Thursday, July 17, 2014

Consider the Possibilities

When an ancestor disappears after any particular record and I've come to the end of the line of obvious searches I stop and imagine the possibilities of that ancestor's life.  What might have happened next?  Where might he/she have gone?  Thinking about the possible next steps of a person's life may help me find more information about him/her.

For example, I have only two records for my potential ancestor, Werner Frommann.  They are a ship's manifest and an 1860 census record.  (I've already searched for him in the 1870 U.S. Census but did not find him.)

From the manifest I learned
  • his country of origin (Hessen)
  • from where he sailed and ship name (Bremen, "Julius")
  • his age (54)
  • his previous occupation (weaver)
  • with whom he travelled and their ages (Maria, 21; Johannes, 16; Anna, 12; Elisabeth, 7; Heinrich, 5; Caspar, 4; and Christianne, 23)
  • his port of arrival (Baltimore)
  • his arrival date in the U.S. (August 4, 1856)
  • his intended destination (Greenville)

From the 1860 census record I learned
  • where he was living (Hickory Township, Mercer County, Penna)
  • his age (58)
  • his occupation (miner)
  • his country of origin (Germany)
  • with whom he was living and their ages (John, 20; Henry, 10; Casper, 7)
  • who his neighbors were (but have not yet compiled a list)

Imagining the possible next steps an ancestor may have taken will give me ideas about other possible sources of evidence.  I may not find him in any of the places I search but my search will have been deeper, broader, and more extensive.

Below are possibilities about what happened to Werner Frommann and search ideas.

He may have died.  Search
-> probate records in the county and state where he last lived
-> probate records in neighboring counties
-> orphan's court records because he may have died without a will
-> local newspapers for accounts of his death
-> local newspapers for announcements regarding his estate
-> for a gravestone at Find-A-Grave or Billion Graves
-> for his name in cemetery indexes

He may have returned to Germany.
-> Are there emigration records for the U.S. in the 1860s?

He may have moved from the county and/or state.
-> perform a broad search in any of the major search engines

He may have changed his name or the spelling may have altered because of pronunciation.
-> search with broader name variations

This is my initial list of possibilities for this ancestor.  I will choose what I think is the most likely possibility and begin those searches.  If he's not found after those, I'll continue through the list.

Do you do this when searching for an ancestor, too?  What other places and possibilities do you consider for a  ancestor whose trail disappeared?  What possibilities have I missed for Werner?


© 2014 Copyright Nancy Messier. All rights reserved.


  1. Nancy, that "end of the line" for obvious research possibilities certainly can be motivating, can't it?! It sure has motivated me to learn so much more about everything related to my family's circumstances.

    I found it interesting that the only people still with your Werner in the 1860 census record were the males. None of the females were listed. I also noted that Werner's original occupation was weaver--a decidedly more "clean" occupation than miner, his stated occupation in the subsequent census record. Would there be a possibility that, as newly arrived immigrants, the men desperately grabbed whatever occupation could be had under those conditions for the moment, while the women were else-wise--and elsewhere--occupied? And then re-united in a different location later?

    1. Definitely motivating, Jacqi!

      I noticed that the females were gone 10 years after Werner's last census and I also noticed the change in occupation. Like you, I suspect that the men took up whatever occupation they could find as soon as possible. (And if all the people on the passenger list stayed together for even a brief time, they surely would have needed to earn money soon after their arrival.)

      I had not thought about the men and women separating and reuniting later but it's a thought worth investigating.

      Thanks for sharing your insights and thoughts, Jacqi. I appreciate it.

  2. I usually check to see if an ancestor is living with a son/daughter or grandchild or other relative. While the surname should still be there, sometimes the enumerator erred by leaving off the surname making it appear that this person had the same surname as the head of household.

    1. Thanks for that suggestion, Wendy. I've seen fathers and mothers living with married daughters before but their surnames have always been identified correctly. It's helpful to know that they aren't always. Now, if I can just find who those young women married!

  3. I was going to suggest something similiar to Wendy. I "lost" a family for a decade of census records. They lived in Cook County, Illinois for a while, then disappeared, and then reappeared for another. I decided to try searching for the wife/mother's name as hers was more unique than the husband/father and I found them!! They had pioneered to Kansas and ended up right in the middle of Bloody Kansas, so they eventually returned to Illinois. I was rather amazed that there was no family lore about that journey as I think it would have been fascinating to know the particulars.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the experience with your ancestors family, JoAnne. I know Heritage Quest makes it really easy to search census records for first names only and returns tidy lists by state, then by county. Werner is a slightly uncommon name, so maybe there's hope.

  4. Hi Nancy! Just wanted to let you know that we've highlighted this post in the "What We're Reading This Week" column on the blog! ~~Amy

    1. Thanks so much, Amy. It's a huge surprise to be included in Ancestry's blog!

  5. Considering the time period, have you considered the Civil War? I had an ancestor from Nova Scotia disappear just like this. It turns out he was killed in a naval battle in Arkansas. It took me 20 years to find him in military records. I never considered looking there until someone else pointed it out.

    1. Thank you for this suggestion, Heather. It is one I never would have considered, especially because of Werner's age. I'll look.


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