Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Genealogy Story – Finding a Birth Mother

I received a very unusual request last week from one of my 3rd cousins. (Because this involves living individuals, I’m going to just use a first initial for each person involved.) My cousin (“L”) wanted help in locating her husband’s (“A’s”) birth mother as they had been unable to. She wrote, “Hi cousin! I was wondering if you might provide me with some guidance on how to search for my husband's birth mother. We know her name and date of birth and state of birth, but not much else. I've searched a bit on my own but came up empty. I remembered that your [sic] are a wiz at genealogy so I thought maybe you could give me some ideas. Thanks!

I indicated that such searches, i.e. finding living people, rely on a lot of intuition, that it might be better if she gave me the information that she had and I’d see what I could do. She gave me his birth mother’s name (“M”), a date of birth, the state she was from, the state where “A” was born, that she had been employed as a “cashier,” and a few other pieces of information that were not pertinent to my search. Since the date of birth was in 1930, I tried looking for her in the 1940 census in that state or surrounding states and came up with nothing. However, I had some suspicions that the information that I had been given might have not been entirely correct. The most suspicious was the alleged date of birth since it would have meant that “M” was 28 years old when “A” was born. Unlike our current society, in those days it would have been extremely unlikely, but not impossible, for a 28-year old single mom to have given birth out of wedlock. Also, the job of “cashier” would have been an entry-level position which is also consistent with someone who would have been younger. I asked “L” where she got that information.

She had the final decree of adoption but that only had the name “M” on it. The other information was on a typed up paper from “A”s adoptive parents who are now both dealing with dementia. I decided to move forward with the presumption that the name “M” was correct (since it was on an official court document), but that the date of birth was not correct and would have been in the later 1930’s to make it more consistent with both the out-of-wedlock birth and the job of cashier.

I quickly hit “pay dirt!” I found a person with the name “M” in the 1940 census in the proper state, but with an age that indicated a birth in 1938 or 1939. And, of course, that also meant that I had the name of her parents and any siblings still at home. Then I found further confirmation with a person named “M” in high school in the city where “A” was born. It was a high school yearbook where “M” was in 10th grade (so that age matched the date of birth on the 1940 census). I also got a thumbnail picture of her class.

I then tried finding any of “M”s siblings in recent obituaries to see if that would give me the eventual married name of “M” and enable me to further research her. Apparently most of her siblings died in the 1990’s which is before obituaries are generally available on websites. But one sister (“B”) (confirmed by names of parents, etc.) only died last year and it said that “B” was preceded in death by all her siblings. So apparently “M” is no longer living (she would be 78 if she was).

However, the obituary gave the names of the “B”s children and I was able to track down one of them and get an address and phone number which I passed along to my cousin “L”. “L” and “A” plan on calling this individual to see if she remembers her aunt “M” and knows any further details that will help “A” bring closure to his search for a birth family.

As I indicated to “L”, this type of genealogical research is sometimes pretty intuitive. You have to know not only where to search and what search terms to use, but when information looks right and when it doesn’t. But in this case, with only 5-6 hours of research, I was able to have a successful result that will help my cousin and her husband.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Genealogy Story – Research for a Friend

For about 10-15 years I’ve been part of a small group of men (3-4 of us) who have met twice a month for prayer, mutual support, and study. We meet for breakfast at one of the local diners where we enjoy a meal together, then often talk about a chapter of a book that we’re reading together to help strengthen our faith. We also talk about what’s going on in our life, the challenges that we are facing (in confidence), pray for each other, etc.

One of the others of this group, Bob Davies, who has been part of it for longer than I have, is a man whom I’ve known from church for 40 years. We have a lot in common – both of us had careers in the IT field, we sang together in the church choir, sang together in a men’s quartet for many years, served as elders together, etc. And while we’ve known about each other’s immediate families, it’s interesting that the topic of our ancestors never came up until our last meeting a week ago. But it finally did, and I thought it would be interesting, given my interest in genealogy, to research his family.

Here is what I had to go on – the names and approximate year of birth of his parents; that Bob knew practically nothing about his paternal grandfather; the fact that his paternal grandmother had the last name of von Steuben and that she was somehow related to General von Steuben from the Revolutionary War; and that his maternal grandmother’s last name was Green but that it had come from Gruen which is the German word for Green but got Anglicized.

I put the above information into a new tree in ancestry.com and fairly quickly came up with the names of Bob’s grandparents. But each of these four individuals required me to do a very different type of research – a potpourri of genealogy if you will – that was so interesting that I thought it warranted being documented in this blog.

Misinformation in the Census

I was quickly able to find Bob’s parents in the census records of 1940 and then before they were married in the 1930 and 1920 census with their parents (Bob’s grandparents). Bob’s grandfather, David T. Davies, was born in 1878 and both the 1930 and 1920 census indicated that he was born in Maine and his parents were born in Wales. But I was unable to find him anywhere in the 1910 or earlier census records – in PA, in ME, or anywhere else.

But not deterred by this dead end, I started looking for information elsewhere. After some digging, I was able to find him in immigration records from 1911. These records are pretty detailed and give lots of information, so I noted that David was a blacksmith, that his destination was Portland, ME, that he left behind his mother, Jane, and many other interesting things.

Thus, it appears that when the census taker stopped at the Davies’ home in 1920 and 1930 that Bob’s grandmother was the one who answered the door. When she was asked, “where was your husband born?,” she gave what she thought was a truthful answer of “Maine”, because as far as she knew that’s where he had come from. But the truth was that while he was in Maine originally in 1911 when he entered the US, he only lived there a few years before moving to PA and marrying her in 1916. This is not unusual in doing genealogical research, to encounter misinformation that occurs for a variety of reasons. But it complicates this research – or at least slows it down as it did here.

Connection to a Famous Person

Bob’s paternal grandmother was Charlotte von Steuben – a helpful thing to know, as finding maiden names is sometimes difficult in genealogical research. As I traced back through her ancestors there was a plethora of German names, nearly all of whom came to the US over 200 years ago. So while Bob is ¼ Welsh through his paternal grandfather, it is pretty obvious that he is ¼ German through the von Steuben line.

But General Friedrich von Steuben never married and had no children. So what was Bob’s connection to him? This required me to research both Bob’s ancestors and General von Steuben’s ancestors to find the intersection. But along the way I found that the von Steuben line took a detour. Bob’s great*3 grandfather, Peter von Steuben, came to the US not from Germany but from Denmark where both he and his parents lived. General von Steuben was Peter’s first cousin, thus he is Bob’s first cousin, 5 times removed.

My Cousin – Three Ways!

In tracing back Bob’s maternal grandfather, I found that the Ackley family moved to Bradford County PA from Connecticut. Since genealogy records from Connecticut are pretty robust, I was able to trace it back several more generations quite easily. In the process I began to notice family names that occur in my own family tree – which has been in Connecticut for over 300 years. So I took some of those family names and began checking to see if Bob’s ancestral lines intersected with my own. I have found three such connections.

Bob’s great*4 grandmother was Abigail Doane. Her ancestral line goes back to John Doane (b. 1575 in England), but John is also my ancestor on my father’s side. Through this connection Bob is my 10th cousin, once removed.

Another of Bob’s ancestors is Sarah Andrews who was born in Waterbury, CT – the same town that I was born in. Her father, Abraham Andrews is also an ancestor of mine on my mother’s side, making Bob my 8th cousin, once removed.

Finally, another family in Bob’s ancestral line is the Terrill family where Daniel Terrill is Bob’s great*6 grandfather and my great*7 grandfather, making Bob my 7th cousin, once removed, again on my father’s side.

This makes a total of three ways that I am related to Bob. But it also means that through the Doane family line Bob is an official “blue blood” as one of his ancestors, Constance Hopkins, who is the grandmother of Israel Doane came to the Plymouth Colony on the Mayflower in 1620.

Unraveling a Complicated Story

The last of Bob’s family lines, through his maternal grandmother, was the hardest to unravel. He knew his grandmother, Minnie Green, and that the family name used to be Gruen, but establishing that through genealogical research was a bit difficult. After several hours of looking through census records, death certificates, etc., the story goes like this:

Conrad Gruen was born in Germany in 1853 and came to the US in 1872. He married for the first time in 1884 to a woman named Marie Dengler. But this was the second marriage for Marie. Her maiden name was Marie Pistor and she had married back in Germany and had a daughter Pauline [Dengler] (b. 1869). Conrad and Marie had two children, Pauline (who went by Minnie) (b. 1885), and Frederick (b. 1890). Conrad then divorced Marie and married a woman by the name of Mary Frank in 1899. He and Mary had a child Anna (b. 1904). [Note that part of the problem was that the first marriage was after 1880 and ended before 1900 so there were no census records documenting Conrad and Marie being married.]

Of the 3 children of Conrad, Anna lived with her parents, Frederick lived with Conrad and his step-mother Mary, but Pauline (Minnie) went to live with her half-sister Pauline who by this time had married Ernest Hausman and lived in Allentown. Pauline/Minnie eventually married Isaac Ambrose Ackley. 


Bob’s ancestry is ¼ Welsh, ½ German, and ¼ British. And after knowing him for 40 years I can now call him a cousin!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

It’s been a good week

Instead of writing a blog this week on a particular topic, I thought that for a change of pace I’d put together the potpourri that this week has been. As always, I’ve learned some new things. But the challenge sometimes is not forgetting some of the old things so that you’re total knowledge keeps increasing. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are three of the highlights of the past several days.

Progress on my weight goal

I’ve been trying for the past several years to slowly reduce my weight. Rather than go on any crash diet – where many people tend to yo-yo, I figure that since the weight went on slowly, the best thing is to slowly take it off by life style changes. I don’t get on the scales regularly, just try to make better choices and when I get my weight taken as part of my periodic visits to my primary care physician see where I stand and then log it in a small spreadsheet. This week was one of those periodic visits and my weight is down a little bit (again!), so I’m continuing to make progress.

The funny part of this is that when I stood on the electronic scales in the doctor’s office it registered 228.2, but when the nurse entered it into the computer she had a little dyslexia and put in 282.2. When I checked the summary sheet after I came home I noticed it and sent a quick message off to the office. I got a return reply a short time later which acknowledged the correction and ended with “Sorry about the sudden weight gain, but, you’ll be happy to know you just lost 54 lbs!” That was a little chuckle to lighten up my day.

A distant famous relative

I was watching a few old episodes of Antiques Roadshow on YouTube for a little light entertainment one evening and they had a piece of art by Charles M[arion] Russell, the artist probably best known for his western work. That got me wondering if he and I were related. So I decided to see if his family tree and mine intersected. Since I know my Russell family tree back to its origin 1000 years ago, all I had to do was see how far I could trace his and see if there was a common ancestor.

It took a while, since I was not able to locate any complete family tree for him, so I had to piece together some of the research that others had done with some original checking. But after about a half-hour I was successful. Our common ancestor was John Russell who was born in 1340 in England. That was a lot farther back than I envisioned, but the connection was pretty solid. Since John Russell is my great*17 grandfather and also Charles’ great*15 grandfather, that make Charles my 16th cousin, twice removed!

Uncovering a census error

Twice a month I get together with two other Christian men for breakfast and a religious book study. We also share about our families, pray requests, etc. One of the men, Bob, whom I have known for 40 years, mentioned that he knew very little about his ancestry, particularly about his paternal grandfather – where he came from, what his occupation was, etc. Since I enjoy doing genealogical research, I asked Bob for the names of his parents, including his mother’s maiden name, to see what I could find out.

In tracing his father back through census records, I easily found him in the 1920 and 1930 census where his father was then living with his parents (Bob’s grandparents). That gave me the name of his grandfather. The notation in both census records indicated that his grandfather was born in Maine, but that his grandfather’s parents were born in Wales. But even though that gave me an indication that his grandfather would have been born in 1878, I was not able to find him in the census records for 1910, 1900, or 1880. So where was he?

I then found him in immigration records for 1911 – and a real treasure trove of information that goes along with that. It showed that this was the first time that he had come to the US, that his destination was Portland Maine, and that the person he left behind in Wales was his mother. So it appears that when the census taker knocked on the door in 1920 and 1930, it was probably Bob’s grandmother who answered the door and she gave incorrect information about her husband – knowing that he came from Maine, she gave Maine as his place of birth, when he was actually born in Wales in 1878 and only lived in Maine from 1911 until he moved to PA where he married. His occupation on the immigration records was also listed as “blacksmith”, solving the other mystery that Bob had.