in Germany. The childless couple took Anna back to the United States but refused to give her back – EVER. The oldest child Helen (married to my oldest brother) asked me to find Anna. It took almost a year, but I did!

Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.

My mom’s great-grandmother, the young widow Harrington, supposedly fled her County Cork, Ireland bay-side farm in 1867 because a British soldier “came out to take what was not his.” The family assumption was that he was after the land but I learned the truth in my 2002 stay on the Beara Peninsula. There were three women in the household—the 32-yr-old newly-widowed mother of four, and her two daughters, ages 12 and 4, and it wasn’t land that he was after.

She killed him, buried him in the garden, and sent her two middle sons to stay with her grandmother in the next county. She and her daughters were rowed to a ship in Bantry Bay by friends/family of her deceased husband. They stowed away, arriving in Massachusetts three and a half weeks later.

After a few years, she was able to send money for her sons to join them in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She never remarried. She joined the 6th Order of St Francis and was buried in 1891, in her religious habit.

What’s the most unique record source that you access for research?

I would have to say the floor-to-ceiling horizontal stacks (literally wedged up to the ceiling) of early 1880’s courthouse records/transcripts in Christian County, Illinois. Sue Elmore, author of the book Nameless Indignities, had to rewrite her book because of what I was able to find there—with my 90-year-old mom as my research sidekick! Sue told me, “This book might actually sell!” And, I hope it does.

What’s the one must-visit repository for visitors doing research in your area?

IF people are visiting to research Springfield and central Illinois counties, I would suggest that they first visit Springfield’s public library (Lincoln Library) at 7th & Capital to use the Sangamon Valley Collection on the third floor.

IF they are visiting to find info from anyplace ELSE in Illinois, I can only suggest what I do every day: FIRST, go to the Illinois State Archives to obtain/verify death & burial dates, militia records, etc.; SECOND, to go theAbraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Microfilm Newspaper Department (2nd floor), to search newspapers for documentation/verification.

What tools to you use to create the reports/images that you provide to clients?

Over 99% of the documents I find must be either xerographically copied or printed from microfilm on site. I do have a high-resolution digital camera for cemetery photos and a letter-size flatbed all-in-one Lexmark scanner at home.

What advice would you give for trying to break through a 
brick wall?

If the direct surname lineage (father/mother/brother, son/daughter, grandparental) doesn’t pan out, search for marriages of same-surname females who married in the same area, during the right time-frame. Then chase down the females. (Based on my experience, women in the family often kept better historical/family records than the males.)

What hobbies do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing research?
I used to sew a LOT—award-winning costumes, quilts, toys, 3D items—but haven’t done much lately, due to severe right-thumb osteo-arthritis. I am extremely right-handed, so it’s pretty much useless. I MIGHT be qualified for corrective surgery late May. I hope! I had the same surgery on left thumb for the same reason 10+ years ago so I am hoping that I can again have an opposable thumb on my right hand!

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