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?


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Happenstance, a Mistake, and a Whim

I’ve been plodding through the land records for Cayuga County, NY, in search of any clues on my paternal Murray and Snow lines. I decided to hand off the effort to a local researcher because I felt the online searching had a tunnel vision effect—I might be missing things that could be found if only there was the larger perspective that comes with seeing a record book in its entirety.

Having uncovered some interesting things through the NY land records, I thought I’d revisit some maternal lines in NY, with the hope I could learn more about the Browns (first mentioned here). My approach was to search Tioga County for the line I already knew a lot about, Gaskill. I was certain I'd find something.

I was pleased to uncover a few records, including one for James and Elizabeth (Brown) Gaskill selling to a Solomon Brown. It was a small clue (father, brother, uncle, cousin, who knows?), but a clue nonetheless. I read through the recorded sale and as I finished, I saw that the very next deed was a transaction between Solomon Brown and John Brown. My immediate reaction was to think of my mom’s story of a family connection to John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame. I’d already discounted that specific connection, but thought there was a possibility the name itself was accurate. I popped over to to find three John Browns as a possible father to Elizabeth in the right place, right time with a female of the right age. Time for some probate record searching.

However, before I moved on to probate, I thought I’d take a look at land records in Tompkins County, NY, looking for my Hinds line. Based on 1820 census records and other info, I had hypothesized that Joseph Hinds moved from New Jersey to Tompkins County and that his son, Solomon, moved from there to Tioga a few decades later. My first foray into Tompkins County records found nothing. Then, by accident, I selected Tioga County for second search, thinking I was still searching Tompkins. I found some records for Joseph Hinds and then was shocked to realize it was in Tioga County and for a time period before the census records in Tompkins County. He was selling land in 1818 and my first census record for him is 2 years later in Tompkins County. It now looks like he went first to Tioga, then to Tompkins before his son went back to Tioga. I have a whole new angle to try for uncovering more about the years between 1790 and 1820.

Finally, on a whim, I decided to check for George Ditmars in the Tioga County land records. (George’s daughter married Solomon Hinds, Joseph’s son.) I had a similar hypothesis for the Ditmars as I had for the Hinds family—New Jersey to Tompkins County. It was really unexpected when I found him in Tioga County in an 1837 record because he was in Tompkins County in 1840. It’s looking like the pattern was like the Hinds pattern—just not the one I hypothesized!

These are all very promising clues and I’m really looking forward to making some progress on these family lines. And I'll continue to hope for more happenstance, mistakes and whims to add to the adventure.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Say it ain't so

I was startled to find the probate records and will for Isaac Snow of Rochester, MA indicating he died in 1789. I had him in my database as dying in August 19, 1812 at about 93 years old. I clicked my source footnote only to discover the DAR ancestor database was the source. I checked to see if their listing had any caveats posted, but there weren't any. The birthdate, wife's name and two child names were the same. A quick check at found one public trees with the 1812 date, but most of the records pointed to the 1789 death. I popped over to find-a-grave and found a photo of a tombstone in Rochester, MA for an Isaac Snow who died August 19, 1812. The catch? The tombstone was inscribed with his age of 23. 

In my opinion, that's a pretty bad mistake. I admit I have the advantage of the internet to help me find strong sources, but I thought the whole point of the application process for lineage societies was to screen for things like this. I mean really, I'm just an amateur and not trying to apply for any lineage societies (yet). Now I wonder what the point would be.

Alas, is there no one I can trust? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Millions and Millions

I almost missed the NY land records on Family Search. I've looked at the NY listings there so many times over the few years, I can't believe I just discovered these records just a few days ago. I guess I wasn't quite ready to look at deeds. I know part of it is that Family Search hasn't indexed them yet, so seeing "Browse through 8,129,310 images" seemed daunting. However, as I discovered, when you know the county and you click through, you can see they've imaged old index books. Still, more work than a search engine, but the results are already exciting enough to energize me.

Here's part of a deed with my 4x great-grandparents, David and Phebe Snow as the sellers:

I've found David Snow indexed several more times so far. I think it's going to narrow down the time period when I search for his probate record. And I've found a lot of Murrays indexed, so maybe I'll finally find the link back to Connecticut I've been looking for.

But first, I have to create a spreadsheet that will help me keep track of this research. Now that I've found these records, I don't want to get so excited that I ignore a proper researching process. Because I don't want to have to do this twice!