When I began my family history journey, I remember how I made sure in countless ways before I added someone to my tree that they belonged. I had to have censuses showing that they were in the family with my relative for me to truly believe that they deserved to be on my tree.
I’ve been working on my tree for 4 years now and for the most part I have stayed true to this theory. Occasionally I will forego and add people I see, for example, many online trees had a Wealthy Blair listed as a daughter for my great-great-grandparents. Even my late cousin Darlene had Wealthy listed on a family sheet for the same said 2nd-great-grandparents. I’ve never found any information on her, she was born and died before 1880. When I look at the 1900 and 1910 Federal Census which asks how many total children a woman had, there are always 3 children that had passed for my great-great-grandmother, and I always assumed one was Wealthy (one other was Margaret, born in October 1879 and lastly an unknown child I just have listed on my tree as I have no birth or death dates for them).
But since I began organizing my DNA matches I’ve found myself getting envious of tree size. I see people with 48,987 people on their tree and my eyes just widen and my jaw drops. What a glorious tree!
And then I find myself going new person after new person checking out the hints and adding (always logically, but still adding) them to my tree. One after another and I’m fairly certain most of my people are legitimate people with fairly good dates off said hints (I am rational enough to NOT add people who were born 100 years earlier coming on a boat from England when they were born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania), but still, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in hints on Ancestry and the one big tree on FamilySearch.
So I’ve started over from scratch in a way. One by one I’m going through my people in my personal family tree software that I keep on my computer. This is my main tree, the tree I don’t really share with the world and the one I find to be the most accurate. I’m going through one by one and making sure all the documents that I have in my online folders are included on the tree. Some items I have, like the beforementioned great-great-grandmother who my late cousin Darlene hand wrote her obituary and this is the only way I have it, I knew I had it in an envelope of documents Darlene had sent me, and now I have scanned it and added it to her profile.
I’m also comparing them to the Ancestry tree just in case there is a random document that I have on there that I hadn’t downloaded (that happens sometimes when I’m out and about and am not on my regular computer to save the documents as easily). By doing this I can clean up the Ancestry tree at the same time.
In the long run I must remember it’s not the size of my tree that matters, it truly is quality that counts. I’ve worked so hard and I want to be 100% positive that I’m putting the correct people in my tree.
This was all brought to my attention when I was working on my mother’s side of the family. I’ve haven’t delved into the Fairhurst branch often, but I have learned there are many William and Thomas Fairhurst’s out there, and trying to make sure I select the correct one was getting me quite confused.
So I took a deep breath and slowed down. It’s not a race. I’ll find each and every ancestor when they want me to find them.
From July 15-17 my husband and I traveled to Bedford County, Pennsylvania so I could research my family. It was such an honor to know I walked where they walked. It was a great trip that was full of adventure and I’ll be honest, spending one on one time with my husband was a nice treat.
As I recount my trip I just want to add that I suggested to my husband that maybe we should take my car as it would get better gas mileage. I’ll be honest with you, I have a 2013 Chrysler 200. I love my car (the first car I ever purchased was a 1993 Plymouth Sundance, and if my Sundance would have evolved, it would be in the realm of the Chrysler 200). Even my father thought we should take it for the same reason, better gas mileage. But believe me, my front-wheel-drive vehicle could never have conquered the hills of Cambria, Bedford, Huntingdon, Fulton and Somerset counties like my husband’s Ford F-150. As we headed from one cemetery to the next in Cambria county, we went up a hill so steep it was at a 15-degree incline (well, that hill we didn’t have to go up – hubby did it for fun). My car would never have survived either hill. I attempted to take a photo but my phone doesn’t do it justice.
First Stop: South Fork Cemetery
We left Ohio on Monday morning and traveled to Pennsylvania. It only took us about 3 hours and our first stop was South Fork Cemetery in South Fork, Cambria County. Here I found 2 out of 3 of my direct line relatives, and the grave of my Great-Aunt Vada. The person I couldn’t find was Susan Jane Foster Blair, my Great-Great-Grandmother. I was really bummed. I remember seeing her name as a teenager and you know how sometimes you have a relative that just pops out at you? That was Susan Jane Foster for me. We searched all around but were unable to locate her grave. South Fork was probably the largest cemetery we visited, but I am hoping to contact someone who could possibly have a map or layout of the cemetery, as it is one without an office, which explained the lack of information on the internet. (I’ll note here, none of the cemeteries we visited had an office).
Second Stop: Mount Hope Cemetery
Our next stop had us taking the above hills to arrive at Mount Hope Cemetery. This was a much smaller cemetery, and luckily because of websites like Find A Grave someone had already uploaded a photo of my Great-Grandmother’s gravestone so I had some idea what to look for shape-wise.
Below is the headstone belonging to Margaret Wise Custer, though I knew her as Gammy. She is the only one of the relatives I searched for on this day that I had met. I have vague memories of her playing the “mouth organ” in a nursing home. She passed away in 1987 at the age of 96. My Grandma, her daughter, lived to be 94. Good genes.
Third Stop: Hopewell Cemetery
When we looked up Hopewell Cemetery on Google Maps attempting to get something of an address for this location, it looked rather flat. We could see it had sections but never dreamed the slant that the cemetery was created on. It was the next largest cemetery we visited. I didn’t find my Great-Great-Grandparents that were buried here. Since I had no cell service I wasn’t able to consult Find A Grave to see if either of them were listed. Turns out that my Great-Great-Grandfather, Philip Wise did have a photo on the website, but his wife, Barbara Waite Wise, did not.
Hopewell is filled with old graves that are very worn. We tried to look all over in the older section of the cemetery, thinking that is where they may be (Philip passed in 1878 while Barbara passed in 1881).
I did find my Great-Great-Aunt Elizabeth Childers Whitfield’s grave in my search and took a photo of it (she was my Great-Grandmother Bertha Childers older sister). I figured it made the stop somewhat worth it. But looking at the photo – look at how angled the ground is! This was another spot I’m not sure my car could have survived.
Stop Four: Duvall’s Cemetery
Duvall’s Cemetery was built on land that belonged to my 5th-Great-Grandfather, Basil Foster. So this one had a little extra charm for me, I was going to walk on land that I knew belonged to my ancestors. I’m a geek and think that’s thrilling. I think everyone else thinks I’m nuts in these situations (you should see me at Yorktown and Mount Vernon knowing I’ve walked where George may have stepped, it gives me goosebumps).
But Duvall’s Cemetery is also where many of my direct line relatives are buried. I actually found out 2 days after this visit it held one more grave, that of Andrew Jackson Blair, my Great-Great-Grandfather, father of the aforementioned Andrew Jackson Blair, and husband of the aforementioned Susan Jane Foster (yes, as in Basil Foster). I actually looked for Susan here but was unsuccessful.
Here are my relatives buried in Duvall Cemetery: Andrew Jackson Blair (1851), Charles Jackson Morgart (my Great-Grandfather, first husband of Margaret Wise, aka Maggie Custer), Basil Foster, Richard Lewis Foster, Charity Johnstone Foster, Thomas Foster, Eliza Horton Foster – just to name a few. These are my direct line ancestors as on my first trip, I’d have to spend all day in each cemetery to find everyone.
I was unable to find Thomas Foster, my 3rd-Great-Grandfather, or his wife, Eliza Horton Foster, my 3rd-Great-Grandmother. There were many worn graves and some that had fallen apart off the screws where the tops were face down into the grass. It was so sad to see so many graves this way. These were someone’s people, and my husband told me straight off that no, he could not lift them alone. He knows me so well.
Stop Five: Wells Valley Methodist Cemetery
As we were driving, on our way to what ended up being our sixth stop, I saw a road and it turned out we were near Wells Valley Methodist Cemetery, where a majority of my Fesler and Childers family members are buried. I was not able to find everyone, but I did find 2 of the 5 that I was looking for – the first being my 3rd-Great-Grandfather, George Henry Fesler who fought in several smaller battles during the Civil War and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Oakman Fesler. My Great-Great-Grandmother, Sarah Jane Fesler Childers is reportedly buried there as well, but I was unable to find her. The area where the Fesler’s is an older portion of the cemetery in the back corner under a huge tree. Where George’s has been maintained – his wife and children’s are very worn.
Others we were unable to find were my 3rd-Great-Grandparents, Abraham Childers and his wife, Mary Ann Green. This was another spot where Find A Grave would have been helpful as it has one of theirs listed, but again, no service (I’ll know to save the photos ahead of time for future visits).
Stop Six: Mount Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery (aka Rays Hill Cemetery)
When we pulled alongside the road to Mount Zion Lutheran Church and Cemetery, the parking lot was blocked off with metal gates. As we sat in the car we saw huge gravestones saying “Ritchey” which was one of the names I was looking for. We searched for a while and then it hit me – I’d seen the headstones on Find a Grave and began looking for white. Here, if we had just started in the front (translated, not far from where we parked) my Great-Great-Grandparents were in the front row, and my 3rd Great-Grandparents were in the row directly behind them.
Stop Seven: It’s Not a Cemetery, it’s a Tavern
So as we drove along the Lincoln Highway I hoped we would drive by the Morgart Tavern, which was started by my 5th-Great-Grandfather, Peter Morgart, and then run by my 4th-Great-Grandfather, Baltzer Morgart. The building was constructed in the 1760’s and the walls are to be 2-feet deep. I was so excited when we found it. We knocked on the door before taking photos but no one was home. It’s when you find the places and even buildings where they lived that tickles me the most, a feeling of they were here.
Stop Eight: Providence Union Church Cemetery
This was our favorite cemetery, primarily because when we arrived we parked the truck, opened the door and there was my 5th-Great-Grandfather’s resting place front and center. He and his wife were our easiest finds of the day. We probably spent 5 minutes here. Captain Solomon Sparks fought in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. His daughter, Mary Sparks, was married to the before-mentioned Baltzer Morgart.
Stop Nine: The Morgart/Morgret Family Cemetery
This was a fun one as it’s literally in the middle of someone’s backyard. I don’t think the family is a Morgart, I would like to think they would have asked more questions about my being related to them (or not, being an uber-introvert my husband knocked on the door and asked if it was okay to go look at the cemetery, they were very nice and told us we could even pull up in the driveway next to the pole barn. I also want to add that seeing as it was mowed to the same height as the rest of the yard, this family took excellent care of the cemetery, you could easily read things, the gravestones we were weed-whacked, just really impressed).
So here I had many relatives buried, my 5th-Great-Grandfather, Peter Morgart, and his wife, Christiana Hess (my 5th-Great-Grandmother), my 4th-Great-Grandfather, Baltzer Morgart and his wife (and my 4th-Great-Grandmother), Mary Sparks, and lastly my 3rd-Great-Grandparents, Andrew Jackson Morgart and his wife, Rebecca O’Neal.
Last Stop: Dudley Methodist Cemetery
Our last stop was to find my Great-Great-Grandparents, Jonas and Anna Maria Leighty Wise. I was so excited to find them as 2 days later I was able to take a photo of a picture that my second cousin Hope had of them that was left after a Wise Family Reunion back in the 1990s. My Grandma Blair (her married last name) also talked so fondly of her “Granny Wise” that finding their graves had a lot of importance. But my husband and I must have looked at every single tombstone in the cemetery and we were unable to find them. I was so disappointed. I had no cell service so I was unable to look them up (it would have done me no good, there are no photos on Find A Grave). They were the parents of my Great-Grandmother, Margaret Wise.
Since returning home I did email the Dudley United Methodist Church on a hope they had a layout of the cemetery but I’ve not heard back from them. I could kick myself as it didn’t occur to me when I was there, but my husband found 9 graves of Wise’s but I didn’t recognize the names. Only later did it register that my Great-Great-Grandmother had a total of 15 children, but only 5 survived. Nine graves he found – I wonder if they are 9 of the 10 she lost.
Wrapping It Up
Since this post is ever-so-long I’ll stop here and do another post for the next 2 days. Cemetery hopping is fun. It gave me an opportunity to be near my ancestors. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. It’s just so fascinating to learn their names and to do my best to learn about them and who they were. Just trying my best for them not to be forgotten.
Have you ever gone on a research trip for your family history? Next week I am going on my first trip. I am so excited. I knew my children wouldn’t be so my dad has been nice enough to care for them and the dog while my husband and I head to Bedford County, Pennsylvania (about 4 hours from our home) so I can do a cemetery search and hopefully find original land and probate records from my relatives who passed away over a hundred years ago.
Having never gone on a trip like this before, I am sure there are lots of mistakes that I am making, so I decided to watch a very informative webinar by Family Tree Webinars that was given by Nicka Smith entitled “Get Set, GO! Planning and Executing a Successful Research Trip”. I was amazed at how many things I hadn’t really thought of doing, so that’s when I started getting my ducks in a row.
I then turned to the book I purchased about a month ago, “Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for Every Researcher” by Drew Smith (after listening to the Genealogy Guys Podcast I realized how knowledgeable he is, AND he sat next to me at the Meet and Greet at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in early May). In his book, Drew has an entire chapter dedicated to getting organized for a research trip.
Both Nicka and Drew have various details in common: stay focused on what you are going there to research, have a plan, call ahead – make sure the places you are going to research are open the day that you are planning on going, AND find out if what you want to research is on site for you to look through, space can be limited for historical documents and it’s entirely possible that the land records from 1873 are off-property but if you call a few days in advance, they could have them waiting there for you when you plan on being there.
“Focus” was the word. Bright, shiny objects are always a threat when you are researching but can especially happen when you are on a research trip. This is where apps like Evernote or OneNote can come in handy – note your find, mark down the book you found your information in and either come back to it if you found everything you were looking for – or look for it on another trip.
I know I am presently still figuring out all that I need to look at. I have so many empty holes for specific people at various points in my tree that I am a bit overwhelmed at what exactly I am going to be looking for. Besides visiting the Bedford County Courthouse (which is my second visit) it has been highly recommended to me to visit the Bedford County Historical Society. I have a feeling that I may end up finding a bunch of information at the Historical Society, but I am not 100% certain what all they have (I keep getting snippets of information in my Facebook Group that they have a lot. The Historical Society also acts as the Genealogical Society as well).
Questions to Ask
What hours are they open (you can’t always go by what their website states)?
Am I able to take photos of what I find with my phone?
If I can’t, how much does it cost to make copies?
Is everything I may want to research available, or are there items I need to request in advance?
You want to be as prepared as you can possibly be for your trip, as you don’t want to have driven a long way and be disappointed.
Another tip that I read in a Genealogy Gems blog by Lisa Louise Cooke is to be patient. Things may not go as smoothly as you envisioned in your head (things seldom do) but if you keep a good mindset and roll with the punches, it will allow you to have a wonderful trip.
Below is a very simplistic page I created (reminiscent of one in the webinar by Nicka Smith) as a way to keep me focused on my cemetery search that is going to take place on Monday. I’ve listed the cemeteries, who is buried there, and then I can come up with a few others who I am not sure where they are buried (for example, my great-great-grandmother Susan Jane Foster is buried at South Fork Cemetery, but I’m uncertain if her husband is buried there too. He died before death certificates were mandatory (in 1899) so I don’t have a slip of paper telling me where he is buried (yet – can you say that’s part of why I’m visiting the Bedford County Historical Society) but I’m hoping that maybe I will find him buried with her (or possibly with his children as Susan Jane didn’t pass until 1943). The purpose is to keep myself focused and I think this will do the job (like the little checkboxes?). The blank space to the right is for notes.
Most of those I have listed are direct line relatives. I’m sure if I see others I’ll photograph them. Those with an asterisk have special importance to me, so they are the exception to the direct line rule (I have essentially 3 days, I’m trying to acquire as much as I can but distant aunts, uncles, and cousins can wait).
I’ll update you on my progress next week. My husband thought I’d be able to visit everything in just a few days. I have relatives from Bedford, Fulton, Somerset, Cambria and Huntingdon counties in Pennsylvania, unless I am the world’s fastest and most efficient researcher, I don’t see conquering 4 counties in 2 days, not with both sides on my paternal side of my family to seek information on.
Do you have any tips or suggestions – I feel like in all I’ve read and watched I’m missing something critical to share with you. I’m sure I’ll think of it as soon as I hit “send”. I’d love to hear about anyone’s experience on their own visits to their families homeland. I am super excited to see mine and I’m meeting with a distant cousin and will get copies of photos of family members I’ve not seen.
For two years I’ve had a brick wall in my great-great aunt Margaret Blair who was born in October 1879. She is on the 1880 census as this is how I know she lived. She has been one of my biggest mysteries. By the time the 1900 census comes around, Margaret would have been 20 so I never knew if she had passed away in childhood or just gotten married with her license just eluding me.
Frustrated I reached out to two different Facebook groups last Friday where I received great advice and suggestions from so many supportive family historians. One very helpful commenter suggested that I examine the 1900 and 1910 census because they both state how many total children a woman had and how many were still alive.
You know that emoji where it looks like a woman smacking herself on the forehead? It’s my favorite emoji, and my most used. That was me after reading the recommendation. OVER TWO YEARS and the answer was in front of me the entire time.
I remembered seeing that column on the census way back when I first found the censuses for many family members.
So make sure you know what your census has to offer. Over the years the US government has asked different questions of its population on the census forms.
The first census of the United States was pretty basic. It was all about free white males 16 and older, free white males under 16, free white females of all ages were lumped together, then other free persons, and then slaves. Only the heads of household were listed, along with the state and county.
The second census of the United States expanded on the first one, where it became a little more precise with the age groups of the free white males and free white females, then it was all other free persons, and then slaves.
The third census of the United States was not really that creative and was pretty much the same as in 1800.
The fourth census of the United States still had the same breakdown of free white males and free white females, but this particular year they were interested about foreigners who were not yet naturalized, who was earning a living in agriculture, commerce or manufacturing, then it went into more detail about the ages of slaves, and the ages of free colored persons.
The fifth census of the United States was more of the same, but along with the age increments of all segments of the population, the government also wanted to know who was deaf, dumb (as in couldn’t speak), blind (these were also spread out below age 14, between 14 and 25, and above 25 for both whites and blacks), and they still wanted to know who was an unnaturalized foreigner.
The sixth census of the United States was similar to the 1830 census, but it was also curious about who were pensioners of the Revolutionary War, occupations expanded from just three categories to mining, agriculture, manufacturing, navigation of the ocean, navigation of lakes and rivers, or worked as a professional engineer. There were also questions referencing education/college.
The seventh census of the United States, also the first census most people like as it lists the name of everyone living in a house, age, sex, color, value of real estate, profession, place of birth, married, if they attended school, if they could read or write, and whether deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict.
The eighth census of the United States was very similar to the 1850 census but along with the value of the real estate, it also asked the value of one’s personal estate.
The ninth census of the United States inquired a lot of the basic information of 1860, but was curious about whether your parents were foreign-born and if so, where? Also asked if you were born or married within the past year, what month? If you had attended school within the past year? And if you were a male citizen 21 years or older, and if you were 21 and older and if your right to vote is denied due to crimes or rebellion.
The tenth census of the United States began asking questions such as what street you lived on, your relation to the head of the household, single, married, widow, your profession, if you had been unemployed in the past year, if you were sick or disabled, blind, deaf, dumb, insane, if you had attended school, and where you born, and where your parents were born.
The twelfth census of the United States was the first of two with how many children a woman bore and how many survived as of the census, it also asked what year you immigrated to the US, and how long you have lived here, and if you were naturalized. It asked for a profession, if you attended school, knew English and if you owned or rented your home, if it was a farm or a house, and the farm schedule.
The thirteenth census of the United States delved a little deeper into one’s profession, only cared to know if you were deaf or blind, and also asked if you were an Army or Navy member during the Civil War.
The fourteenth census of the United States delved a little deeper into the ethnicity of people, as it asked where you from but also your mother tongue for both fathers and mothers as well as oneself.
The fifteenth census of the United States was similar to the previous ones, but it also asked what your age on your last birthday was, how old you were when you married, whether you were a veteran, did you work?
The sixteenth census of the United States along with all the information of the previous census’ wanted to know what your highest level/grade of school, if the individual worked for the WPA, what your occupation was and the industry you worked for, and how much money you made.
I had seen the line items on the 1900 and 1910 census about the number of children born and the number of children who were still surviving at the point in time. Here is the 1910 Census for my great-great-grandmother, Susan Jane Foster (Blair). Both the 1900 and the 1910 Census state the same numbers, but on the 1910 census she is at the top of a sheet.
Susan had 9 total children and 6 survived. I can account for her 6 living children: Phoebe Jane Blair, Loretto Jane Blair, Andrew Jackson Blair, Minnie Blair, William Blair, and John Blair. She had 3 that died, Margaret was one of them.
This had me sad. I really hoped she ran off and got married and I just hadn’t tracked her marriage information yet. In a months time, I’m going to head to Pennsylvania and visit some relatives, cemeteries and the Bedford County courthouse, where I hope I am able to find out what happened to poor Margaret. I have two others to find as well.
The Moral of the Story
Pay attention to the details that your census offers, because even though they give you names and approximate birth dates for your ancestors, they can solve your brick walls too.
So many of us use computer programs where we upload the document into our system, and yes we look at enumeration districts and who else is listed when we share our document with all who are on it for citations but do we really KNOW what it’s telling us?
So your homework is to go print off clean copies of the census, and transcribe what you see onto the clean sheet of paper for your relatives, so you can know them better, and tell their stories in a whole new way.