Posts Tagged ‘research strategies’

Those of you that live in places where you bring individual trash cans to the curb have probably been in this situation before: One of your neighbors has taken their trash can(s) to the curb, and then another sees the curbside can(s) and does the same, and soon most of them have. You’re pretty sure that there was a holiday this week and that trash pickup has been delayed by one day. But the more people who bring their cans up, the more you start to wonder whether you’re correctly remembering. Perhaps you even double-check the calendar to make sure you are right. But in historical and genealogical research, there is no calendar to check. When the majority choose a different argument or interpretation from yours, you may find yourself looking for a signpost in the scholarly wilderness. People may write a piece disputing your research or contact you directly to express that your conclusions are inaccurate.

In researching historical events and people, none of us will ever know for sure what actually happened. The best we can do is come as close to accuracy as we can with the records and other resources available to us, reach our own interpretations and conclusions, and then always be willing to reexamine them if new records and/or research come to light. This makes research especially contentious, since even something as simple-seeming as an historical birth date can be up for debate.

“Truth is not a democracy”

The subheading is from a seminar I attended several years ago, and was the initial response when an audience member asked a question about when the majority disagrees with your conclusions. It’s a quip that has always stuck with me, because I have found over and over again that just because most people agree on something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best interpretation of the evidence, nor that the others have necessarily reviewed all the records and other evidence that you have reviewed. When I’m contacted by someone who disagrees with my conclusions, my own starting point is usually: Can you please tell me your evidence for your position?

Take the case of the two Simeon Lymans as an example. Simeon Lyman the father was born circa 1718, probably in Northampton, Massachusetts, as his family was living there at the time. Simeon moved to Salisbury, Connecticut, around 1744, as he bought 85 acres on the “highway to Sheffield” from Joel Harvey in that year. In 1747, Simeon was officially admitted as a “resident” of the town of Salisbury according to the town meeting minutes, which included the ability to vote at town meetings. In January 1748/9 he followed these steps with the common next step of marriage. Like most New England families of this era, Simeon and his wife Elizabeth (Beebe) Lyman proceeded to have a lot of children; in their particular case, I have identified nine, including children named after each parent, again as was typical. Their nuclear family was shattered when Elizabeth died in 1773, on the eve of the Revolution. A little over a year later, a Simeon Lyman married an Abigail Chipman in Salisbury.

And this is where the controversy begins.

I had been as thorough as I could, and had also found that a Simeon Lyman had married a Joanna Palmer in 1780. Simeon Lyman the younger was born on 7 January 1754, meaning that he would have been 20 if he had married Abigail Chipman in 1774, and 26 if he married Joanna Palmer in 1780. Is it possible that Simeon the younger married Abigail and Simeon the elder (or some other Simeon) married Joanna? Of course. But it makes a heck of a lot more sense for the widower who still has children at home to remarry quickly and for the young man to wait until he’s a bit more established to marry. And that’s not even getting into the question of ages and how much more sense it generally makes for an older man to marry a woman relatively close in age to him (Abigail was born circa 1730) and a younger man to do the same, and indeed, the Simeon-Joanna pair proceeded to have children of their own. My initial theory was greatly bolstered by reviewing Joanna’s Revolutionary War widow’s pension file, in which affidavits clearly state that she married the younger Simeon.

This has been an extremely basic overview of time-consuming research that I feel is solid. Having noted that most posted research conflated Simeon’s two wives into a single wife (squashing the maiden name of his first wife and the given name of his second wife into a single wife, probably copied uncited from a compiled genealogy that had made the same error), I decided to put a basic sketch of my research on Simeon the elder online, not realizing at the time that it might be controversial beyond the conflated Abigail-Elizabeth question. And that’s when the emails began.

You’ve made a mistake, they said: Simeon the younger married Abigail.

The first time I got one, my initial response was (as usual) to go back over my research to see if I had made an error that was obvious to me. I was relieved when my review confirmed that my conclusions were, to me, solid conclusions based on extensive research and what I considered a preponderance of evidence. However, as I have mentioned, the nature of historical research means conclusions can always change depending on what evidence and research an individual researcher has viewed.

Consequently, I would respond, Can you please tell me your evidence?

They would usually respond, Ancestry. Could you please be more specific? And then I would usually get, U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900. This is an index-only database that is described by Ancestry thusly: “This database contains marriage record information for approximately 1,400,000 individuals from across all 50 United States and 32 different countries around the world between 1560 and 1900. These records, which include information on over 500 years of marriages, were extracted from family group sheets, electronic databases, biographies, wills, and other sources.” None of the entries specify what the exact source is for a marriage, but given that the entry for Simeon and Abigail claims that Simeon was born in 1755 and that Abigail was born in 1757, neither of which is true, I don’t think it is an unfair educated guess to speculate that a family group sheet created by a rather bad researcher is probably the source.

So then I was left trying to explain that I had done hundreds of hours of research on the family and popping a name into an Ancestry search box and coming back with an index-only result is not a substitute for that. Finally I added a note to my posted research that if anyone wanted to contact me disputing what I posted, to please present me with evidence from records, and that I don’t count an unsourced index-only database entry as a record. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but nobody has emailed me since I added that note.

As a final aside on the Lymans in case anyone reached this post through searching on the family, Simeon Lyman the younger carved the powder horn that J. L. Bell blogged about over on Boston 1775 in 2012.

Discovering a new path in the scholarly wilderness

Sometimes something very different happens and you find something that it appears no one else has previously found. Sometimes everyone is immediately accepting of and excited about it. But sometimes not.

Late last year Susan Moore was going through a 16th century record set in England on my behalf and sent me a report about it. I found something in it that I had never seen mentioned anywhere before and was initially taken aback. I first wrote to ask if Susan thought I was correctly interpreting it. Then I checked through published scholarship to see if I had missed its being mentioned, and I could not find a mention of it anywhere.

I am lucky enough to live in a location where I often interact in person with well-established scholars, and I happened to be somewhere with someone who has researched this shortly thereafter, and mentioned it with excitement. It went over like a lead balloon; the response was deep skepticism. After going back and forth about it in my mind a good deal, I decided to try talking to a second scholar before giving up, and their initial response was the same as mine had been – to check published scholarship to see if anyone had mentioned it previously. They could not find anything either. They then congratulated me on making what appeared to be a new find and suggested Susan and I keep plugging away at the research to see what else we could find. (I’m not really sure how I constrained myself from doing a little dance until I was alone.) I readily admit that if the second scholar had similarly reacted with skepticism, I probably would have stopped trying to talk to people about it, although I wouldn’t have given up on the research altogether. Make no mistake that it can be a little scary and/or somewhat intimidating to posit something different than what has been publicly posited before you. Since this experience, I have even more respect for people who have published pieces correcting or disputing previous published research.

I apologize for my vagueness in this part; I hope to be able to publish something about this after having completed further research, and don’t want to spill the beans publicly as a result.

Alone with the research trees

It can be hard to be the one person who doesn’t take your trash cans to the curb on the wrong day, even if you’ve checked the calendar and know that your neighbors have forgotten about a holiday. Similarly, it can be difficult to know that people vehemently disagree with your research, even if you know that your research is as good as it can be and have faith in your own interpretations. In my opinion, part of being a good researcher is being open to being wrong or to discovering new information, and also reviewing your research from time to time to see if your greater knowledge now leads you to question one of your earlier conclusions or realize perhaps there is something you missed reviewing because you did not know it existed at the time. It’s important to read the research of others and to collaborate with others, but it’s also important to remember that others are not necessarily going to agree with you and that this in and of itself doesn’t speak badly of either of you.

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In recent months I have been making more extensive use of manorial records in England, and I thought I would share some basics here. The system and procedure appear to be mostly equivalent in Wales, though I haven’t personally done any research in Welsh manorial records (or more than a tiny amount of Welsh research at all to date).

There is a common perception that English & Welsh manorial records are only from the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, and that they are all in Latin. None of this is true. While there were manors in the Middle Ages, the largest percentage of surviving manorial records date from the 19th and early 20th centuries, until the manorial system was effectively abolished through the Law of Property Acts of 1922 and 1924. Second to that in survival terms are manorial records from the 17th and 18th centuries, although those are more likely to have gaps. The earlier than that you go, the fewer extant records there are, and the more gaps they tend to have.

For many earlier manors, the only thing known to survive is the name – historians know the manor existed and that’s all. However, even for manors where their own records didn’t survive, you may be able to glean a fair amount of information by locating extant records from an adjacent manor, as a number of people held/rented land in more than one manor so manors that were near each other tended to reference each other in their records. It is also important to keep in mind that while some manors were the exact equivalent to a parish, many were not – sometimes there were multiple manors in one parish, sometimes one manor occupied parts or all of two or more parishes, etc. As to the question of Latin – technically all legal documents were supposed to be written in Latin prior to the change to English that took effect in 1733, but in actuality a fair number of manors started using English for most of their records prior to this date or had a record-keeper who didn’t know too much Latin and mixed the Latin they knew with English words in place of the Latin words they didn’t know. This having been said – there were certainly manors that kept records completely in Latin until the official change to English, and the likelihood tends to vary regionally.

Because manorial records can be in any number of locations, including still in private hands, and many manors had their records scattered between two or more record-keepers, the first stop in working with manorial records will generally be the Manorial Documents Register. The Manorial Documents Register is, in the words of the National Archives [UK], “partially computerised.” You can search all of Wales and some counties of England through the National Archives’ Manorial Documents Register database. As of the time of this writing, these English counties were complete in the online version: the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, the three Ridings of Yorkshire, Shropshire, Surrey, Middlesex, Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Bedfordshire. According to the site, they are in the process of adding Cambridgeshire, Essex, Huntingdonshire, Suffolk, and Sussex.

This database is very helpful not just in locating who holds which records for a manor, but also in determining what manors with surviving records existed in the parish you are researching and in neighboring parishes, because for England you can search the database by parish, not just by the name of the manor. If you are researching in a county that isn’t in the online database yet, you have to go in person to check, get someone to visit on your behalf, or write and ask the staff to check for you. Before I start using specific examples, let me note here that the main difference for researchers using the database for Welsh research will be that since Wales is not divided by parish, you will have to search by county if you don’t know the manor name or are trying to locate nearby manors.

Let’s use Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire, as an example. Wraysbury is where two of my colonial North American ancestors who chose to return to England died. If you haven’t used the site much or at all, I encourage you to bring up the site in another tab/window and practice searching along with my post. If you go to “Advanced Search” at the online Manorial Documents Register (an option from the front page) and enter “Wraysbury” in the “Parish” search field, leaving all other fields blank, two results will appear after you hit “Search”:

RECTORY, Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire (15)

also known as – Wraysbury Rectory

WRAYSBURY, Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire (27)

also known as – Wyrardisbury

The number after each manor is the number of different entries for manorial records there are in the database. Clicking through to view the results for each manor (termed “sub-records” by the Manorial Documents Register database), you will see at the top of the results pages that both of these manors were indeed in the parish of Wraysbury, so if you were researching someone who lived in Wraysbury and didn’t know precisely where they lived, you could potentially find them at either manor. Even if you did know their primary residence was at one of the manors, you might still find them holding/renting land at the other manor. Let’s click through to the Wraysbury Rectory results to start. You may note immediately that the results for each manor are arranged by the listed start date of each record set, so that if you are researching late in a manor’s existence, you can immediately scroll towards the bottom of the results to see what (if any) manorial records survive from that period.

Viewing the Wraysbury Rectory results, you will see that 14 of the 15 known extant manorial record sets are held by St. George’s Chapel Archives and Chapter Library at Windsor Castle, with a lone set of court rolls held by Westminster Abbey Library and Muniment Room at The Cloisters in Westminster Abbey. You can see at the results page that each listed repository is a live link; clicking on the link will give you details about where the repository is located, its contact information, what its hours are, and the barest basics of how you can access the repository’s documents. As an example, if you want to view the Wraysbury Rectory court rolls in person at Westminster Abbey, the database’s repository page says that you will need a letter of introduction to be allowed to do so. With extant records from 1353 to 1902, with huge gaps in availability of any records and in which types of records are available, Wraysbury Rectory is also a good example of the scattershot survival of manorial records. An additional note before moving on to the other manor in Wraysbury parish: Manors run by the Church were much more likely to keep all their records in Latin until the official change to English than other manors were.

Viewing the sub-results for Wraysbury Manor (AKA Wyrardisbury Manor), you will see that the location of the 27 surviving record sets is quite literally all over the place. There are listed record sets for Wraysbury Manor at the National Archives, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Essex Record Office, Berkshire Record Office, and Westminster Abbey Library and Muniment Room. Again, the availability of any extant records at all and of which types exist today is really variable, with extant records from 1272 to 1890 with huge gaps.

Since we are looking for manorial records in the Wraysbury area, let’s do a further exercise. I like using the GenUKI site’s “Nearby Places” feature to show what was in and close to a parish. If you go to GenUKI’s Wraysbury main page, you can click on the link at the top of the page that’s titled “Nearby Places” to see what they are for Wraysbury. The GenUKI site defaults to a 5-mile radius, which is a good starting point. Reviewing the results, you can see that while the very closest next parish is “Horton (near Slough), Buckinghamshire,” the two following parishes are in other counties – Old Windsor in Berkshire and Egham in Surrey. Following are another parish in Berkshire (New Windsor) and then a parish in Middlesex (Staines). All of these parishes included locations that were 3 miles or less from Wraysbury parish. This is overall good information to know for researching someone, as people who lived near the border with one or more other counties often left some records in at least one of the other counties or perhaps even moved around between the counties.

Luckily for our purposes, all of these counties are already on the Manorial Documents Register database. So let’s go back to the Manorial Documents Register. Because there are multiple counties with places named Horton, if you don’t specify Buckinghamshire when you do an Advanced Search, some irrelevant results will be returned. If you search for Horton, Buckinghamshire, you get results for two more manors:

BERKIN, Horton, Buckinghamshire (0)

HORTON, Horton, Buckinghamshire (3)

also known as – Horton with Colnbrook; Horton with Colnbrook, Eaton Guildables and Chalvey; Eaton Guildables; Chalvey

As you can see, Berkin Manor is listed though it has a “0” after its name. Clicking to view Berkin Manor’s entry, you see: “NO RECORDS KNOWN TO SURVIVE.” Horton Manor also has many fewer surviving records than either of the manors in Wraysbury parish, and when you click through to view the sub-results, you will see that the surviving record sets cover 1619 to 1737 (with big gaps). Whether there are no later records because the manor no longer existed or simply because no later records survive, I do not know at this point. According to the database, all three of Horton Manor’s surviving record sets are at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.

Next, let’s look up the next closest parish, Old Windsor in Berkshire. Because there was only one parish named Old Windsor, you don’t have to specify a county when you search the database. Like Wraysbury, Old Windsor’s results are divided into two manors with one a rectory:

WINDSOR RECTORY, OLD, Old Windsor, Berkshire (21)

also known as – Old Windsor Rectory; Rectory manor of Old and New Windsor

WINDSOR, OLD, Old Windsor, Berkshire (11)

also known as – Old Windsor

Old Windsor’s manors’ record set survival is also more similar to Wraysbury’s than to Horton’s. For Old Windsor Manor, the largest number of record sets are held at the National Archives, with record sets also at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, Berkshire Record Office, and Cambridge University’s Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. Record sets cover 1431 to 1900 with huge gaps. The most recent record set (covering 1840-1900 with gaps) is a file of evidence related to enfranchisement of copyhold land. If you are researching Old Windsor Manor, this tells you something without even having viewed the records themselves – copyhold land could be converted to freehold land by the Lord of the Manor, meaning that the copyhold tenant became freehold, and this record set implies that this was done over the course of the 19th century for some to all copyhold tenants at Old Windsor Manor. The Copyhold Act of 1852 had allowed copyhold tenants to demand that their copyhold become freehold, so this type of record became much more common as the 19th century progressed. For a basic overview of enfranchisement, see this page from the University of Nottingham.

The Old Windsor Rectory’s record sets are mostly held by Berkshire Record Office, with a small number held by the National Archives. Their record sets cover a tremendous period of time (with large gaps), from 1269 to after the manorial system was abolished, the final record set being papers related to “the extinguishment of manorial incidents” (1925-1933).

Let’s do one more parish in the Manorial Documents Register, the next nearest parish per the GenUKI site, Egham in Surrey. Searching for Egham via the Advanced Search, you get the highest number of results of any of the parishes we have searched:

ANKERWICK PURNISH, Egham, Surrey (2)

BROOMHALL, Egham, Surrey (41)

EGHAM, Egham, Surrey (43)

FOSTERS, Egham, Surrey (0)

also known as – Great Fosters

IMWORTH, Egham, Surrey (0)

also known as – Fosters

MILTON, Egham, Surrey (75)

also known as – Middleton

RUSHAM, Egham, Surrey (0)

also known as – Ruysshames

TROTTESWORTH, Egham, Surrey (1)

also known as – Trotsworth

As you can see, Egham had three manors where no records are known to exist, two with a very small number of surviving record sets (1 for Trottesworth Manor and 2 for Ankerwick Purnish Manor), and three that have a lot of extant record sets. Like Old Windsor Rectory, Broomhall Manor’s final extant record set is about the enfranchisement of copyhold land. And like Old Windsor Rectory’s final record set, Milton Manor’s final record set dates from after the abolishment of the manorial system – a “book of steward’s fees, with Ashford (Middlesex) 1926-1932” that is held by London Metropolitan Archives. It is also interesting and important to note that there appear to have been two different manors in Egham that were known by the name Fosters Manor; for one of them it appears to have been the primary name, whereas for the other it is listed in the alternate names field.

It is possible that someone who lived in Wraysbury held a tenancy at any of these nearby parishes’ manors. It is also possible that someone who lived at one of these nearby manors that has no known surviving records also had a tenancy at one or more of the manors where there are some, or even a good number of, surviving record sets.

Hopefully this post has given you an idea of a starting point for how to find English and Welsh manorial records and the wide variance in availability and current locations of extant records. Stay tuned for Part 2, wherein I will discuss how you can use manorial records in your research.

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Thus far I have used my “52 Ancestors” posts to highlight people about whom I already know a lot. This week I want to take a look at someone whose origins remain a mystery. Elizabeth Fletcher lived in Chemung County, New York, which was carved from Tioga County, New York. Her town of residence was similarly carved: Horseheads was originally considered a part of Elmira, then carved out from Elmira into its own town, and the small village (in New York it’s technically a “hamlet”) where they lived, Breesport, has always been a subset of Horseheads. So Elizabeth lived in a subset of a second subset of a town. The earliest event I have for Elizabeth is her marriage to Charles Pierson Brees/Breese on 28 Feb 1829 in Veteran, Tioga County, New York, performed by Justice of the Peace Nathaniel Smith. Like Elmira, Veteran was in the part of Tioga County that would subsequently become Chemung County; Veteran was on the northern edge of the area that would become Chemung County, and the town from which it had been formed in 1823, Catharine, would become part of Schuyler County when the new counties were formed from Tioga County. All of this shows how important it is to know precisely where someone lived – always in my opinion but most especially in any area where boundaries changed over time.

Elizabeth and Charles had six sons. I know her maiden name because of an enumerator who included more information than he was required to do, and I know their marriage date and location because their youngest son, Sylvester Fletcher Brees/Breese (usually known as Fletcher), enlisted in the 50th New York Engineers of the Union Army during the Civil War and died of disease at the hospital in City Point, Virginia, less than three months after enlisting. Fletcher was only 19 years old when he died. Elizabeth applied for a parent’s pension, for which parents who were financially dependent on a child who died serving in the Union Army during the war were eligible. As you may already know, most parents’ pensions were proved by the parent sending letters from their child in with the pension, where the child said, for example, that they were sending part of their Union Army pay back to the parent with the letter; the letters were never returned, even though it may have been the last letter the parent ever received from their dead child, and they remain in the pension files today, now held at NARA in Washington, D. C.

Elizabeth & Charles's household on the 1865 NY state census

Elizabeth and Charles’s household on the 1865 New York state census, followed by the household of their married son John. The enumerator for this part of Chemung County, New York, took the unusual step of listing the maiden names of married women. Also note that Fletcher is enumerated here though he was dead by this time; this was so that his Civil War service could be enumerated (see the other image in this post). From ED 01, p. 17, of the Chemung County, New York, state census; in the FamilySearch images, it is image 9 of 24. (Image courtesy of FamilySearch.)

Elizabeth presumably didn’t have letters from Fletcher – I’m not even sure if Fletcher knew how to write – as she took the more unusual tack of soliciting testimony from neighbors and others, which were given as affidavits and are in her file. The testimony paints a dire picture of Elizabeth and Charles’s life on the margins of society. Charles had trained as a blacksmith, like his father before him, and Elizabeth and Charles lived on a very small farm. According to testimony, Charles’s physical and mental health problems had made it increasingly difficult for him to practice his smithing trade, and the tiny farm was on marginal land that barely produced enough to minimally feed the couple. Elizabeth’s testimony says she “has also been obligated to provide for the support of the father (i.e. her husband) ever since the enlistment of said Sylvester…” Unfortunately her testimony does not provide specifics on how she did this. Elizabeth’s and her neighbors’ testimony says that Fletcher had started working as a farm hand on other farms when he was about twelve years old and had used the money to support his parents before enlisting. Whether we as historians can believe testimony is always a question; even in modern courts some people believe testimony they hear “live” and others don’t. What I can say for sure is that the Pension Bureau believed the testimony, because Elizabeth was awarded a parents’ pension.

Civil War service of men living in ED01 of Chemung County, New York

Like many state censuses taken in Union states during the Civil War, enumerators in New York were asked to collect information on the service of people in their district for the 1865 New York state census. This is one of two blanks for reports of service of those in this part of the enumeration, and as instructed, the enumerator included information on which people were taken prisoner and/or had died. Sylvester and Corydon are the second and third people listed here. The listing for Sylvester says he died of Malaria Fever, which is different than what his Compiled Military Service Record says. The listing for Corydon reports his experience as a prisoner of war; Corydon was still serving at the time of the enumeration. (Image courtesy of FamilySearch.)

The pension file story doesn’t end there, though. Elizabeth died in 1876 and Charles, widowed and living alone, applied for a parent’s pension of his own. For his application to be approved, he had to prove his relationships – that he was married to Elizabeth and the father of the child through which Elizabeth had drawn a pension. That’s where Elizabeth’s marriage details show up in the pension file – not in her own application, but in her widower Charles’s. His testimony also includes that he had a “family Record” which was “in the hand writing of Elizabeth Brees wife of deponent and mother of said soldier who died,” and the Notary Public copied information about Sylvester from this record to send to the Pension Bureau. The current whereabouts of this family record, if it exists at all, are unknown.

Charles’s application also provides the detail that they had been married by Justice of the Peace Nathaniel Smith and that as far as they knew, there was no written record of the marriage. Nathaniel Smith had moved away long ago, and Charles had attempted to locate his whereabouts. The pension file includes an affidavit from someone who knew Elizabeth, Charles, and Nathaniel and who reported that Nathaniel had “removed from the said town of Veteran according to deponent best recollection about the year 1840 to one of the Western States (Illinois),” and that Nathaniel had died many years prior to Charles’s application. So Charles got someone else to give testimony that she had attended Elizabeth and Charles’s wedding. I always like when an application for something like a pension hits a snafu, as it generates additional records which provide additional details.

Most records list Elizabeth’s birth location as “Vermont” if they list it at all; at least one adult child lists her birth place as Montpelier, Vermont, on a record. However, so far I have not found Elizabeth in Montpelier or elsewhere in Vermont, and her birth family remains a mystery.

The information in this post illustrates very well how researching American women in the past generally primarily involves researching records regarding the men in their lives – such as their fathers and brothers, and their husband(s) and/or son(s) if they were married and/or had children. Most of what I know about Elizabeth comes from records generated by the actions of her youngest son and her husband/widower. This is not to suggest that Elizabeth was a passive participant in circumstance, simply that, for example, she applied for a pension because Fletcher made the ultimate sacrifice of his life; without his actions, she would not have been able to apply and there would be no pension file. However, it was Elizabeth’s choice to apply, and given that it was more difficult for an application to be successful without written letters from the financially supportive son, the fact that her pension was approved says something about Elizabeth’s application and the perceived credibility of Elizabeth and of the witnesses she chose to speak on her behalf.

The children of Elizabeth and Charles Brees/Breese:

  1. Erasmus Darwin (1831-1914) [went by Darwin], m. Amanda ___
  2. John P. (1833-1907), m. Harriet [Dean?]
  3. Charles F. (1836-1887), m. Sarah ___
  4. William Henry (1839-1855)
  5. Corydon (1841-1938), m. 1st Ann Tanner, m. 2nd Elizabeth (___) Daugherty
  6. Sylvester Fletcher (1845-1864)

Elizabeth and Charles are buried at Breesport Baptist Church Cemetery in Breesport, Chemung County, New York, but some of their family is buried at Hilltop Cemetery, also in Breesport, New York.

Further Research

  • A document compiled by Pension Bureau staff says that Elizabeth had recently purchased a small lot with money left to her by a deceased brother. Unfortunately it does not list the brother’s name nor where he had lived. So far the probate in question has not been located, but the search continues.
  • Evidence garnered to date suggests that Elizabeth’s husband Charles’s family moved from New Jersey directly to the Horseheads area. Thus, their marriage in Veteran could have been due to Elizabeth’s ties to the town rather than Charles’s, since as far as I have been able to determine so far, Charles does not appear to have had any connections to Veteran at the time. There were three Fletcher households enumerated in Tioga County on the 1820 U. S. federal census, though none were enumerated in Catharine. Since Elizabeth did not marry until 1829 in Veteran, it is quite possible that she and/or one or more relatives moved to the area after the 1820 census. So far nothing conclusive has been found, but research is continuing. However, Nathaniel Smith, who married them, lived in Veteran according to the pension file, so that could have been the reason they married there.
  • Regardless of the above, Elizabeth must have moved to Chemung County for some reason, and investigations into possible family connections to the area continue.
  • Presuming Elizabeth correctly self-reported a birth place of Vermont, investigation into what would have made someone go from Vermont to southern New York – whether she did so as a child with her family or a young woman on her own – may provide clues to her family and/or exactly where in Vermont she would have been most likely to have originated.
  • Hope remains that someday the family record mentioned in the testimony will surface intact.



My 2011 post “Civil War court martials” is about Elizabeth and Charles’s son Corydon, though I didn’t mention him by name in the post.

Another researcher has listed at various sites online that Fletcher died at Gettysburg. Not only did he die over a year after the Battle of Gettysburg, but he hadn’t even enlisted yet when the 50th NY Engineers were at the Battle of Gettysburg, completely refuting any possible argument that he belatedly died of injuries sustained at Gettysburg. Please check original sources yourself whenever they are extant – don’t take anyone’s word for anything!

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There has been much to-do recently in the genealogical community over Ancestry.com’s decision to do away with what they call “old search,” the search system they used to use. Ancestry’s claim that only 2% of users utilize old search today may have been the most incensing comment. In talking with a number of experienced genealogists locally, I have determined via self-reporting that most of them gave up on old search mostly or totally because they found it really difficult to keep track of how to find it on Ancestry, since the link kept being moved on the site; a number of them weren’t even sure how to reach it now.

As a genealogist and historian, when it comes to websites and other archives, I am interested in practical results: How easy is it to find what I want, even if I’m unaware that it’s what I want when I start? If it’s not easy, is it worth the trouble to locate it? And is there something there that I’d be unlikely or impossible to ever find due to something to do with the site/repository/etc. rather than due to my own research methods?

Recently I have been researching someone named Zenas Clement. This name appears to have been unique in Ancestry’s 19th century U.S. records, so Zenas seems to be a good test case. I have used a variety of strategies with both old and new search to test the results.

When I started researching him, I started out working backwards from cemetery records, so I knew his death date and place and approximate age, and that he was quite likely related to the people with the same surname in the same cemetery plot. The typed cemetery records spelled his name “Zenos,” which seems to come from an understandable, though apparently inaccurate, reading of the handwritten “Zenas,” which really does look like the “a” could be an “o.” It didn’t take long to determine that he was the husband and father of some of the other people buried in the plot.

The nag notice Ancestry now frequently puts up when you’re searching and get few to no hits that it considers to be good ones has annoyed me since they introduced it, as in my opinion it quite erroneously implies that the more information you put into a database, the more likely you are to obtain results that are “your person.” In reality, putting in a lot of information can trick a database into missing relevant results because the hits aren’t a good match for the large amount of information you entered. My test case with Zenas illustrated this well.

When I included Zenas’s approximate birth date, death date and location, wife, children, and known residences – which new search defaults to doing if you hit “Search” from a profile page in an Ancestry tree – some of the top hits were for people who happened to have the surname Clement and matched one or two of my other parameters. For example, I got an 1880 U.S. federal census result for Moses Clement, who had a wife Sarah H. Clement (not Zenas’s wife’s name) and a daughter  Sarah J. (Zenas had a daughter named Sally J.), who was born approximately five years later than Zenas, in a state that neighbors the state Zenas was born in, and lived in a state (though not a county, much less a town) where Zenas had lived prior to 1880. I get another top hit on the 1880 U.S. federal census for a David Clement.

It takes less than the first page of results to reach the blue box where Ancestry says that results below the box are much less likely to be “your ancestor” (apparently Ancestry assumes no one will be researching anyone but their direct lines). A number of the top hits below the box are for a Zenas Clement, so I have absolutely no idea why two people with the wrong name are above the blue box while some exact matches on the name are below it.

But some of the other below-the-blue-box results on the first screen of hits are completely inexplicable to me. For example, one is a web-results hit for a mention of a Montagna Michael Clement in an offsite North Carolina birth index; Montagna appears to be the parent of the infant, which at least explains why I got a result for an index that doesn’t start till 1865 (64 years after Zenas’s estimated birth), but literally the only reason this seems to turn up is because the father and mother have the same surnames as Zenas’s surname and his wife’s maiden surname. They don’t have a child with the name of the child in the index result, and I gave the database nothing to suggest they ever lived in North Carolina.

The second page of results returns one exact match for Zenas Clement’s name and a ton more irrelevant hits that happen to have the surname Clement.  The next few pages similarly contain mostly people that happen to have the same surname, as well as a few hits where the first name is Clement and a couple hits where there are no name matches and it is not apparent why they are coming up. There are no matches for Zenas. By the 6th page of results there are still no more matches for Zenas, and the number of “no apparent reason why this hit is coming up” have started to increase.

All in all, inputting as much as I know and can input into Ancestry’s new search turns up 15 results for Zenas in the first 6 pages, 9 of which are above the blue box, and 14 of which are on the first page. I suspect after 4 full pages with no so-much-as-plausible results at all, most searchers would simply move on to a new search (be it a different search for Zenas or a search for a different person).

Approaching new search a different way – using the drop-down menu to go to the main search dialog box and only entering Zenas Clement’s name and approximate birth date – returns very different results, despite it being the kind of search that Ancestry emphatically tries to dissuade people from doing in its automated messages. Indeed, when I do this search, a blue box appears above my very first result nagging me:

A little more information will give you better results. Try adding a state, province or country in “Lived In (Residence)” Try adding a birth or death date; even a guess might help.  You can press ‘r’ to refine your search, or ‘n’ to start a new one. Check out Getting the most out of new search for more tips and tricks.

This is particularly annoying to me, not only because I did include a birth date (I’ve sometimes gotten this nag box at the very top of my results even when I provided detailed information), but also because scrolling down past the nag screen I immediately see that this search, without providing detailed information, has given me much better search results than my previous search, including several items that are immediately obviously about Zenas but didn’t turn up in the entire first six pages of the other search!

There is only one result on the first page that seems puzzling given what I inputted, but clicking through to read the user-submitted “story,” it turns out that Zenas is mentioned in the text of a story that has been attached to someone unrelated who happened to be living in the same town at the same time. There is only one result on the first page that doesn’t directly pertain to this Zenas Clement, but the results match what I have inputted – a Z. Clement, born in approximately 1800, enumerated in Louisiana on the 1860 U.S. federal slave schedule. Since I did not give any location where Zenas had lived, it is a perfectly reasonable result that matches the information I gave in my search.

Clicking through to the second page of results, the upper hits on the page also match Zenas, and then there are a few Optimal Character Recognition (OCR) results where the word “Zenas” and the word “Clement” appear near each other on the page but aren’t actually a match – and then suddenly it drops to what happened on the very first page in the previous search – a whole heap of results for people who have the surname Clement but not the given name Zenas.

The third through sixth pages consist completely of the latter type of result, and again, at that point I think most people would simply give up on a search (either on Zenas altogether or on their current search strategy). This search strategy returned 30 hits that matched Zenas Clement, all in the top 2 pages, and most of the non-relevant hits in the top 2 pages were understandable given the search parameters.

Next up, I did the same low-info search on “old search,” which you can reach by going to the “Search All Records” option in the drop-down “Search” menu and then clicking on the tiny link to old search in the upper right of the page. The top 14 hits are all for Zenas Clement. Then they take a very different turn – by returning some Massachusetts results for a Zenas Coleman. There are 5 results for this Zenas Coleman, followed by the Z. Clement who was on the 1860 federal slave schedule in Louisiana. “Clement” to “Coleman” is not a big leap when recording from hearing, so I can understand why the “Coleman” results turned up, and if I were researching a name that was frequently misheard, I would likely be appreciative of the implication to consider searching for the surname Coleman as well.

Page 2 immediately returns to hits for Zenas Clement, starting with some of the same hits that turned up in the low-information-inputted new search but were completely overlooked by the high-information-inputted new search. The first 12 are for  Zenas Clement, and then the path follows a similar one as to the low-information new search – there are some OCR hits where the words “Zenas” and “Clement” are near each other, and then the hits for other people with the surname Clement begin. There are no more hits for any Zenas Clement through page 6 of results. Since a low-info old search defaults to not including “Stories & Publications,” that probably explains why the two newspaper results that did not turn up in the high-info-inputted new search but did turn up in the low-info-inputted new search are not turning up in old search.

Indeed, clicking on the tab for “Stories & Publications” results, the member story that turned up in the low-info new search is the top hit, and the third and fourth hits are the same newspaper stories as in the low-info new search. There are also a good number of other hits for Zenas Clement in the first page; all but the two user-submitted stories list the name Zenas Clement in the results column. The “publications” in the results include a number of scanned local history books, and one includes an entry about Zenas’s wife’s family that provides her maiden name. Of course if someone found this in an initial search it would need to be backed up with other research, but for a researcher doing a skeleton sketch of the family as their starting point in research, it would provide a possible maiden name – as well as her (supposed) parents’ and siblings’ names and the names of her adult siblings’ spouses, her mother’s maiden name, and her mother’s second husband’s and parents’ names – as a significant starting point in their research.

The first page of old-search “Stories & Publications” results provides 17 more results for “my” Zenas, as well as two OCR matches where Zenas and Clement are near each other, and one private member story for someone who lived in England in the 17th century (since I cannot see the private member story, I cannot tell whether the name Zenas Clement is in it, though with the significant time difference I am unclear on why it turned up as the second hit anyway).

These hits provided a lot more color for Zenas’s biography than the hits that turned up in the “Historical Records” search on old search, and almost none of them turned up in the first six pages of results on new search – only 1 in the high-info new search, and only 3 in the low-info new search. Through them I discovered such things as that Zenas was on a temperance committee, was a member of the state legislature for at least one session, and was a member of a state militia. Of course these local histories need to be backed up, if possible, with further research, and cited as the only known source if one is unable to find further records supporting the claims, but they provide a starting point for knowing what other records to seek.

The lowest relevant hit on the first page of “Stories & Publications” was to a fairly lengthy biography of Zenas’s son that mentioned Zenas as his father, and would allow the researcher who was working forward in time instead of backward to figure out where Zenas’s son had moved and what had happened to him. The second page of results in “Stories & Publications” is a mix of relevant and irrelevant hits, and it would behoove the intrepid research to look through all the hits on the second page and to keep going through further pages of results.

The “Historical Records” section of the low-info old search yielded 26 results for Zenas Clement in the first six pages, and the “Stories & Publications” section of the low-info old search yielded 17 results for Zenas Clement on the first page and 3 more on the second page, after which I stopped searching for the time being due to having to click through to each page to view OCR results on old search. All in all, that’s a total of 46 relevant results in just 8 pages of results.

Lastly, I tried a high-info-inputted old search. Interestingly, old search does not allow a space to input children; you’d have to do it as a keyword search. So I inputted his name and approximate birth date (same as the low-info searches in both old and new search) as well as his birth state, his wife’s maiden name, his residence in the two states where I’m sure he lived, and his death information. The top four hits are for the 1850 through 1880 U.S. federal censuses (not in chronological order) and the next two hits are both for the marriage of a James Carpenter and a Catherine G. Clement in 1852 in Boston. Nowhere did I say that the family had ever lived in Massachusetts, and I have no idea why Ancestry returned a result with Zenas’s wife Catharine’s married name as the fifth and sixth hits in a search for Zenas, not a search for Catharine. The seventh result is one of the same “shaking leaf” hints that Ancestry had offered me – an American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI) entry for Zenas Clement:

Name:     Zenas Clement

Birth Date:     1810

Birthplace:     New Hampshire

Volume:     30

Page Number:     296

Reference:     Gen. Column of the ” Boston Transcript”. 1906-1941.( The greatest single source of material for gen. Data for the N.E. area and for the period 1600-1800. Completely indexed in the Index.): 12 Jun 1918, 6966

Even given my fairly generous -/+ 5 years choice for the birth date in my search, 1810 is outside of this range, and while I included New Hampshire as one of his residences, I did not list it as his birth state. Any information is only as good as its source, and presuming this is the same Zenas Clement, whomever gave this information to the Boston Transcript provided both an incorrect birth year and an incorrect birth state.

The next hit is – incredibly inexplicably to me – for the marriage of a William Brown to a Catherine Jennison in Massachusetts – except for Zenas’s wife Catharine’s given name (spelled differently), neither the names nor the location matches anything I inputted. The rest of the page is a mix of results for Zenas and irrelevant results, most of which only match a state of residence and/or a surname, and another of which doesn’t match anything I searched for.

Page 2 provides the same mix of relevant and irrelevant results, and by page 3 I’m at the same point I was after inputting a lot in new search – people who have the surname Clement but are otherwise irrelevant. I even recognize a number of the same names/locations from the similar search in new search. To match the high-info new search, I scrolled through the rest of the first six pages; no further results for Zenas occurred. I got 17 relevant results, none of which included the newspapers or local histories that by now I knew Zenas was listed in on Ancestry. To do a high-information-inputted search in the old search, you have to switch to “Advanced Search,” which causes you to lose the ability to choose between tabs at the top of your search results, so I no longer got to switch from “Historical Records” results to “Stories & Publications” results.

To recap my results:

  • High-information-inputted “new search”: 15 results for the correct Zenas Clement in the first six pages
  • Low-information-inputted “new search”: 30 results for the correct Zenas Clement in the first six pages
  • Low-information-inputted “old search”: 26 results for the correct Zenas Clement in the first six pages of “Historical Records,” plus 20 more in the first two pages once switching to the tab “Stories & Publications,” for a total of 46 results
  • High-information-inputted “old search”: 17 results for the correct Zenas Clement in the first six pages

To sum up my test cases:

Using old search garnered more results early in my search results than using new search.

Starting with a low-information-inputted search garnered more results early in my search results than immediately starting with inputting a lot of information, regardless of whether I was using old search or new search. As FamilySearch advises in their own dialogue boxes, if starting with a a low-information search returns too many irrelevant results, you can always start adding more information till you start getting pertinent ones.

Note Heather Rojo has compiled a list of recent blog posts about old vs. new search on Ancestry, along with some older posts and articles on the subject, at “Flash Blog Mob” about Ancestry.

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If you haven’t already, please first read “Connecting the dots: Charles Evans (Part 1).”

Did Charles Evans have two families?

Charles Evans seemingly disappeared from England after the 1851 census and seemingly reappeared in England on the 1871 census, newly with a wife named Catherine and a son named William. In 1871 William was reportedly age 8 & born in Scotland. Since searches of the 1861 England & Wales census had gone nowhere, a search was conducted of the 1861 Scotland census. Evans may be a very common surname in Wales and a relatively common one in England, but it is an uncommon surname in Scotland, and there were very few Charles Evanses of any age listed in the index to the 1861 Scotland census.

A Charles Evans in Scotland

A Charles Evans was located in the district ScotlandsPeople calls “Shipping” and I used some of my credits to purchase the scan of the census page. Rather unusually for Scotland censuses of the time period, Charles Evans’s exact birth place in England is listed – “Devon Hartland.” Charles Evans is listed as married, age 32, and an “A.B.” (which stands for Able-Bodied Seaman). The enumeration page doesn’t list any details at all at the top, but thanks to a tip from Kirsty of The Professional Descendant, a search for the citation on Ancestry yielded an enumeration district of “Hogue” in Greenock, Renfrewshire. I developed the theory that the enumeration district was the name of a ship. It took much less time than I expected to discover that a ship named H.M.S. Hogue was serving as a Coast Guard ship out of Greenock at the time, according to this site. This is the only Charles Evans who was indexed as being within 2 years of “my” Charles’s estimated age; the next closest one was listed as 5 years younger than “my” Charles.

A search for births of children named William Evans in Scotland similarly yielded a small number in the entire country. One of them was indexed as having been born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, in 1862, and I used some of my ScotlandsPeople credits to purchase the record, which turned out to be a wise purchase. The birth record for William John Evans listed his father as Charles Evans who was serving on the Hogue, but any hopes of discovering Catherine’s maiden name and confirming this was the same family were shattered. Rather, William’s mother was listed with the maiden name of Susan Stokes. Scottish birth records handily also list a marriage place and date, and Charles, who reported the birth, listed their marriage date as 23 December 1859 and the place as “South M__ Middlesex,” the __ being difficult to read on the scan. William John Evans’s exact birth date was listed as 1 September 1862 at 3 a.m.

A search of “Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950” on FamilySearch did not turn up any further births of an Evans child to a Stokes mother in Scotland. This index-only database allows for searching by the maiden name of the mother in the mid- to late 1800’s, which ScotlandsPeople’s site does not.

A Charles Evans in Middlesex

Using the information from William’s birth record, a banns record was located for Charles Evans and Susannah (not Susan) Stokes in the London Metropolitan Archives records that have been scanned onto Ancestry, their banns taking place in January 1860 at St. Giles in South Mimms, Middlesex. They subsequently married at St. Giles in South Mimms on 23 March 1860, exactly three months after the marriage date that Charles listed on William’s birth record. This initially puzzled me, as William wasn’t born until over 2 years later, so why lie?

A possible answer was quickly discovered. On the 1861 census, Susannah was not in Scotland but in the parish of South Mimms, living with her brother Andrew Stokes’s family and with a 1-year-old child named Charles Evans. Susannah’s age was listed as 36. Susannah had no occupation listed, not even a reference to her husband’s occupation, though the latter was included on English censuses for many other women who had husbands working away from home and no paid job of their own. Susannah and Andrew’s widowed mother Ann Stokes was living next door with John and William Stokes, sons who reportedly had never married.

Younger Charles Evans’s baptism record, at Christ Church in Barnet, lists his name as Charles Evens Evans (that’s not a typo) and his parents as Charles and Susannah Evans; the baptism occurred on 29 April 1860, a day that two other baptisms also occurred at the church. FreeBMD has an index of the birth of a Charles Evans Evans (also not a typo) in the 1st Quarter of 1860 in Barnet Registration District, which includes both Barnet and South Mimms; the certificate has not been reviewed.

It seems that perhaps marrying a bit longer before the birth of his apparent first child (or possibly “before at all”) was more acceptable to the elder Charles, though apparently only enough to lie about it to others, not to do it. It is particularly interesting to note that the banns took place two months before the marriage. A fellow researcher believes that some men wanted to wait to see whether their pregnant and betrothed girlfriend was very likely to carry the fetus to term as a living infant before going through with the marriage. It seems that the Charles Evans/Susannah Stokes marriage could be used as an example of that researcher’s theory, regardless of whether that is a correct interpretation of Charles’s behavior.

“You’re the best he’s had, you’re the best so far

All the way to the church from the back of a car.”

The Beautiful South

Susannah on Her Own

In 1871 Susannah, age 37, listed as married and still listed with the surname “Evans,” was living with her widowed mother Ann Stokes, age 76, and (only) a third child, Sarah Ann Evans, age 4, in South Mimms at a “Brewers Company Almshouse,” of which Ann is described as an “Inmate.” This almshouse seems to have been exclusively for widows, as everyone listed as an inmate of it in 1871 was also listed as a widow. By this point Susannah is listed with a paid job as a dressmaker. It took little time to determine that by “Brewers Company,” the enumerator meant the Brewers’ Livery Company of the City of London, which had run almshouses at South Mimms since 1686. Ann Stokes’s exact connection to the Brewers’ Livery Company is unknown so far.

Sarah Ann’s baptism was not until 11 September 1876, but the baptism record lists a birth date of 13 March 1867, consistent with Sarah Ann’s 1871 census enumeration. Listed as Sarah Anne Evans on the baptism record, her parents are listed as Charles and Susannah Evans, but it is the only baptism in the surrounding 4 pages of 1876-1877 baptisms at St. Giles where the father’s profession is left blank. There was no space provided for listing the mother’s profession.

Had Susannah and her husband Charles split up by this point? Was Susannah supporting herself and her daughter on her own? Was Charles’s profession blank on Sarah Ann’s baptism because Susannah now did not know for sure what it was?

Is this Charles the same Charles Evans who in 1871 was reportedly married to Catherine Evans and was living with a William Evans who was described as a son, 8 years old, and born in Scotland? The William John Evans who was born in Greenock in September 1862 would have been 8 years old when the census was taken in April 1871. But just because it could be the same William, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is. In 1871 this Evans family was living in Mile End Old Town; while it was near the other end of Middlesex from South Mimms, it was within the same county.

No matching Charles Evans has been found on the 1871 Scotland census.

More Questions Than Answers

So far, the 1876 baptism record of Sarah Ann Evans is the most recent record located that lists Susannah (Stokes) Evans. It is possible that Susannah shortly remarried or died. A search by birth place of the 1881-1901 censuses on FindMyPast did not reveal any Susanna(h)/Susan Evans who reported her birth place as South Mimms (or variant spellings) nor Potters Bar (the parish next to South Mimms, Potters Bar had been part of the parish of South Mimms when Susannah was born and was where Susannah generally stated on censuses that she had been born). The search did locate a few women named Susanna(h)/Susan who were living in various places around the UK and were married to other men. While almost all of the households had children who were born before Susannah would have remarried, without having done further research tracking the other families back in time, I must keep in mind that it is possible that they were the wife’s stepchildren.

There is no definitive indication of what happened to Susannah and Charles’s first child, Charles, after his 1861 enumeration, though he may be the Charles Evans who is indexed as having died in South Mimms’s registration district, Barnet, in the 1st Quarter of 1864; the certificate has not been reviewed. A burial record was found in the St. John the Baptist in Potters Bar burial records for a Charles Evans who died at age 4 and was buried on 27 Mar 1864; while this is consistent with what is known so far about Charles Evans Evans, nothing in the record clearly identifies this Charles as Charles Evans Evans. This is the only Evans burial that matches this family in the digitized burial records from St. John the Baptist in Potters Bar and from St. Giles in South Mimms.

While a separate parish named Potters Bar was created in 1835, St. John the Baptist was a part of South Mimms parish even though it was called St. John the Baptist at Potters Bar. Similarly, the Stokes family seems to have lived in the section of Potters Bar that remained part of South Mimms parish when Potters Bar parish was spun off, as the family’s records usually refer to the children as born in Potters Bar, the 1841 census says they are living in Potters Bar in South Mimms parish, and the family primarily used St. John the Baptist after it was opened in 1835 as the second church in South Mimms parish. This map shows South Mimms parish in 1842, when Susannah would have been about 9 years old, and includes part of Potters Bar near the upper right edge of South Mimms. The railway came to the area in 1850, with a station opening at Potters Bar/South Mimms, and apparently drastically changed the area. There is more on the Potters Bar and South Mimms area at Potters Bar History Online, where I found the linked map and station photo.

To date there is also no indication of what happened to Sarah Ann Evans after her 1876 baptism. An initial census search for a Sarah Ann Evans or Sarah Evans who was born in South Mimms or Potters Bar did not return any good hits past the 1871 census. This isn’t conclusive that she died; for example, if Susannah (Stokes) Evans remarried, Sarah Ann could be enumerated under her stepfather’s surname. There are also no indexed deaths of a Sarah Evans or Sarah Ann(e) Evans dying in Barnet Registration District between 3rd Quarter 1876 and 2nd Quarter 1881, though this could just mean she wasn’t properly indexed (misindexed or not indexed at all) or that she died elsewhere.

Leads on Charles Evans

The records tell more than what I have revealed so far.

The 1860 records indicate that the Charles Evans who married Susannah Stokes and had a child Charles Evans Evans with her was living in South Mimms at the Militia Barracks there, working as a “Sarjeant Middlesex Rifles” (marriage record)/”Staff Sergeant of Militia” (baptism record). South Mimms was in the corner of Middlesex on the Middlesex/Hertfortshire border and was already occasionally listed on records as being in Hertfordshire, which it would later officially become. The younger Charles’s baptism record says that the family was living on New Road in Barnet at the time of the baptism, but since this was only about a month after the marriage record that listed both adults as living in South Mimms, it is unclear whether this is correct. It is possible that the family had the child baptized in a different church than where they were married so that they would be interacting with a Curate that didn’t know they had married around the time of their child’s birth, and consequently they may have deliberately lied about their residence.

Unfortunately the banns and marriage records only list Charles and Susannah as of full age. However, the marriage record, which correctly (based primarily on censuses so far) lists Susannah Stokes’s father as Andrew Stokes, Wheelwright, lists Charles Evans’s father as John Evans, Pensioner. This fits with the large amount of known information on “my” Charles’s father, but since John Evans is such a common name overall in the UK, it could simply be a coincidence. To date, the only record that definitively ties Charles and Susannah together and lists an age for Charles is the 1861 Scotland census, which lists his age as 32. This age is most consistent with the stated age of the Charles Evans who was discharged from the Army in (probably) September 1850 at a stated age of 22. This does not necessarily mean that it is the same Charles Evans, nor that it rules out the possibility of a deliberately or mistakenly given incorrect age on any record. If it is the same Charles Evans who enlisted in the Army, it could even be that the military already had an incorrect age from his previous service and simply continued using it.

A Search for Military Records

A search of digitized militia records has so far not revealed a Charles Evans serving in that area at that time, although the search is ongoing, as a thorough review of the files necessitates going through each one page-by-page to confirm that the indexing is accurate and the file holds no additional information that might confirm or discount that it is the correct Charles Evans. Based on Charles Evans showing up on the 1861 census serving in the Coast Guard, he appears to have transferred to the Coast Guard before the 1861 Army Census, but I searched the Army Census as well to be thorough, and did not find any matching Charles Evanses.

In My Ancestor Was in the British Army, Watts and Watts help explain why I have had so little success so far, such as: “It must be noted, however, that much material relating to the militia was never collected centrally and should be sought in County Record Offices and private collections.” According to them, so far no full book has been published on militia records, though they believe the subject deserves one. Through reading on the National Archives site and other websites I grasped that: 1) the militia consisted of volunteers by the time that Charles Evans the Sergeant or Staff Sergeant was serving in it; 2) the militia was generally a part-time job; 3) the militia group known from 1794-1813 as “the Volunteers” was, to quote the National Archives site, “revived as the Rifle Volunteers in 1859.” This fits perfectly with Charles Evans being listed as in the Middlesex Rifles in 1860. If the two Charles Evanses are one, the typical part-time nature of the work could help explain how Charles would have had the time to pick up the trade of tailoring.

While Coast Guard files are digitized as part of the Royal Navy files on the National Archives site, when I didn’t find any matching Charles Evanses nor any matching people from Hartland in the indexed files, I reviewed the section on possible reasons why the person one is seeking may not be indexed even if they did serve in the Royal Navy, and determined that people who were serving as early as Charles seem to only be included in the digitized but unindexed register, not the indexed files. I downloaded the Coast Guard register, but it is 202 pages of handwritten lists of names that aren’t indexed and aren’t listed chronologically by enlistment date nor alphabetically by name, so searching it has been extremely slow going. The only relevant things I have managed to determine so far are that people from the time period Charles enlisted and people who enlisted directly onto the HMS Hogue are both included in the register. Unfortunately the register only lists the name of the first ship onto which the person enlisted, so if Charles initially enlisted onto a different ship, scanning for the word Hogue wouldn’t help locate him. So far I have failed to find him in it. If I do locate him, it would give me the number through which his Coast Guard file could be located.

How Many Charles Evans from Hartland Are There?

So far it seems reasonably clear that a single Charles Evans reportedly was in the militia in Middlesex (apparently in the one known as the Middlesex Rifles, though googling that gets one, um, interesting results) and married Susannah Stokes in South Mimms and had at least two children – Charles Evans Evans and William John Evans – and probably a third, Sarah Ann Evans. Because of William John Evans’s birth record, it also seems reasonably clear that this same Charles Evans transferred from the militia in Middlesex to the Coast Guard and was stationed up in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, by April 1861, and that Susannah went up to Greenock to give birth in 1862. Something happened to Charles Evans Evans between 1861 and 1871, but while it was most likely death, that is not clear. William John Evans was not enumerated as living with Susannah (Stokes) Evans in 1871, but whether he had died or was living elsewhere, perhaps with his father, is also unclear.

Susannah was listed as married in 1871 but also still as an “Evans,” suggesting that she was still married to Charles Evans and likely at a minimum believed her husband was still alive, but whether he really was alive and where he was, if so, is not clear from the census. There is a Susannah Evans indexed in Barnet Registration District as dying in the 2nd Quarter of 1877 at age 43, which is consistent with what is known to date about Susannah (Stokes) Evans, though the certificate has not been reviewed. This is the only indexed death for a Susanna(h) Evans at any time in Barnet Registration District, although Susannah (Stokes) Evans could have remarried and/or could have died in another registration district.

As mentioned, William John Evans could be the William Evans living with Charles and Catherine Evans in Mile End Old Town in 1871, but that is not clear. There is a William Evans, 18, b. Scotland, living in Hertfordshire on the 1881 census (when William Evans is not living with Charles and Catherine); he is boarding with a family and listed as being in the Militia. So far no militia record has been located for a William Evans that even roughly matches the census information, so it is unclear whether this 1881 William Evans has any relationship to any of these other Evanses. To date no marriage record has been located for Charles and Catherine (___) Evans in England & Wales or in Scotland. While at this point it seems possible that they did not officially marry, that is far from definitive. Even if they did not officially marry, that does not necessarily mean that “Charles Evans the common-law husband of Catherine ___ and apparent father of William Evans” is the same person as “Charles Evans the husband of Susannah Stokes and father of Charles Evans Evans, William John Evans, and probably Sarah Ann Evans.”

And one overarching question lingers: If this isn’t the same Charles Evans, then where was “my” Charles Evans from 1851 to 1871?

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

[genealogical saying]

Major Additional Steps Taken So Far

  1. Contacted someone researching the Stokes family and Susannah’s Charles (no response yet)
  2. Searched digitized newspapers without success
  3. Traced some, but not all, of the Stokes family members looking for further clues to Susannah and Charles and their children, since Susannah and (at least some of) the children seem to have spent most of their time living with her biological family rather than with her husband

Planned Next Steps

  1. Continue searching for/through military records from afar
  2. Order more certificates from England
  3. Continue tracing Stokes family members looking for clues to what happened to the Evans family
  4. Attempt to determine connection to unidentified marriage witness (one witness was Hannah Stokes, probably Susannah’s brother Andrew’s wife; the connection, if any, of the other witness to the couple is unknown)



Due to a small but significant editing error on my part, when I initially published “Connecting the dots: Charles Evans (Part 1),” one bullet point was missing a “not.” While I corrected my error in my post when I realized it, I am also noting it here for anyone who may have read that post before the correction. The bullet point should have read, “In these census searches it was also noted that there did not appear to be any other Charles Evanses living in England & Wales who reported a similar age and a birth place of Hartland” (with emphasis on the “not” added here for clarity).

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A child, likely an infant, named Charles Evans was baptized in the parish church in Hartland, Devon, England, on 15 October 1826, his parents listed as John and Ann Evans. What happened to Charles?

Here are some possibilities:

  1. In 1845 a Charles Evans, who reported his birthplace as Hartland and his age as 16 years and 10 months, enlisted in the Army in Monmouthshire. He was discharged in 1850 due to health issues. His file is now in the Chelsea pensioners record set.
  2. In 1851 a Charles Evans, age 24, “Chelsea pensioner & Keeps a Night School,” is living with John K. Evans, Ann Evans, and Grenville Wakely in Hartland, Devon, England. Everyone in the household was reportedly born in Hartland.
  3. In 1871 a Charles and Catherine Evans, listed as a married couple, are living with William Evans, age 8, in Mile End Old Town, London. Charles is listed as age 44 and a “Military Tailor,” and Catherine as age 54 and with no occupation listed. William’s relationship to head-of-household is described as “Son.” Charles is listed as b. Hartland, Catherine as b. Bideford, Devon, England, and William as b. Scotland.
  4. In 1881 a Charles and Catherine Evans, listed as a married couple, are living in Islington, London. There is no son William but there is a boarder, Henry Ratcliffe. Charles is listed as age 54, born Hartland, and Catherine probably as age 64 (a mark over her age makes it difficult to read), born Bideford. Charles is listed as a “Tailor” and Catherine has no occupation listed.
  5. In 1891 a Charles and Catherine Evans, listed as a married couple, are living at 1A Geneva Place in Bideford, Devon. Charles is listed as age 64, b. Hartland, “Tailor,” and Catherine as age 76, b. Bideford, no occupation listed. They have two lodgers, George Cheveroll(?) and Catherine Hobbs.
  6. According to the FreeBMD index, a Charles Evans died in Bideford Registration District in the 1st Quarter of 1896 at age 69, and a Catherine Evans died in Bideford Registration District in the 2nd Quarter of 1899 at age 80.

Some things to keep in mind about summarizing research as in the list above are that it makes research seem fast and easy, leaves out the reasoning behind each step, and in this list, also leaves out negative results, which are key to keep in mind when doing research. So before going any further in the search for Charles Evans, let me explain some of the research steps I took to compile the above list and some of the reasoning behind those steps.

  • Charles Evans, son of John and Ann Evans, was not listed as living with them in 1841 yet had returned to living with them in 1851. What happened to Charles to make him absent in 1841? Using the “Chelsea pensioner” reference in 1851 as a clue, I searched the Chelsea pensioner record set and yielded a possible match; the birth place matches but the age is off. The age being off does not necessarily rule him out, as many people lied about their ages or simply did not know their correct age. Unfortunately Charles Evans’s Chelsea pensioner file does not include information on family members as many of those files do, so it doesn’t indicate one way or the other whether this is the same Charles Evans.
  • Charles is indexed on the National Archives catalog as having been discharged in 1850, but the original image in the Chelsea pensioner file says 23 Sep’t 185_ with the “_” probably being a “0” but possibly being a “1,” though if it was 1851, he would have spent 1 1/2 years being treated after leaving for England, as he “Embarked for England 25 January 1850,” according to the file. The surgeon also dated his opinion “Chatham Aug. 20 1850,” which would fit well with being discharged in Chatham about a month later. On the other hand, the final discharge also lists him as age 22, which would only match his stated age at enlistment if he was discharged in 1851, though being discharged at age 22 in 1850 would more closely match “my” Charles’s age than the stated enlistment age of 16 years, 10 months. However, according to the file his original enlistment paper has been transcribed into this file, so it is possible that it has been transcribed incorrectly; it is of course also possible that Charles deliberately or unknowingly gave an incorrect age. Regardless, the probable 1850 discharge of the Chelsea pensioner Charles Evans would have given John and Ann’s Charles time to be back in Hartland by 1851; however, even if the Charles Evans of the file was discharged in 1850, this does not necessarily mean it’s the same Charles as John and Ann’s son.
  • I also searched the National Archives [UK] catalog for anyone in the Chelsea pensioner record set who had the phrase “Hartland, Devonshire” (as the catalog puts it) in their file description. The search did not yield anyone else from an even marginally close time period with the surname Evans nor any variations on the surname. This does not necessarily mean that another Charles Evans of approximately the same age from Hartland is not among the Chelsea pensioner files, just that if he is, he didn’t report his birth place as Hartland, his birth place isn’t in the file, or his birth place and/or name isn’t/aren’t properly transcribed into the catalog. It is also possible that the file has not survived; according to My Ancestor Was in the British Army by Michael J. Watts and Christopher T. Watts, a number of discharge papers, especially for many Chelsea pensioners who were discharged overseas, have been lost. Indeed, a search of some other record sets in the National Archives catalog that were recommended in that book yield a good number of various Evanses (with a variety of given names/initials), including many with catalog descriptions saying that their discharge papers had been lost, but few of them have specific dates or birth places listed in the catalog. (Unfortunately, as I discovered upon contacting the National Archives, their staff will not copy these records for a copy fee even if the researcher provides the exact reference number, as they consider the task of looking them up to be research rather than copying.)
  • The 1845 enlistment date on the file does not explain where Charles would have been in 1841 even if he is the same Charles who has a Chelsea pensioner file. However, the possible enlistment provides a new clue; the Charles who enlisted reported his birth place as Hartland, Devon, yet enlisted in Monmouthshire, Wales, not in Devon. What was he doing in Monmouthshire? Could he have already been there in 1841? Unfortunately it can be difficult to find lone people on the 1841 England & Wales census, since the enumeration does not list exact birth places – only whether or not the person was born in the county in which they were residing, which I have not always found to be accurate – and enumerators were instructed to round off ages above approximately age 15. It can be particularly hard in 1841 to locate a lone person with a common name like Charles Evans. While there are not too many Evanses in North Devon, there are a tremendous number of them in Wales. So far no one has been located that seems very likely to be the Charles Evans who would enlist in 1845 nor the Charles Evans who was born to John and Ann Evans of Hartland.
  • Charles’s brother John and most of John’s family, including John’s adult children, left for Canada in the 1870’s, yet a Charles Evans was listed as a witness on the marriage in Bideford in 1887 of the one niece/nephew that research indicated remained in England. An obituary for one of Charles’s nephews/nieces in Canada also states that there was only one niece/nephew from Charles’s brother John’s line still living in England. Charles’s nephew Charles (presumably named after his uncle) had died in England before John’s family left for Canada – the death certificate confirmed it was the nephew – so the brother Charles could not have been the Charles Evans at the wedding. It is quite possible that the Charles Evans that attended the wedding was Uncle Charles. If this is correct, it means Uncle Charles was still alive in 1887 and was able to make it to Bideford for the wedding.
  • A search of 1861 England & Wales census enumeration transcriptions for a Charles Evans born in Hartland in approximately 1827 (factoring in that his birth date seemed to be later in the year than the census enumerations, causing his birth year to generally be estimated at 1827 in census indexes) yielded no results. A search of 1871 census enumeration transcriptions yielded the result that searching for someone by using a birth place on FindMyPast in 1871 does not work. So I jumped ahead to 1881 and did the same search, finding a Charles and Catherine Evans in Islington, London. Working backwards, I found them in 1871 in metropolitan London as well (Mile End Old Town in Tower Hamlets), this time living with someone described as a son to head-of-household. They were in metropolitan London both times, albeit different districts, and on both enumerations Charles is listed as a tailor. The birth place of reportedly 8-year-old William – Scotland – could explain why the family does not seem to appear on the 1861 England & Wales census – though that is certainly not the only possible explanation.
  • A search forward found Catherine and Charles Evans in Bideford on the 1891 census enumeration. Bideford was where Catherine had reported all along that she was born, so it seemed plausible that they would return to it later in their lives. Later, going over a timeline, I realized that if Charles and Catherine had moved there by 1887 it would make it very easy for them to attend his niece’s wedding in Bideford, or that if they had visited for the wedding perhaps that had sparked a desire to move back.
  • In these census searches it was also noted that there did not appear to be any other Charles Evanses living in England & Wales who reported a similar age and a birth place of Hartland.
  • No one that definitely appeared to be Catherine nor Charles was found on the 1901 census enumeration indexes on multiple sites; searching for them as a couple and separately did not yield any good hits.
  • I searched FreeBMD’s death indexes for Bideford District from Quarter 2 1891 to Quarter 2 1901 for deaths for Charles Evans and Catherine Evans. The searches yielded a good match for Charles’s known information and a possible match for Catherine’s known information. Catherine’s age fluctuated a bit more on censuses than Charles’s did, so the fact that the age was within the known age range for Catherine was taken into account. The theory that perhaps they both died between 1891 and 1901 was formed.
  • Since Charles and Catherine were both from the same region of Devon, I hypothesized that they had met and married before leaving Devon, and searched FreeBMD’s marriage indexes for Bideford District from Quarter 2 1851 to Quarter 2 1863 (the former being around the time of the 1851 census and the latter being William’s approximate birth) to see if a Charles Evans had married a Catherine (or variant) during this time period. There were no hits at all.

It is important to stress at this point that while the records and indexes I have found are relatively consistent with a single Charles Evans, born in Hartland, Devon, England, in approximately 1826, it does not necessarily mean that they are a single Charles Evans. Go back to the first list in this post and reread it. To me, the situations detailed in that list can be clustered into three groups:

  • The Charles Evans who was born to John and Ann Evans, was baptized in Hartland, and was living with them in 1851 when it was reported by an unknown informant (possibly Charles himself, but not necessarily) that he had been born in Hartland, was age 24, and was a Chelsea pensioner and kept a night school.
  • The Charles Evans who enlisted in the military in Monmouthshire in 1845, reporting his birth place as Hartland and his age in 1845 as 16 years and 10 months, and was discharged in 1850.
  • The Charles Evans who married Catherine ___, had a son named William, was a tailor, was reportedly born in Hartland in approximately 1827, and lived in Mile End Old Town in London, Islington in London, Bideford in Devon, and possibly Scotland (based on his son’s reported birth place, although it is possible that that is incorrect or that Charles was not with Catherine [or an unknown mother] when she gave birth). This Charles appears to have died in 1896 in Bideford Registration District, but the certificate has not yet been reviewed.

While it is certainly possible that these three groups are a single Charles Evans, right now they are dots in a child’s book of games – disparate and awaiting connection.


One of the accidental benefits of my tendency to write part to most of a post and save it in a draft file to finish or polish later is that sometimes I get answers to some posed questions before I publish the post on my blog. Around the time I started this post, I sent away for the Bideford District death certificates that seemed to fit Charles and Catherine (___) Evans. Enough time has passed that I have received the certificates here in the States. They connected more dots than I had expected.

Charles Evans died on 11 March 1896 at a reported age of 69 in Bideford. He is listed as a “Tailor (Journeyman)” and Catherine Evans reported his death. Catherine is listed as his widow and as present at the death, and says that Charles died at 32 Albert Place, Bideford, the same address she gives as her own residence. It also lists that Charles died of “Phetrisis[?].” This certificate tells me some information but not too much – it strongly suggests that the Charles Evans on this death record is the same Charles Evans who was reportedly married to Catherine ___ and who was living in Islington and Mile End Old Town with Catherine. The fact that he was reportedly a journeyman tailor – a part of the story not on the census enumerations found for the family – also helps explain why the family was so mobile.

But Catherine’s death certificate tells a much more connecting story. Catherine is not a blood relative of mine, and it would seem that Catherine herself had no blood relatives of her own in her area by the time she died. She died on 23 May 1899 at a reported age of 80 at the “Alms Houses Bideford,” and her occupation is listed as “Widow of Charles Evans Tailor (Journeyman).” Jane Copp reported her death, listing herself as present at the death and her residence as 1 Tydenham Place, Bideford. My most recent blog post went into some detail about Jane Copp and her family and in-laws; I already know that Jane Copp was the sister of “my” Charles Evans, but even if I had not known before receiving this certificate, Jane is listed on it as Catherine’s sister-in-law.

While Catherine’s death certificate very clearly connected the dots between the Charles Evans who was born in Hartland, Devon, England, baptized there in 1826, and living with John and Ann Evans there in 1851, and the Charles Evans who was reportedly married to Catherine (__) Evans, lived in Greater London and Bideford, was a tailor, and apparently had a son named William, I still haven’t proven or disproved connections between these connected end dots and the dots that cluster in the long gaps between the bookends of Charles’s life. Once the  certificates arrived, I began working on the family again to try to figure out what had happened between 1826 and 1851 and between 1851 and 1871. Subsequent research has not only failed to definitively answer these questions, but has raised new questions. I will post more about it all in a second post on this family.

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In the past few weeks I have very successfully added several more files to my blog drafts file while not publishing any actual finished posts. So I thought I would provide a bit of an update to a post from last November, “In defense of going down the chipmunk tunnel.”

As I noted in that post, the cause of the research that I turned into the post was my intent to mail off an order for a marriage record, and wanting to check to see if there was a second marriage amongst the siblings in the same city before sending it off, so that I could pool my order. In the end I discovered the other couple married in Ohio, and sent off the single request as originally planned.

But I never did hear back from the city. In my years of long-distance research, I’ve learned that there can be any number of reasons why a repository’s response never reaches me, from banal ones like a piece of mail getting lost to, as happened to me last year, the new archivist at an archive determining that as far as discernible, the previous archivist had cashed my check and never done the promised research. So after a while longer has passed than the estimated time for a response, I like to politely follow up with the repository to try to determine what happened. In this case, my second letter was answered with a letter from the city vital records stating that they could find no record of the marriage in their archive.

This provides an interesting research problem.

The marriage information I had was obtained from alumni listings. Those are generally provided by the alumni themselves, and then compiled into a listing by someone else. So a few of the major reasons I can see for this outcome are:

  1. The staff missed the marriage, possibly because a surname is misspelled. Unlikely but always possible.
  2.  The couple married there but had obtained their license elsewhere and/or went on to register their marriage elsewhere. I’m not sure yet of the law on this in this place and time, so I don’t know how likely it is that there would be no record at all of the marriage in the location where they were married.
  3. The alumni listings are wrong. Always possible as well since it is secondary information (which in this case specifically means after-the-fact information provided by one of the parties who was there) that has probably been compiled from alumni information by a third party, leaving additional room for error.

First next steps:

  1. Check on marriage laws at this time and place. Start with searches at Google Books and Internet Archive, as they have a lot of governmental publications and writings on the law (and not just for the US), including a number of past published state statutes.
  2. Depending on outcome of (1), widen search for marriage record and/or marriage license, and/or do further research on the couple aiming to find further marriage clues.

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In my previous post I discussed using information I found on the 1940 US federal census to successfully trace a living cousin. I was deliberately vague to avoid revealing information about living relatives in a public blog post. I was very lucky in this particular case because my cousin’s first name and married surname are, as far as I can find, a unique combination in the US. But it is possible to trace down to a living relative even when it isn’t comparably easy.

One of my primary tools, about which I learned when I took Boston University’s Genealogical Research Certificate program, is Veromi.net. There are a number of other tracking sites out there, but I started out with that one and I’ve continued to use it, partly because it has a section that it calls “Possible Associates,” “Associated Names,” etc. While those that do things like heir tracking for a living will often pay to use the subscriber sections of the site, for my purposes I simply cull information from the free portions.

I will start out searching the entire country and see how common the first and last name combination are. If they are common, I will narrow it to the last state that was listed for the person on the records I have, though I remain aware that it is possible they are no longer living in that state. If a hit looks like a possible match, I will take any associated names and plug them back into genealogical databases and see what I find. I have sometimes been able to confirm I have found the correct person solely using records I find via the associated names. Similarly, I have sometimes been able to rule out that it is the correct person solely using associated name records. I also search newspaper databases and search engines to see what comes up.

Once I have a best candidate, I will look them up in online directories. Even if I find a phone number, I typically write them a letter instead, because I feel that it’s a better way to allow them time to digest the information and decide how they want to respond. Many have been returned to me unopened. Some other folks have responded via snailmail that they are sorry but they are not the person I am seeking. Sometimes I never get an answer and have no idea whether it reached the final destination and the person wasn’t interested, or whether it never got there. All of this is absolutely worthwhile for the cases like the one I posted yesterday, where I am able to connect with a living descendant of the other line.

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I was very late to catch the 1940 US federal census fever, but catch it I did. On April 1st, the day before it was released, I attended Michael John Neill’s webinar on the 1940 census. It inspired me to finally create a list of people I wanted to try to find before the index came out. Like so often in my genealogy research, my list was by place, not by person. This is (a personal-shorthand-free version of) what it looked like:

  • Elrod (town & township), South Dakota – Enumeration District (ED) 13-10
  • Town of Henry, South Dakota – ED 15-8
  • Township of Henry, South Dakota – ED 15-9
  • A specific address in Cincinnati – ED 91-259
  • Glendale, Hamilton County, Ohio – Section in Springfield Township, ED 31-96; Section in Sycamore Township, ED 31-124
  • McGregor Village, Aitkin County, Minnesota – ED 1-26
  • McGregor Township, Aitkin County, Minnesota – ED 1-27
  • Jevne Township, Aitkin County, Minnesota – ED-1-19
  • North Branch Township, Lapeer County, Michigan – ED 44-31
  • North Branch Village, Lapeer County, Michigan – ED 44-30
  • Norwich, Vermont – ED 14-21
  • Watertown, South Dakota – EDs 15-21, 15-22, 15-23, 15-24A, 15-24B, 15-25, 15-26A, 15-26B, 15-27, 15-28
  • Red Bluff (town), California – EDs 52A, 52-9B, 52-10A, 52-10B
  • Red Bluff Township, California – multiple EDs
  • A specific address in Modesto, California – ED 50-20

I based my list on these major things:

  • Who do I most want to find and think it is plausible I can without an index?
  • What exact addresses do I have that there’s a fair chance the person(s) might have been living in 1940?
  • What areas were small and likely to hold relatives, thus being fast (and hopefully easy) to search?
  • What areas had a high concentration of relatives, whereby searching by hand is likely to turn up many, even if it takes a while?

So that first morning it went live, I sat down with my coffee and loaded NARA’s 1940 census website, aiming to start with Elrod Township, as I had a feeling that between the already small area and the effects of both the Dust Bowl and the Depression, it would be easy to rapidly search. It loaded far enough that I could tell I was right – the entire township was only 4 pages long. But the images perpetually said they were loading, and never actually loaded. I tried again now and then throughout the day, with the same result.

Later in the day I realized that Ancestry.com had apparently realized that people were having so much trouble with NARA’s site, as they had switched from adding the smallest states and territories first to adding the largest first. They had begun adding California’s counties in alphabetical order. While I was waiting for Stanislaus County (where Modesto is) and Tehama County (where Red Bluff is) to be added, I realized that I had an exact address for someone in Alameda. I knew from my research that Earl McAllister had been living there in 1935, when he reported his great-aunt’s death, and in 1942, when he filled out his so-called ‘Old Man’s Draft’ World War II draft card. His family wasn’t first on my list to find, or actually on my list at all – he was my great-grand-aunt’s son – but I wanted to find someone that first day, so I went to Steve Morse’s Unified 1940 Census ED Finder and plugged in the address.

And sure enough, a page by page search of California ED 1-8 showed that he was living there in 1940, too. On page 34 of 36, I found them:

Earl McAllister and family in Alameda California ED 1-8

Earl McAllister and family in Alameda, Alameda County, California; 1940 US census, California ED 1-8, page 34 of 36; digital image from Ancestry.com. (Click image to view full-sized image.)

I had no idea being a commercial Certified Public Accountant was such a good choice for the Depression, but you can see here that informant Mildred rounds off Earl’s 1939 income to “$5,000+.” According to an old article published by the Census Bureau [link opens a PDF], only 9% of people on the 1940 census reportedly earned $2,500 or above in 1939, and most of those reportedly had attended college. Mildred reported that Earl had attended four years of high school but that he did not have any further education. Mildred reported that she too had finished high school, but note that it appears their children – both included here – were partway through college.

With the hindsight of someone practicing historical research, I know that this was nearly the end of Earl’s life. He died in 1946, in the gap time in World War II between when Germany and Italy surrendered and when Japan surrendered. Widowed Mildred lived another 20 years, but never remarried.

I’m glad that my first search was successful, because when I moved on to Modesto and Red Bluff, I failed to find the people for whom I was searching. I found the target addresses, but others were living there. The search itself was interesting and I don’t feel like I wasted my time doing it. Modesto was a booming town, with many people reporting that they had moved from elsewhere in California, mostly rural areas, since 1935. The most likely address in Red Bluff was at the edge of the town limits, just as maps show it is today, and I discovered an employee of the State Highway living there with his family; since the head of household in my target family also worked for the State Highway, I now suspect that my family of interest moved to that address between 1940 and 1942 because said coworker tipped them off to a rental property becoming available. I haven’t taken the time yet to search the rest of the EDs in Red Bluff, and have been undecided on whether to do so. I’m reasonably sure they were living in Red Bluff then, but I’m not sure how urgently I want to find them before California’s indexed.

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