or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 5/27

   June 2nd, 2007

Marine Corps insigniaLast week I received a letter in my mailbox at work. It started:

Dear Sir/Madam:

I work for the U. S. Marine Corp Casualty Section. I am looking for a copy of three obituaries that might help us locate a next of kin. I am hoping you have a service that could help us get a copy of these obituaries.

The letter then went on to list three peoples' names, their birth and death dates (death dates ranging from 1977 to 1995), and their social security numbers, as well as the contact information to use to send her what we find.

Now, we get genealogical research requests like this all the time, but never from the Marine Corps. Hmm. And, the contact information she cited was a street address in Murray, Utah, and a Yahoo.com email address - both seemed unMarinelike.

I checked the Marine Corps website and didn't see any listing for a Casualty Section, but did eventually find a form to request casualty information. The resulting email was basically about recently injured Marines, and the Corps' next-of-kin notification policy.

Not, I need to say, that any of this matters. Of course we researched these three names and sent the patron what we found. Unfortunately, we found that none of the three died locally enough or recently enough for us to be able to find their obituaries. As part of the response, I gave the patron the contact information for the libraries in the communities where these people died, hoping that those libraries would have their local newspapers on microfilm.

But I still found this particular request just... odd. If it weren't for that line about the Marine Corps, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. Even though the information was already sent to the patron, I felt a need to keep digging a little further.

At the bottom of the casualty information email from the Marine Corps website, there was a phone number for the Corps' Personal and Family Readiness Division. I thought that if I called it, at least I could find out if the Casualty Section actually existed, and if they used freelance researchers based in Utah to find next of kin.

After speaking with a Public Affairs Specialist in that office for a few minutes, I found out that no, the Marine Corps does not have an office in Murray, UT, does not use freelancers for this type of work, and would never (in his estimation) do any kind of official work with a Yahoo.com email address.

So what does all of this mean? Nothing, I guess. We answered this question just like any other, because why patrons request certain information is largely irrelevant. I don't know why this person claimed to be from the Marines, because, true or not, it was not necessary.

genealogical research, genealogy, libraries, library, marine corps, marines, obituaries, public libraries, public library, reference question

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