I started researching my genealogy about 18 months ago (it’s a long story and one for another day) and every couple of days I go back into my family tree and poke around Ancestry for a bit to see if I can add anything to the discoveries I’ve already made, or add new folks to the various trees I’m working on.
I don’t really have a specific process for my research; instead I pick someone at random from my mother or dad’s side and set up a search to see what comes up. Sometimes I strike out, but more often than not, I find a new tidbit to explore.
One of the most challenging aspects about researching a family tree online (as opposed to, say, having a family member give you information) is that it isn’t always possible to trace back the maternal side of the generation, since women would relinquish their maiden names when they married. Sometimes there are clues in the first or middle names of their children, but not always.
Every once in a while I get lucky and find an obit that mentions a surviving brother — that’s how mom and I learned my great-great grandmother Merriman’s maiden name was Frantz. But the reality is that my family tree still has a number of “Mary UNKNOWN” and “Elizabeth UNKNOWN” listings populating the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.
Today was a writing day, with two projects for two different clients due by mid-day. After I hit “Send” on the second one, I decided to take a break and do some hunting on Ancestry.
I started with my mom’s great grandfather Adam Weaver — I’m trying to determine the year of his death and exactly where he is buried in Pittsburgh. I have traced him up through the 1900 Census, but his wife, Susan A. UNKNOWN Weaver, is listed as a widow in a 1907 City Directory. I went back to the 1900 Census to see if there was a clue I could work from to get a bit closer to Adam’s year of death and when I did I spotted a name I hadn’t noticed before, listed as a member of Adam’s household.
The man, Joseph Rotrock, age 74, was listed as “Brother” but when I zoomed in really close, I saw that there was an “L” written above “Brother” which I assumed designated Joseph as Adam’s brother-in-law. Granted Susan was born in 1845 and was in her mid-fifties at the time of this Census, but it’s not absolutely impossible that she would have a brother who is 20 years older.
Working off this assumption, I dove into Ancestry’s records and about 15 minutes later I found Joseph in an 1850 Census, living in the Pittsburgh area with his father, Abraham, his mother Susan, and seven siblings including 5 year-old sister, Susan A. Rotrock. And like that, I had filled in another blank space in the puzzle that is my family history.
Unfortunately, I still don’t have death dates for Adam or Susan, for that matter, but equipped with Susan’t maiden name, I feel confident that I’ll discover that information someday.