Friday, July 22, 2011

Looking for a missing link: Not (necessarily) a cavemen!

Finding Clues In Census Records

Growing up I always disliked geography, mostly because I could never remember where anything was! That and I hated memorizing states and their capitals and I still can't tell you where anything is outside of the United States. My fascination with genealogy has really opened up my mind to the importance of knowing geography in the sense that I need to know where my ancestors lived. One of the first things I do when I start my research is to locate the city, township, county and state of the ancestor I am researching. This helps me to know which records I might want to collect while doing my research.

I recently found some records that helped me to find the parents of an ancestor who was missing from our family tree. His name is Griffith Peters. I knew quite a bit about his adult life from other research that I had done, but not much about where he came from or who his parents might be. I knew that he was born around 1845 and that Pennsylvania was listed as his birthplace. This was where I would start.

Start Out With A Broad Search

I started out doing a broad search in the census records for this relative with only a name, estimated birth date, and birth state. The only thing I found was a single mention of a Griffin Peters in the 1850 census. The name didn't match exactly, but census records are often not correct. So many different things can influence the information contained in the census record. It may have been written incorrectly by the census taker, the names may have been given second hand by a neighbor or even the foreign accent of the person giving the report might cause the name to be recorded incorrectly by the census taker.  I needed to find other records that might link this record to my ancestor. I logged what I had found and set it aside as a possible match.

Keep A Log Of The Clues You Find

In my log, I took note of the family group:

Father: Evan Peters, age 30, born in Wales
Mother: Margaret Peters, age 34, born in Wales
Child: Griffin Peters, age 5, born in Pennsylvania
Child: Richard Peters, age 2, born in Pennsylvania

And the location:
Banks Township, Carbon County, Pennsylvania

I also noted that of all the records in several pages of census reports, Evan was one of the only persons to record that they owned real estate. (This will hopefully help me find more information later.)

Investigate Leads

Armed with this information, I logged onto Google maps and researched Banks Township, Carbon County, PA. I familiarized myself with the neighboring towns and counties and then I headed back to do some more research. I knew from family records that Griffith had joined the Union army in 1864. I was able to find records that showed that he had enlisted in his company when they were recruiting in Mauch Chunk, PA. Through my research I could see that Mauch Chunk was quite close in proximity to Banks Township, Carbon County, PA. I surmised that the family must have stayed in the general area at least until the time that Griffith joined the military. So where did they go?

My next step was to search the 1860 Census. I could find no Peters' families in the area that seemed to match my family group, so I broadened the search. In a neighboring county of Luzerne, I found a census record with a listing of Margaret, Richard, Griffith and another child, Mary Ann (who was born shortly after the 1850 census) but all under the surname Haycock. Once again, I pulled out a map and determined that the new location was just a few miles from the one where Evan and Margaret had lived in 1850. It appeared to me that Margaret may have remarried and the children from Evan were now being listed as part of the Haycock family group. Once again, I had a possible match through census records, but the names didn't match completely. I needed to try to tie the pieces together to determine if I have a match.

I began searching for the surname Haycock in the census records. In the 1870 census, I found the Haycock family group again in Luzerne county. Griffith had left home by 1870, but I found Richard and Mary Ann and now they were listed with the surname Pierce, easily a misspelling of Peters, and living with the Haycock family. This confirmed to me that Richard and Mary Ann were listed in the 1860 census with the wrong surname. And once again in 1870 with the wrong surname but a very close match to the Peters name that I had been searching for.

I was able to follow Margaret's life through census records until her death in 1880.  Now I need to take the information that I found in the census and try to find birth, death, or other documents to make sure that I have truly located Griffith's family.

Beyond The Census

My next journey is to visit the Carbon County court house and search the archives for more information. Since Evan is listed as owning $500 worth of real estate, I am hoping to find a will or probate record that will confirm Evan's death and possibly Margaret's second marriage and also her inheritance of the real estate. These other records will help to ensure that I am barking up the right family tree.

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