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.

Family History Episode 10 – Deeper into Census Records

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy PodcastOriginally published 2009

Republished December 10, 2013

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.

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Episode 10: Deeper into Census Records

We’re going to start off today by continuing our use of U.S. Federal Census Records.  Last episode we located relatives in the 1930 census, and today we’re going to push further back in time to follow the census bread crumb trail.

Then in our second segment we’re going to explore some census enumerations that often go overlooked by family historians with Curt Witcher, the Manager of the nationally-recognized Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Curt is a very well-known genealogy lecturer and he has some great tips for tapping in to more obscure census resources. We’ll talk about nonpopulation schedules for the federal census, census substitutes for missing census data (like the 1890 census) and state censuses that may be available, too.

Updates and Links

As I mentioned in the show notes of the last episode, the 1940 census is now available to researchers. Check out those notes for more information. Here are some more updates and links:

  • Learn more about nonpopulation schedules and other census records in Ancestry’s online version of The Source.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau has online info on state censuses. Learn even more in Ann S. Lainhart’s book State Census Records (Genealogical Publishing Company, 1992). A lot of state censuses are now searchable on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
  • A few fragments of the 1890 census remain. These are searchable at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.
  • The Ancestry database substitute for the 1890 census I mentioned in the show is now supplemented by census substitute databases on Ancestry for just about every state for 1890 and other years. Search for them in the Card Catalog with the search term “1890 census.”
  • The National Archives has a portal for census records, too (what’s in them and how to find them).

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

Here’s our weekly roundup of interesting and new genealogy records online for Brazil, Denmark, England, Ireland and the U.S.

BRAZIL CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. Over 200,000 indexed records have been added to a free collection of Pernambuco, Brazil civil registrations (1804-2014) at FamilySearch.org.

DENMARK DEEDS AND MORTGAGES. FamilySearch.org has added nearly 3 million digitized images to its collection of browsable deeds and mortgages for South Jutland, Denmark (1572-1928).

ENGLAND COURT. Ancestry subscribers now have access to a new collection of Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914(1637-1914). According to the database description, these courts “had both a civil and a criminal jurisdiction, and before 1888 they also had an administrative function. Civil cases usually appear in the court’s order books and criminal cases in the indictment books.”

ENGLAND PROBATE. New Yorkshire, England, Probate Records, 1521-1858 are now available to Ancestry subscribers. These include wills, letters of administration and inventories.

ENGLAND TAX. About a quarter million land records are now included in FindMyPast’s database of Devon, Plymouth & West Devon Land Tax and Valuation Records 1897-1949. Use these to learn about an ancestor’s residence, property ownership and wealth.

IRELAND PARISH RECORDS. Ancestry has posted an Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915 from the National Library of Ireland. Access to this index is already free on Findmypast.

U.S. – AFRICAN-AMERICAN. About 35,000 indexed records and associated images have been added to a free collection of Freedmen’s Bureau marriages (1861-1872) at FamilySearch.org.

U.S. – ILLINOIS MARRIAGE. Nearly 200,00 total indexed marriage records for Illinois have been added to FamilySearch.org across three collections: church marriages, 1805-1985; civil marriages, 1833-1889 and county marriages, 1810-1934.

U.S. – MARYLAND CHURCH. A new collection of nearly 140,000 free, indexed records from a variety of Maryland churches (1668-1995) has been added to FamilySearch.org.

U.S. WAR OF 1812. 1.3 million indexed records have been added to a free United States War of 1812 Index to Service Records at FamilySearch.org.

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Historic U.S. Newspapers & More in New & Updated Records

Historic U.S. newspapers are featured in this week’s new and updated records collections, including Hawaii, Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina. Also new this week are updated New York passenger lists, vital records for England, Welsh newspapers, military and census records for Canada, and Austrian parish records. 

UK Newspapers records update

Historic U.S. Newspapers & More

This week we were delighted to see lots of historic U.S. newspaper made available online. Newspapers are a fantastic way to find clues about your ancestors, especially when vital records are elusive, and also learn about their daily lives.

Hawaii. If you have family from Hawaii or are interested in Hawaiian history, then you’ll definitely want to check out these three new titles added to Newspapers.com:

In 2010, the Adviser and Star-Bulletin were merged to create the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. If you’re looking for ancestors or other family members in these papers, good places to start include personals columns, society pages, local interest columns, and the like.

Colorado. History Colorado (HC) recently digitized and added two historic Denver African-American newspapers: Statesman (1905-1912), and The Denver Star (1912-1918). While these papers covered news from African-American communities in “Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the West,” they also covered local news from Denver’s Five Points district.  These newspapers cover Denver’s African American culture and community, including its residents, businesses, and aspects of everyday life.

Georgia. Georgia Perimeter College Collection is now available online. The digital collection includes yearbooks, catalogs, and student newspapers from the 1960s to the 2010s. You can browse the collection by decade, date, format, or by the name of the institution at the time each item was published.

North Carolina. The newspaper of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, NC has been digitized and made available online. There are 44 issues are available to browse spanning from 1971-1979 with issues published every other month. Among the news headlines are graduations, alumni news, fundraising campaigns, appointments of new abbots, and changes on campus reflective of this decade’s larger cultural movements.

New York. MyHeritage has updated their collection of Ellis Island and Other New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. This collection contains millions of records of individuals arriving at the port of New York, including individuals who arrived at three well-known immigrant processing stations: Castle Garden (1855-1890), the Barge Office (1890-1892), and Ellis Island (1892-1957).

England – Portsmouth Collection

Findmypast has an exciting new collection for Portsmouth, Hampshire. This collection of scanned images of original handwritten documents contains more than 1.3 million historical records spanning 1538 – 1917. When complete, the collection will be the largest repository of Portsmouth family history records available online. Click the links below to explore the 5 collections:

Also new this week from The British Newspaper Archive is the Ross Gazette. This newspaper is published by Tindle Newspapers in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, England, spanning 1867 – 1910. This collection currently has over 2,000 issues available now, with more continuing to be added.

Welsh Newspapers

British Newspaper ArchiveEven more historic newspapers are new this week as we head over to Wales. The British Newspaper Archive recently added the Rhyl Journal (Clywd, 1877 – 1897) and Cambrian News (Dyfed, 1863 – 1882) to their database.

Though these collections are relatively small, they can provide wonderful clues and details about your ancestors living in Wales in the 19th century.

Canada – Military and Census Records

New for Canada this week are Certificates of Military Instruction at Fold3, which includes records from 1867 to 1932. There were initially two types of certificates: First Class (battalion-level officers) and Second Class (company-level officers). The information you can find in the certificates in this collection typically includes the man’s name, rank, and residence; the certificate type and date; and the name and location of the school.

The 1921 Canadian Census is now available for free at the Library and Archives Canada. The 1921 Census marked the sixth regularly scheduled collection of national statistics. It officially began on June 1, 1921. This research tool contains 8,800,617 records that are searchable by name.

Austria – Parish Records

Over at Ancestry.com, a new collection of Salzburg Catholic Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1600-1930 is now available. From the description: “This collection contains parish registers from numerous Catholic communities in the city Salzburg, Austria as well as numerous communities that today are part of the Austrian state of Salzburg.” Note that these records are in German, and you should search using German words and location spellings.

Native American Records

Do you have Native American ancestry? Or are you interested in Native American history? Then explore Fold3’s Native American Collection for free November 1-15, 2017. Their unique collection includes records, documents, and photos never before seen online. All you need is a free Fold3 account to start exploring!

 

Disclosure: This page 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 this free podcast and blog!

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