The following article is from the Ancestry Daily News and is (c) MyFamily.Com. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the Ancestry Daily News is available at Ancestry
Confusion is often in the mind of the beholder. The ongoing release of the every name 1900 census index at Ancestry.com has caused me to revisit some relatives in this census. When I viewed one entry, I remembered how confused I was when I first saw it. Like many genealogical records, the enumeration contained an error. And like many errors, the incorrect statement was a clue. In this case it was a clue that I failed to notice. In 1900, John M. Trautvetter is a 60ish widower, living with his four youngest children on a farm in rural Hancock County, Illinois. The bulk of the census entry is consistent with other records, including John's age, place of birth, year of immigration, and citizenship status. What confused me was the place of birth listed for the children's mother--Ohio. No other record ever listed that state. John's wife, Frances, was the mother of all his children (there was not a second wife, although different places of births for the mother can sometimes indicate this), and she died in 1888 well before the 1900 enumeration. Every document indicated she was born in Illinois in 1851 with no hint to another possible state of birth. While I had no direct evidence of her birth date and place, Frances' parents were known to have resided in Illinois as early as November 1850, and Frances' guardianship records (created when she was five years old) clearly state she had been born in January 1851. There was no evidence that her parents lived anywhere except Illinois after November 1850. But still, in the 1900 census, entries for four of her children indicate she had an Ohio place of birth. Frances' three oldest children were out of the house by the 1900 enumeration, and their entries were also located. These children indicated their mother was born in Illinois. While this was not consistent with the Ohio birthplace listed by the other children, at least it was consistent with what I already knew about Frances. So Where Did Ohio Come From? I do not know who provided the information for the Trautvetter household in 1900. But now I do know that the informant was not entirely confused when they indicated that the mother of the children in the household was born in Ohio. It was years after I first discovered that 1900 census entry that I learned that Frances' parents were German immigrants who married in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1849. Their stay in Ohio was short, but it was where they were married and where the husband was naturalized. I wish I had considered the Ohio reference as a clue from the start instead of simply ignoring it as some off-the-wall mistake. Whoever told the enumerator the children's mother was born in Ohio must have known that her family had some connection to that state. In this case, the error was a lead as to the family's origins. Some discrepancies in records are clues as to other locations where the family lived. Unfortunately, not all inconsistencies can be understood as easily as this one. However our point is that apparent errors should not immediately be tossed aside. Many Errors in Records There are many errors in genealogical records. If all records were completely consistent, genealogy research would not be nearly as difficult (or as interesting) as it is. And some of us become skeptical when all the records completely agree. And while an error is still an error, there are times when the error is a clue. The error can result from many scenarios, but it is worth remembering that we were not present when the information on the record was obtained. We do not know who answered the questions and what distractions might have been in the respondent's mind. All we have is what is written on the document. Did our ancestor think the clerk meant, "Where is your mother from?" instead of "Where was your mother born?" Where a person is "from" is not necessarily the same place as where they were born. In the case of Frances, the children still living in the household in 1900 were relatively young when she died in 1888. Their memories of their mother may be very dim, and their only knowledge of her and her origins may come from their father--who might not necessarily know where she was born either. Other Types of Errors - Hearing and Speech Problems Your ancestor's ability to speak the language of the country in which he or she lived can easily impact how the name is written in various records. Combine that with regional dialects, hearing problems, and inattentive clerks and the problem can be greatly compounded. This topic was discussed in this column some time ago in an article titled "Do You Ear What I Ear?" - Bald-faced lie. Was your ancestor hiding from his or her past? Was he or she lying to get out of something? Was he or she lying to be able to do something? If your ancestor lied on a document, there is usually a reason. The difficulty lies in determining what that reason was. If your ancestor made up several lies, the problem can be even worse. - They were not there. Many documents that genealogist use reference events that took place long before the document was created and, perhaps, even before the informant was born. The amount of time that has elapsed, combined with the fact that a story may have passed through several individuals, can cause facts to be reported incorrectly. And the mistake may be an honest one, particularly if the informant on a document is an in-law. - A little detail they did not know. My parents have lived in the same county their entire lives. And yet they were born in a different state because the nearest hospital was across the state line. I can remember that when I gave the clerk in the marriage records office the birthplaces of my parents, my soon-to-be wife looked at me when I indicted my parents were born in Iowa --and yet they were. - Sometimes there's no telling what they were thinking. One relative of mine said her father was born in Canada, the United States, Iowa, or Kentucky. It all depends upon what census enumeration you believe. (Skeptics can view the census entries here.) This is a case where I just wonder exactly went on when the census taker knocked on the door. (To read our fictionalized view of the census taker read "The Census Taker Cometh.") Consider the Errors Some errors are errors. Some errors are clues. It is the job of the genealogist to determine the difference as best they can. Your ancestor might have been giving you the biggest clue when they gave the wrong answer. Female Ancestors: After the Marriage Female ancestors present special research problems for two main reasons. A significant part of the difficulty stems from the fact that at the time of their marriage most American females changed their last name to that of their husband. Not knowing the last name makes for significant research difficulties. Another significant problem in locating women is that for much of American history, women have not had the same legal rights as men. The result is that women are generally listed less often than men in many of the records utilized by genealogists. Determining what happened to a woman after her marriage requires the genealogist to do more than simply look up names in indexes hoping something magically appears. It requires that the researcher learn about: - Records of the time period. - Common legal practices of the time, particularly those involving women's rights and inheritances. - History of the region during the time period. - Factors effecting migration during the time period. Research outlines from the Family History Library for the appropriate state and Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources are two great ways to learn about records for the state and time period. Reading county, state, and regional histories are excellent sources of additional background information. It may be possible that someone else has already worked on your problem. Online databases such as the GEDCOM files at WorldConnect, the International Genealogical Index at the Family Search Website (www.familysearch.org), appropriate state and regional mailing lists at Rootsweb (lists.rootsweb.com), and other sources available through Rootsweb (www.rootsweb.com) and the USGenWeb (www.usgenweb.org) may prove successful. It is important to keep in mind that if the problem is a difficult one, the answer may not be available online, and the problem may be unsolved as of yet. Clues and finding aids to off-line records may be online, but the actual answer may lie in an un-microfilmed box of county court records deep in the mountains of Virginia or in an isolated courthouse on the Kansas prairie. Women Were Treated Differently For much of American history, women have had significantly fewer legal rights than men. Consequently the number of records mentioning women dwindles as a family history is researched into earlier and earlier time periods. For much of American history, under a concept called coverture, a woman's separate legal status ended upon her marriage. The married female typically could not own real property and derived her citizenship from that of her husband. Today this is no longer true, but during the period where most of us have genealogical brick walls, it was. Keep in mind that most laws regarding a woman's right to own property are governed by state statute and have changed over time, sometimes gradually over a period of years. Consequently what is true in one state at one point in time might not be true in another state at another time. Half of our ancestors are women, and like everyone else, I have encountered these problems before. I've discussed some of them in previous columns: "Married to An Alien" This article focuses on women's citizenship and uses a “native born alien” in the 1920 census as a starting point for the discussion. "The Reality of Sarah's Reality" This article focuses on the real estate that was not owned by an eighteenth century Virginia widow. "1856 Illinois Probate Guide: The Dower" This article discusses the concept of dower and how it was handled in Illinois in the mid-nineteenth century with links to additional references. Women have not always been treated equally in American history. Learning about the differences makes us better genealogists. Determining Where She Went After Her Marriage It can be challenging enough to find a mobile person whose name is known, let alone a married relative whose husband's name is not known. Of course a thorough search of marriage records should be conducted in those areas where the missing female's family is known to have lived using all reasonable spelling variants. Let's take a look at some examples of situations where records beyond the marriage record might contain the desired name: - The missing female's sibling died and the missing female survived. Does the sibling's death notice or obituary provide the name of siblings? Does the funeral home have this information? - The missing female was an informant on a relative's death certificate after the missing female married. This long shot may pay off, particularly if the missing female remained near relatives. - Did the missing female inherit from any estate (not just her parents) after her last name changed? If so, she should be listed with the new last name on those records. - Was the estate of the missing female's parents settled up after the name change? If so, later (or final) records in the probate may provide the new married last name. What Is the Key Here? The key is that we are not searching for the missing female when trying to locate these records. All the examples discussed can be located by searching for someone other than the missing female--someone whose surname is known. Ask yourself, “Is there a record for someone else that will list the missing female with her new last name--possibly as an heir, a sibling, or an informant?” Are there events that might have spurred the creation of a record naming the “missing female?” Are there records of these events that you can locate without knowing the missing female's name? In some records it will be clear who the missing female is (listed as a sister in an obituary, or as a niece in an estate settlement). In other records the relationship might not be given (an informant on a death certificate, a witness to a marriage, etc.). In these latter cases a “hunch” that the individual is the missing female will have to be confirmed with other records. Is Your Missing Female Hiding near Other Relatives? Locate your missing female's parents and siblings in census records. Is there a married female in a nearby household with the same first name as your missing female? Is that female born in the same place as your missing female? If other sources fail, this neighbor is a candidate for your missing female and this neighbor should be researched to determine if she is the missing female or not. Also look at all the gravestones near your missing female's parents and siblings. Is there a grave with a burial whose first name is that of your missing female? Family members were frequently buried near each other and there is a chance that you have walked right by your missing female relative while looking at her parents' or sibling's stones. Did She go With a Sibling or Another Family Member? Thomas Chaney died in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1856 leaving a large family. Two children left Pennsylvania. Son Abraham was easy to track to Ohio, his last name never changed. What of daughter Elizabeth who “vanished” in Bedford County, Pennsylvania? She reappeared in Coshocton County, Ohio, the very same county where her brother settled. In most cases, a female who heads west in the early nineteenth century didn't strike out entirely on her own. Chances are she has a brother, uncle, or other relative or neighbor who has gone west before her or at the same time. The problem is finding out who that relative is and where they went. For this reason another approach to locating missing females is to completely research their other family members in hopes that this will also locate the missing female relative. Sum It Up Locating missing female relatives is not always easy. Some useful approaches are: - Consider all the records that might list the female with her new last name. - Consider that the female might have moved to live near other family members or former neighbors. - Consider that the missing female might be hiding right under your nose near her family--only with a different last name. Beyond the Index: The Special Examiner's Report "The claimant is a fairly intelligent woman. Industrious, hard working ." The description of my ancestor could have been much worse. The special examiner from the pension office had nice things to say about my forebear. Civil War pensions were not always granted quickly, and Nancy Rampley had applied on three separate occasions. These applications and two appeals over nine years had still not won her a pension. After the fourth denial a special examiner was appointed to make an onsite evaluation and to hear firsthand testimony. The examiner would actually interview Nancy and her witnesses instead of relying on the submission of affidavits through a pension attorney. And so a short month before the fall 1902 harvest, examiner J. M. Welsh made the trip from Quincy, Illinois, to "near Hickory Ridge" to hear testimony in regarding the Rampley pension application. Nancy's sixteen-page testimony, given on 14 August 1902, provided several direct genealogical statements: "I was born near Milroy, Rush County, Indiana. My maiden name was Nancy J. Newman. My father's name was William Newman. My mother's name was Rebecca Newman. Her maiden name was Rebecca Tinsley. My father and mother are both dead. They died near to Moberly, Randolph County, Missouri. "I came from Indiana near Reynolds Station, White County, to Hickory Ridge...when I was sixteen years old. "I was married...at my father's house...John Luft, Matha Luft, John Rampley and James Rampley...were all present." [The attendance of Nancy's family is not mentioned, probably because her family had moved out of state, and her in-laws still lived close enough to conveniently testify to the marriage]. "I have living two sisters Mrs. Sarah Graves, Macon City, Missouri, Melinda Cox, Ripley, Oklahoma...brother Andrew J. Newman." She goes on to provide the same information on her in-laws. The vast majority of Nancy's testimony centers on the farm. She goes into great detail of the farm's operation from 1900 through 1902 in an attempt to show her financial situation warrants a pension. We will not transcribe that testimony here but will summarize a few details from her statement that are representative. After the death of Nancy's husband, Riley, in 1893, the heirs collected on a debt owed their father and sold some livestock. They then paid the bills and built a frame, seven room, two-story house on the farm. Riley's son Louis E. Rampley farmed the property for the few years prior to the interview, providing his own horses a nd splitting the grain and hay with his mother and siblings. In 1901 the family's garden "dried up," 7.5 ton of hay were harvested, $15.00 in poultry and eggs were produced, but "no butter worth mentioning" (hopefully the cows did not "dry up" too). The family raised oats, wheat, rye, and corn. Nancy's testimony goes into detail about the acreages allocated to each crop and the quantity and value of the harvest. When asked about the corn for 1902, Nancy is obviously uncertain. She is testifying in mid-August, and the corn has yet to be harvested. She indicates she does not know how the corn will do as "it is only in the roasting ear now." Louis E. Rampley also testifies about the farm's progress in 1900-1902. His testimony is similar to his mothers. He rents the farm for a share of the harvest and indicates he does not know what amount of cash rent the farm would bring. All the witnesses state that "in this part of the country" cash rent is very uncommon. The additional testimony of Nancy's son-in-law and two of her nephews concur with that given by Nancy and Louis. The last witness was particularly interesting to me: Charles T. Neill. Like all the witnesses, Charles indicated that he knew Nancy and was well acquainted with the farm. He adds that he did not know Riley Rampley personally and that he actually resides near West Point, four miles from the Rampley farm. Charles testifies that he has been the family's hired hand in 1901 and 1902. In 1901, he was paid $16 2/3 monthly and in 1902 was paid $18 a month with room and board provided. He adds that in 1901 was a dry year and that the crops were short. About Nancy he says, "[She] works hard and cooks for Louie E. and for the other children. She hoes in the garden and helps raise all of the garden." Seven months after Charles gives his testimony he marries Nancy's daughter Fannie. Charles' testimony was especially interesting as he and Fannie are my great-grandparents. From the special examiner's report: "The witnesses put the case mild when they say the land is broken... the claimant lives on the farm which lies back off main roads in the hills adjoining a creek and about all the neighbors are relatives of claimant." The special examiner's report is 54 pages, contains the testimony of seven witnesses (including commentary on the reputation of each witness), proves that Riley left no will (and that his estate was never administrated upon), and included the assessed value of the real and personal property. He recommended that her case be reconsidered and her pension was approved. At her death in 1923, Nancy was receiving a monthly check for $30. Lessons Learned Nancy's widow's application for a pension provides not only information about her, but also information on: - Her parents - Her siblings - Her in-laws - Some neighbors Is there a clue about your ancestor in the pension file of another family member? In this case, we had looked for two decades for the final resting place of Nancy's parents--all to no avail. But there, in the pension application of their son-in-law, was our clue as to their resting place.
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