Sunday, June 17, 2012

May All Your Ancestors Live in Small Towns

I am blessed that some of my ancestors stayed in small towns! When I look at the meager death notices from papers like the NY Times and even the Brooklyn Eagle I am envious of those researchers whose ancestors hailed from little burgs like Mount Carmel, PA.

I recently started reviewing an old file folder of information that had various copies from over the years. I needed to see what information I already had on some of my ancestors. I’ve mentioned this technique previously when referring to the depth of information available in census records.

It’s not that I’m not observant; it’s just that when I obtained the obituaries, originally, I was looking only for my direct line ancestors. Now, that I have some “brick walls,” I’m spreading out into collateral lines to work around the walls. I also find that I’m becoming more interested in what the family structure was and who these people were.

Don’t forget while doing your family history research that your experience grows at the same time your tree grows. Information may be buried in your own archives.

Here is what I discovered in some obituaries that I already had from a small town paper’s obituary.

Mrs. Thomas Magee (not McGee, like I had) was formerly Helen (not Ellen) Fairley (I had this) from Scotland (I had this.) She settled in Branchdale and stayed there for 40 years (not quite accurate but confirmation of what I had) and resided in Mount Carmel for ten years (news to me.) They’d recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary (handy to know.)

Now, here comes the good stuff:

“The deceased is survived by one daughter, Mrs. Lewis Gottschall of this city, and an adopted son Robert Magee, of Rhode Island. There are fourteen grandchildren. Her brother John resides in the West, and brother Alexander in town. She was a sister of the late Mrs. Thomas Wardrop.”


First, I was not sure how the girls in the family were related. Now, I see that one might well have been a sister and not a daughter. I’ve since found some additional evidence of this.

Second, I have confirmation that Robert was not her biological son and the information that I had saying he was in Rhode Island was not erroneous.

Third, she had additional siblings here in this country! I had no idea! I even have the name of a spouse.

Now, to be fair, obituaries are also not primary sources of information and some of it is wrong. “Shortly after her marriage to Thomas Magee the couple came to this country” – WRONG!

She married in 1854 in Pottsville, PA.

Had she died in New York City, I would have had a death date (maybe) and some idea of funeral arrangements but because she died in a small town I have so much more.

May all your ancestors live in small towns.

Happy Hunting!

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