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Archive for the ‘Vital Records’ Category

We all have those lines that seem to withstand all of our greatest efforts to uncover, and one of those lines for me has been my maternal ggrandfather Walter Springer’s line. I know the names of his parents–Lou and George Springer–but have only ever found Lou Springer, widowed, on the 1900 census. That is an *awful* census to be the only clue one has. In 1880 and 1910, Lou disappeared into the ether. Born in Alabama, she and George could still be there in 1880–who knows. I never found George Springer on any census record.

The one meaningful lead my grandmother provided in interviews before her death was her memory of her father’s half-sister Mary Neal.  She remembered her coming to visit, and especially that she looked “mixed,” with long, fine hair. Mary Neal indeed was the informant on her half-brother Walter’s death certificate in 1944, with an address in Lawrenceburg, TN. For 15 years now, I had been unable to find her with any certainty. I did find a death certificate for a “Mary Neal” years ago, with “Springer” parents, but I knew I didn’t have enough data to be sure it was her.

With the 1940 census release, I finally found a Mary Neal in Lawrence County, with husband Felix Neal. A search for a marriage between a “Mary Springer” and Felix Neal came up short. Felix married a “Mary Lyles” in 1934:

Neal Marriage

Neal Marriage

I’ve posted before on the need to be mindful of women’s multiple marriages, so I searched for a “Mary Springer” who married a “Lyles.” No such marriage was found. Now I was stuck. Of course, I searched multiple counties and name spellings. However, after spending long hours analyzing the evidence I had gathered–which consisted of mainly vital records and census records–I came to a valid conclusion: Even though the record above says “Mary Lyles” that record was mistaken. Her correct name was Mary Lowery. This illustrates that even original sources like marriage records are prone to error. People wrote down what they heard. In a county with several “Lyles” families, it is reasonable that the clerk may have thought that was her name.

This is how I uncovered the error: I found a marriage record between “Mary Springer” and Thomas Lowry in Hardin County, a few counties over:

Lowry Marriage

Lowry Marriage

Mary was found with her husband Thomas in the next 3 census records, in Hardin and Wayne Counties, TN:

1900 Hardin Cty

1900 Hardin Cty

1910-Hardin Cty.

1910-Hardin Cty.

 

1920-Wayne Cty.

1920-Wayne Cty.

The couple is living in Lawrence County when Thomas died:

 

Tom Lowry Death

Tom Lowry Death

In 1930, the newly widowed Mary “Lowry” is shown in the 1930 Lawrence County census, notably living amidst several African-American Springers (Caldonia, wife of Bill Blair was also a Springer):

1930 Mary Lowery

1930 Mary Lowery

It is at this point that Mary Lowery met and married Felix Neal–not “Mary Lyles.” Turns out the Mary Neal death certificate I found so many years ago was indeed the correct Mary Neal. Her parents are revealed as Frazier and Lou Springer:

Mary Neal Death Cert

Mary Neal Death Cert

At all times, but especially when researching people who lived in different places over time, we have to be careful that we are proving a person’s identity and not just matching names. This Mary can be tied together through the records above in several ways. Her 1920 census entry in Wayne County reveals one daughter Pauline, who is the informant on her mother’s death certificate above. That death certificate identifies her as the same Mary who married Felix Neal. Mary was first married in Hardin County, hardly surprising since it is the same county where her half-brother (my ancestor) married and lived. Mary Lowery’s 1910 Hardin County household reveals a Springer “sister-in-law”. All of these people were also buried at West Point Cemetery.

All of this hasn’t led me yet to Lou Springer’s pre-1900 origins, but to even have some success in a line long out of success stories is very meaningful to me. It’s also another lesson in the power of learning to analyze and make sense out of all the records we uncover, which can be loaded with half-truths, secrets, mistakes and out and out lies;)

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I want to first thank Bernice Bennett for having me as a guest on her Blog Talk Radio show last night, Research at the National Archives and Beyond. I spoke about one of my most popular posts, Do You Have an Artificial Brick Wall? The post can be heard in its entirety at the show’s link, along with all of her other archived shows.

During the interview, as I was reviewing the points I made in that post, I discussed the idea of thoroughness in our research–the need to be diligent in searching out original records related to our ancestors. This week I have just the example to highlight that point.

We’ve all seen those shaky leaves on Ancestry. For a long time, I never clicked on them, but last year I found some treasures hidden within the 100 or so hints I had, so now I make a point to periodically investigate those leaves. Earlier this week, I found a leaf for an ancestor named Syvoid Holt. The leaf linked to an outside website–in this case the Monroe County [Michigan] Historical Museum. Several of my ancestors, including Syvoid,  migrated from Tennessee to Michigan to work for the Ford Motor Co., and settled in Detroit and its suburbs.

The Museum website has, among other items, an obituary database. Upon request, they will email an obituary found in their database  for $1. What’s notable here is that I already knew who Syvoid’s parent’s were, his siblings, when and where he died, who he married and the names of his children. But my philosophy is to order any and all original records related to my ancestors. So off my request went. Here’s the obituary:

Syvoid Holt Obituary

Syvoid Holt Obituary

What I did not realize until I saw this is that I had never been able to locate the death certificate for his mother Vannie. I had expected to find it in Tennessee or Michigan but had no luck. This obituary revealed she had married a man surnamed Thurman and was alive as recently as 1969. When I looked at the records again, I found that Vannie actually had married another man before Thurman in 1938, a man named Dan Cathey. Dan died the very next year and sometime after that, she married a Thurman. That revelation led to finding this on Find-A-Grave:

Vannie Holt Thurman

Vannie Holt Thurman (photo by Lena Knauss)

Vannie is buried in the same cemetery as her two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a grandson. Syvoid’s obituary contained the key to unlocking the mystery of where and when his mother Vannie had died. If I had dismissed this document because I already knew a lot of information about Syvoid, I wouldn’t have found this. Aim to be thorough in your research, and you will be rewarded time and time again. You never know what you’ll find in a document until you look at it. Shakey leaves rock!

P.S.–it goes without saying that I then ordered the death certificate for Vannie Thurman from Michigan Vital Records. At $34 a pop (ouch!) Michigan has the highest fee for records I’ve seen yet. I need more of my people to have died in Tennessee;)

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I have been having some tremendous breakthroughs in this past year. I am grateful for that. With every new name, a piece of me and and my history slides into place. Into memory.

It is a rule of thumb in good genealogy practice to pull every record related to an ancestor, to perform “exhaustive research” in the language of the Genealogical Proof Standard. This discovery illustrates the value of that principal. This discovery was made even sweeter by the fact that it was so unexpected.

My search for my great-grandmother Matilda’s roots has gone full steam ahead this year and last. Matilda married four times but only appears on the census with one husband, and she gets married in at least three different cities so cracking that case was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my family research. I found her marriage dates in online indexes and databases so, as part of my due diligence, I began the necessary task of ordering the actual marriage records and death records of her husbands from the proper state and county offices. As the records came in, I scanned them and put them in the proper folders. I wasn’t expecting to find anything new.

From Matilda’s death certificate, “VINEY NEELY” was listed as her mother, no name of father.

From Matilda’s first marriage record, her surname is given as “MATILDA MEELY.”  Neither of those names enabled me to find Matilda as a child in her parent’s household in 1880. I had her back to the 1900 census, but she was already on husband number two. I also checked “VIRGINIA NEELY” thinking Viney might be short for that. Those nicknames will get you every time.

A few weeks ago, I received a copy of Matilda’s marriage record from Philadelphia to husband number three, Peter Vickers. Now keep in mind, only her first husband is my actual ancestor. To my surprise, the record included a copy of the marriage application, and Philadelphia, at that time, was one of the places that asked people the names of their parents, where they were from, and whether they were alive. It’s hard to read, but her father’s name was given as “CHARLES” (no surname) and her mother’s name was “LAVINA NELLIE” (Viney was short for Lavina!):

Matilda's Parents

Matilda’s Parents

Now that I had the correct names of her parents, I finally, 15 years later, was able to locate Matilda NEELY living  in Taylor County, Florida with her father “CHARLES NEELY” on the 1880 census! His wife’s name in 1880 is shown as “NETTA” (maybe another wife? or is Lavina’s name just mangled?) and there is MATILDA, 8 years old, right where she should be. Charles Nealy is also in the county in 1870 before Matilda’s birth, but the mother’s name is a closer match and shown as “NELVINA”:

1870 Charles Neely

1870 Charles Neely

1880 Charles Nealy

1880 Charles Nealy

This was so exciting!!!! I have siblings for Matilda I can now go on a crazy manhunt to find and I can also start the tough work of uncovering the likely enslaved roots of Charles and Lavina. I guess I have just added another 10 years of research to my life;)

If this doesn’t illustrate why we need to pull every marriage record, even those for other spouses, I don’t know what would. The names are all over the place, but THIS IS HER. Another branch back on my tree;)

P.S.—Now I want to know if I am related to the Neelys on the cooking show, so I can get some discount barbeque!

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Records lie to us. The very records we depend upon to reconstruct our families, lie all the time.

This 1900 census for my gggrandmother Hannah Harbor stated that she was widowed:

Hannah Harbor, 1900

But her former husband was alive and well; he had just left her for another woman. I guess I wouldn’t want to say that either.

This 1920 census  shows my ancestor Ada Seaman happily ensconced with her family:

Ada Seaman Family

But she had died in 1918. She could not have been in the household in the year 1920, unless they were living with her ghost:

Ada Seaman Death Cert

This Maryland ancestor remembered my gggrandmother’s name was Margaret (Simpson), wife of Levi:

Maria Howard Death Cert

Close. But it was Martha. Margaret was Martha’s stepmother.

Ferdinand Holt migrated to the great city of Indianapolis in the early 20th century. He filled out a World War II Draft card that proclaimed his birthdate:

Ferdinand Holt, WWII

But he wasn’t born in 1895. He was born in 1887. It was correct on his World War I Draft Card:

Ferdinand Holt, WWI Draft

Oddly, the actual day (Dec 6) stayed the same, even though the year changed by 8!

Records lie. Records manipulate and deceive. The only way to be sure that what we are recording is accurate is to correlate each piece of evidence and closely examine every document and rationally explain any conflicts. Every document has the potential to contain inaccurate information. Viewing records in isolation and accepting what they purport as true can’t be our practice.

I only show a few examples above, but those examples kept me going in the wrong direction for years.  It is only by researching many different document types (census, vital records, deed records, court records, military records, bible records, etc. etc.) that we can we begin to form an accurate picture of our ancestor’s lives and flesh out the data that is incorrect.

So, what documents have been lying to you?

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My great-grandfather John Smith was born in Georgia and migrated to Jacksonville, Florida sometime around the turn of the century. His roots in Georgia continue to be one of my greatest brick walls. I’ve been researching him in more depth recently, and I had a huge breakthrough on his wife’s family yesterday. I am so excited! This is an excellent case study in evaluating evidence.

John Smith married Georgia Harris, and for many years I knew almost nothing about her since she died at the age of 45. I had some success earlier with Georgia’s roots that was a big part of this new discovery. Georgia had two sets of children, one set with first husband Isaac Garner in Madison Cty, FL, and another with presumably her second husband John Smith in Duval Cty, FL. No one in my family knew about that first marriage. Oddly, the only censuses in which John and Georgia and children appear together is 1930 and the Florida state census of 1935. Clearly, they were if not married then at least having children together before then.

My grandmother wrote in her family bible that “Matilda Vickers” was the name of Georgia’s mother. THIS Matilda Davis, Georgia’s mother, migrated to Philadelphia, PA with her other daughter Ruth by 1920, as I detailed in the earlier post.  Matilda’s name on that 1920 census in Philly is “Garvin,” but it’s clearly the right woman since she is noted as being the “mother-in-law”. I assumed Matilda died there in PA–this is an important point to remember (and take note of all my assumptions, LOL).

By 1930, Matilda’s son-in-law Nish Torrence had remarried and was now living in Camden, NJ. This is the census tracking for Matilda Davis/Garvin, mother of Georgia:

Matilda Davis/Garvin, 1900-1920

When the 1940 census came out, I was looking for other family members in Jacksonville. When I looked up Georgia’s son Cornelius Garner, I was surprised to find this:

1940 Cornelius Garner

Cornelius was living with a “Matilda Vickerson” who is 73 and widowed. Cornelius’ relationship to Matilda is listed as “Roomer”. I decided to investigate this mysterious Matilda who kept popping up. Was she the Matilda mentioned in my grandmother’s Bible?

In 1935, a “Metilda Vickers” is living in Jacksonville, FL with Cornelius Garner & other family members. At some point in 1930-1931, city directories show “Matilda Vickers” as living in the house with John & Georgia’s family, although on the 1930 census Matilda is living with a woman named Katie Middleton and described as a Cousin:

City Directory

1930 Matilda Vickers

Before 1930, I could find no evidence of Matilda Vickers in Jacksonville, and I was unable to discover the name of her deceased husband. To recap Matilda Vickers visually:

Matilda Vickers, 1930s-1940

Matilda Vickers died in Jacksonville in 1944, and John Smith was the informant on her death certificate, but no relationship is given (Dagnabbit!).  After dusting aside some of my earlier assumptions, the key question was: is the Matilda Davis, mother of Georgia Harris, who by 1920 is living with her daughter’s family in Pennsylvania as Matilda Garvin, the SAME Matilda Vickers/Vickerson, who appears in Jacksonville by the 1930s?

The ages matched pretty consistently. It would answer why Matilda was associated with John Smith (she was his mother-in-law). It would answer why I couldn’t find that name before 1930 in Duval Cty, FL (she was living in Philadelphia). But I couldn’t explain the surnames. Incredibly, vital record searches solved that, along with a little creative thinking in terms of the names.

I found that a Matilda Davis married a man named Frank Gowen in Jacksonville in 1916.  Of course that was a transcription error–his surname was Garvin. He died in Jacksonville on 12 May 1918, leaving widow, Matilda “Garvin” on his death certificate. That’s why Matilda appears in Philadelphia with that name. And amazingly enough, in Philadelphia, I discovered a Matilda Garvin married Peter Vickers in 1920. And yes–he died there in June 1925. Matilda then moved back to Jacksonville before 1930.

I couldn’t find the records before because I was not looking under the correct surnames and also because “Gowen” did not turn up in a search for “Garvin.” Also, the fact that Matilda had 2 marriages in different cities with men who died shortly afterward added to the confusion. I am in the process of ordering the marriage records to confirm all of the above, but I feel very confidant in stating that:

Matilda Davis= Matilda Garvin=Matilda Vickers/Vickerson!

Keep in mind, I could only make the connection once I threw out my insistence that Matilda Davis had died in Philadelphia, and that the census taker had mistakenly entered her name as “Garvin.” Assumptions are fine, but remember that you made them and always be ready to re-examine them in the light of new evidence. One assumption was correct–my grandmother’s entry was wrong. She probably remembered that John Smith was related somehow to this Matilda, and assumed it was his mother. In fact, her mother-in-law died the year before she married her husband so she did not know her personally, so this mistake is perfectly reasonable.

I feel really good about solving this puzzle. I’m even now exploring a hunch that the missing marriage record for John Smith & Georgia Harris could be the one I see listed for John Smith and Florida Harris  in 1916.

Genealogy never stops being exciting for me. And possibly the best part of this is I added a new ancestor to my tree–my 4th great-grandmother, Virginia “Viney” Nealy, Matilda’s mother as shown on her death certificate.

Stay tuned for my next post where I explore just who was this Katie Middleton that Matilda was living with?

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This is a chart I like to share with my classes to illustrate the importance of collateral research. Like almost everyone, I was focused strictly on my grandparents and great-grandparents–all my direct ancestors–when I first started my research. Opening my eyes to include all siblings in each generation, and understanding the necessity of knowing the informant (and their relationship to the decedent) unlocked a world of information.

My great-grandmother, Beatrice Prather Waters (shown 5th from the left in the picture on the blog), had 8 siblings. The table below shows parent’s names gathered from her death certificate and 6 of her siblings (2 died in states where I can’t get copies of their certificates). I have also included who provided the information:

Prather Siblings

There’s a lot of room for confusion here, and the table makes that point clear. Had I stopped at just my great-grandmother, I would have been forever lost, because Beatrice’s son remembered “Eli” instead of the correct name “Levi.” And he didn’t remember the mother’s name at all. Beatrice’s mother was Martha J. Simpson and 4 of the 7 death records got it right. What’s interesting is that Margaret Simpson and Susan Simpson were in fact family members, but they were not the wife of Levi. People gave what they remembered at the time. Margaret was Martha’s stepmother, and Susan was her Martha’s sister. Of course, I can’t remember what I did this week.

All of this information was correlated with census, probate, deed and other record types to paint as clear a picture as possible of this family.

When you research, don’t forget to research all the siblings.

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For the first time in my research, I have found two death certificates for the same person, filled out by two different people. As if the missing and inaccurate records aren’t enough to make me crazy, now this.

I was doing some research review and perusing the Tennessee Death Database when I found this death certificate for Miss Mary Ella Copeland:

Death Certificate 1

Mary’s parents migrated from Alabama to Tennessee, and I have never been able to find any document that states where in Alabama they came from. What struck me is that this death certificate listed “Tuscumbia, Alabama” as the birthplace for her parents. I thought, Now I know I have this death certificate already. Why didn’t I ever notice the town? Sure enough, when I pulled out the copy I had in my records, it only listed “North Alabama” for Mary’s parents:

Death Certificate 2

Both death certificates are indeed the same woman, my great grandmother’s sister Mary Ella Fendricks, who married Abe Copeland. Both list the same death date, February 9, 1930. However, one was completed by her husband, and one was completed by someone named James Casey, who I find associated with the family, but I’m unsure of his exact relation. One certificate lists the “Gant graveyard” as the burial place, while the other lists the “Savannah Colored Cemetery.”

They both illustrate the weaknesses inherent in so many records: the information is only as good as who gave it. They list different ages for Mary Ella. Her husband says her parents were Mike Fendricks and Kate Sharard. James Casey says her parents were Mike Fendricks and Kate Suggs.    

Mary Ella’s mother’s name (according to marriage license and census records) was “Jane Eliza”. But so many records consistently state “Kate”, that I’m starting to believe that she was actually called Kate or Katie. Even my grandmother remembered that name. She died at a relatively young age and no record suggests another marriage for Mike Fendricks.

I wonder what circumstance would cause someone to have multiple death certificates? Have any of you seen this? Sometimes I think the ancestors just like to MESS with us!

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