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Archive for the ‘My Family Research’ Category

Although the web has certainly enabled me to find things I’m not sure I would have found otherwise, I’m clear that the bulk of records I need are not online and likely never will be. This blog’s title comes as I am in the process of a breakthrough on my Waters family, from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a line I’ve had little new information on for many years. After 1880, my direct ancestors moved away from Somerset County, MD where they had lived since almost the turn of the century. Somerset County had many African-American Waters families comprising at least three, maybe more, different family lines. They frequently named their children Mary, Sarah, John, George, Samuel, etc. so I simply did not have enough information to track them. I pick back up when the line moved forward in time to my great-grandfather, Daniel George Waters, but that left a gaping hole in the generation of his father Samuel.

I recently uncovered a death certificate for one of Samuel’s brothers, George Leslie Waters, who had migrated to Coatesville, Chester County Pennsylvania where he died in 1938. I found this by putting in a birthplace of “Maryland” and a “Father’s” name as Daniel Waters, and leaving the first name and surname fields blank. That’s a great technique to use when you are trying to find where children of an ancestor might have gone:

George Waters DC

George Waters DC

I quickly found he and wife Sadie in the census. What I needed next was his obituary, which would hopefully name surviving family members. For that, I almost always first turn to local genealogical and historical societies (and local libraries). A little research online led me to the Chester County Historical Society:

Chester County HS Webpage

Chester County HS Webpage

A quick email request was all it took before they responded that they had found George’s obituary. I sent in a $25 research gratuity, and within a few weeks, I had what I needed and more. They had done a quick look into their other records and found a subsequent remarriage of George’s spouse, as well as an entry from the local city directory noting George’s occupation as a barber:

George's Obituary

George’s Obituary

That obituary revealed one surviving sibling: Annie Henry, living in Dorchester County, Maryland. I quickly found her and her husband Nehemiah on the 1900-1940 census records in the county as well as multiple deed records for property they owned. Not only would I have not known to look in Dorchester County, I didn’t even know he had a sister named Annie, because she is not in the family’s 1880 census household. She was probably born in the first few years of the 1880s, and fell into what I called the Donut Hole — the 20 year 1880-1900 census gap.

Unfortunately, neither of these couples appear to have had any children, but the reference to nieces and nephews in George’s obituary implies that he had other siblings who had children. After I find Annie Henry’s date of death, I will try to find her obituary.

Another recent example of this is the lovely folks over at the Lawrence County Genealogical Society in Lawrence County, Tennessee. After realizing that three headstones at Find-A-Grave of some collateral ancestors had the same date of death, I realized that some accident must have occurred. Kathy and Lashawn quickly uncovered an article in the paper about the sad accident, scanned it in and sent it to me:

House Fire

House Fire

Many of these societies frequently have vital record and/or obituary indexes, in particularly for deaths in the 20th century. For small donations, many can answer brief questions and provide just the little bit of evidence needed to take your research to the next level. I have often paid local researchers if I needed more extensive research done in locations I can’t get to myself.

While researching your families, don’t neglect to take advantage of the wonderful collections, indexes and resources of the local genealogical and historical societies and local libraries. This is what they do. I hope you will look back over your research and look for opportunities to contact some of these groups and advance your research.

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Before I start my post, I have a challenge I’d like to make to my readers. Plan to write a 2-3 page article of one of your family lines, and submit it for publication to that county’s genealogical journal or newsletter. Not enough of us are getting our research out there, and a local genealogical journal is a great place to start. They usually don’t have stringent source citation rules and you can include a bibliography of the sources you consulted at the end of the article. Reread some of my past ideas for writing here and here. Other bloggers have also recently posted about this topic that you can read at The Armchair Genealogist, and at Genealogy’s Star and one at Family HIstory Writing Challenge. Don’t wait until you “finish” your research, because you’ll never be finished! Make 2015 the year you start. Linda Crichlow published her mother’s memoirs, and I have to recommend it to you all as a beautiful example of a published family history. You can purchase “Back Then, There” from her website. Getting our research out there by publishing is one way to ensure it will survive for our own descendants to find. On to my post’s topic—I just finished reading the book Remembering Jim Crow, published in 2001. For those researching African-Americans, a lot of our efforts are eventually spent in the complexity of slavery, but I think we all need to pay better attention to the era of segregation. Most of us still remember this era or have parents alive who do. Reading the stories in this compilation, which included audio tapes, was heartbreaking for me. This was a caste system, and in many ways, being born black defined your place in the system. Richard Wright wrote a powerful piece abut his experiences with Jim Crow. I recently saw the film “Selma,” and cried nonstop through the film.

Separate Fountains

Separate Fountains

My father, who grew up in Jacksonville, Florida shared his recollections of Jim Crow with me during several interviews. “Jacksonville was a big city, and of course we lived on the East Side, in a black neighborhood. We never really encountered white people unless we had to go downtown.” He discussed how it didn’t seem odd or strange because that’s just how it always was. The year my father left Florida to attend Howard University, the city erupted in violent racial protests and riots, marked today with a historical marker. My father remembers leaving his father’s downtown pharmacy during the start of the riots, only to encounter an angry white policeman who barked at him to go home. Which of course, he did. But there were also many wonderful stories. My father shared precious memories of his segregated Matthew W. Gilbert Junior-Senior High School, school of the legendary Pro Football Hall of Famer, Bob Hayes. The bonds of friendship formed there are close to this day. He told me about the segregated beach where my grandparents owned a summer home, American Beach; it was a storied place of refuge for blacks of the era, who were shut out of other beaches and pools.

Smiths at American Beach beach house

Smiths at American Beach beach house

My mother on the other hand, had a very different experience. Her parents migrated from Tennessee when she was three years old to Dayton, Ohio. There was no de facto segregation in Ohio, so all of my mother’s school years were integrated and her Dayton neighborhood was one of blacks and mostly Eastern Europeans. Have you written down your recollections of this painful and shameful period of our history? Have you interviewed your parents and siblings and other relatives about their specific memories of school integration, Jim Crow laws and how it affected their lives? This is likely to be a topic that we can collect and record lots of memories for our descendants who like myself, were born after the worst of these times was over. I discovered that there was a horrific lynching in Salisbury, Maryland in 1931, where my paternal grandmother lived at the time, and I wish I had asked her about what that was like.

Another thing that I think about as I look at census records from 1900, 1910, 1920, etc. is how the vast majority of black people were relegated to the hardest, dirtiest, lowest paying jobs. Men were either farmers, laborers, janitors, drivers or factory workers with just a handful able to become skilled workers or businessmen, doctors or teachers. Women were maids and cooks and laundresses; a choice few became teachers or nurses. In other words, you were absolutely limited for the most part in what you could reasonably aspire to be if you were black. I can’t imagine that, thankfully in my own lifetime, living now in a country with a black President.

I have noticed also that the experiences differ depending on where people lived. Big cities were different from rural areas, like where my maternal grandmother grew up in Tennessee. They worked in concert with their white neighbors farming, although Jim Crow laws certainly applied when they went into the city. Some of the people I interviewed had relatively peaceful experiences with school integration, unlike what happened in places like Little Rock or Mississippi. Places that had larger populations of  black people tended to be the most committed to separation of the races, which makes sense in that the white community was more fearful and more likely to enforce the existing social structure.

Birmingham, 1963

Birmingham, 1963

Include interviews with local whites if you can. I like to ask them what their experience was, what their feelings were as children seeing all of this, how it affected them growing up, etc. Whites who joined in the battle to secure civil rights for black people earn some of my highest regard. They could see our shared humanity, even in the midst of all the hatred.

Rich resources exist for researching this painful period. Here are a few:

1) The excellent documentary  “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow”

2) Duke University’s powerful collection of oral histories of Jim Crow, called “Behind the Veil”

3) the University of Virginia contains links to similar databases

4) You Tube Video on Jim Crow Remembrances

5) The Jim Crow museum at Ferris University is a must-see full of painful remainders

6) “Living with Jim Crow: African-American Women and Memories of the Segregated South,” by Ann Valk and Leslie Brown

7) Michelle Alexander has a powerful book called “The New Jim Crow

8) Examples of Jim Crow laws can be found at: the National Park Service  the Smithsonian’s Brown v. Board exhibit  American Radio Works

9) The Southern Poverty Law Center has a resource on Teaching Tolerance

10) A brief history can be found at the Library of Congress on Jim Crow

The struggles continue as Ferguson and other recent events teach us. I hope that we can all learn the lessons of the past, and approach each other with more love, compassion and understanding.

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When I first discovered that my enslaved ancestor’s name was Rezin Prather, I thought, “What an odd name. I’ll easily be able to find him.” Guess what? Turns out it was a very popular name in Montgomery County, Maryland, for everybody. There were several African-American “Rezin Prathers” floating around the county and in Washington, D.C. This situation makes genealogical mistakes easier to make, since people are prone to connect ancestors when they share the same name and live in the same place. It was important for me to finally “sort out all the Rezins” in order to ensure that I was connecting identities properly.

I began with various census records, vital records, deed records and military records as evidence for the different men, and oh of course their names, first and last, were spelled in a million different ways. I will spell them all here as “Rezin,” for simplicity. I had documents I collected online, but I had done most off this research offline.

My ancestor Rezin Prather was born in about 1800-1803 and was found presumably living with his son Levi in 1870. He is most certainly the same Rezin Prather who “departed this life” on Jan. 8, 1872 as lovingly stated in the family bible. He is the only Rezin found with that birth date.

I believe that this “elder” Rezin Prather likely had at least three sons: Levi, Wesley and Tobias Prather, who all lived in the same community, and diligently passed their names down to their children. Looking at the assortment of records, I compiled a list of birthdate ranges. They describe at least 6 different men:

b. 1800-1803 (the elder)
b. 1840-1845
b. mid 1860s
b. 1866-68
b. 1876
b. 1881-1882

I found five marriage records in the area for men named Rezin Prather:

In Montgomery County:
Rezin Prather married Albina Riggs, 4 March 1867
Rezin Prather married Elizabeth Brown, 10 June 1886
Rezin Prather married Annie Simpson, 13 August 1889

In Washington, DC:
Rezin Prather married Rosetta Bowie, 18 April 1900
Rezin Prather married Ella M. Butcher, 26 May 1902
Rezin Prather married Annie D. Stewart, 19 April 1911

Here’s a summary of my analysis:

1) My great-grandmother’s brother Rezin Joseph was born ca. March 1881-1882. He never married nor had any children.  He must be the 19-year old “outlier” shown below in the 1900 census living in the Brown household and he can be tracked until his death in
1960:

Rezin Joseph

Rezin Joseph

2) From oral history, I knew that Wesley Prather’s son Rezin was the same 25-year old Resin Jr. already married to Albina Riggs and raising two children in 1880, living just one page over from his father. The two men can further be connected by their occupation as carpenters. This Rezin was born around 1845. He had the middle initial “R.”:

1880, Rezin "R"

1880, Rezin “R”

3) A 1900 census for an “R.R. Praither” in Camden, New Jersey sparked suspicion. He was born Nov. 1844 in Maryland, and was living with wife “Mary. E.” and three children. He was a minister. When he died in 1903, his body was shipped back to Maryland, and the death certificate verified his father’s name as “Wesley Praither.” That means he is the same man who had first married Albina. This Rezin secondly married Elizabeth Brown in 1886 in Washington, D.C. What about the wife called “Mary E.” in 1900? His wife’s name (as confirmed by city directories) was Mary Elizabeth Brown.

1900, Rezin "R"

1900, Rezin “R”

4) A World War I draft card identified a “Rezin Singleton Prather” born 1876. His name was garbled and transcribed incorrectly, but I found him living in Washington, D.C. I finally noticed that one of Rezin R. and Albina’s sons was called “Singleton” in the 1880 census (see above), born 1876. Thus, Rezin R. Praither, the preacher from Maryland who died in New Jersey, had a son he named Rezin Singleton who lived his life here in Washington D.C. That son married Ellen Butcher in DC (called Elnora below). He is further traced by his occupation as a waiter.

Rezin Singleton

Rezin Singleton

5) The last connection is where it gets tricky. The Rezin Prather who married Annie Simpson in 1889 is never found on any census. Annie was probably dead by 1900, when her two children –Ethel and Wilson –were living with their grandparents. Annie was also referred to in her father’s will as “Annie Simpson Prather.” What’s unclear is whether or not Rezin Prather survived his wife.

The Rezin who married Rosetta Bowie in 1889 was found in D.C. in 1900. His occupation was “sexton.” Rosetta Prather died on 28 May 1908.  Analysis revealed that the Rezin who married Annie and the Rezin who married Rosetta—both born 1860s– must be two different men. The first was already married to Rosetta at the time the second married Annie; Rosetta did not die until 1908.

1900, Rezin and Rosetta

1900, Rezin and Rosetta

A 1910 census intensified the mystery. A widowed 42 year old Rezin Prather was living in D.C, in a household with his sister “Hester Prather.” Ethel and Wilson Prather, who had been living with their grandparents, are in his household and called “lodgers.”

1910, widowed Rezin in DC

1910, widowed Rezin in DC

The only person who had a daughter named Hester who could have had a son born in mid 1860s is Tobias Prather. And I believe he is probably the same Rezin who had been first married to Rosetta. Had he been the one married to Annie, Ethel and Wilson should have been labeled as his children, not lodgers. Another clue was his occupation as a “janitor” in a church. That’s awful close to what a sexton does, which was the occupation of the man who was married to Rosetta. This man was still in DC in 1922, according to city directories, working as a janitor.

This “other” Rezin Prather, born in the mid 1860s–the one who first married Annie Simpson–went on to marry Annie D. Stewart in 1911. He was found on the 1920 and 1930 census records living as a farmer in Montgomery County. I do not know who this man’s father was, but I hope to find his death certificate, since he lived well into the mid-20th century. I think he was the 14-year-old “outlier” in 1880:

1880, Rezin age 14

1880, Rezin age 14

Is your head spinning yet? I hope that you too will consider trying to track identities if you have several people living in the same area with the same name. Here are some of the important takeaways I discovered from this exercise:

*Watch out for “outlier” children and teens, especially in 1880 and 1900. Black people are frequently living in other households as servants or lodgers and not in their parent’s households. It can easily cause you to miss children who should be in a family unit.

*Be aware of middle names and initials. I often find people using their middle name in one document and their first name in another.
I have posted before about the need to be on the lookout for multiple marriages. They can impede our ability to discern between one person and two.

*Use occupations, addresses, city directories and deed records to help properly merge identities. Sometimes city directories add spouses in parenthesis, which is extremely helpful.

My chart after analysis looks like this:
b. Born 1800-1803: “elder” Rezin Prather, d. 1872
b. Born 1840-1845: Rezin R., mrd Albina and Elizabeth, died in NJ, minister
b. Born early 1860’s: This Rezin married Rosetta only, worked as janitor in DC. Do not know who his parents were.
b. Born 1866-68: This Rezin mrd Annie Simpson and then Annie Stewart, his father was Tobias
b. Born 1876: Rezin Singleton, son of Rezin R., waitor, mrd Ellen
b. Born 1881-1882: Rezin Joseph, never married, his father was Levi

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Getting better at genealogical research involves many things. One important skillset is understanding and learning how to find relationships when no document states the relationship. The early years of genealogy are filled with the “low hanging fruit” of census records, marriage and death records, online documents, etc. When that fruit runs out—which I assure you it will—are you equipped to keep uncovering relationships in your family? That skill involves learning new methodologies and ways of approaching your research, as well as finding little clues and piecing them together through analysis. Elizabeth Shown Mills calls it “harvesting clues.” Here’s a good, short example from my own research.

My 2nd great grandmother Martha Simpson was born a freed woman in Anne Arundel (later Howard) County, MD. I found her and her siblings living with their mother in 1850. She married Levi Prather in Montgomery County, MD, birthed 12 children that survived to adulthood and lived there the rest of her life.  I had a few pages from a family bible that recorded both Martha’s siblings names and some of her own children:

Prather_BibleB

Bible Page B

Bible Page B

When Martha’s husband Levi died in 1894, Martha purchased 75 acres of land in 1897 from a man named Nicholas Moccabee and his wife. Martha lived in the same house with Nicholas and his wife in 1880, and lived next door to a widowed Nicholas in 1900, probably because she’d purchased some of their land.

1880martha_clip

1900martha_clip

These kind of connections should always arouse suspicion and curiosity in the diligent genealogist. Who is this couple–Nicholas and Harriet? Nicholas was also buried in the same cemetery as my ancestor Martha. So I decided to delve into Nicholas’ life more deeply. An obvious impediment was his name, “Moccabee” which was spelled umpteen different ways. But take a look at what I found in land records–(these are the year and the grantor/grantee):

1876, Willie R. Griffith to Nicholas “Macbee” and wife Leanna
1896, Nicolas “Mackabee” to Harriet L. Mackabee
1897, Nicholas “Mackabee” and wife Harriet L. to Martha J. Prather
1897, Harriet Leannah Mackabee and husband Nicholas to Sandy Spring Bank

His wife’s full name—her first and middle name—is only ever given in the last 1897 deed record above. His wife’s name was “Harriet Leannah.” With this critical clue, I unlocked the puzzle. I remembered Martha named one of her daughter’s “Harriet (Ann) Leanna.” If you go back to the bible records above, you’ll also see the name of “Leanna McAbee” on both pages. All of this provides evidence for one conclusion: Nicholas married Martha’s sister, Harriet Leanna Simpson. Later, I found an obituary for Nicholas Moccabee that provided the full (misspelled) name of his wife-“Harriett Lena Simpson”:

Obituary

Obituary

Notice that no record told me directly that Harriet Leanna, Nicholas’ wife,  was Martha’s sister. But I could draw that reasonable conclusion from the compilation and analysis of the relevant evidence. Later when I went back to the cemetery, I also found “H. Leannah McAbee’s” headstone right next to her husband Nicholas, and in the same group of Simpson family headstones.

Learn how to do this by reading genealogical case studies and learning how to extract clues from various records. I also recommend Thomas Jones’ book, Mastering Genealogical Proof.

A few months ago, I joyfully discovered a descendant of Harriet Leannah who still lived in Maryland. He and his family surprised me by accepting my invitation an attending our family reunion which was a few weeks ago. I thought I would cry right there! Since then, I have gotten to spend time with their wonderful family and share all the things I have discovered. They shared priceless historical photographs, and the one I was most happy to see was the photograph below of Harriet Leannah. The two sisters have finally been reunited!

Another ancestor–reclaimed! Readers, in the comments, I’d love to hear stories of how you pieced together a relationship through clues you found in the documents, when no document stated the relationship.

Harriet Leanna

Harriet Leanna

Martha

Martha

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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 have discussed many times in this blog how finding a female ancestor’s new married name led to breakthroughs on the family line. Most of us automatically think of that when we suddenly “lose” tracking of a woman. What hasn’t come naturally for me yet is anticipating multiple marriages. Maybe two marriages is the max my mind thinks of. I am still floored by how many people remarried over and over again. Even well into their senior years.

I found “Le-Anna” Simpson as an 18-year old woman living with her widowed mother in Washington, D.C. in 1900:

1900

1900

Her 9- year-old sister Lucinda was living with their grandmother, also in D.C. In Susan Simpson’s 1910 household, Leanna is gone. She was not found on any 1910 census.

A marriage search turned up Leanna’s 1912 marriage to “Verbee H. Peaker” in D.C. But the couple didn’t appear in 1920 or any subsequent census in that city. Hmm. I thought for sure I’d find them with that unique name.

I searched for a remarriage under the name “Leanna Peaker” and I indeed found another D.C. marriage for her in 1929 to Clarence H. Hackett. That couple was not found on any subsequent census in D.C. Why is she marrying in D.C. but not showing up living in D.C.?

I expanded my census search to Maryland, as I know that people flowed pretty freely with work and school between Maryland and D.C., especially Baltimore. To my surprise, I found a “Verb Peaker” and wife “Laura” living all the way on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, in Kent County!  They lived near a small town called Galena:

1920

1920

A probate case located for Verbee Peaker’s death in 1925 confirmed this was my Leanna. The probate file contained a rare gift: a handwritten note from Leanna, noting that she was away at Hampton Institute getting her teacher’s certificate and would need to know the date to be back for court:
LeannahLetter1LeannahLetter2LeannahLetter3

Verbee’s illness, death and funeral were noted in the Afro-American newspaper. Leanna was remembering him two years later:

tribute

tribute

 

Since Leanna was living in Kent County in 1920, I decided to take a look at her next marriage and sure enough, she is in the household with 2nd husband Clarence H. Hackett in the same small town of Galena in 1930 (listed as wife “Annie”) and 1940:

1930

1930

1940

1940

Her first husband Verbee left Leanna a small piece of land  he apparently inherited and she married Clarence when his wife died.

But the story isn’t finished yet.

Yes, my dear sweet cousin Leanna had to do it again. She got married a third time, in 1948 to the brother of her first husband Verbee, Robert Morton Peaker. She was 63 years old and he was 67. It looks like he was living right next door to his brother so I guess (when his wife died) they figured they might as well grow old together;)

My guess about her marriages occurring in D.C. is that the requirements for marriage in D.C. may have been easier or cheaper than those in Kent County. Or maybe since that was Leanna’s hometown, she felt she should marry there.

Leanna does not appear to have had any children with any spouse that survived. I am continuing the research of her and her spouses in all the other records, land, court, military etc. and fleshing out her life as best possible. But this is a great lesson to remind us to keep on searching those marriage records for “lost” women. They may surprise you.

The icing on the cake to this story is that all these years I’ve had a family picture from my dad’s childhood in Jacksonville, FL. At the time, the name of the woman seated alone had been lost to history and was given to me as “a cousin, from Galena, MD”:

family picture

family picture

I remembered that name because I’d never heard of the town “Galena” before. I’d long since abandoned the notion that I would find out the identity of that cousin.

And thus—she has been revealed. Cousin Leanna, nice to finally meet you!

Leanna Simpson

Leanna Simpson

 

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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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