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.

Beginning Swedish Genealogy: Tips from Legacy Tree Genealogists

Beginning Swedish genealogy can be daunting. But don’t let language barriers or unfamiliar naming traditions deter you! Check out these getting-started tips from an expert at Legacy Tree Genealogists.

This guest post comes from Paul Woodbury, a Senior Genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists. He’s an internationally recognized genetic genealogy expert and his varied geographical interests include Scandinavia. Thanks, Paul!

Many people avoid Swedish research because they don’t speak the language and because the names change every generation–like from Ole Olsson to Ole Nilsson to Nils Pehrrson. Despite these barriers, Swedish research can be relatively simple, fun, and successful for several reasons.

1. You can “read” many records without reading Swedish.

Particularly in late 18th and 19th century records, you don’t need in-depth Swedish language skills to make exciting discoveries. Swedish church records of the time were kept in tables and were largely composed of names, dates, and residences. Records include those of:

  • Birth and christening (födelse och döpte)
  • Marriage and engagement (lysning och vigsel)
  • Death and burial (död och begravning)
  • Moving-in lists (inflyttade) and moving-out lists (utflyttade)
  • Clerical examination (“husförhörslängd”)–more on these below.

Dates were frequently recorded in number formats according to the European system (dd-mm-yyyy). As a result, researchers can learn a great deal from Swedish documents with little knowledge of the Swedish language. For the few additional words you may need to learn, consider reviewing this list of words commonly found in Swedish documents available through FamilySearch.org.

2. Family events are summarized in Swedish clerical examinations.

The clerical examination or “husförhörslängd” can act as an index to important family events. Beginning in 1686, each parish was required to keep a household examination for each household. Many early records don’t survive, but copies of these records exist for many parishes in Sweden after about 1780. As part of the household examination, parish priests of the Swedish Lutheran church were required to visit with the members of their parish at least once yearly and test them on their knowledge of the catechism.

Typically, these registers document a family over the course of 5-10 years. They not only include information about the family’s religious duties, but additional information regarding migration, family structure, residence and important family events. If a child was born, he or she was added to the clerical examination, and the birth date and christening date were noted. If an individual or a family moved within the parish, a note was made in the clerical examination with a reference to the page number of the family’s new residence. If they moved out of the parish, the date they left was often recorded along with the number of their entry in the moving-out books. The dates of deaths, confirmations, marriages, vaccinations and communions were also recorded. If you are lucky, additional notes might comment on crimes, physical characteristics, occupations, punishments, social standing, economic status, or other life events with references to pertinent records.

ArkivDigital, Dals-Ed (P) AI:15 (1866-1875), clerical examination, household of Per Johansson, Image 74 / page 64, https://app.arkivdigital.se, subscription database, accessed July 2017.

The above Household Clerical Examination in Dals-Ed Parish in Älvsborg covers 1866-1875 and shows the household of Per Johansson on the farm of Lilla Wahlberg in Bälnäs. The document provides birth dates and places for each household member. It shows that Per’s son, Andreas, moved to Norway in 1872. Another son, Emanuel, moved within the parish but returned after just a month. Among other notes on the document, we learn that Emanuel only had one eye and that he was a dwarf.

3. Many Swedish records cross-reference each other.

Clerical examinations reference other church records, such as those of a child’s birth or a couple’s marriage. But the reverse is also true: birth, marriage, death and migration records frequently reference household examinations. Birth records might list the page number of the child’s family in the household examination. Marriage records indicate the corresponding pages of the residences of the bride and the groom. Death records identify the residence of the deceased. Moving-in and moving-out records frequently report the corresponding page numbers of the farm where a migrant eventually settled or the parish from whence he came.

The yeoman farmer Ollas Per Persson and his wife Greta at a hut in Dalecarlia. Photograph by: Einar Erici, c1930. Wikimedia Commons image, Permission granted Swedish National Heritage Board @ Flickr Commons.

Most clerical examination buy medication for anxiety volumes include an index of farms and residences within the parish. In the case of some larger parishes and cities, local genealogical societies have sometimes indexed all individuals in the volume by name. When researching in multiple volumes, note the farm or residence of your ancestor in the previous record and then search the index of residences near the front or end of the next clerical examination volume. Usually, this will narrow your search to just a few pages out of the book rather than the entire volume.

4. You can trouble-shoot record gaps.

Even when an ancestor’s record trail turns cold, recent publications and indexes created by active Swedish genealogical societies make it possible to pick up the trails of elusive ancestors in earlier and later records. Even if these records do not list the specific pages of interest, they may still provide the reported residences, which can then be located in the clerical examination records.

Occasionally, an ancestor might have moved in a year for which migration records are not currently available, or they might have moved to a larger city with many parishes. Other times, their migration may not have been noted, or jurisdiction lines may have been redrawn resulting in the formation of a new farm and residence. In these cases it may be difficult to continue tracing an ancestor’s record trail. One strategy to overcome these situations is to search the clerical examinations by reported birth date. The birth dates or ages of Swedish ancestors are recorded in many of their records. If you are browsing through large collections, consider searching by birth date rather than by name. Since birth dates were often recorded in their own unique column and are more immediately recognizable than names, this may expedite your search. Even if these strategies still yield no results, searches in indexes may help to uncover an elusive ancestor’s record trail.

5. There are some excellent Swedish indexes and databases online.

In recent years, online indexes and databases have made Swedish genealogical research simpler than ever:

  • FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com and Ancestry.com all have large collections of indexed birth, marriage and death records from Sweden.
  • Sveriges Släktforskarföbund has compiled an index of Swedish death records from 1900 to 2013. It includes the birth dates, birth places, names, maiden names, death dates, residences at time of death, age at time of death, and if the individual was married or widowed, the index will also include the date of marriage or the date of death of their spouse. If they were not married, it will indicate their civil status. Click here to purchase the database (the price is in Swedish krona; do a Google search such as currency converter sek to usd to see the price in your country’s currency).  (A related Ancestry.com database is entitled “Births from the Swedish Death Index” and only includes names, maiden name, birth dates and birth places of the individuals in the index.)
  • MyHeritage has partnered with ArkivDigital to provide an index to Swedish clerical examinations between 1880 and 1920. (Indexing is underway for household examinations from 1850 to 1880.)
  • Other indexed collections at ArkivDigital include the 1950 and 1960 Swedish censuses.
  • Ancestry.com has indexes of Gotenburg passenger lists, which can help identify relatives who migrated from Sweden to others parts of the world.

As you can see, Swedish genealogical records from the late 1700s and 1800s can be fairly easy to read, detailed and full of cross-references. It’s often possible to trace a Swedish ancestor in every year of their life from birth to death! So don’t let language or patronymics (naming traditions) frighten you away from exploring your Swedish family tree.

Help is available when you need it

Have you hit a brick wall that could use professional help? Or maybe you simply don’t have the time for research right now? Our friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists provide full-service professional research customized to your family history, and deliver comprehensive results that will preserve your family’s legacy.

To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit the Legacy Tree website here.
 
Summer Sale Legacy Tree Genealogists

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!

Episode 200

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode 200
with Lisa Louise Cooke

Listen Now

It’s finally here – the 200th episode of the free Genealogy Gems podcast, also celebrating its 10th year.

In this special episode, Lisa invites Professor Mark Auslander to share his discoveries about a mother and young daughter separated by slavery. Learn how he pieced together their story from a poignant family heirloom found at a flea market.

Throughout the episode, you will hear from several listeners, past podcast guests, Gems staffers and supporters in the genealogy industry with congratulations, memories, stories, and favorite Gems tips. Listen for the DNA success story of an adoptee who never gave up his search for his biological roots.

Thanks to all listeners and friends who sent congratulations! Among them are:

Allison Dolan, Publisher, Family Tree Magazine. She mentioned the Family Tree Magazine Podcast

Bruce Buzbee, RootsMagic family history software

DearMYRTLE, veteran online genealogy educator and author of the award-winning DearMYRTLE blog. She mentioned Lisa’s Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast; her all-day seminars at societies; and classes at her booth during conferences.

Geoff Rasmussen, Legacy Family Tree webinars, and author of Kindred Voices: Listening for Our Ancestors

Jim Shaughnessy, Findmypast.com

Mary Tedesco, host and genealogist on PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow, founder of Origins Italy, co-author of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors and a guest on Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #175, talking about Italian research and her work on Genealogy Roadshow

Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret. Listen to Lisa’s conversation with him in The Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 120 and 121. This book and interview planted the seed for the Genealogy Gems Book Club!

Yev Pusin, Social Marketing Marketer, Backblaze online computer backup service, also celebrating its 10th anniversary

 

MAILBOX: LISA AND SUNNY

The following were mentioned in listener emails and voicemails:

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. This is a FREE step-by-step series for beginning genealogists?and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. One listener mentioned the series on naturalization records in episodes 29-31.

The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. Monthly episodes?and the full archive of past episodes?are available to Genealogy Gems Premium website subscribers. This podcast takes what you love about the free Genealogy Gems podcast and goes deeper, broader and more exclusively into topics of interest for U.S. and international audiences.

The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

Using Evernote to organize your family history research: free tips and great resources to help you make the most of this free app (or its Premium version) to keep all your genealogy research notes and links organized and at your fingertips.

Netvibes computer dashboard tool and mobile apps for genealogy

Computer backup story from Kathy: “I was robbed! They took the computer AND the backup drive!”

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

DNA WITH YOUR DNA GUIDE DIAHAN SOUTHARD

Diahan’s series of how-to videos, available to Gems fans for a special price.

Diahan’s series of DNA quick guides, available in print or as digital downloads

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search WebHints on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. Soon RootsMagic will also be able to search records and even sync your tree with Ancestry.com, too.

 

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your buy medicine online worldwide ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

 

INTERVIEW: MARK AUSLANDER

Mark Auslander is an Associate Professor and Museum Director at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA and the author of The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding An American Family.

“Slave Mother’s Love in 56 Carefully-Stitched Words”

Mark’s path to the probable family of this artifact used these techniques:

Look closely at all clues from the artifact: the fabric, stitching, colors, facts conveyed in the text, etc. Look at both the historical clues and the artistic or symbolic aspects of it.

Create a profile for the people mentioned based on what is known. Probable age for Ruth Middleton in 1921, etc.

Use contextual and social history clues to hypothesize a scenario. The inclusion of “South Carolina” hints that the seamstress didn’t live in South Carolina, so he guessed that she was part of the Great Migration of millions of African-Americans in the early 1900s who headed from the rural South to the industrial Midwest and other urban cities.

Take advantage of unusual clues. Rose is a common name for an enslaved woman, but not Ashley.

Look through all available records. Possible census listings for Ruth Middleton in 1920 didn’t seem likely candidates. He dug through marriage records for Northern states until he found a woman named Ruth who married a man named Middleton who fit the profile he’d created.

Use specialized sources for African-American research, especially records created by and about the slaveholder that relate to the holding, sale or transfer of enslaved people.

Mark says that some researchers describe the search process as “guided by some force larger than yourself that keeps you going through those endless hours in microfilm rooms or online. But it does connect us all in very profound ways to those who came before and those who come after?.Through genealogical work, in a sense we can triumph over death itself and we can move back and forth in time in the most remarkable way.”

Coming up next month in The Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 201: An interview with Angela Walton-Raji on finding African-American ancestors. She shares tons of resources! Even if you haven’t found any African-Americans on your family tree, the challenges and rewards of African-American genealogical research are both fascinating and moving to learn about.

Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance. GENEALOGY GEMS EXCLUSIVE OFFER: Go to www.legacytree.com/genealogygems and use coupon code GEMS100 to save $100 off your purchase of research services (expires 4/30/17).

CONVERSATIONS WITH MORE GEMS

Amie Tennant, Gems Content Contributor: see the Genealogy Gems blog

Lacey Cooke, Gems Service Manager

Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer and Audio Editor; she mentioned a favorite Genealogy Gems Book Club title and interview were with Chris Cleave, author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven

 

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

   

The Truth According to Us by internationally bestselling author Annie Barrows

It’s the summer of 1938, and wealthy young socialite Miss Layla Beck is now on the dole as a WPA worker, assigned to write a history of the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. As she starts asking questions about the town’s past, she is drawn into the secrets of the family she’s staying with?and drawn to a certain handsome member of that family. She and two of those family members take turns narrating the story from different points of view, exploring the theme that historical truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

Click here to read an introduction to using WPA records for genealogy.

Annie Barrows is also the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This novel takes place after World War II in a London recovering from the Blitz and an island recovering from German occupation. At the heart of Guernsey is an unlikely love story and the inspiring tale of a community that took care of each other in their darkest days with humor, compassion and good books.

Click here to see more Genealogy Gems Book Club selections and how you can listen to Lisa’s upcoming exclusive conversation with author Annie Barrows about The Truth According to Us.

Music from this episode is from the band Venice

The song played at the opening was “We’re Still Here,” from the album Born and Raised.

The song played at the closing was “The Family Tree” from the album 2 Meter Sessies; click to purchase the album or download the song as a single.

 

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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!

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