The turnout for the funeral of James Beavers was standing-room only.
Veterans from all over turned out to bid farewell to Beavers, a fellow veteran.
It was the type of story that tugged at the heartstrings. Beavers, a former staff sergeant and Vietnam veteran, had died about a month before, alone. It wasn’t clear exactly who found him, and after weeks of searching, the coroner’s office was unable to locate any survivors. He was destined to have a solitary burial about a week before Christmas.
The afternoon of the funeral, though, over at the genealogy center at the Allen County Public Library, Sara Allen, a genealogy librarian, had heard the story and started doing some digging herself.
"No one asked us to do it," but the story had gotten a lot of publicity, Allen said. "It tugged at my heart to have no member of his family at the funeral."
It took all afternoon for her to track down Beavers’ parents in West Virginia and the names of some aunts and uncles, all of whom were dead.
"It took longer to track down other relatives," Allen said. By Friday, she had found the names of four extended family members, and that afternoon she passed on the names of two cousins to the coroner’s office. On Monday, that office was able to notify the cousins in West Virginia.
Tracking down people in the modern world, oddly enough, is harder than ever. Everyone has cellphones, Allen said. There are no phone books. If people live in rented homes it makes it even more difficult.
It is the first time that the genealogy center has played such a role, which is normally handled by the coroner’s office.
The genealogy center handles similar searches for individuals, though, Allen said.
"We do have people who come in who are looking for lost family members," Allen said. "We have people who are looking for old Army buddies, old girlfriends."
Using microfilm, newspaper article databases, Ancestry.com, books, the genealogy center can track down lots of things.
"We want people to know we’re here and we can help," Allen said.
In this particular case, "It was gratifying to know that we can help."
Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.