Saturday, July 18, 2015

Starting From What We Know

One rule of thumb, in genealogical research, is to move incrementally from what we know toward what we hope to discover. No sudden moves. No surmising. That step-by-step discipline will lead you straight to the information you are seeking.


In working on my mother-in-law's family lines over the years, I had pushed back gradually, following that precept. For whatever reason, when I got to the point of Nancy Ann Jackson Snider on my mother-in-law's matrilineal line, I had stopped.

Then came a trip back east. We just happened to need to drive from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio. If we took just a little detour from the usual Interstate route through Indy, we could pass through Fort Wayne.

If you've been doing genealogical research for any amount of time, you know what that means. Do not pass go. Do not do anything else until you've stopped at the Allen County Public Library.

Why? They've got a genealogical center with holdings setting them in the number two position, behind Salt Lake City, for family history research. Actually, amend that: since the Family History Library in Salt Lake City is considered to be a private library, when it comes to the Allen County library, it is considered to have the largest public genealogy collection in the United States.

So I stop when I drive through Fort Wayne.

It was the last stop I had made to that wonderful reference collection that provided the clue that led me to realize that it might not be wise for me to discontinue my research with Nancy. Rather than be the end of the research line, Nancy might just open the door to the beginning of an interesting pursuit.

Since we need to approach this new foray incrementally, let's take a look at what material I have gathered for Nancy Ann Jackson Snider over the years.

One of the first items easily discovered for Nancy Ann was that there was apparently another married woman by the same name in Perry County, Ohio—so I was forewarned to tread carefully among the pages of that county's history. After living her entire life within the confines of Perry County, the woman I later learned was the other widow Nancy Ann Snider had died in 1891 at the age of seventy four. Our Nancy Ann lived her eighty three years, nine months and eight days until 1905. Besides, unlike her name twin, our Nancy Ann was born in nearby Fairfield County—a little research detail which will come in handy, later.

In addition, a trip to the cemetery at the Sniders' hometown church in Somerset quickly confirmed our choice of which Nancy Ann to favor. Our Nancy Ann was married to Simon Snider—on October 25, 1841, to be specific—although even here, the record was riddled with errors. Warning number two: beware of bureaucrats making mistakes in official documents. Although the note in the margin of page 38 of the Perry County Marriage Records, volume three, had listed "Simon Snider to Nancy Jackson," the handwritten statement read,
I do certify that I did on the 25 day of October A.D. 1841 solemnize the marriage of Simon Snider and Nancy Johnson.

Johnson? Really? Make my day.

Those slips of the pen didn't end there. Remember, research needs to progress incrementally—and here I am, jumping all over the place in my data-dumping rush to tell you everything. So let's look at what we can find in the census records.

Since our Nancy Ann died in 1905, the most recent census record for her was the 1900 census. There, as a widow living with one of her married daughters, Nancy Ann reported that she was the mother of fourteen children, eight of whom were still living—eight more opportunities to verify the details reported in Nancy Ann's life records. That was pretty much the same story, moving back through all the census records until arriving at the 1860 census.

Since Simon, Nancy Ann's husband, had died in 1867, this was the first census which included his name. That is probably a good thing. You see, once again, someone got Mrs. Snider's name wrong. In this case, though, the enumerator wasn't the one getting it wrong; it was whoever transcribed her record. There, she's "Mary Ann." However, when you look at the original document, it looks pretty clearly like a Nancy Ann to me. Warning number three: if at all possible, always go back to the original document (or a clear facsimile of it) to glean your information.

I'm probably mixing my sayings when I hope that "three's a charm" means no more problems with vital records. Even though our push to uncover more about Nancy Ann Jackson Snider's past is not guaranteed to go any more smoothly than this, we can hope we've already paid our dues with these few research tangles, and can now move on to the previous generation.

Above excerpt from the 1860 census record for Reading Township in Perry County, Ohio, courtesy


  1. Sometimes I wonder about indexers when a name is perfectly clear -- like Nancy Ann. I couldn't find Frank Rucker in 1870 on Ancestry but found him easily at FamilySearch, so I knew his name was indexed wrong. I guessed every wrong combination possible and finally hit on Bucker. That surprised me because the R looked nothing like a B. The names both before and after his started with B, so I'm baffled that the indexer didn't notice how differently the letters were formed.

    1. Interesting, Wendy. Especially considering those indexed entries are double checked.

      Sometimes, the eye picks up a cue from another part of the page and tricks the mind into thinking it's there, I guess. I noticed the line below my Nancy was a Mary...maybe the eye just "stutters" a bit when overworked...

      Which is always a good reason to check more than one source when looking for those "missing" ancestors.

    2. I guess after indexing a page or two one's eyes go crossed.I wouldn't get too upset with the indexer - especially if they were a volunteer. It would be nice if there was a easy way to "fix" a mistake though.

    3. Good point, Iggy. Thanks for interjecting some compassion for those hard-working indexers!

      Perhaps it's been a little too long since I last volunteered for some indexing duty...maybe getting back to "paying back" would go a long way toward developing some empathy for what these volunteers go through in completing a batch of records.


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