Was The Genealogy Psychic Worth It? You Be The Judge.

Was The Genealogy Psychic Worth It? You Be The Judge.

by Kerry Scott on 22 September 2010

If you haven’t read the previous post about the time I hired a genealogy psychic, you should.  Otherwise this will make no sense.

So there I was in my office at 3am, Pop-Tart in hand, on one of those wild-goose chase tangents you’re supposed to avoid when you’re a Serious Genealogist.

I knew I should stop.  I was on a deadline for a completely different project.  Plus, the guy I was looking for had probably died between 1910 and 1913.  But I’d seen mention of a John Smith (again, the names in this story have been changed) in an article from 1929 related to selling alcohol during Prohibition, and a genealogy psychic had told me that my guy had been involved in exactly that sort of activity.

Don’t get me wrong—I felt like an idiot.  I don’t believe in psychics.  I especially don’t believe in genealogy psychics.  Plus, I really thought that this guy was dead by 1913.

But I clicked through anyway… and the article didn’t tell me enough to know if this John Smith was mine.  I had to read the next article, and the next one, and the next one.  I ended up all the way into the spring of 1930, where I found an article that mentioned this John Smith’s mother.  My John Smith had lost both parents decades earlier.

This wasn’t my guy.  It was just a wild goose chase.  I felt like a fool for spending 20 minutes on something I’d heard from a psychic.

Then, just before I finished eating and went back to what I was supposed to be working on, I saw this:

Died in St. Louis—Mrs.  W. L. Jorgenson has received the sad news of the death of her nephew, John Smith, at his home in St. Louis, Mo.  Mr. Smith as a boy lived in Albert Lea for several years and made his home with his aunt, Mrs. Marie Holm of Ermina street, but has been living in St. Louis for some time, where he passed away Tuesday of last week.

And my Pop-Tart clattered to the floor.

I knew those names.  Those were the names.  Those were his aunts.  He’d lived at that house on Ermina Street.  This was him.  I’d found him.

I sat there for a minute, stunned.  I couldn’t believe it.  Then I thought, “Death certificate.  I have to get the death certificate.  I have to get it RIGHT NOW.”

And it turns out that Missouri is the BEST place to find your dead relative.  Missouri not only has a searchable death index for 1910-1959, but they have the actual death certificates online as well.  For free.  Instantly.  Missouri is my new favorite state.  Rock on, Show-Me State.

My heart pounded as I typed in his name.  It pounded harder as I clicked on the link.  While I waited for the image to load, it pounded so hard that I didn’t hear the wheels of my desk chair rolling over the remains of my dropped Pop-Tart (and it case you’re wondering, it’s really hard to get that stuff out of the wheels of your desk chair).

Then the death certificate appeared on my screen, for this man I’ve been looking for years, whose fate I’ve spent hours speculating on.  My heart soared for a second…and then sank.

It was indeed my guy.  YAY.

But he’d been in the hospital for seven days before he died.  The cause of death was delirium tremens.  The contributing cause was chronic alcoholism.  He drank himself to death.

Now, I imagined lots of endings for him….but not that one.  That one just sucks.  The last photo I have of him is of a very good-looking 19-year-old with his whole life ahead of him.  It’s hard to imagine that kid, even with the losses he’d endured as a child, ending up like this.  But somehow, this is how his story ended.  I wonder if that’s the reason my great-grandmother’s record of him stopped 20 years earlier.

And there was more.  There was a wife, and a daughter born in 1908 in Kentucky (whether this daughter is his biological child, a stepchild from a previous marriage of the mother’s, an adopted child, or something else…I don’t know yet).  The three of them lived together at the time of the census in 1920, but at the time of John’s death they seem to have been apart.  John died just a few weeks after the census-taker came through his neighborhood in 1930, and I found him at the address on his death certificate, boarding in what appears to have been a poor neighborhood.  He was unemployed.  I haven’t yet found the wife and daughter in the 1930 census.  The daughter had an even sadder ending; she died not long after John did, at age 24, after experiencing more than her fair share of difficulties for someone so young.

So, the psychic was right about a few things:

  • She said John died between 1928-1932.  He died in 1930.  I was blinded by my belief that he had died before his sister’s wedding in 1913…but the psychic had no such handicap.
  • She said that John was involved in running illegal alcohol.  I don’t yet know whether this is true; I haven’t accounted for his life between 1910 and 1930, except for his appearance in the 1920 census.  Clearly he was involved in drinking illegal alcohol, and that’s what led to his death.
  • She said that John did not have proper ID at the time of his death.  The information on the death certificate suggests that she may have been right about this (although I don’t know what constituted “proper ID” in 1930).  The informant on the death certificate is “hospital records.”  His place of birth is correct, but it doesn’t have his date of birth, and lists him as “about 40 years old.”  It also lists him as widowed, but I’ve already determined that his wife/ex-wife was still alive.  Whether he would have been in any condition to give information to the hospital himself when he came in, I don’t know…but there’s a lot of basic information that’s missing.

On the flip side, the location the psychic gave was completely wrong—he was in Missouri, not Wyoming (although it’s possible he lived in Wyoming at some point).  He wasn’t killed in a car accident or explosion (although it’s possible one of those events preceded his admission to the hospital…I’m hoping to find out more when I can visit St. Louis and do some newspaper research there).

So did the psychic help me find John Smith?  Was this worth the $30 I paid?

My feeling is this:  I would have found this guy a whole lot sooner if I’d been able to get over my own assumptions about him.  Because my great-grandmother’s records of him completely stopped in 1910, and he hadn’t attended her 1913 wedding, and I’d never found him in World War I draft registration records, I’d assumed he was dead by about 1913.  That was dumb on my part.  We all know we should never assume, and I’ve gotten much better at avoiding this as I’ve progressed in terms of my research skills…but I think that when it comes to the the people we’ve been researching from the very beginning, when we’re still cluefree, sometimes we don’t realize the extent to which those assumptions are hard-wired.  I feel a little silly that I had to pay $30 to a stranger to open my brain to the possibility that he’d lived much longer than that.  I don’t know whether she’s really psychic, but clearly she didn’t have my hang-ups.  So good for her…and that $30 lesson was completely worth it for me.  I’m approaching my old brick-wall problems very differently as a result.

And I can say for sure that it was the Prohibition story the psychic gave me that made me keep clicking through on those articles.  I wouldn’t have found him (at least not that day) if it hadn’t been for that.  I like to think I would have wised up eventually and looked that far out…but it wouldn’t have happened that night.  Who can say how these things work?  Whole books have been written about the weird coincidences genealogists encounter that just can’t be explained.  Maybe this is one of them.  I’m not planning to submit any more ancestors to a psychic…but I’m not sorry I went through this exercise.

Now, who among you dares me to email Elizabeth Shown Mills and ask her how to cite a psychic reading as a source?  (I’m kidding.  Don’t you DARE tell anyone about this.  I’m already afraid I’m going to be The Goofy Chick Who Hired a Psychic at the next APG luncheon.  This is our secret, okay?).

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Coffin September 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm

I’m already designing T-shirts that say “I know the chick who hired the genealogy psychic” for APG 2011.

This was a great 2-parter. Thanks for sharing your experience.

P.S. I agree about how Missouri rocks with the death certificates.


M. Diane Rogers September 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm

What a great set of posts! With a very memorable lesson about ‘assumptions’ and a great research result for you. (Too bad about that pop tart though.)


Jo September 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Hey Goofy Chick – you found him using ermmmm “unconventional methods” leading to a re-think which fired up your persistence. Congratulations! And I can’t believe it takes you 20 minutes to eat a Pop Tart :-)


Kerry Scott September 22, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I didn’t say it was only one Pop-Tart.

The day I can eat only one Pop-Tart is the day I have dropped dead before I could reach for the second (and third, and fourth…).


Jo September 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm

LOL :-)


Melissa Barker September 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Kerry, great story! I was really waiting to hear the “rest of the story”. I think you need to ask Elizabeth Shown Mills how to cite a psychic genealogist. She was part of your research process, hehehe!!


Kerry Scott September 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm

You know, I realized after the fact that I shouldn’t have used her actual name in the post. She probably has a Google Alert, and she’ll come right here and see all of this.

This is just like that dream where you show up in class and you find out there’s a test and you didn’t study. And you’re naked.


Amy Boland September 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Hey, maybe try this:


Laugh or don’t. Believe it is an oracle or don’t. But it DOES encourage you to think about your situation, and its possible solutions, under a different set of paradigms. Keeps your mind from bouncing around amid the same set of walls that hold you back.


Kerry Scott September 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm

That is awesome.


Linda McCauley September 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Fabulous story! Your $30 was definitely well spent – not only did it lead you to solving a family mystery, you got a great 2 part blog post out of it. What more could anyone want for 30 bucks?


Kerry Scott September 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm

A t-shirt that says, “I’m the Goofy Chick Who Hired the Genealogy Psychic?”

Although I’m thinking it should be a sash instead of a t-shirt. A sash is so much more goofy and awesome. Plus, if it’s wide enough, it covers the fat. That’s win-win.


Susan September 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Superb posts on so many levels. Thanks so much. And I won’t tell you how many Pop-Tart wrappers are in my car…


Kerry Scott September 22, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Confidential to “Oxa” in Connecticut who has tried a couple of times to comment regarding the real identity of “John Smith” here:

I’d love to answer your question, but putting his real name in the comments would defeat the purpose of using a fake name in the post (which I did at the request of his living family members). His actual identity (and those of the descendants I mentioned in the post) wouldn’t be all that hard to find if you were really determined to do so…but I see no reason to upset living people when his identity isn’t really the point of the post (it’s about checking your assumptions, not about him). That’s why I didn’t approve your comments for publication. I tried replying to you privately, but alas, when you use a fake name and fake email address, I can’t easily do so. If you have a personal connection to this story, you can reach me on the “Contact Me” tab above (but you’ll need a real name and a valid email address).


Donna September 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm


Wonderful two posts! And pretty cool that you found him anyway.

If you are too embarrassed to ask Elizabeth Shown Mills, you must consult the illustrious footnoteMaven, who I am sure will come up with an ingenious way of citing this “source”…lol. Reminds me of another genealogy blogger, Lisa, who has a great post on 110 Years in America on how to cite the family heirloom that she, er, stole/borrowed. We all had some good ideas for her citation on THAT one.



Heather Wilkinson Rojo September 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm

About a year ago I was at a birthday party, and the entertainment for the evening was a palm reader. She gave sappy fortunes to everyone, and I was the last person in the party to try it out. I was very skeptical and almost left. She said to me “You are surrounded by dead people.” and then proceeded to ask me who was sick, who died, how many funerals I had been to that year, etc. All my friends were fascinated and I just laughed out loud. I hadn’t been to a funeral in two years, nor to one in the year since this party. However, it was the next day when I was in the middle of a cemetery, (after pulling two death certificates at the Vital Records in Concord), that I realized what she had seen in my palm. Then I really laughed out loud. Fortunately none of the dead people surrounding me in the cemetery laughed, too!


Susan Tiner September 22, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Kerry, what fun! I am sorry for your relative’s sad story but glad that it’s no longer a mystery. I love the whimsical physic input and how that helped unlock your thinking. I am really curious about all of the place you know to look for stuff. Is there a beginner’s book you recommend to people just getting started?

I found some goodies myself which I’ll post about in the next genealogy-related post on my Dad.


Kerry Scott September 23, 2010 at 7:19 am

I started to reply, but it got too long, so I’m going to do a blog post about what I recommend for beginners. It’ll be up next week sometime.


Michelle September 23, 2010 at 11:00 am



Susan Tiner September 23, 2010 at 11:12 am

Thanks Kerry!


Michelle Goodrum September 22, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Excellent story and a great reminder that we all need to find ways to take off the blinders.

I agree that Missouri totally rocks with its death certificates.

Amy, I’ll order one of those “I know the chick who hired the genealogy psychic” T-shirts!


Nancy September 22, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Was she worth it? YES! Just think, for 30 bucks you found an obituary and a death certificate which gave you the death date, cause of death, and death location. You found him in the 1920 and 1930 census, plus a wife and daughter, and their locations in 1920 and 1930. In my research, that would be worth 30 bucks. But not only did you find all that. You also found the blinders! Those would be worth 30 bucks alone.

These were two really well-written posts, Kerry. Thanks for sharing your experience.


Greta Koehl September 22, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Oh, that assumption thing – especially about people being dead when they weren’t. Been there. Done that. Hafta write a blog post about it. Soon.

Oh, and Pop Tarts got me through college.

Loved these posts.


Teresa Morris September 22, 2010 at 11:01 pm

“I feel a little silly that I had to pay $30 to a stranger to open my brain to the possibility that he’d lived much longer than that.”

That made me think of the money people spend in therapy to figure out stuff that they already know. I think $30 was a steal!

I’ve never been a genealogy person, but the more I read your stuff, the more interested I get. I might need you to keep that psychic’s info for me, because I’m totally lazy and your story was seriously entertaining!


Kerry Scott September 23, 2010 at 7:22 am

My husband asks that you all stop complimenting me. He says I’m getting swell-headed. This was right after I told him I felt I needed a tiara to go with the sash.

(Thank you)


Lynn Palermo September 23, 2010 at 8:07 am

Kerry, what a great post? Not only entertaining put with a moral. As for the $30.00 well, I have paid a lot more than $30.00 to this company called Ancestry to find my dead people, and they don’t have all the answers either.
P.S. I would wear your T-shirt!!


Elizabeth Shown Mills September 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Not to worry, Kerry. The “Business and Institutional Records” chapter of _Evidence Explained_ has a section on “Professional Reports.” No, a psychic report is not included; but I have total confidence in your ability to adapt the research report at 4.28.

Past that point, it’s all a matter of how much stock someone wants to put into that source when they evaluate your evidence.

As for a psychic side of genealogy, I have no tale in either one of Hank Jones’s amusing books; but I did have colleagues gifting me with those “Crazy Chick” t-shirts after I published in the _NGS Quarterly_ those two articles on graphology as a tool for ancestral character analysis. But, hey, I did use a Certified Graphoanalyst. :)


Kerry Scott September 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm

[aaaaaand another Pop-Tart just clattered to the floor]

Elizabeth—thank you. I do plan to continue to gather more earthly sources, but it’s good to know that I could cite the psychic. In the meantime, I’m off to look up those graphology articles, in a show of Crazy Chick Solidarity.


Sheri Bush September 23, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Well worth the 30 bucks, I’d say!


Sally J. September 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Sorry this turned out to be a sad ending, but it’s a good reminder that family members “disappear” for reasons other than death. I enjoyed this two-parter very much, Kerry — and the comments are a hoot.

-Sally J.

P.S. Now I want a “Crazy Chick Solidarity” T-shirt!


Nancy Hurley September 23, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Kerry: You are a brave person and I’m glad of it. Not only did I get a healthy chuckle from you running over the Pop Tart but this well-written piece reminds us all to open our minds to all avenues that could lead to our ancestor jackpot. I hope you did the genealogy happy dance and smashed all those crumbs to smithereens (spl?)! Thanks.


Alex September 23, 2010 at 10:50 pm

…why am I the only guy reading this blog….? Loved reading this. I actually enjoy all your blogs. Please keep it up.


footnoteMaven September 23, 2010 at 11:54 pm

It seems as if I am always the last one to arrive to a good party. This was soooooo good. And if the Citation Goddess says it can be done, well then, it can. I think the citation could be as entertaining as the articles. I look forward to it.

Just remember, you’re only as good as your sources! LOL!



Susan September 25, 2010 at 7:01 am

Fantastic experience and story – and money well spent. Remember “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Also agree on Missouri Digital pages – they are rock stars for genealogists.


Angelique Welch September 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I am so glad I clicked here today to see if part 2 was posted! I seriously laughed out loud (rolling over pop-tart), got excited (heart pounding and all) and cheered while reading this post. It was awesome! To me, genealogy can be super “synchronistic” (is that a word?) and sometimes the information we get about an ancestor or brick wall individual does seem to come from strange places :)

You have a great writing style that I really enjoy, I totally love the humor! Thanks!


Majestic December 31, 2010 at 10:44 am

love the brevity because those were most of my thoughts yet I couldn’t make them nearly as concise. Awesome reply!


Patrice Schadt September 26, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I loved your posts. You have given me new hope. I have been having consistent dreams lately about a book store that has all my answers and books that I want and need. It is so precise in my dreams…….. now I have a hope that I might eventually find it. Again, I enjoyed your posts.


Pat September 27, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Best two posts I’ve read in quite some time. I do agree. I’m so glad my ancestors passed through Missouri. Wish they had stayed longer. My genealogy research would be much easier.


Yvonne Mashburn-Schmidt September 28, 2010 at 1:55 am

I just want her name and email address :)))) SERIOUSLY, lol


Katie O. December 12, 2010 at 10:16 pm

I know this is an old post, but I just stumbled on it, and I think I might need your genealogy psychic, now that someone on the internet has hinted that I might have . . . a family ghost!? (http://whereyoucamefrom.blogspot.com/2010/12/search-terms-85-luquer.html)


Linda Gartz December 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Well, I’m REALLY late to the party, but since I’ve just gotten into the genealogy blogosphere, I guess, I have a lot of catching up to do. These posts were funny and informative–so much to learn–why not hire a psychic?! Sometimes I feel like a medium — with all those dead people talking to me through their letters. Channeling the dead…I call it! I guess that’s what all of us genealogy freaks are doing.


Majestic December 31, 2010 at 10:45 am

Exactly! Look who made it later than you. I’m grateful I found Kerry today.


Majestic December 31, 2010 at 10:26 am

I love your writing style! I looked up “psychic genealogist” because that’s what I decided this morning that I want to be. Well my search brought me to you. I’ve experienced so much syncronicity today that I feel I’m destined to be one now. I might as well combine my interests.

I was looking for a mentor since I have massive passion about both topics, I have been somewhat timid in my pursual. (Weenie) I was wondering, Hmmm… How will I combine that with passion three, writing… I’ve done just a tad more things with that. Put a lil cape or gold star on this weenie, but again, I could use education in all three areas. Then I’ve been wanting to do this genealogy tour where I will go to the places my ancestors lived and search the courthouses and learn about the areas. Kind of a personal pilgramige. The ones I know about are from the Southeastern U.S. I have no idea how to arrange this trip but i’ve been getting more and more ideas and now if you’re following — something to write about. I’ve been blocked for 1.5 years so I truly understand you.

I am glad that I’ve found your blog and this particular story as it is relevant to me on multiple levels. I have been tracking my ggf for ten years now and I can only find him in 1920 and 1930 because I’m a lazy online researcher weenie who refuses to pay for more than some membership fees to find this guy because I feel the answer is there somewhere. I have my own ideas about his life story but I have even more rumors and bititos of cold hard facts. He either died on the front steps of his Arkansas home in 1933 or he changed his name and he took off to either live with one of his other families ‘in the North” or created another one. This is from folks who knew him. His folks are supposed to be from India. I almost feel like he’s hiding behind the pages as I turn them. I feel I’m just as talented to find him as anyone I could pay. (Insert arrogant delusional weenie badge here) And same with psychics. I almost want to pay the high price for a good reading — from a medium I KNOW can at least access a different dimension and I’d settle for a channel. It wouldn’t even have to be my ggf. I’ll give them a chance… but then again I feel I could be as talented. So I am about to drop all ego today and find a way to become what I FINALLY know I want to become and do what I finally know what I want to do. It sounds so crazy and weird as an occupation but it would really be fulfilling. This weenie stuff doesn’t exactly go away. I think you’re nothing if you’re not feeling a little weenie-ish. (outside the box) I guess I may have to ask for help…and pay for it lol. You’ve lit my lantern!

And if you could teach me how to respect a deadline in the midst of genealogy research, I’d pay you for it.

…I’m serious.

Thank you so much Kerry for being here and being so relevant! I look forward to reading more! I loved the blog and laughed and nodded the whole way through it. I like Brown Sugar & Cinammon Frosted. Those fiber ones are blah. Thanks a bunch! Oh and of course I had to look at your surname. lol And I had no idea there really was such a niche as a psychic genealogist.


Mavis Jones January 1, 2011 at 12:03 am

Great two part posting. And I’m still willing to try a psychic for a few folks.


George Farris January 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Kerry, you are a hoot! You wrote this two-parter before I joined, so I’m grateful you included it in your year-end summary. Your perceptions and the important ability to record them to share with others is a pearl of great price. A few more on par with the “Genealogy Psychic” will have me addicted. Thanks so much for sharing your talent with us. In your case the $30 dollars was worth it, if only for the material.

Good tidings to you and your kin along with my best wishes for a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2011.

Capitol regards,
George in DC


JJT January 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Just had to say: Terrific posts!


Squire Lewis July 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Thanks for the run-down. You saved me 30 bucks.


Stacy silva December 29, 2013 at 10:58 am

I really enjoyed your post. Seriously have considered this option but just can’t seem to find the right one. I’ve been doing genealogy for about 25 years and have really gotten stumped on my polish ancestors who are not being very cooperative.


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