In a previous post, I mentioned meeting Harper Reed at the last Chicago Hacker News meetup. He asked if I could help him find out about the ancestor he had always heard he was named after: a distant uncle who had supposedly died in a car crash in Colorado.
The Search Begins
With no dates or specific localities to go on, I searched Ancestry for Harper Reeds who had died after the invention of the automobile. Hits in the 1920 and 1930 censuses looked promising, though they were for John Harper Reed (rather than just Harper Reed) and he lived in two different places with different wives in each census. A USGenWeb site listed a date of burial for a John Harper Reed in a Colorado Springs cemetery, matching the 1920 census residence info.
But nothing I found easily on Ancestry or elsewhere online could document the unique “death by car accident” connection that I was looking for. Finding an obituary seemed like the obvious next step. Too bad Genlighten didn’t yet have a Colorado provider that could help me. I advised Harper of my progress and decided to let the project drop for a while.
Finding a “Hidden” Provider
Then this last Friday, as I was going through all our registered users counting those who’d created profiles and offered lookups, I discovered a bunch of “hidden” lookup providers — people who had signed up for Genlighten, who listed their credentials in their profiles, but who didn’t yet offer specific lookups on the site. One of them was Linda Vixie, who goes by the username elfie. To my surprise and delight, I noticed that her research specialities included “Colorado, especially El Paso and Teller Counties.” Colorado Springs is in El Paso County. Hooray! Maybe we did have a provider who could get the obituary for me!
Asking the Provider a Question
Now what I needed to know was, was Elfie willing to track down an obituary (or a cemetery photo) for me? And could she perhaps also visit Lincoln County, where John Harper Reed was enumerated in the 1930 Census? So I went to the “Ask the Provider a Question” box on Elfie’s profile, and submitted my question to her.
Later that same day, an email arrived in my inbox, automatically generated by Genlighten, indicating that Elfie had responded to my question. Her reply was concise, confident, and constrained. She could definitely tackle El Paso County, and the obituary was likely indexed. But Lincoln County was too long a drive.
In a few short sentences, Elfie had managed to convey credibility and demonstrate a willingness to help. I instantly knew I’d found a great lookup provider.
Submitting a Custom Lookup Request
Elfie didn’t yet offer an “off-the-shelf” obituary lookup for El Paso County, so I posted a custom lookup request. I gave Elfie all the info I’d discovered on Ancestry, plus the supposition that Harper Reed had died in a car crash, and my desire to confirm that possibility. I set my target price at $10 and set a deadline three weeks away.
Heck Yes, Accept!
I posted again to Elfie’s profile, indicating I’d posted a custom request. She promptly submitted a quote, and outlined in detail how she’d go about fulfilling my request. Her price was half what I was more than willing to pay! I quickly clicked the “Accept” button.
Wow… That Was Fast!
Two days before the date she had promised to look for the obituary, a notification message from Genlighten appeared in my inbox. “Provider elfie has completed your custom request… They were successful in retrieving the document(s) you requested.” Cool!
Happy Dance Time!
I clicked on the link in the email and logged in so I could see the Manage Quotes Received results page. There was the scanned image of the obituary that Elfie had uploaded. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect headline: “J. Harper Reed Dies at Empire After Accident.”
I gave Elfie a five-star rating and started composing my email to Harper. My day had officially been made.
Surprised and Delighted
As a Genlighten customer, I’d been “surprised and delighted” by how quickly, conveniently and affordably I had gotten exactly the document I needed to move my Reed Family research forward. I’m fully aware that the process won’t always go anywhere near this smoothly. But it was gratifying… so gratifying… to see the vision we’ve had for Genlighten start to be realized. Dogfood never tasted so good.
Build Something For Yourself
Jason Fried had said at the Chicago Tech Meetup two weeks before, “Build Something For Yourself.” Of course, though that was part of our initial motivation, we also want to build something that can become hugely useful to the rest of the genealogy community. A new tool in the holster of genealogy researchers, both amateur and professional. It feels like we’re getting closer to that becoming reality.