Finding Widows, Disappearing Husbands, and Lost Relatives

Great-grandma may be listed as a widow in the 1900 federal census…but she might not actually be a widow after all. Women in the past sometimes claimed widowhood to protect their family’s good name. A recent reader’s question prompted this post for sharing some tips to finding widows, disappearing husbands, and lost relatives.

Finding widows, disappearing husbands, and lost relatives

Widow or Not?

Genealogy Gems reader, Mary, wrote us the following comment:

“My grandmother Kitty’s first husband was Robert Lee Jeffries. They married in 1887 and had 4 or 5 children. He died in the very early 1900’s. She later remarried my grandfather, John, and they had four children together. All this took place in Hardin County, Kentucky. I cannot find when, where, or how her first husband died, or where he is buried. Can you help me?”

I think we can give Mary some tips to help her find Robert. As you read along, consider how these same tips and techniques could help you in finding widows, disappearing husbands, and lost relatives.

Finding Death Records in the Early 1900s

A death record is typically a good way to determine where someone went. If you can locate a death record for your lost individual, they aren’t lost anymore! Finding death records for the time period that Mary is asking about isn’t usually too difficult, unless there has been a record loss for that county. By doing a quick check on FamilySearch wiki for Hardin County, Kentucky, I learned that many records between 1852 and 1911 are missing, including some of the death records. That may be why Mary wasn’t able to find one.

When a death record can’t be found, there are many alternatives that we can exhaust. Cemetery records, newspaper obituaries, and probate records are just a few suggestions. But before we move into alternative records, something caught my attention.

Misspelled Names

With a last name like “Jeffries,” there could be several ways to spell it. Jeffrys, Jefferies, Jeffres, and perhaps many more. What can you do when you have a name, first or last, that could be spelled so many different ways?

One suggestion is to search by each of the possible name spellings, but another tool is to use an asterisk or wildcard. The first part of the surname Jeffries is always the same: J e f f. Whether you are searching records at Ancestry, Findmypast, or MyHeritage, you can use an asterisk after the last “f” to indicate you are looking for any of the possible surname spellings.

DisappearingHusband_1

I didn’t find any great matches using the criteria you see in the image above, but I took off the death date range and Kitty’s name and found Bob Lee JeffERies living in his parents home in 1880 in Hardin County, Kentucky. Take a close look at this image:

DisappearingHusband_2

Do you see the mistake? If you look at the digital image of the census, it spells the surname as Jeffries, however the record is indexed as Jefferies. Not to mention that Robert Lee is recorded as Bob Lee. This combination of name differences will always cause a little hiccup in our search process. This is why it is so important to consider name spellings when searching for records.

Even though using an asterisk didn’t produce a death record, you can see how using a tip like this can help when searching for any records online.

Alternatives to Death Records

Like I mentioned before, Hardin county had some record losses. Just because their death records may have been lost or destroyed, doesn’t mean the probate records were.

Using FamilySearch.org, I used the browse option to search probate record books in Hardin county, Kentucky. I found a record dated 25 Apr 1893, in which Kitty wrote her own will. [1] She mentions Lucy (possibly Robert’s mother found in the 1880 census) and others by name. What is strange is there’s no mention of a husband. I wondered if perhaps husband Robert had died before 1893. Unfortunately, there was no Robert Jeffries (or any variation) in the previous record books and the record book that Kitty appeared in was the last one available online.

When no will can be found, that doesn’t mean there is not a probate record available. The next step would be to visit the Hardin County probate office or State Archives to see if there is an estate packet available for Robert.

An estate packet is typically filled with all sorts of genealogy goodies! Receipts, list of heirs, and affidavits may shed light on many a burning question for your targeted ancestor.

The Disappearing Husband

Sadly, not all husband’s leave their families due to their demise. In the past, it was sometimes easier and more appealing to call yourself a widow or widower when your spouse left you. Kitty wrote a will in 1893 and did not mention a husband. In 1900, she was living in her father’s house and her children were divided up among the relatives, including her in-laws. Could Robert have left Kitty and the children? There may only be one way to know for sure.

Kitty remarried. To do that, either Robert had to die or she would need to be divorced. Divorce records can sometimes be located on a county level or at a state archives. I gave Hardin County Clerk of Courts a call and found out that divorce records between the years of 1804 -1995 are held at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives. Their website provided details to ordering several types of records, including divorce records.

Looking in All the Wrong Places

Sometimes, we are so focused on one area that we can’t see past the end of our noses! Many of our ancestors lived on the borders of other counties. Hardin County, Kentucky is especially unique. It borders not only eight other Kentucky counties, but it also borders Harrison County, Indiana. It’s always a good idea to branch out to these nearby locations when you are having trouble locating records.

A Re-cap

When struggling to find a record for any targeted ancestor, try the following:

  • Consider alternate name spellings and search for common nicknames.
  • When there has been a possible record loss, search for alternative records that may hold the information you are looking for.
  • Determine which counties/states your targeted location is bordering and search there for records as well.

Have you found a disappearing person or long, lost relative? If so, share with us (in the comment section below) your story and how you finally tracked the elusive person down. Maybe your story will help others still searching for that missing ancestor!

More Gems on Finding Missing Ancestors

How to Search Your Ancestors’ Other Spouses and Childrenmy ancestor in the newspaper news

6 Sources that May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents

How to Save Time and Find the Ancestors You Are Looking For


Article References

(1) “Kentucky, Probate Records, 1727-1990,” digital images online, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : accessed 10 Aug 2016); record for Kitty A. Jeffries, 1893; citing Will Records, Index, 1893-1915, Vol. G, page 12.

Looking for a Living Relative?

Join Lisa Louise Cooke of The Genealogy Gems Podcast as she reveals 9 strategies to find your living relatives. Unleash your inner private eye and discover the tools that will help you connect with long lost cousins who may just hold the key to your genealogy brick wall!

This video class is part of Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning and includes a downloadable handout. Members can click here to watch right now. (Not a member? Click here to sign up!)

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

This article was originally posted on August 24, 2016 and updated on April 18, 2019.

Get the Most out of Ancestry.com Shaky Leaf Hints

If you’re an Ancestry.com user, you’ve seen those “shaky leaves.” They are automated hints generated when Ancestry.com thinks a historical record or tree matches an individual on yours.Ancestry Shaky Leaf

Are you getting the most out of your Ancestry.com shaky leaf hints? Check out this video on YouTube–then keep reading!

In a nutshell: look at all the hints. Then keep searching.

According to the Ancestry Insider blogger, hints are only provided for the top 10% of Ancestry records. 

I asked our Genealogy Gems source at Ancestry.com about this. He did clarify that this means the most popular 10% of collections, which accounts for “a majority of the records.” But he also comments, “Hints are not meant to be an exhaustive method to flesh out all of the records for your ancestors. People should always search as well as use hints.”

After checking all the hints, I routinely find a LOT more by then searching records from an individual’s profile.

Search from the profile rather than the main search screen so some of the other data you’ve already found (like dates and relationships and locations) will be included automatically in the search parameters. I think searching from the individual profile also makes it faster to attach records to your person once you’ve found them.

Click here to hear how one woman used Ancestry.com hints to discover a tree for the biological mother who abandoned her when she was five. You’ll also learn her inspiring message about how moving past her mother on her family tree has helped her move on with her life.

A Wide Range of New and Updated Genealogy Records

The newest genealogy records to hit the Internet are exciting because of the wide range subjects they cover. Peruse these carefully because there just may be a genealogy gem waiting just for you!

New and Updated Free Records from FamilySearch 

The newest additions to the FamilySearch collections are global in their reach, and best of all they are free. Here’s the latest:

new genealogy records at FamilySearch

American Samoa 
American Samoa, Vital Records, 1850-1972
2,874 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Argentina
Argentina, Salta, Catholic Church Records, 1634-1972
98,907 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Brazil
Brazil, Santa Catarina, Civil Registration, 1850-1999
4,072 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Canada
Manitoba Church Records, 1800-1959
58 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Chile
Chile, Catholic Church Records, 1710-1928
2,670 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Colombia
Colombia, Bogotá, Burial Permits, 1960-1991
18,221 Added indexed records to an existing collection

England
England, Oxfordshire Parish Registers 1538-1904
826 New indexed records collection

England, Yorkshire Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1613-1887
960 New indexed records collection

England, Bedfordshire Parish Registers, 1538-1983
376,993 New indexed records collection

England, Devon Bishop’s Transcripts, 1558-1887
33,158 Added indexed records to an existing collection

England, Warwickshire, Parish Registers, 1535-1963
20,994 Added images to an existing collection

Finland
Finland, Tax Lists, 1809-1915
73,007 Added indexed records to an existing collection

France
France, Vienne, Census, 1876
20,638 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Peru
Peru, Cemetery Records, 1912-2013
565 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Peru, Huánuco, Civil Registration, 1889-1997
6,480 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Peru, Junín, Civil Registration, 1881-2005
365 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Peru, Prelature of Yauyos-Cañete-Huarochirí, Catholic Church Records, 1665-2018
680 New indexed records collection

United States

free US genealogy recordsAlabama Deaths, 1908-1974
697 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Alabama, County Birth Registers, 1881-1930
6,638 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Alabama, Friends of Magnolia Cemetery, Funeral Books, 1911-1965
6,606 Added indexed records to an existing collection

California, Lassen County, State Board of Health, Burial Permits, 1931-1988
800 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Georgia, County Delayed Birth and Death Records, 1870-1960
7687 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Hawaii, Board of Health, Marriage Record Indexes, 1909-1989
10,729 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Illinois, Stark County Circuit Court, Stark County Naturalization Records
560 New indexed records collection

Louisiana, New Orleans, Interment Registers, 1836-1972
12,755 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Louisiana, Orleans Parish, Birth Records, 1819-1906
30,826 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Mississippi, Adams County, Natchez Death Index, 1835-1905
168 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Missouri, County Marriage, Naturalization, and Court Records, 1800-1991
5,678 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Nebraska, Grand Army of the Republic, Burial Records, 1861-1948
364 Added indexed records to an existing collection

North Carolina, Wake County, Death Records, 1900-1909
2,537 Added indexed records to an existing collection

South Carolina, Charleston County, Charleston, Birth Registers, 1901-1926
601 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Tennessee, Board of Health, Shelby County, Memphis Death Records, 1848-1913
1,061 New indexed records collection

Texas, Harrison County Delayed Birth Records, 1860-1933
196 Added indexed records to an existing collection

United States, GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Obituaries, 1815-2011
98,269 Added indexed records to an existing collection

United States, Iowa Naturalization Records, 1859-1990
55,114 New indexed records collection

United States, Louisiana, Passenger Departures from New Orleans, 1867-1871
5,123 New indexed records collection

United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1860
4,429,408 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Virginia, Slave Birth Index, 1853-1866
13,135 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Pilgrim’s Rest Cemetery, Interment Records, 1880-1979
300 Added indexed records to an existing collection

Wales, Anglesey, Parish Registers, 1538-1912
281,418 Added indexed records and images to an existing collection

The Latest from Ancestry.com

Obituaries are a staple of genealogical research. Here’s the latest from the folks at Ancestry:

“Ancestry® updated its collection of US obituaries by combing through millions of digital obituaries to key names, relationships and other facts so members can now easily search these records with just one click.  

updated obituary collections for genealogy

This initiative first announced at RootsTech uses new sophisticated artificial intelligence technology. 

The new Newspapers.com Obituary Collection and the upgraded Ancestry U.S. Obituary Collection will expand Ancestry’s unparalleled historical record collections that enable people around the world to uncover their family history, spark their own journey of discovery and inspire meaningful conversations.

  • Obituary collections include over 262 million worldwide obituaries and death announcements with almost 1 billionsearchable family members
  • US Obituary Collection, 1930-Current search is the world’s largest, searchable digital archive, now includes 4x more searchable family members
  • Newspapers.com Obituary Index includes facts from nearly 200 millionNewspapers.com obituaries
  • Newspapers.com is the largest online newspaper archive, with over 525+ million pages of historical newspapers, including obituaries, from thousands of printed newspapers across the United States and beyond.

Members with an Ancestry All Access or Newspapers.com Basic subscription have a 1-click option to view the full obituary on Newspapers.com. Some images may require a Publisher Extra subscription as certain newspapers require additional licenses to view their content.”

Visit Ancestry here.

Visit Newspaper.com here. 

Other Unique Collections Updated

From the State Archives of North Carolina blog comes a very interesting addition ton an existing Civil War digital collection:

A selection of 12 volumes from the Soldiers’ Home Association have been added to the Civil War digital collection. These volumes document the history of medical care for veterans and the elderly around the turn of the 19th century.”

Civil War Digital Record Collection for Genealogy

“These volumes provide recorded information on veterans’ military service, illnesses or injuries that might not have been recorded elsewhere. Some volumes include patients’ requests for their burial and funeral wishes. The volumes included are listed below:

Roll Book, 1890-1911

Register, 1890-1917

Record of Inmates, 1896-1924

Record of Inmates, 1925-1936

Record of Clothing Issued, 1926-1934

Hospital Patients, 1908-1916

Hospital Register, 1911-1919

Hospital Register, 1925-1930

Hospital Night Orders, 1918-1919

Hospital Night Orders, 1919

Hospital Night Orders, 1924

Hospital Night Orders, 1928-1929″

New British Genealogy Records

British Records

1801 Census

Discover your Scouse ancestor’s address, occupation and who they were living with in 1801. Findmypast now offers over 13,000 new and exclusive early census records. Don’t miss the images because they provide additional information about your ancestor’s abode.

The 1801 census was the first official census to be carried out in Britain. It estimated the population of England and Wales to be 8.9 million, and that of Scotland to be 1.6 million.

The 1801 census comprised two parts:

  • the first was related to the number of people, their occupations, and numbers of families and houses.
  • The second was a collection of the numbers of baptisms, marriages and burials, thus providing an indication of the rate at which the population was increasing or decreasing.

Click the following link to search the collection: 1801 Lancashire, Liverpool Census

Cornwall Burials

Over 75,000 new records covering 52 parishes across the Cornish peninsula are now available to search at Findmypast.

These transcripts reveal 5 key pieces of information:

  1. when your ancestor was buried
  2. where your ancestor was buried
  3. their age at death,
  4. residence
  5. and relatives’ names.

Click here to search the Cornwall Burials collection.

Kent Burials

And finally, Findmypast has added 12,000 new records to their collection last week. The majority of these new additions cover Swanscombe municipal cemetery and will reveal where and when your ancestor was buried as well as the names of their spouse and father. Click here to search the Kent Burial records

New Records Coming Soon

Recently announced on the University of Georgia website:

“Through a new partnership with Google, about 120,000 of the Libraries’ 4.5 million volumes will be digitized, allowing further access to literary, historic, scientific and reference books and journals through UGA’s library catalog as well as one of the largest digital book collections in the world.”

new digitized books

“In addition to more modern materials that will be available for preview online, other examples of volumes available in full text include shipping registers from as far back as 1764 and Atlanta city directories dating back to 1870.

The project also advances a longstanding effort to provide digital access to state and federal government publications, and free digital access will be available to works by Balzac, Sir Francis Bacon, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy and other historically significant authors, thanks to UGA Libraries.”

Read the full post here.

What Did You Discover this Week?

Did one of these new and updated digital genealogy collections deliver what you’ve been waiting for? Please share your discovering in the Comments below. And click here to subscribe to the free Genealogy Gems newsletter to receive all the latest in new and updated genealogy records for your family history. 

Family History Episode 37 – Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 2

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished June 24, 2014

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh37.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 37: Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 2

Today’s show is all about YOU!  Just like Episode 36, this episode is made up completely of your emailed questions, comments and stories. Joining me on today’s episode to read your emails again is my daughter, Lacey Cooke.

Question: Is there a way to get iTunes to download all of the podcasts instead of just the most recent ones? I thought I saw it on the website somewhere but now I can’t find it. –Melanie Armstrong

Answer: (updated since the podcast originally aired): In your iTunes LIBRARY, on the line where the Genealogy Gems Podcast is listed click the GET ALL button. This will download all the past episodes to iTunes on your computer, to be listened to at your convenience. Downloading will take several minutes.  You will see a little spinning orange circle to the left of the podcast name as it downloads.  Once the episode is downloaded the text will turn from gray to black.  Double click the episode and it will start to play after a moment or two.

Question: I use the free forms at Family Tree Magazine’s website. Do you keep your old Family Group Sheets on file so you can double check them later? – R. Butler

Answer: I love all those free forms at Family Tree Magazine! I’ll tell you the truth, I decided to throw mine away. I transcribed everything into my database and threw away the paper. Everything is properly sourced there, which is key. I avoid duplicating efforts, which has happened to me when looking back at old paper forms. If I need to double-check things, I do it from the actual sources—the birth or death certificate or interview—not from the family group sheet. The only exception is if the group sheet is part of a brick wall case file that I haven’t solved yet. I keep them until the case is solved, and then the cited answers go into the database.

Question: How do you know when records/indices are complete? I have been looking for immigration records for my family and cannot find them.

They came in large family groups, so you would think it would be easy to find. Even though the name (Mauge) is often misspelled (Mange, Mauga) I cannot find them at Ellis Island, Steve Morse’s website, The National Archives or through my Ancestry.com subscription. The years span 1880 through 1885. Are these immigration records complete or am I looking in the wrong place? -Anne-Marie Eischen

Answer: There are many factors involved here, and many avenues to pursue. Based on other information you told me about your family’s arrival, here are some ideas:

  • The Family History Library has microfilm of the Baltimore Passenger lists between 1920 and 1897 – and it lists the main author as the U.S. Dept of the Treasury, Bureau of Customs. Passengers are indexed by soundex and the soundex code for Mauge would be M200.  But considering the variations you have found of the name you’ll want to arm yourself with the soundex codes for all those variations. The M200 names are on Film # 417302 which I found in the Family History Library catalog and familysearch.org and you can just go to your closes Family History Center and order the film for under $10 and they will send it to you to view at the center.
  • Check the at the Immigrant’s Ships Transcribers Guild website.
  • Click here for a great summary of Baltimore passenger lists by Joe Beine online.
  • You will also find an index for Baltimore passenger lists between 1820 and 1897 at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN.
  • Look closely at your source for the port information, and see if you can locate any other verification of that. Maybe she actually arrived through another port.
  • Usually I would tell you to check departure lists, but in this case, departure lists for Bremen for that time period are not available.
  • Here’s a great book recommendation for you: Finding Your Chicago Ancestors by Grace DeMelle.

Question: I wanted to share the results of my Google Alerts. My father had red hair and was called “Red” most of his life. So when I ask for “Red” Browning in my alerts, I have received information on the red Browning sweater (the Browning clothing line), a red Browning rifle case (they make guns) and recently the Cincinnati Reds Tom Browning went to jail (the Red’s Browning…). Alas, nothing yet on my Dad! Another family name is Gorry – you can imagine what I got last Halloween! I do love the alerts though – and have added eBay alerts too, thanks to you. Keep encouraging us and thanks for the great tips! -Joan Ketterman

Answer: I’m not sure how much I can help with that one – keep playing with the “plus” and “minus” signs in your searches to refine what you’re looking for. And I’m glad you’re using those eBay alerts. Learn more about eBay alerts in Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 140. Note: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about Google Alerts in Premium Podcast Episode 28.

Comment: On the podcast you recommended using Google Books. I have a “gem” for you….I have a link where the LDS church has archived loads of family history books: http://www.familyhistoryarchive.byu.edu. Follow the link and type in the surname of your choice. I have found some wonderful stories there about my ancestors. – Susan in West Palm Beach Florida

Note: The BYU Family History Archive she references has migrated into the Family History (Digital) Books collection at FamilySearch along with the digital book collections of other repositories/ They are now searchable at FamilySearch.org.

Question: This is just something that bugs me. WHICH is the correct pronunciation of Genealogy??? GEEN-e-alogy (with a long “e” at the beginning) or Gen-e-ology (with a short “e” at the beginning)?

Answer: I’ve heard it both ways and I’ve pronounced it both ways. But when I went to Dictionary.com, they actually have an audio pronunciation and they say, GEEN-e-alogy, with a long “e” at the beginning. However you pronounce it, it’s a barrel of fun!

Question: How can I learn more about the Freedom of Information Act?

Answer: Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 20 and Episode 21. It’s also covered in my book Genealogy Gems Ultimate Research Strategies.

Question: Hello, I just finished listening to the June Family Tree Magazine Podcast. I have been wanting to write to you for months now to ask you this question: Who is the musician playing the guitar music during the podcast?  My husband is a big Chet Atkins fan and I thought it could be Chet but my husband says no just from listening to it. Can you please provide me with the musicians name?  -Melissa Roberge

Listen to this episode to find out the answer!

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