Today’s genealogy breakthrough: My great-great grandmother Susan Rotrock

Old family records

(c) Andrew Crowley

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.



  1. Sometimes it is easier to go about these gene things “sideways” as you did here. Another way to search is by looking at sources that are a little more uncommon. I am not sure about Pittsburgh but in NYC (where I have done a fair amt of research) there used to be many small newspapers for neighbor hoods or even ethnic groups that would publish news of the local people. I have found that there are not like the papers of today with a designated Obit section but these are sometimes more of a “Social Announcement” and you might need to read thru the issues surrounding the weeks before and after the death. Before covers any period of illness and after is valuable for both the death article and the “Gathering of the Clans” aspect—I have found several where the family gathered at a tea or lunch at some rellies house afterwards–but not always on the day of the funeral. This has added quite a few “out of town” rellies to our lists. And also this helps to make known the cause of death more fully—the paper is more likely to have reported on a “Lengthy illness” or a sudden death from (say) a quarry accident than the death cert might report. It is also veyr interesting to see the local ads for fashions; prices of items; and any local or national news covered that week. Most of these will be found in the local library or Historical Society—these places and their keepers are your New Best Friends!

    Penn is–pesky—to get info from tho. I have several rellies from there inc the “Family Mystery Child-Dead or–Not?” and I have had to be very—creative about getting death certs. They will send you a birth cert–which if you think of it can get you a lot if you are a fraudster!–but not a death cert which gets you—well, not much!

    If you want more help you can contact me I have been doing this for about 25 years now and have had a lot of success!

    1. Thanks for the great tips! I spent some time at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh this summer, going through microfilm, but didn’t get very far. I have had much more success with smaller town publications — most of my dad’s family lived in and around Indiana, Pa. in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, and I found lots of mentions in that city’s newspapers. And you are right about Pennsylvania and how difficult it is to get records from them. Unfortunately, most of my ancestors were born, lived and died in Pa., so I’ve spent a good deal of time in local libraries, county courthouses and church cemeteries trying to fill in the puzzle of my family tree. Thanks again for the advice, and for taking time to leave a comment. Much appreciated!

  2. […] Today’s genealogy breakthrough: My great-great grandmother Susan Rotrock ( […]

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