Can’t find a Louisiana Relative or Ancestor? Try Looking in California!


Yes, you heard right. If you’re having difficulty locating a Louisiana relative or ancestor from the 20th century, perhaps you should try looking in California . . . well, at least in some of the California databases on

During and after World War II, there was a huge movement of people from the South to California. They were drawn by the lure of high paying jobs, mainly in defense and aerospace industries. While some returned home after awhile, the vast majority remained in California. Perhaps your ancestor or relative was among them.

The California databases on include several that are particularly useful in finding people–even women whose names may have changed after marriage.

Most useful is the California Death Index covering the years 1940-1997. The timeframe coincides nicely with the war/postwar period when many people arrived in the Golden State from the Old South. What makes this database useful is that it lists the decedent’s place of birth as well as the mother’s maiden name and father’s surname (if different from the decedent’s surname). This information can help pinpoint the decedent’s origins.

Here’s an example of how to use this database:

Suppose we’re looking for “Hattie LeJay” who was born and for sometime resided in Louisiana. We’ve lost track of her.  So let’s look in California! First, we can try searching for “Hattie LeJay” in California, but that turns up nothing. We don’t know if she got married and if so, what her married name was. How do we deal with this? In the California Death Index search box for mother’s maiden name, we type “LeJay”; put “Louisiana” in the “Birth Place” box and leave all the other fields blank. Here’s what we get:

Leroy Benjamin Gregge

Born: 18 Jan 1944, Louisiana

Died: 22 Jan 1987, Los Angeles County, California

Mother’s Maiden Name: Lejay

One individual whose mother’s maiden name was “LeJay” was born in Louisiana and died in California. What do we do next to connect this person to the LeJay family we’re researching?

Notice that this person was born in 1944. That means, of course, that he’s not listed on any currently available census. It may also confirm the basic hypothesis that his parents were part of the tremendous migration to California during World War II. There are two ways to proceed: (1) the hard way; or (2) the simpler way. I like the simpler way, so we won’t even touch the hard way.

How can we do this without having a first name for either parent? Well, the simple way involves constructing another reasonable hypothesis; namely that his parents stayed in California and perhaps died there. So we turn to the California Death Index once again. But this time, we put “Gregge” into the main name search box. Here’s what we get:

Leroy Gregge turns up again. But there are two other Gregges listed above him, Chester and Hattie. Let’s try to find Chester Gregge and Hattie LeJay in Louisiana. And we hit the jackpot in the 1930 census of De Soto Parish! On Sheet 1-A of the enumeration of De Soto Police Jury Ward 2, District 5, in household no. 7, 23 year old Chester “Gregg” resides with his uncle, John Morris. [Do you remember seeing Chester’s mother’s maiden name as “Morris” on the California Death Index? Go look again.]

Then on the next page, Sheet 1-B of De Soto Police Jury Ward 2, District 5, we’ll see Hattie LeJay, age 15, in household no. 21, with her parents, John and Ella. So in a few short searches in California records, we’ve found a probable marriage and at least one other LeJay descendant.

Naturally, we’ll take this further by getting the birth, marriage, and death certificates involved here.


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2 Responses to “Can’t find a Louisiana Relative or Ancestor? Try Looking in California!”

August 2008
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