Finding living descendants – or dead ends

This is a follow-up to my earlier postings about the mystery man in our Quinn family tree, James Quinn (born in Minnesota in 1892), and my search for his living descendants. Part of this story was published in the July 2017 issue of The Septs.

My article started out as a blog posting. When it grew into such a long story, I submitted it to IGSI’s journal along with screen shots of what I’d found. I now have one more document – and perhaps the closing chapter in the search for James Quinn’s living descendants. If you’ve already read my story in The Septs, you can skip down to the italicized font toward the end of this posting.

(More background about my search for James and Thelma Quinn can be read at

Using James’ exact birth date (14 June 1892) to query the 1942 “old man’s draft” registration on Ancestry, I found James reported his residence as 1643 Ingraham St, Los Angeles. The 1942 Los Angeles County voter registration record echoed this address for James and Thelma. He was a switchman, which had been his occupation in Minnesota.

The 1944 record showed the Quinns had moved to 2411 W Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles. The voter registration records for 1946, 1948, 1950 and 1952 reflect James and Thelma at the same address.  (Voter registration records for the early periods also showed party affiliation which was interesting but not helpful.) Sometimes Thelma registered with a middle initial of “O.” In 1952 James registered with a middle initial of “M” which I’d never found in any other record.

I didn’t find either of the Quinns in the 1954 Los Angeles County voter registration records. Where did they go? Might James have died in 1953?

Narrowing my search to California, I did find Thelma Quinn’s 1991 death record in Sonoma County, CA. Despite having her exact 1908 birth date and the surnames of her father (Braum) and mother (Nieman), I could find nothing more.

Querying again with James’ exact birth date, a “Social Security Applications and Claims” record on Ancestry for James Michel Quinn disclosed a death date of 25 March 1953. However a Findagrave entry indicated this person was buried in Arkansas, which almost led me to dismiss the data. But what are the chances two men named James Quinn were born on the same date? Arkansas death records after 1950 aren’t online, but a post-1950 index reflects his mother’s maiden name (Ovitz transcribed incorrectly as Ovitta). I concluded the enigmatic James Quinn died and was buried in Arkansas.

But did he have descendants? What happened to the “Donald O. Quinn” shown in 1940 U.S. Federal Census as James and Thelma’s son? I suspected he was actually Thelma’s son from a prior relationship who later dropped Quinn as a surname. Might the widowed Thelma have moved to Sonoma County to live closer to Donald? provided five city directory leads (between 1968 and 1977) for Thelma, who was listed as the widow of James or James M. In 1968 she was living at 437 Cortez, Petaluma, Sonoma County, CA.

The 1968 directory shows the resident of 437 Cortez as Donald G. Ollie. Ollie, like the “O” reported as Donald’s middle initial in the 1940 census?

Screenshot (8)The “Social Security Applications and Claims” record for Donald G. Ollie is shown at left. He was born in Minneapolis 16 Nov 1926 and died in Petaluma in 3 Sep 1993. His father’s name on the record was transcribed as James Ovinn [sic] and his mother’s name as Thealma Broun [sic]. No wonder my Ancestry queries didn’t find him before.

Birth/census research in Minnesota using the surname Ollie were unproductive, as were attempts to get a marriage record for Donald (although city directories showed his wife as “Susie” Ollie) or California obituaries for either Thelma or Donald. I found no indication that Donald and Susie had children. However I did uncover one amusing detail: Donald served in the Merchant Marine in the 1940s-1950s. On one of the crew lists, he reported his race as “Irish.”


Although I was quite certain Donald wasn’t the biological son of James Quinn, I felt I must turn over one additional rock. I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Donald’s Social Security application, hoping it would solve the mystery of his parentage once and for all.

Weeks later I was excited when the mailman brought the FOIA response. But only for a moment. The names of Donald’s parents had been redacted because SSA doesn’t “disclose personal information of living individuals.” Thelma would have been 109 years old! James would have been 125! I promptly emailed my appeal and attached the SSA death indexes for both Thelma and James Quinn with an explanation that Donald had been adopted by James.


More time passed. IGSI’s July 2017 quarterly journal carried the Quinn story but without the last piece of information from the Social Security Administration. 

Finally, I was notified of  SSA’s “final determination: granted.”

At right is Donald Glenn Ollie’s unredacted Application for Social Security Account Number. 

He wrote his mother’s full name as THELMA BROWN QUINN, but “BROWN” has been whited out. For his father’s name, he apparently first wrote “NONE,” then “UNKNOWN,” then “BROWN.” His own full name given at birth: DONALD GLENN BROWN.

Was Thelma’s maiden name Braum, Braun, Broun or Brown? I haven’t been able to find anything under any of the spellings. And while I remain curious about the source of Donald’s “Ollie” surname, the rational course of action is to give up the search and accept: James Quinn has no living descendants.

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