Journey of a genealogist: Who is related to John Garvin?

By Barry Ewell

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Oct. 27 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Barry Ewell's stepfather was John Garvin. In researching about John Garvin, Barry ended meeting several of John's family.

Family photo

This week I'd like to share a personal experience I had with searching for the family of my stepfather, John Garvin.

I had been working closely with Ila in Everett, Wash., on learning how to conduct genealogy research by researching my stepfather's line. We talked about John Garvin and who he was. The project was learning how to search on the Internet. We logged on to Ancestry.com and began searching the 1930 Census.

During the search we found the Samuel Garvin family in which John was 5½ years old. Right after we found the listing of the family, we looked in the Social Security Index and found a Samuel J. Garvin who died in 1997 and lived in Whiting, N.J. That few minutes began what would be a very rewarding month.

The first experience came as I was working through how to find out more information about this family. As I was researching on the Internet, the idea came to mind to send a letter to all the Garvins in New Jersey. The total number of Garvins was 126. The letter I sent outlined what I knew of John, who I was and how I was related, what research I had done and what I was looking for and that any help would be most appreciated.

Next, I thought I would take a chance and call an M. Garvin who lived in Whiting, N.J., just to see if they were related. During the conversation with who ended up being the wife of Samuel Garvin, I was able to get a little information, but she was very skeptical of who I was and what I was doing. When I asked if she would give me the name of her son, she said no. While I made contact with a family member, I was still not any closer.

After about 10 days of the letter being out, I received my first letter back saying that they were not related. One evening while I was driving home, I received a call from Richard Garvin, the son of Samuel Garvin, oldest brother to John Garvin. He indicated that he had received my letter and had talked to his mother and wanted to talk to me personally. I made an appointment to call him back the next night.

The next night, I spent an hour with Richard on the phone, and he shared some clues that would now allow me to find the Garvin family. We found out about three brothers and sisters that John had that were not on the 1930 Census. Right after the interview, I transcribed the tape and ended up with six pages of notes about the family. It was a great evening. Before the interview ended, I recommended that we get together on a Saturday, 10 days from then, for an hour or so. He said that he would talk to family and see if he could arrange to have other family members involved.

Not 10 minutes after I was off the phone with Richard, I received a call from JoAnn, Richard's sister. This was my first contact with her. When I asked her if she had talked to Richard in the last few minutes, she said no. She said she had called on behalf of her mother “to see if I was legit.” We talked for a half hour. At a critical point in the conversation, she asked me to explain how John dressed. I pondered my answer, and then said he wore black alligator shoes and was always dressed very nicely. Then she responded, "He was a dapper dresser, wasn't he," followed by the comment, "Yep, you're legit." After the discussion, she said she would also talk with her mom and brother and get back to me.

What allowed me the opportunity to go to Jersey City, N.J., then was I was scheduled to go to Lexington, Mass., for weeklong meetings and then down to Austin, Texas, for more meetings. It left the Saturday open.

I had spent several weeks preparing for the one-day trip. I had planned to go to the library and search for obituaries in the microfilm of the Jersey Journal, meet with the Samuel Garvin family, if it workds out, and talk with those at St. Michael's parish about how to work with them in requesting records.

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