We’ve all been there…that impenetrable brick wall.  We hate them more than some of the relatives that end up in our trees.  But we can’t ignore them…we have to find a way to break thru them.  So…how do we blast away at that wall without a stick of dynamite?  With any means possible!  And…this is where “Other Relatives” might help!  Sometimes searching for another relative can blast a hole in that brick wall.  That’s why its important to gather as much information about siblings/children as possible.  You never know when they will have the power to break that brick wall down.

Here was my problem…my Mom was half Greek.  OK, so “being” Greek isn’t really a “Problem”.  The food is awesome, the names are unique, and Greeks tan wonderfully in the summer.  But, the access to Greek vital records leaves a lot to be desired.  They just don’t exist online.  Unless you have the money to travel to Greece, you have to be patient with snailmail and you have to have all your facts right before you write to the Greek Communities and churches.

Trying to find information on my grandfathers relatives was proving to be almost impossible.  I have a handwritten family tree that gave me the names of all my grandfathers siblings…I know he had a brother that immigrated to the US and settled in Minneapolis…and I  know his parents were known as “Steve and Helen” here in the US.  Beyond that…I know almost nothing.   So…where do I start?

I have been working on this line of my family for several years now. Gathering information from every source and record I can find.  But individually nothing made sense. Individually, I had what seemed like a million and one “facts”.  Imagine taking a 500 piece puzzle and pulling the picture off each piece and THEN trying to put the puzzle together…it’s virtually impossible.

So…where do you turn from here?  Well…Fresh Eyes are always good.  Grab a good friend and have them look thru all your documents.  It helps if this friend is into genealogy, too…or someone that can read bad handwriting.  Have them help you look at the documents for anything you might have missed.

I Missed A Big Clue!!!  Well…kind of….OK, I didn’t follow up on what I had found the first time…or maybe I just gave up too easily.  I had located my grandfathers World War I draft registration card.  We’ve all seen them…scribbles and scratchy handwriting that you can barely make out…sometimes scanned poorly or extremely faded.  I carefully wrote down all the information…include “Nearest Relative”.  But I did a quick search and found nothing on this person, so it got filed until later.  Only to be forgotten!

James S. Drakopulos  World War I Draft Registration Card September 12, 1918

James S. Drakopulos
World War I Draft Registration Card
September 12, 1918

I spent a couple days working with my friend, Barb…a professional genealogist…trying to break thru this Greek Brick Wall.   She found this Draft Card and asked me who this nearest relative was.  I told her I had no clue….I honestly didn’t even remember seeing it before…but the name and information was in my file on my Grandfather.  Our focus immediately switched from searching my grandfathers records to finding more about this “nearest relative”.  Well…let me tell you…have you ever tried to find a needle in a haystack?  If there is one thing we’ve learned…Greek names are misspelled EVERYWHERE!  Nobody can pronounce them…and they certainly can’t spell them!

But…being a bit creative, we finally found him…Which led to census reports…which led us to city directories…which led us to a couple different obituaries…etc…etc…etc… The stack of paper was getting thicker and thicker.  Finally we found an obituary for the husband of the “nearest relative’s” daughter.  That then led us to her obituary which was listed in a newsletter for her husbands family association.  The obituary stated she was survived by a brother!  A quick search on http://www.whitepages.com revealed that he was still alive and I had a phone number!  WOW!!!  2 days…30 or so pages of information gathered…8 misspellings of their last name…and I had a phone number!  Barb told me to “Call him!”.  Ummm…..Have you ever made a cold call to someone that you may be related to?  What do I say?  How do I explain this to him?  Maybe he’s not home?  All these questions ran thru my head as I’m dialing my cell phone.

One ringy-dingy…..two ringy-dingy…..<maybe they aren’t home…whew>….”Hello”…<CRAP!…someone answered!>

Me:  Umm…Hello…Is George there?

Lady on phone:  I’m sorry he’s out, can I ask who’s calling?

Me:  Well…My name is Karen and…well…this is going to sound really strange, but I think I might be related to Geroge (I avoided his last name because I still didn’t know how to properly pronounce it).  My mother’s maiden name was Elaine Drakopulos and her father listed George’s father as a nearest living relative on his World War I draft card.  <OK…this is sounding weird and I’ve seen all the information…this lady must think I’m NUTS!>

Lady on phone:  Did you say Drakopulous?  Yes, My husband has that name in his family?  Who did you say you were?

The connection was immediate!  This woman…a COUSIN by marriage…was very willing to share everything she knew.  Unfortunately, her husband is suffering from early stages of dementia (He will be 90 this year).  She had a wealth of information and is willing to get whatever she can from her husband.  Sometimes he’s very accurate, sometimes he’s not.  But she’s willing to try to ask him questions.

To offer her a “good faith offering”, I promised to send her everything I knew about the Drakopulous family tree…which unfortunately isn’t much.  I can’t wait to talk to her again…or to meet her and her husband.  I still have a couple other connections to make, too.  She gave me the name of a younger cousin to contact (I think she said he was about 75!), and she gave me his phone number.  She said he would be more than helpful with information.  It seems like this brick wall, although not completely torn down, has a hole in it big enough for me to crawl around in.  I have a few new leads and best of all…hope!  Apparently my grandfather and his brother weren’t the only siblings to immigrate to the US.  I now have something else to follow up on in hopes of finding out my Great Grandparents Greek names.  Steve and Helen may finally have their true identities back!

I guess there are a couple lessons in this experience.  First…Don’t discount ANY information you find.  It all can be helpful at some point in time…when it’s supposed to be understood.  Second…Don’t be afraid to make those cold calls.  There might be a connection that is extremely valuable to your research. And…Third…Never consider a Brick Wall to be impenetrable.  They can all be broken down with enough help.

So…grab your brick walls and a couple of friends and start breaking them down!!!