Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Trails That Led to the Discovery of Several Ancestors

Sometimes I forget the trail I took to find an ancestor unless I'm focusing on that ancestor or am looking at his/her paper file or in RootsMagic.  Remembering the clues that led backward may help me in future searches for other ancestors.  Often (but not always) there seems to have been one key source with a name which I was able to use as a basis for further research.

Jacob Saylor
Lee Doyle -> Gust Doyle ->Tressa (Froman) Doyle -> Catherine (Saylor) Froman -> Jacob Saylor

Lee Doyle is my father.  I learned the names of his grandmother and great-grandmother from my father's half-sister.  I was on my own to find Catherine (Saylor) Froman's father.  I knew that Catherine had married John Froman and that they lived in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

The source was A Twentieth Century History of Mercer County, Pennsylvania: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People, and Its Principal Interests, Volume 2.  I performed a google search for John Froman and found him and Catherine associated with the name Peter Saylor.  Peter's biography in the Mercer County history named Jacob Saylor as their father; gave the names of both of Jacob's wives; and named many of the children from both wives.  The biography also indicated that Jacob Saylor had died about 1870 which led me to his probate file.

That was simple but it took me a while to take the information in the county history seriously.  Of course, there's all the follow-up research to check the accuracy of the statements in the biography. 

Rebecca Smith Bartley and Thomas Smith
Lee Doyle --> Beulah (Gerner) Doyle --> Elvira (Bartley) Gerner --> Rebecca (Smith) Bartley --> Thomas Smith

When I began I knew my father's and grandmother's names.
  • I learned Elvira's name from my father's aunt.  
  • I learned Dixon's name from One Pennsylvania Bartley Family.  
  • Butler County, Pennsylvania, census records gave me Rebecca's first name.
  • The Butler Area Public Library Obituary Index (finally) listed a golden anniversary article for Dixon and Rebecca Bartley.  I ordered it and when it arrived I saw that it named Thomas Smith as Rebecca's father.  I have Thomas' will and will try to obtain his probate file (if he has one).

Christian Gerner
Lee Doyle -> Beulah (Gerner) Doyle -> Frederick Gerner -> Christian Gerner

When I began I knew my father's and grandmother's names.  I learned Frederick's name from my father's aunt, Frederick's daughter.  She remembered that Fred had siblings named Christian, John, and Charles.
  • In the Butler Area Public Library Obituary Index I saw an obituary for a man named Christian Gerner.  Because two men were named Christian and had the same last name, I guessed at the possibility of a relationship.  No relationship was named in the obituary.
  • Deep searches of census records with several surname variations gave me the names of children.
  • With the names of children I was able to begin searching the Pennsylvania death certificate index (before the certificates were on Ancestry) for the males in the family.  Fred's death certificate gave his father's name as Christian Gerner.  Fred's brother, Charles's death certificate gave his father's name as Christian Gerner and his mother's name as Mary E. Sthal.  
  • A deeper review of census records allowed me to put together a list of children and probable birth years.  
  • The Butler Area Public Library Obituary Index came to my aid again with a wedding announcement for Emma Garner, a woman with the same first name as one of the children and a last name variation.  And, of course, her husband's name, Alfred Vensel, was included.  I was able to search the Obituary Index again using this new surname and found obituaries for both her and her husband.  Those allowed me to procure death certificates for the wife.  Her death certificate gives her parents' names as Christian Gerner and Mary Stahl.
  • On FamilySearch I found a marriage record for, Christian, Fred's brother.  Marriage and census records allowed me to follow his marriage and his move from Pennsylvania to West Virginia to California where I was able to obtain a death certificate.  The certificate gave his parents' names as Christian Gerner and Mary Stahl.
I think that four children naming the same father is good evidence that Christian Gerner is the father of Frederick Gerner (and his siblings). 

I take a lot of hunches in family history research.  Some of them yield no helpful information (or perhaps I should say, yield negative results).  Others give a little hint, and some answer a question and lead me to much more information.

I have so many more ancestors to find and so much more to find about these ancestors in this post.  I never know which search will yield the information that will tie a child to his or her father and/or mother.


Copyright © 2014 Nancy Messier. All rights reserved.


  1. Sometimes I look at my "stuff" and wonder, "How did I know that?" I did not make good notes in my early years of research, and now I find myself retracing my steps.

    1. Oh, me, too, Wendy. Even though I add information to my gen. program, I still have to work to remember the trail. I don't know that it's important to know the trail, though, if we've recorded the sources. (I guess IF can be a big condition in this situation.)

  2. Totally sympathize with Wendy! Sometimes I have no recollection of how/ why / or IF I actually know something! The whole switch from paper piles and endless rows 3 ring binders to the "tidy" internet has me batty some times!

    1. And that knowing can be so important, can't it, Kassie? I'm still in the middle of both paper and computer, trying not to straddle the fence but not succeeding. I like my paper files but I also like access to information on the computer. I can have it both ways if I'm willing to do it. Recording the information (promptly) in my gen. file is one of my challenges.

  3. I totally understand because I do the exact same thing. I take off on a path and it veers one way and the other and it's so easy to get lost when we try to retrace that path. I am trying to do better at my note taking, but it's still a trick to remember exactly what I was thinking at the tie.

    1. Oh, yes, Michelle, I get sidetracked too often. With different branches of the family living in the same area it's hard for me not to search for several lines when I'm looking through a particular book or other source. Even though I record my sources, I find that sometimes I just want the linear path in front of me to see what the steps to the "find" were.


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