The Search for the Graham Family: Why Librarians Are the Superheroes of the Information Age

Jeffrey Henon
Public Affairs Office

I thought my online search skills were strong, but trying to the find next-of-kin for Maj. Gen. Jackson Graham, proved I was no master. I thought it would be easy to find living family members of the man who completed his career as the first general manager of the Washington Metro subway system.

Jackson_Graham

Maj. Gen. Jackson Graham

The District tasked Jon Gornick, from Channels and Harbors, and myself, from Public Affairs, with planning a ceremony to dedicate our two newest survey vessels, the Hopman and the Graham. We had 10 weeks to pull the event together by Aug. 22, but less than a month before the event we were no closer to finding Graham’s family. It wasn’t for lack of trying.

I found multiple online news articles about Graham that covered his life, legacy and death. His obituary in the Washington Post gave me my first lead. Graham was survived by his son, Jackson Graham, of Cottage Grove, Oregon, and daughter, Dixie Johnston of Alexandria, Virginia. After searches for Graham’s children on multiple online databases returned nothing, I had what I thought was a stroke-of-genius – Facebook.

I instant-messaged over 20 Grahams in Cottage Grove and nearly 60 Johnstons in Alexandria. Not one replied. Punctuating my defeat was the confirmation from Facebook that about 60 of them saw my message.

Dixie Johnston, the daughter of Maj. Gen. Jackson Graham, christens the Survey Vessel Graham at a survey vessel dedication ceremony at the Chinook Boat Landing in Fairview, Oregon, Aug. 22, 2016.

Dixie Johnston, the daughter of Maj. Gen. Jackson Graham, christens the Survey Vessel Graham at a survey vessel dedication ceremony at the Chinook Boat Landing in Fairview, Oregon, Aug. 22, 2016.

My last chance before conceding defeat was contacting the General Officer Management Office at the Pentagon. Jeanne Bankard from GOMO replied two days later, “Normally we are the right POC (point of contact) on GO (General Officer) retiree information. However, in the case of an officer who retired in 1967 and passed away in 1985, we have nothing on file about this GO nor any next of kin information.”

Meanwhile, as I was talking to the Army, Jon sent a request to the Multnomah County Library asking if they could help. Four days later Baron Schuyler, the reference librarian who took on Jon’s request, replied with a six-page email. Baron’s email closed with, “In summary, I think I have found Jackson Graham’s: Son… Son-in-law.”

Schuyler’s email read like a digital forensic report. He outlined, step-by-step, the resources he searched and cross-referenced in the following order:

  • The Oregonian article database
  • Ancestry database
  • Oregon Marriage Indexes, 1906-1924 and 1946-2008
  • U.S. Public Records, 1950-1993, Volume 1
  • U.S Phone and Address Directories
  • Pendleton, Oregon phone books, 2002-2015
  • Puerto Rico, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1901-1962
  • Oregon Death Index
  • Social Security Death Index

It was one of the most interesting emails I’ve ever read because it showed me that being a librarian is akin to being a detective. Schuyler helped solve my case and reaffirmed my respect for the librarian profession.

Jon called me a few hours after we received Schuyler’s email, “I just spoke with Jackson Graham…”

Three generations of Maj. Gen. Jackson Graham’s family attended the ceremony and his daughter, Dixie Johnston, had the honor of christening the survey boat Graham.