Saturday, January 4, 2014

Seeking Cyril

When confronted with a genealogical brick wall, sometimes the best policy is to do an end run around it.

That was my strategy when I got stuck at the point of researching my mother’s cousin, Sarah Martha Moore McKinnon. Though my mother had hoped that if I applied my research skills to finding her favorite cousin, she could reunite with her, my hopes were dashed the minute I found Sarah Martha listed in the Social Security Death Index.

Well, that is, at least I thought I had found her. What if it was someone else? After all, the record only showed her name as Sarah M. McKinnon. As I’ve already discovered, there are several Sarah McKinnons out there.

On to my next strategy: find Sarah Martha’s husband’s records.

That, as we’ve already discussed, was not an easy proposition when I first started out. All I had, at the beginning, was my southern-lady grandmother’s address book with its proper heading for the family: “Mr. and Mrs. C. J. McKinnon” in Columbia, Maryland.

It was the passenger list which I mentioned yesterday, originally found at, that jump-started my search for the man. Now I knew his full name was Cyril John McKinnon. And it was a good thing that Passengers Agent included his middle name in the document. Believe it or not, there are also several Cyril McKinnons out there, including a widely-known priest and college professor.

As for Cyril John McKinnon, though, I did locate a couple census records which seem to fit the birth date provided in the Social Security Death Index record.

In the 1930 census, there was an eleven year old Cyril living in the household of John and Kathleen McKinnon of Detroit, Michigan. As had been indicated on the 1953 passenger list I mentioned yesterday, Cyril had been born in England, and this 1930 census record bore that out, while his father, younger brother and sister were listed as born in Canada. Interestingly, his mother declared her birthplace to be Madagascar.

A 1940 census record for the same location presented the same family constellation—parents John and Kathleen, siblings Archibald and Joan—each one roughly ten years older that in the 1930 census.

More exciting was to find a few members who had posted their family trees, including a mention of Cyril John McKinnon, with the same dates I had found online—though with no mention of a wife or children.

That sort of discovery only compounds my doubt that I’ve found the right person. It makes me wonder whether I need to revise my strategy to do an end run around the end run I’ve done around Sarah Martha, my original brick wall. If I’ve yet to find a burial record or even an obituary for Sarah Martha or her husband, Cyril John McKinnon, would it be possible to find one for Cyril’s brother Archibald or sister Joan? And if I did find one, would it include any mention of Cyril as a surviving sibling—and provide mention of his current residence?

One difficult point in this chase is knowing that Sarah Martha and Cyril had children—but because my mother had lost touch with Sarah Martha’s family, I have no idea what those children’s names might be. Hauntingly, within my aunt’s possessions that I’ve inherited, I’ve found school pictures of three children whom I think might be Sarah Martha’s children—but I can’t know for sure, because I can’t find enough records of the family to check.

Could it be possible that finding relatives from far-removed generations would be easier than finding close kin from our own parents’ generation? It certainly seems so, at least in this case.

Above right: Sketch, "Attack on the Walls of a Besieged Tower," included in the book by Charles Knight, Old England: A Pictorial Museum, published in 1845; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. A puzzle for sure...I hope those photos are marked with names so you will know for sure when your research finds the names:)

    1. Oh, you know just about the only photos marked with names are the ones of my mother and aunt--and I already know what they looked like!

  2. Hope you break the brick wall - Cyril is a hard man to find.... :(

  3. lists a possible family tree for Cyril... and has an email address of ... perhaps a cousin?

    1. Cyril's brother's obit:

    2. Thanks, Iggy, for finding all that! I remember seeing that Rootsweb tree--and particularly remembering that contributor's name. I thought I had emailed him before, but apparently not. Yet, I think he is more distant a relative than the one I've since found through

      I did, by the way, find another obituary for Cyril's brother--actually, it turns out the Rootsweb tree you found also references it. It gives a bit of a picture of what the man was like--sounds quite likeable!

      As for Cyril, himself, yes, he is difficult to trace. It is as if he just disappeared from the face of the earth. It sometimes makes me wonder if he left the country and headed back to his roots in either England or Canada. Who knows? He may even have headed for Honduras or some other part of the world. We may never find him!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...