Thursday, April 18, 2013


So, you know how research on siblings of the direct ancestor can be useful because their records could have information missing from the direct ancestor's records? So, you know how vital records are important primary sources?

What do you do when the death record has information that might not be correct? Is it better to have no information than bad information? (Ask yourself how you feel about online family trees.) Yikes.

This is about Lucetta Murray, my great-grandaunt. The first record I have for her is at age 2 in the 1850 US Census with two adults, Erastus and Christina, and two other children. Then, in the1855 NY State Census, she was enumerated with four children, the same adults, and her relationship to the head of household, Erastus, was “child”. One year later, Christina died and her gravestone was engraved “Wife of Erastus”.  That’s the closest I have to proof of parentage, but I think it’s likely. Erastus had a sister named Lucetta, providing some additional circumstantial evidence of a familial connection.

She appears again with Erastus in the 1860 census, but this time there appears to be a stepmother. In addition to previously enumerated siblings, this census includes a younger brother, born shortly before her mother’s death, and another brother, possibly a half- or stepbrother. But, by 1861, the family fell apart for reasons unknown. I don’t know what happened to Lucetta and her older sister at that point, but her younger full brothers all went to an orphanage.

I was able to pick up the trail by 1870 and follow Lucetta through census records from Auburn, NY to Syracuse, where she died. I found her obituary so I had her date of death. Because she died in 1917, I knew NY State probably had a death certificate on file.

The collapse of the family resulted in a lot of inaccuracy in the family history. The information passed down by my great-grandfather consisted of partial truths, intentional or not, I can’t say. I found a third cousin not too long ago and the information from that line fared no better.

So, in a bold stroke of wishful thinking, I submitted a request for Lucetts's death certificate. It arrived today.

Her father is listed as Augustus Murray. Her mother is listed as Jane Stanford.
Augustus, Erastus, not so unreasonable. But Jane Stanford? You’d think I’d be ecstatic to have a name to pursue. You know, maybe she got the first name wrong, but what if she had the maiden name right? Wouldn’t this be a break-through?

Well, the twists and turns of this family are sometimes confusing. If I go back just one generation, she had an aunt also named Lucetta and there was another aunt, Jane. And a half-uncle, David Stanford.  (Before her grandmother married a Murray, she was married to a Stanford.)

Lucetta was only eight when her mother died and thirteen when the rest of her immediate family got pulled apart. Is it plausible she would get the names mixed up? Absolutely. BUT, is it also plausible she got them right?



  1. I had a similar situation with a great-grandmother. Her mom died before g-grandmother turned ten; dad remarried; misinformation was passed on. Fortunately, her death certificate left name of mother blank but misinformation was assumed by descendants. It took such a while to sort out. I don't know if it's good news or bad news to have the wrong name of a death certificate. Is it possible that Erastus was married 3 times and his first wife was Jane Stanford?

  2. I've thought about the 3 marriages possibility. I'll be doing some searches on Jane, but I thought I'd plow forward with death certificate requests for two of his brothers to see what pops up. They were both younger than Lucetta so I'm not too hopeful their records will have anything useful.