Aug 8, 2011

Finding Ancestors & Their Secrets You Didn't Know Existed: Part 1

So how in the world do you search for an ancestor if you do not know about them in the first place?  Well, you can't.  But I have found 3 ancestors that I knew nothing about and uncovered some amazing family "secrets" by paying attention to minor clues when doing broad searches.  I will break this into three parts for each one I discovered.

Now many times we get lucky and view a public family tree (shaking leaf if you are on and there is a sibling of great grandma's we didn't know about.  Or we look at a census record, obituary, etc. and there is a sibling, previous spouse or whatever that we never heard about.  But many times these "hidden" ancestors come with "secrets" attached and are not listed in the usual places we expect to find them.  Now not every ancestor you find will have some fascinating dark secret attached but my three cases did and helped me crack some brick walls.

Find Number 1:  Marie Jageman

This is actually my husband's family which I started working on recently.  The first thing I did was talk to his mother and get a list of her father's siblings.  As I started following the Jageman family in the census I found three siblings (Albert, Zetta, and Frank) that my MIL didn't know about.  But she did know her grandfather had been married previously and there were half siblings so these three were no surprise.

With more research I found her grandfather's first wife was Elizabeth Staudinger and had died in her early 30's in 1892.  Without really trying I found quite a bit of information on Elizabeth including the names of  her parents and siblings.  None of which I paid too much attention since she was not a direct ancestor.  As I went back a generation in the Jageman's  I ran into difficulty tracing her grandfather's (Frank Jagemen) siblings.  Had their names but could not find them in all the census years.

One of the things I have learned when facing this problem was it sometimes helps to do a broad search on a last name covering all census years, not limiting  the search by first name or birth year.  Many times birth years are just wrong and first names can be butchered in the census.  Now this method works better if you have a less common last name, it is more difficult if you are researching Smith's for instance.

As I combed through the long list of results I saw a Marie Jageman, born 1892, listed as niece for 1910.  My first thought was "not mine".  But from years of researching census records I have learned not to automatically assume--it only takes a second to click on the result to get more info.  Well I was dumbfounded.  This Marie Jageman (single) was living with her Aunt--Veronica Staudinger!  I knew Veronica was Elizabeth Staudinger's sister from the info I had found on the family earlier.  This had to be a daughter of Frank and Elizabeth Jageman--another unknown sibling.

With further digging I found her still living with aunt Veronica in 1920 (Veronica apparently never married).  It was like pulling teeth to find her in 1900.  But there she was living with Veronica and a few other sisters.  The Staudinger name was horribly misspelled and Marie had Staudinger listed as her last name.

Now I still need to confirm through an obit or death certificate that Marie was the daughter of Frank & Elizabeth (still looking for a death date and / or married name for Marie).  But I am about 95% certain who she is even though my MIL never heard of her.  I have to wonder if my husband's grandfather even knew he had another half sister?

This is my theory on why Marie was not raised by her father Frank Jageman.  Marie was about 3 months old when her mother Elizabeth died.  It was not easy for a single father to care for a small infant in 1892 especially when he had 3 other children under the age of 10.  Veronica and her sisters all lived together and appeared to be self sufficient - all were dress makers--making caring for the infant easier.  The other sisters went on to marry but Veronica did not, she very likely may have viewed Marie as the child she would never have.  Now Frank did remarry within two years of his first wife's death.  Why didn't they take Marie back?  Possibly Veronica did not want to give her up, possibly the second wife did not want to raise her (but she did have the other 3 children), or maybe they didn't want to disrupt the only home life little Marie had known.  There could be numerous other reasons, guess I may never know for sure.

Research Tips I Learned From This Experience
  • Broad based searches can produce results when there spelling and birth year errors in the census.
  • Broad based searches may yield clues even if you are not stuck on someone, never know what may turn up!
  • DO NOT ASSUME!  It only takes a minute to look at the details of a census search.  9 times out of 10 they won't be yours but there is always that 10th time!
  • Collect data on the "whole" family even if not directly related.  I never would have known Marie was a sibling if I had not researched her mother's maiden name Staudinger.
  • We are never "Done" with researching a family LOL!
Stayed turned for part two which is the story on how I found two half siblings of my grandmother's that I never new existed (and not sure my grandmother even knew about!).  Now published you can read Part Two.

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