Schrödinger’s Uncle

Have to share this story, with permission from the patron, who is a real character:

A week ago, one of our genealogy patrons was trying to find her uncle by marriage, who had disappeared after he and her aunt divorced twenty years ago—we’d found that record for her.

She was pretty sure he’d died within the last five years, but wanted to confirm the date of death and the place of burial. It’s a genealogy thing.

We found no evidence that he’d died in our county and the Social Security Death Index didn’t list him.* It’s a lot easier to prove someone’s dead than alive, unless they’re standing in the same room with you, visibly breathing. So at that point, we didn’t know if her uncle was alive or dead.

We did find a second marriage record for Uncle Schrödinger** and a newspaper announcement stating that he and his bride intended to live in a town in the next county. So I gave the patron the telephone number to that county’s library system and suggested she request that they search for her uncle’s obituary or supply city directory information for him or his second wife.

She agreed and went off so to do.

The patron came in yesterday with a big grin and said, “You’ll never believe this.”

Uncle Schrödinger dropped out of the city directories in 2006. There was a death announcement in the paper, but no obituary for him, so my patron had called the most current phone number for his widow. Mrs. Schrödinger’s daughter had answered and said that her mother had passed away a month ago after an extended illness.

My patron explained who she was, expressed her condolences, and asked if the wife would be buried with Uncle Schrödinger. The daughter, who had been estranged from her mother for many years, said that the second Mrs Schrödinger would be buried with her first husband — she thought that my patron’s uncle, whom she had never met, had been buried with his first wife.***

“So I’m thinking, where the >bleep< is he, you know?” said my patron.

Boy, do I know.

The daughter did say that she was going through her mother’s belongings and if she found anything about Uncle Schrödinger’s funeral or burial, she would call. The patron accepted the offer, but figured that was that.

Three days later, the daughter called.

“Did you find anything?” asked my patron.

“Yes,” said the daughter, in a funny voice. “Your uncle was cremated.”


The daughter coughed. “I can guarantee it.”

“Oh. So where was he buried?”

There was a long pause. “Mom’s closet,” said the daughter, who was, my patron found out later, half-choking herself to keep from giggling. “Do you want him?”

It seems that the second Mrs. Schrödinger didn’t know what to do with her late husband, either, so she’d put his little container in a shoebox with the other keepsakes from the memorial service, plus a price list for urns and crematory vaults.

No wonder we couldn’t find him—there’s little paperwork involved in sticking someone’s ashes on the top shelf of your linen closet.

My patron is planning to go get him, as it’s tricky to ship human cremains. After that, who knows?

Until she opens the box, I suppose he’s still technically Uncle Schrödinger . . .

Sudoku is for wimps.

*This is more common than you might think. The SSDI is a great resource, but it isn’t all-encompassing. Same with the Federal Census—it’s amazing how many people lied or weren’t home or how much info was supplied to the census taker by neighbors.

**In honor of Erwin Schrödinger, who never actually tried this with a real cat. Promise.

***Who by all accounts would have spun in her grave before rising from the dead, disinterring him with her bare hands, and kicking his sorry behind into the River. “Why do you think I waited until she was gone to look for him?” asked my patron.