Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Creative Spelling


Sometimes, it takes building someone else's tree before you can get down to the business of building your own.

Right now, I'm racing the calendar to see if I can find an answer to my impromptu research question for this waning month of November, but it looks like several record keeping clerks have conspired against me through their secret weapon of creative spelling.

Taking that batch of Marilyn Sowle Bean's family photos rescued from a local antique store as my cue, I'm trying to discover just who might have passed the genetic malady, Marfan Syndrome, into Marilyn's husband's family. After all, losing three close family members at young ages—not to mention several cousins in the extended family—is more than enough to make someone sit up and take notice that this family had inherited something alarming.

So far, we've pinpointed the tendency to someone in Marilyn's mother-in-law Maude Woodworth Bean's line. Of Maude's four grandparents' lines, we've already explored the Woodworth and Williams lines, finding many long-lived ancestors, but not much of significance other than the devastating deaths of Maude's sons and her brother's sons.

We've yet to explore two more lines. One, representing one of the most common surnames in the English-speaking world, we'll reserve for consideration tomorrow—if, that is, we're able to correctly pinpoint the right Smith line for that task. The other we will face today.

The challenge right now is that frustrating clerical conspiracy to employ creative spelling when certain, assured spelling eludes the hapless governmental worker. Despite that risk, let's see what we can find on Maude's maternal grandmother, Elizabeth.

We've already noted that when Maude's mother Effie Williams married her father William Woodworth, the 1890 event in Sioux City, Iowa, was recorded in the register showing Effie's father to be Eugene Williams. It was also fairly plain to decipher the handwriting for Effie's mother's given name, Elizabeth. But for Elizabeth's surname? The best I could figure was either Ferrara or Ferrard.

Finding Elizabeth in her parents' household might have been easy, had it not been for the snare of that challenging surname. It was far easier to locate "Lizzie" as the wife of Eugene Williams in Dakota Territory, where the couple had raised Maude's mother Effie and her siblings after their dad, Eugene, obtained the land following his service in the Civil War. From the 1880 census, we can calculate that Elizabeth was born about 1844. That, plus her place of birth in Illinois to parents from New York, was about all we had to go by in finding Elizabeth in her parents' household—whatever their surname might have been.

It didn't help, unfortunately, to look at Effie's siblings' marriage records. Her brother Ernest, for instance, had a marriage record written in the clearest hand one could hope for—with a mother's maiden name duly noted as "Fairfield." Hardly a name beginning with F-e-r-anything.

There was, however, this throw-away entry in the Woodworth family's household in the 1910 census. There, living in the household of her son-in-law, William Woodworth, Elizabeth Williams was included along with two others who were not part of the immediate family. One, listed simply as a lodger, was a thirty two year old single man by the name of Calvin D. Farrand. Sure, he was identified as someone renting a room at the Woodworth's place, but could there have been any other connection?

Over years of reading census records, I've seen signs of "lodgers" and "boarders" listed as such when they actually turned out to be relatives of the head of household—but of too complicated a relationship for the enumerator to be bothered with the details. Granted, I've seen some enumerations in which cousins or uncles have been listed as such, but there have also been many where that familial fact turned up for me only because I pursued a hunch.

This is one of those cases.

Step by step, I looked for an unmarried Elizabeth in census records for a "Ferrard" or "Ferrara" surname—or anything similar. All I needed was a daughter born in Illinois about 1844, with a surname that started with F. Wildcard time.

In 1860, the most recent census in which Elizabeth would have been living with her parents, I found a fifteen year old Elizabeth living in the Iowa home of one Orren Farrand—same surname as the "lodger" in future Elizabeth's son-in-law's household. Orren and his likely wife were both noted to have been born in New York.

But then, that creative spelling conspired to work against us. Reaching back to the earlier decade, the 1850 census had a scribbled seven (?) year old Elizabeth in the home of—what was that?—Orin Farnd. The only consolation was that the location in 1850 was Elizabeth's birthplace of Illinois, the two supposed parents were born in New York, and three of the other siblings' names—Abram, Franklin, and Lyman—seemed roughly to match the 1860 report. It was time to start building a tree for this possible Farrand family.

Long story short, it turns out that this Elizabeth's brother Abraham did indeed have a son named Calvin. Though his year and location of birth didn't quite match up to the 1910 report in the Woodworths' household years later, following that Calvin's line may provide additional confirmation. It was encouraging to note, in a twisted sort of way, that this family, too, had their surname's spelling creatively rendered: Ferrand. Getting ever closer to the Ferrard that started me on this search.

So, the "lodger" named Calvin Farrand in William Woodworth's 1910 household may more correctly have been identified as William's mother-in-law's nephew. I can't say I blame the enumerator for taking a shortcut in such a case. But discovering that connection still doesn't answer my question about the actual spelling of Elizabeth Woodworth's maiden name. Was it Ferrara? Ferrand? Farrand? The impossible spelling shorthand "Farnd"? Or maybe that marriage record had it correct at Fairfield and we're chasing the wrong rabbit.

Too late to have saved me this wild chase, I realized that, though the Ancestry.com collection only provides transcripts of California death records, sometimes it is well worth the effort to track down the same record at FamilySearch.org—which is exactly what I did.

There, thanks to the fact that I had signed into that website with my own account, I was apparently rewarded with not only a transcription of all the pertinent information on her death certificate, but an image of the actual record. Preserved in a clear hand, that digitized gift revealed without question what the reporting party—Effie Williams Woodworth, herself—asserted were Elizabeth's parents' names: Betsey Baker and Orin Farrand.      

Monday, November 29, 2021

Twins in the Family


If you stumbled upon the given name Mariet in your family history wanderings, and thought maybe, just maybe, that might be a hint to look for a twin sister named Harriet, you might be on the right track. That, at least, turned out to be the case when I tore through every resource I could find online concerning the roots of Maude Woodworth Bean's paternal grandfather, Civil War veteran Eugene Williams.

It had been easy enough to locate Eugene in the 1860 household of his father, Martin M. Williams, since he had mentioned upon enlisting in 1862 that his home was in Marcellon, Wisconsin. It was a snap to deduce that the Martin Williams household in the previous census, despite being in New York rather than Wisconsin, showed the same family embedded within the extended family of one Solomon Williams.

But what about Martin's wife, Eugene's mother? Unfortunately for our search, her name was mangled in the 1850 census by an enumerator with a frustrating scrawl and a hurried attempt at correcting what might initially have been a spelling error. No matter what the entry was in reality, the name provided in the 1860 census—Mary—certainly was not the same as what was noted in 1850.

With no marriage record online that I could see—presumably occurring in the state of New York, even though the woman was noted to have been born in Vermont—we're left to poke around every other possible detail we can find. This is where search engines like Google become our best friend.

This is also, as you'll see shortly, why I never flatly discard family traditions as mere hearsay. You never know when a story might turn out to have some shred of validity to it.

Let's look first at the problem spot which left me stymied with yet another contradicting report. A death record told me that a woman by the name of Mariet Williams had died in Woodbury County, Iowa, in 1887. At that point, her age was given as sixty four, which would put her year of birth around 1823. Her place of birth was reported to be Vermont.

All that would have led a researcher to think we were moving along swimmingly, except for one tiny detail: the death report indicated that this Mariet Williams was a single woman, not married.

Granted, Mariet is not Mary, and certainly not the same as "Margett"—and keep in mind the wildcard entered into this search of the detail of a "second wife" for Martin Williams—but we need to see what we can find on this death and burial information for Mariet Williams.

The death record in Iowa indicated burial would be at Elk Point in Dakota Territory. Looking at the cemetery information on Find A Grave for the location of Martin Williams' own burial, I did a search for Mariet Williams. There was indeed a burial for a Mariet E. Williams. Though the memorial didn't include any photograph of a headstone, it provided the location for the burial: "Grave 5, Lot 59, Block 4, Section 2.

Location for Martin Williams' own burial? "Grave 4, Lot 59, Block 4, Section 2."

Granted, I can't vouch for that particular cemetery's layout scheme, but just on general principles, I'd say the two of them were buried next to each other. I'd call that husband and wife, wouldn't you?

Of course, there still is the question of whether this was the first wife or the second wife. Tracing Martin's daughter Frances to the end of her life to see what was noted for her mother's name doesn't really help. If Frances Williams Beggs had died in the county where she had last been living with her husband—Will County, Illinois—there still wouldn't have been a digital image of her death certificate, but at least the transcription would have been as thorough as it was when Charles Beggs had died on March 1 of 1931. By the end of that same month, Frances had apparently moved into the city of Chicago to be with her daughter Mima during her period of mourning. She died before that same month was out.

Cook County also provided transcriptions of the certificate information, but not as thorough a recounting of the deceased's life history as that of Will County. At least it included the name of the deceased's parents. According to the reporting party, "Mina" Beggs Neef, Frances' mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Morse

Not what we were expecting.

Could Mima have gotten her mother's information wrong? Might that have actually been the name of Frances' father's second wife? I won't say this is the first time I've seen a death certificate which included errors. But we can't just presume without a supporting argument, and that takes documentation.

First, let's reconstruct Martin Williams' timeline. According to his 1896 obituary, it reported that though he had died in Hand County, South Dakota, he had come to that location "a year or so ago" from Iowa, not directly from his former residence in Union County in Dakota Territory. Furthermore, he—but not any wife—was noted to have traveled from Sioux City to attend the 1890 wedding in Chicago of his granddaughter Addie Beggs. Sioux City, by the way, is located in Woodbury County, Iowa. And the 1890 occasion in Chicago would obviously have occurred after Martin had lost his wife, since Mariet died in Woodbury County in 1887.

What I'm lacking, in the face of this possible error in reporting on Mariet's daughter's—not to mention her own—death record, is any further information on who Mariet was. It would have helped to retrieve Martin and Mariet's marriage record, for instance, or any detail on Mariet's maiden name, but online resources were not providing what I was seeking.

Though I am death on copying other people's family trees, I certainly am not averse to exploring the way markers on someone else's well-documented genealogy. That is exactly what I did, looking for Martin and Mariet Williams as a family grouping. Someone had posted a link to a page in the 1888 publication, The Earle Family: Ralph Earle and His Descendants which, incredibly, included just what I was seeking: details on one Mariet Earle who had married a Martin M. Williams in 1844.

And yes, she had a twin sister named Harriet Earle.

The funny thing is, I'd known about that Earle surname for almost as long as I've done family history research. It all goes back to a story told to me by Marilyn Sowle Bean, the woman whose rescued photos prompted this month's research project. In one of the first successful genealogical interviews I ever conducted, years ago, Marilyn had told me that her husband's name was actually Earle Raymond Bean, but that he felt awkward about what seemed to be the pretentious spelling—Earle instead of the more common Earl—and had informally dropped the "e" from his given name.

What Marilyn never mentioned, but I suspected, was that "Earle" was actually a family name—in other words, a surname from somewhere back in the family's history. I had no idea it would take this long—so many losses before that one win at the antique store last spring—before I'd be prompted to actually find where that family name fit into the picture.

Now, though Marilyn and her family are no longer here for me to share this victory, I can see that the Earle surname would have provided eligibility to join the Daughters of the American Revolution through the patriot Thaddeus Earle, Mariet Earle Williams' paternal grandfather. It turns out that Marilyn's own mother-in-law Maude Woodworth Bean's Earle ancestry had a long heritage in this country. All I can do now is wonder if she ever knew.    

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Of Gifts, Gratefulness, and Goals


This month, I've spent a lot of time working on the lines related to Marilyn Sowle Bean, the woman whose photograph collection I rescued from a local antique shop. I'm far from done, of course, but that doesn't mean I haven't worked on my own trees during this time. As we'll see in a bit, those trees did advance steadily over the past two weeks, even though I did get distracted by one thought: just like I have DNA tests and matches to guide me on my own family's trees, that is one thing I lack in working on Marilyn's trees. And there is little I can do about it; all her immediate family is gone, as well as a significant number of extended relatives on both sides of that family's tree.

I don't intend to count entries or measure my research progress on Marilyn's trees—both her own and her husband's ill-fated family plagued by Marfan Syndrome—but I'll keep working on that research goal after the month is over. Unlike other goals which I can easily return to work on in later years, I doubt this project will become cyclical in the same way.

Still, it's been a rewarding month for this review of a family long gone. Topping the list of what I've become grateful for in this project is the chance to meet a local high school student who has delved into genealogy with as much energy as I had, myself, when I was a student—and one with a practical mindset to apply that knowledge to help others, as he did in returning the first of Marilyn's photographs to me last spring.

Another gift coming from this detour from my usual research goals has been getting to meet, online, another descendant of Marilyn's ancestors. Just before Thanksgiving, someone from Marilyn's maternal roots was searching online for her family's surnames and ran across this blog. She didn't stop there, but looked for me on Ancestry.com so she could send a message. We've compared notes and, sure enough, she and Marilyn are related. Now, isn't that just the sort of serendipity that would make one wish to be able to call upon a DNA match to find even more connections?

Though I eye those reports of extracting DNA from backs of envelopes or strands of hair, I know it will be far from likely that anyone from Marilyn's immediate family would ever be represented in the current commercially-available genetic genealogy databases. And just like this month's research goal, those hopes will fade away as we move on from November's task to December's goal.

In the meantime, those progress report numbers keep churning away in the background. For my in-laws' tree, this past two weeks saw 191 new names added to bring the total number of individuals represented there to 24,384. In my own tree, I fared exactly the same—and no, I didn't plan that. This past biweekly effort also brought in 191 new names to grow that tree to 26,975 individuals.

As we move into the last month of the year, my thoughts turn to plans for next year's goals. In addition to tackling my December goal—and wrapping up a few details on my quest on behalf of Marilyn's long-gone family—since people have asked, I'll be discussing my thoughts on how I set up an annual research plan. After all, before we know it, we'll be in that post-holiday lull spanning the end of this year and the start of a new one, and it will be time to spring into new projects once again. 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Oh, Messy


Pinning one's research hopes upon the life events of one solitary person can become disappointing. Take the case of our Maude Woodworth Bean's maternal grandfather, Civil War veteran Eugene Williams of Marcellon, Wisconsin. Sure enough, we were able to find Eugene as a fourteen year old in the household of his father Martin in the 1860 census, but that one solution opened the door to another research problem: did we, indeed, follow the right Martin Williams through his life's trajectory?

Of course, it didn't help that Martin's Find A Grave memorial, for his burial in what used to be called Dakota Territory, led us to three different dates of death for that one man. Seeing that his obituary, which was posted on his memorial, mentioned a daughter by name, I followed that clue to see whether any hints were strewn along her life's path to help me piece together the right Williams family. (Of course, along the way, I kept my eyes open for any signs of Marfan Syndrome, my other research goal for this month.)

Though Martin Williams' obituary did not mention his son by name—that would be Eugene, if we are correct in our assumption—it did identify his daughter's married name. However, Frances Williams—or Francis, as it was often written in records—was not a helpful subject in our quest to confirm this Williams line.

From the start, records led me to wonder whether there were two girls given that name in the Martin Williams family. For one thing, discovering the Martin Williams family in the 1850 household of Solomon Williams in New York—presumably Martin's father—made it clear that there were two children likely to be his: Eugene, age four, and Frances, who had been born in New York ten months prior to that July 25, 1850, enumeration.

When we jump ahead ten years to the 1860 census, though, we find the same family of Martin Williams, as we said before, living in Marcellon, Wisconsin, with Eugene being a predictable fourteen years of age (do the math), and Frances showing up as expected at ten years of age. Only problem: Frances' place of birth was not given as New York, as we had previously seen, but as Wisconsin.

To make matters worse, the handwriting on the 1850 census rendered the child's mother's name something like Margett, while the 1860 census read clearly, Mary. Could this have been the second wife mentioned in Martin's obituary, years later? But Mary was precisely ten years older than Margett's stated age in the previous record.

Other records noted Frances' place of birth as in Wisconsin, as well, so we can't simply discount that one entry as a fluke of recordkeeping. 

Following Frances' history to glean any hint that we might be on the right track, we can see she and Charles Beggs were married in November of 1869, thanks to the 1870 census. Encouragingly, they lived in Elk Point, county seat for Union County in what was still Dakota Territory, same as our Frances' brother Eugene did. But perhaps the rugged life in Dakota Territory made recordkeeping a challenge, for I've found no digitized record of their marriage online—at least not the type to provide names of parents.

It wasn't until Charles and Frances Beggs' oldest daughter was married—by this time, the Beggs family was living in Chicago—that I found the slightest connection to the Williams family once again. From a wedding announcement published in The Daily Inter Ocean on December 11, 1890, we learn that among the out-of-town guests for the event was M. M. Williams, by then of Sioux City, Iowa. Significantly, while other guests were mentioned as "Mr. and Mrs." the Williams entry had no mention of a wife. Could this have indicated Martin Williams was present at the wedding, following the death of his wife?

Of course, if I could have located any records for Martin Williams' son's passing—with the helpful addition of parents' names—it would easily have tied the family together for us (or told us we had the wrong people altogether). As it is, this means we still need to search further.

In the midst of this mess, though, pops up one more question: no matter which woman was the "second wife" of Martin Williams, where had either of the wives been buried? For surely someone must have become the incentive for the family to return Martin's body to Elk Point Cemetery from his latest home in Hand County, South Dakota.

Actually, there was someone supposedly buried in that cemetery, with the name of Mariet Williams. Only problem: a record of her death indicated that she was not a married woman, but single at the time of her passing. Talk about messy: was that record correct?

There are simply some research questions which demand a search of records which are not yet—if they ever will be—digitized. Barring the ability to hop a plane and fly to South Dakota, though, there may be a few more clues to trace so that we can piece together a coherent story. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

A Rant About Really Old Newspapers


Why can't archived newspaper collections contain the complete holdings of a given newspaper? What's up with gaps in publication dates? Why does the very date I want happen to fall in the cracks of those missing editions? And more to the point, what do you do when you are researching a name as common as Martin Williams, and run into not one but two conflicting reports about death—but can't locate the original report to provide confirmation? 

Here's the situation. One helpful Find A Grave volunteer indicated there was a Martin Williams buried in Elk Point Cemetery, South Dakota, after his supposed death in 1882. A record of the order for a headstone for this Civil War veteran reported "M. M. Williams" had died on April 1, 1897, and sent the completed marker to the same Elk Point Cemetery.

As if to clear the air on this research dilemma, yet another Find A Grave volunteer transcribed an obituary for a Martin M. Williams who had died in nearby Hand County, South Dakota, but was buried at Elk Point Cemetery on February 3, 1896.

If all three of these entries were concerning the same Martin M. Williams, which date was correct? My tendency was to go with the newspaper report, but we all know how easily editorial errors can slip into newsprint.

The solution? Find the actual newspaper edition to see for myself. That, however, is easier planned than executed. The trouble with archived newspaper collections is that no one repository seems to have the entire breadth of a publication's history.

My first stop was to check Chronicling America, the U.S. Library of Congress collection of newspapers published across the nation throughout its history. Using the website's search engine, I could locate the publication in question easily enough—I was looking for The Pioneer Press, printed in the city of Miller, county seat of Hand County, South Dakota.

The problem was, I couldn't isolate the specific edition identified by the Find A Grave volunteer, printed on February 6, 1896. Smart me: I thought I'd experiment with using the website's advanced search function, but it told me the one thing I've become accustomed to discovering.

That date was not in the Library of Congress collection.

I could, of course, go one by one through each of the companies I subscribe to for archived newspapers—not to mention the resources for accessing newspapers for free—but I've done that before and know how frustrating it can be. So I cut to the chase and brought my question to Google—the search engine, not the newspaper collection. No more navigating gaps in collections for me.

As it turned out, GenealogyBank provided my answer, confirming the wording of the text added to Martin Williams' Find A Grave memorial. In addition, I found a "Card of Thanks" inserted below Martin Williams' obituary, signed by Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Beggs, stating

We tender our sincere thanks to the many friends who have so kindly rendered assistance and extended their sympathy during the last sickness of our beloved husband and father.

The one regrettable detail in finding Martin Williams' obituary—and confirming it with the digitized image of the original publication—was to see the list of his survivors. According to the Pioneer Press, Martin Williams left "a second wife, a son and daughter to mourn his loss." While the article never mentions the son's name, nor Martin's wife's name—that, supposedly, would be improper to do during that era—it does inform us that the daughter was a "Mrs. Beggs of Chicago."

Whoever that "Mrs. Beggs of Chicago" turns out to be, she becomes the key to confirming whether this Martin Williams was one and the same as the father of Eugene Williams, maternal grandfather of our Maude Williams Woodworth.


Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanksgiving, Genealogy, and
the Search for Human Continuity


Today's Thanksgiving celebration in the United States is said to be a re-enactment, the four hundredth anniversary of the original occasion—although even that is being disputed. Of course, don't let squabbles about the accuracy of such a claim spoil your turkey dinner.

Those who have long followed A Family Tapestry know Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday, owing to the angst arising from my childhood loneliness during that celebration. My fixation on genealogy most likely has its roots in those lonely Thanksgiving mornings when I realized I was the only one my age left in the neighborhood; everyone else was traveling to spend the day with family. Where was mine?

With that in mind, and approaching this year's Thanksgiving holiday, I was slightly bemused to read an explanation for how genetic genealogist CeCe Moore eventually became involved in solving forensic cases. In Raffi Khatchdourian's in-depth article for The New Yorker, "How Your Family Tree Could Catch a Killer," the author theorized,

Virtually every genealogical quest...begins with a psychological mirage. What appears to be ego-driven—a desire to map relationships that affirm one’s centrality in the world—at some point reveals itself to be about others, people we can no longer see, hear, or perhaps even name.

Let's just say my quest to uncover my family's history sprang from quite the opposite of such a beginning. It came from a sense of recoiling from an existential nothingness—the fear that I was just out there, floating around in the empty space where a pedigree chart should have been. That's the sort of detachment I imagine adoptees experience, but here I was, a kid living with two parents and a sister—hardly a situation of isolation. Where was everyone else? I needed to find who else I might be a part of, not who else was out there, orbiting my centrality. It was always about the others, whoever they were—wherever they were.

The article's take: "All genealogy is a search for human continuity." Perhaps the hope that, since we've always been here, we'll be here in the future is a basic human yearning. But I'm not even sure I explore my roots, branches, and family connections for even that hope, compelling as it is.

Yes, perhaps imagining that pilgrims have been eating turkey dinners in November for four hundred years will quell any fears that we might not be here to enjoy the leftover turkey sandwiches from next year's feast, but to me, that doesn't seem a compelling argument. Maybe I'm just not as worried about human continuity as I should be. Rather than looking forward to next year's Thanksgiving dinner, or the next entry on our pedigree chart, perhaps the resolution of that quest, as The New Yorker article on CeCe Moore concluded, "reveals itself to be about others, people we can no longer see, hear, or perhaps even name."

Somehow, those others are still with us. And they, along with us, bring our collective influence into the future.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021



Sometimes, when researching ancestors, all the details seem to fall into place a bit too conveniently. With too many coincidences. That's when I hesitate to presume I've found the right person.

Right now, we're trying to trace the line of Maude Woodworth Bean's maternal grandfather, Eugene Williams. It seems reasonable to assume that, coming from a place called Marcellon in Wisconsin before the Civil War, Eugene would fit into the household of the only Williams family I could find in that tiny town. That household represented the family of Martin Williams who, within the scant space of one decade, led us back to New York and the household—possibly—of his own father, Solomon Williams.

That may seem more like magic than meticulous research, and my brain screams out, "Not so fast!" There's got to be another way to double check this information.

Double checking is always good. Genealogists always need to be on the lookout for name twins—and certainly resist the urge to be lulled into complacency by coincidences. I went back over my records for Eugene Williams, and began noticing something unusual. It seemed that for the rest of his life, wherever Eugene showed up, there would be this guy named Martin Williams, too.

I found the first sign in a record of all persons "subject to do military duty" in the area of Wisconsin where Eugene had enlisted during the Civil War. This record was a "consolidated list" and it included the name of one Martin M. Williams, forty one year old farmer from New York. At that age, could he have served, along with his sixteen year old son Eugene?

It took some searching to find more detail. Though he lived in Wisconsin at the time, the only service record I could find was for a Martin M. Williams who, according to muster rolls archived through the Illinois Secretary of State (searched under "Williams, Martin M."), served in Company C of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry. Strangely, he was mustered in on March 17, 1865, not in Wisconsin, but in Chicago, Illinois. Seven months later in Selma, Alabama, Martin was mustered out.

That scenario seemed quite a stretch for me, despite the age given for this Martin agreeing with what I had found so far for Eugene's dad, so I looked further. Noticing that, in the land record for Eugene Martin, right alongside his record was a mention of someone named Martin Williams. Yes, in the same location in Union County of what is now South Dakota, too close a coincidence to have been two strangers. In the same tiny place of less than four thousand people. That couldn't be a coincidence again, could it?

Whoever this Martin Williams was, he remained a farmer in Union County through the 1880 census—and, incidentally, served as his area's census enumerator. By then, his son (maybe) Eugene and his wife and children had moved back into town, to the county seat of Elk Point, and then, over the years since, "back east" to Iowa, before moving all the way out to California.

Tracing Martin Williams after the 1880 census was enough of a challenge to make me wonder whether he might have had a double, after all. A Find A Grave memorial at the Elk Point Cemetery for one M. M. Williams gave the date of his death as March 2, 1882—but a record of the order for Martin Williams' military headstone showed the date of death to be April 1, 1897.

Helpfully—at least I hope—a Find A Grave volunteer transcribed an obituary for a Martin Williams which gave the time of his passing as February 1, in a newspaper published in 1896. That obituary indicated that Martin and his second wife had moved from Union County, possibly first to Iowa before returning to South Dakota and settling in Hand County—or was that yet another Martin Williams who had served in the war and then settled in Dakota Territory? A search for the actual newspaper article is in order to double check, once again.

Too many such coincidences flying at me this quickly make me want to dig in my heels and look more deeply for clues to sort out all these identities. And yet, as I do so, I discover even more ways to doubt the records on the extended Williams family.


Above: Copy of card indicating the order for a military headstone for Martin M. Williams, to be sent to Elk Point in South Dakota, courtesy Ancestry.com. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Effie Aurilla's Great-Grandmother


Our task, as family historians, is to push back ever so tentatively through the years from where our known ancestors used to live to their earlier records. So far, in exploring the Williams line of Maude Woodworth Bean's ancestry, we traced her mother, Effie Aurilla from her 1890 marriage to William Woodworth in Iowa to records of her earlier years in the Dakota Territory household of her father, Eugene Williams. But what about Eugene's earlier years?

Despite Eugene's claim to have been born in New York, we found a possible candidate for this young man in the 1860 home of Martin and Mary Williams of Marcellon, Wisconsin. Since Eugene was born in 1846, I wanted to see if I could find him in the 1850 census. Sure enough, there was a family which included a four year old boy by that name—but the family lived in New York, not Wisconsin.

Leading off at the top of the page for a town in Allegany County called Centerville, I found the impossible scrawl of a hasty enumerator who had jumbled ten people with two different surnames into the same household. The head of the household was fifty five year old Solomon Williams, but in addition to baby Frances and her four year old companion Eugene, the household included a ninety one year old man by the name of Philo Hawley and a female companion of the same surname trailing Philo by only a few years.

Somewhere in that same household was the name we are looking for—Martin Williams—exactly ten years younger than the age we had found him at in the 1860 census so many miles to the west of this New York location. Still, that would not be too alarming, considering our Eugene had claimed through most of his life that he had been born in New York. Perhaps this was home and Solomon was Martin's father.

What attracted my attention to this household was not just the jumble of names or the spread of ages, but the particular name of the woman listed right after the line for the head of this household. Her name—and I'm presuming this would turn out to be Martin's mother and, eventually, Effie's great-grandmother—was Aurilla.

Now, before you go regaling me with warnings about coincidences, let's just take a look at one thing—or at least as close a thing as we can get to actual documentation. Consider the name Aurilla. How often do you see a name like that? 

Just in case, I did a little exploring. I checked the name data tucked away in a fun little corner of the U.S. Social Security website. For the earliest year I could find listed on the site—the decade of the 1880s—Aurilla did not even make a showing in the list of the top two hundred names for girls. Looking at this from another angle, for a baby girl's name in 1885, the earliest date I could bring up on another website, the name Aurilla ranked 881 in popularity for that year. If families routinely named their babies after older relatives, those stats echo a quite limited number of honorary namesakes.

That said, while I consider this to be a promising sign that we are on to something with the household of Solomon Williams, you know we can't just stop there. We'll have to do some more exploring to confirm this hypothesis that Eugene Williams' dad was the Martin Williams who used to call Centerville—and more importantly, the household of Solomon and Aurilla Williams—home.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Connecting the Dots
Between Generations


Sometimes, it takes a leap of faith to connect the dots between generations—or a little guess work followed by thorough research and a lot of explanation. Finding Eugene Williams' roots may be one of those instances.

It has been a rather routine route to connect the family of Marilyn Sowle Bean—former owner of the photographs I got to rescue from a local antique shop—with its roots, but only to a point. Earlier this month, we located Marilyn's mother-in-law, Maude Woodworth Bean, in the home of her parents, William and Effie Woodworth. We also realized that the Marfan Syndrome which had struck down so many members of the extended family seemed to center in the branch associated with the Woodworth family, so we've been exploring each side of that family for clues from previous generations.

Last week, we focused on Effie's line, the Williams family, and discovered that her father, Eugene, had served as a very young recruit in the Union Army during the Civil War. Given the many records of the Civil War, it was fairly straightforward to trace Eugene Williams from the point of his August 15, 1862, enlistment at Portage, Wisconsin—but where was he before that point?

His records from the last years of his life at a Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in California indicated that Eugene Williams had started life in New York state, but where had he been living when he enlisted in Portage, Wisconsin? Williams is a fairly common surname, making me doubt the success of a point-blank search.

If the soldier who died as Eugene Williams had kept that same name his entire life, and if the information he gave at the end of his life—that he was born in New York about 1846—kept constant throughout all the other reports he provided in his lifetime, it turns out there was only one possibility in the state of Wisconsin for such a man.

That man, at least in time for the 1860 census, lived with his parents and sister in the town of Marcellon, Wisconsin. Fortunately for us, Marcellon is a town of barely one thousand people—but that is now. Back in 1860, the entire Columbia County, where Marcellon is located, contained twenty four thousand residents, making it quite possible that there could be a name twin lurking in those numbers. For this, we tread tentatively.

Right now, our task will be to examine the possibility that the Eugene Williams found in the household of Martin and Mary Williams is one and the same as Effie's father Eugene who died in California in 1914. Sometimes, to connect those dots—and to be sure we've followed the right line—we need to explore lines which may, upon closer scrutiny, turn out to be false leads. We'll take some time this week before the holidays to examine this particular household of Martin and Mary Williams from Marcellon.

Inset above: Excerpt from the 1860 U.S. Census for the town of Marcellon in Wisconsin, showing the Martin Williams household; image courtesy Ancestry.com.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Picture This


What if you have the missing piece to someone else's family puzzle?

 A while back, I was having lunch with a friend from our local genealogical society. This friend comes from one of those fortunate families with a rich heritage, complete with photos of generations past. In fact, there are so many pictures that, in her current de-cluttering mission, she is hard pressed to decide what to do with them all.

Her conclusion: share the wealth. Since my friend certainly does not have a monopoly on her ancestors, she plans on putting the pictures "out there" where others can help themselves. After all, her great-grandfather, for instance, is certainly relative to other distant cousins, as well.

The first step toward her goal is the tedious process of scanning all the photographs. Then comes the task of organizing the saved files on her computer for future accessibility. All that is prelude to deciding where to place the photos so others may easily find them and add them to their own family records.

Some plans are elegantly streamlined, and my friend's idea was just that. Her strategy, once the photos are scanned, is to upload the digital file to the appropriate profile page on her Ancestry.com public tree. From that step, it is self-serve for anyone who wishes to save the same file to their own tree. My friend will provide what information she can to identify each photo, but from that point on, it is simply "free to good home."

The beauty of such a plan is that, once digitized, a photo can be in a million places all at once. No need to decide which one person to gift the picture to—let alone find a way to deliver it to the intended recipient. As many people as want that picture can have their own copy—without preventing anyone else from doing the same.

For someone like me—a family historian who, despite inheriting photos for someone else's long-gone family, has next to no pictures of her own familial roots—it would be a blessing to discover a picture of, say, a great-great grandmother. I'm sure there are many others who would feel just the same. On the other hand, when I think of the photos I do have, it makes me realize I may have more than I thought—enough to at least share and, hopefully, make someone else's day, as well.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

After the Ask


Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

In the case of my latest wanderings through the Bright Shiny Objects of Maude Woodworth Bean's ancestors, I discovered her maternal grandfather, Eugene Williams, had served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Though he was born in New York state and migrated to Wisconsin—and despite being discharged at the end of the war in Mobile, Alabama—he eventually settled in southern California.

Eugene's details of service were easy to find, thanks to the records digitized at Ancestry.com. One detail that I would have liked to see, though, was a photo of his headstone, but Find A Grave, the go-to source for such items, did not include one. 


Thankfully, Find A Grave has a provision in which a researcher can request that a photo be uploaded to a current memorial. If there is a Find A Grave volunteer in the area—and where there are, many are quite dedicated to their mission—someone will claim the request and follow through when able.

In the past, I have made a few such requests. Some, in out-of-the-way places, understandably have gone unanswered. Others, such as a request I made for a photo of a headstone in a mountainous region of western Canada—during the winter, no less—was understandably answered with a note to wait until the spring thaws were over.

In the case of the Eugene Williams memorial, it was last week while I was researching the man when it occurred to me to ask. The Find A Grave website has streamlined the process. Just by clicking on the tab for photos on his memorial brought me to a page where I could click on a button labeled "request photo."

Click. Easy as that. In less than twenty four hours, a Find A Grave volunteer indicated that he had claimed the request, and last night I received an email indicating the photo was uploaded to Eugene Williams' Find A Grave memorial.

Of course, I logged on to the site to thank the volunteer profusely—I really do appreciate the help, especially when I am not able to travel to the area—but going through the process reminded me of another detail. Not only did the photos tab at Find A Grave enable me to easily request a photo for a memorial, but there was another tab there that was just as easily clickable: the tab labeled "Add Photos." 

That's the tab which reminds me about the photos I've long had, but still need to digitize and upload, myself. That's a goal to add to my to-do list for upcoming projects in the very near future. Some, in fact, relate to family members from Maude Woodworth Bean's own family, the family whose photos we've rescued from a local antique shop. There is, after all, no time like the present—and no presents like the ones which save us time.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Home From Alabama
to Wisconsin — and Beyond


The early wars in American history, whether Revolutionary War, War of 1812, or the much later Civil War, may have pointed to one detail held in common between them: their soldiers, once returning home, seemed more likely to have caught the wanderlust to move on to other lands. I've traced my colonial roots moving from New England to Virginia, then beyond to South Carolina and Georgia. And my husband's War of 1812 ancestors often took their travels during years of service as cue to move west from Pennsylvania or Ohio.

In the case of Eugene Williams, at his youthful age at enlistment in the Union army, it may come as no surprise to learn that once he was discharged in Alabama at the close of the Civil War, after returning home to Wisconsin, he had the urge to travel further onward.

One factor which made that option a possibility was the availability of land. However, while soldiers from previous wars may have had the option of taking up bounty lands or land grants, those who served in the Civil War did not exactly have that opportunity, as bounty land was not given out after 1855. Still, land was there for the taking, even in the 1860s onward, and that is apparently what enticed Eugene to roam westward from Wisconsin.

Genealogists are particular keen on locating documents such as bounty land records, because for research purposes, they count as a double whammy. Not only does discovery of such a record pinpoint the ancestor by location and time period, but provide reference to military service.

On a hunch, I checked the General Land Office records at the Bureau of Land Management website for any sign of Eugene Williams after the war. Keep in mind, I had found Eugene Williams first by tracing his line backwards in time from his descendants—from Maude Woodworth's mother Effie Williams to her father, Eugene. In that journey, I discovered that in the 1880 census, Effie was living with her family in what was then considered Dakota Territory, in Union County, which is now part of the state of South Dakota.

Sure enough, there was a property record for someone named Eugene Williams in that very county—Union County. The property size was eighty acres, and by 1874, it was all his. How long he held on to the property, though, is hard to determine just now. I can tell by the time of the 1880 census that Eugene and his family were living in Elk Point City—as small a city as it must have been, considering the population for the entire county at the time—and Eugene was listed not as a farmer but as a laborer. By 1890, when his daughter Effie was married to William Woodworth, the Williams family was listed as living in Sioux City, Iowa.

Still, discovery of land records for this veteran of the Civil War provides one more way to track his life's trajectory, as well as that of his daughters and sons. As every genealogist knows, though, yet another step is calling out to us, to answer the question of where this Civil War veteran came from, before his decision to enlist, back in Wisconsin at the start of the war.  

Thursday, November 18, 2021

On to the Bright and Shiny


Some research tasks may seem rather perfunctory, especially the deeper we genealogists dig into the documentation. On the contrary, in the case of my research goal for this month, inspired by recovering Marilyn Sowle Bean's photograph collection from a local antique store, I've been attempting to pinpoint the line in her son's pedigree from which he inherited the genetic syndrome which eventually caused his death. With such a mission, the mood can sometimes turn somber, so it's no surprise that I yearn for a diversion. Stumbling upon a brief mention in another obituary caught my attention, and before I knew it, I was off chasing the kind of detail that family historians call a Bright Shiny Object.

The explanation yesterday served merely as the set up for today's pitch: background information to provide perspective on what I found regarding Maude Woodworth Bean's maternal grandfather, Eugene Williams. Now that we've established that connection, it's on to the Bright Shiny Object which pulled me away from this month's research goal.

The BSO was actually a line buried in the 1964 obituary for Maude's mother, Effie Williams. Effie, in turn, was daughter of the man we discussed yesterday, Eugene Williams. Effie had married her teenaged sweetheart William Woodworth in 1890, who had traveled home to Iowa to claim his bride and return to his family's new home in southern California. When William died in 1928, it didn't take Effie long to pack up the family's remaining belongings and move north to be closer to her oldest daughter Nieva.

Nieva had, by the time of her father's death, married, birthed two children, moved to Fresno where she and her husband Fred Searcey welcomed two more children—then lost one—and apparently divorced. Not quite one month after William Woodworth's death, Nieva was married again, this time to Joel Chamberlain.

Perhaps in all the turmoil, it seemed a reasonable move for Effie to head to Fresno to help her daughter with her young family. Whatever the reason was, we learn from Effie's obituary in 1964 that she had been a resident of Fresno since 1930.

There was one other detail to learn from that newspaper entry. Though the obituary was far less a biographical sketch than was her husband's in 1928, it provided one fact I hadn't gleaned from any other source. After mentioning that Effie was born in Jefferson in what is now the state of South Dakota, the article added this point:

She was a member of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Camp No. 8.

You can be sure a statement like that turned into a Bright Shiny Object for a lineage society junkie like me. Finding that, I was off, searching the website of the Daughters of Union Veterans for any sign of their member Effie Williams Woodworth—or at least a token entry honoring her Civil War veteran father.

I found nothing. No sign, even, of "Camp No. 8"—or any explanation to learn how to convert that old terminology to the current usage of "tents" for chapters.

Could that mention in the obituary just have been a family myth? I've learned it is not uncommon for families to pass along romanticized stories of their ancestors, and perhaps I had just stumbled upon such an example. Whether Effie was a member of the Daughters of Union Veterans, I couldn't say from an initial search, but yesterday's exploration into the records of Eugene Williams' last years showed clearly that he was being provided medical services as if, as a veteran, he had been entitled to them. What else could I find to support that statement?

To their credit, the Daughters of Union Veterans included a helps page on their website. Though their website also provided a tutorial for how to search a second website for veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, the only Williams entries I could find were for other individuals. Still, the tutorial indicated the possibility that more photographs and biographical sketches would be added in the future—in other words, this was far from a complete listing. There had to be more information to confirm whether Eugene Williams had, indeed, served where his last records reported he had.

Sure enough, taking this question to the search engines—after all, what is a Bright Shiny Object for, if not to pursue?—there were several resources to confirm his involvement in the Union army. Prime among them was not only Eugene's application for a pension based on his service, but his widow's request for benefits after his death. His July 1890 original filing likely followed his attendance at his Company's reunion meeting in Milwaukee at the end of the previous August. The reason his name was included in the printed program for the 1907 reunion—as not in attendance—was likely because he and his wife, Elizabeth, had made the long journey to live in California recently enough that his address was still reported, in error, to have been in Sioux City, Iowa.

So what was Eugene Williams' Civil War story? Enlisting August 15, 1862, at Portage, Wisconsin, he served as a private in Company C of the 23rd regiment of the Wisconsin Infantry. Sure enough, thanks to a reprint of the names of men in that regiment posted at Internet Archive, we learn Eugene Williams was then a resident of Marcellon, Wisconsin, only about ten miles to the east of the town where he enlisted—a valuable clue in tracing his earlier history.

As to his experiences during the war, we don't have the privilege of preserved letters sent home like some researchers have found, but there are ample resources to trace the movements and duties of his regiment from that point until the close of the war. Wikipedia includes a brief entry on the 23rd regiment, and the wiki at FamilySearch.org provides an overview, complete with referrals to other resources. A website called the Civil War Archive provides a brief history of each regiment from each state, including Eugene's regiment from Wisconsin, and the National Park Service website includes an overview, as well. The Wisconsin Historical Society website does the same for those companies from their own state.

That whirlwind tour of available resources to trace the movements of Eugene Williams' comrades in their tour of duty was far more information than I'd need to just confirm basic details of his life, of course, but hey, this is a Bright Shiny Object, and I'm a history buff. Information is out there, if we want to learn—and are willing to test the search waters with available technological tools.

All told, at the close of the war, Eugene was discharged on July 4, 1865, in the place where he had last been serving: Mobile, Alabama. From there, it was the long trip back to Wisconsin, but that was not the last stop for this nineteen year old corporal. Yet, as easy as it was to trace Eugene Williams' movements in his nearly three years of service, finding his next steps wouldn't be quite so clearly laid out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Gift of Governmental Documentation


Every so often, tracing the trajectory of an ancestor's life story leads us straight into the midst of conflict—the kind of conflict which, though unfortunate, becomes a rich source of documentation. For our American ancestors, such was the War Between the States—or, as Eugene Williams' side of the story would characterize it, the War of the Rebellion.

Eugene Williams was Maude Woodworth Bean's maternal grandfather. Though he was born in New York, his as yet uncovered story was the reason why Maude's mother, Effie Aurilla Williams, was born and raised in what was once called Dakota Territory, but spent her later years in Sioux City, Iowa, where she met her future husband, William Woodworth.

For the young couple Effie and William, from the point of their wedding in 1890, it was off to California and the adventure of a new life together. It wasn't long, however, before Eugene and his wife Elizabeth followed their daughter's path. And with that move came the gift of governmental documentation which allows us a clearer glimpse into the wanderings of Effie's father.

Eugene and Elizabeth Williams were still residing in Sioux City by the time of the 1900 census, but by December 14, 1904, Eugene was admitted to a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers—but not in Iowa. His admission to the facility was due to heart disease, and the records indicating this also revealed that, prior to entry at the Home, the couple had been living in Irwindale, a town not far from the southern California home of their daughter and son-in-law, the Woodworths. The 1910 census revealed the identity of that National Home as the "Pacific Branch" located in Malibu township in Los Angeles county.

From the scant entries on the page of Eugene's record at the Home, we gain everything from a physical description—blue eyes, fair complexion, height of five feet and eight inches—to the cause of his death on May 11, 1914. Though a veteran's marker was supposedly placed on his grave at the Los Angeles National Cemetery—at least, according to transcribed records included at Ancestry.com—there is no photograph of such featured on his memorial at Find A Grave.

That, however, is not the information I'm keen to glean at this point, though it does need to be checked. What I'm grateful to find in that same record of his admission to the National Home was the specific details of his service in the Civil War. Learning that on August 15, 1862, Eugene Williams enlisted to serve as a private at Portage, Wisconsin, along with the details on the company he was assigned to, becomes my springboard to follow his fate from that point until the time of his discharge at the close of the war.

Details such as those afforded by this government record provide us entrance into a well-stocked inventory of historical details—the macro-history through which this micro-history traveled.

And that recounting of Maude's grandfather brings us to our stepping off point tomorrow in exploring my latest discovery in that research weakness called Bright Shiny Object Syndrome.     

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

What About the Williams Line?


Sometimes, family history research takes the form of speed searching. That certainly was the case when I took a whirlwind tour through the Williams line of Maude Woodworth Bean's maternal grandfather. My goal—the overarching goal of this month's research—is to see which line related to the Woodworths might have passed along the Marfan Syndrome which manifested itself in Maude's sons, nephews, and even grandson.

Speed searching through the paternal line of Maude's mother Effie Aurilla Williams didn't point to any lives tragically cut short in their prime—although, oddly enough, there were a couple spouses who did die at a relatively young age. However, one unexpected discovery emerged as I read through the marriage announcements and obituaries for the various Williams relatives.

Effie's brother Arthur Williams had three sons, one of whom—Ray—held a bachelor's degree in music and was noted to have served as soloist at his younger brother's wedding. (Considering this musical bent in the family, I couldn't help but wonder whether that youngest brother's name—he often went by "A. Minor Williams"—wasn't an inside joke in the family.)

The mention of musical talent in the family caught my attention for two reasons. First, the former owner of the photographs I had rescued from a local antique shop, Marilyn Sowle Bean, had a musically talented son, herself. That was the son who lost his life to Marfan Syndrome.

Then, too, in Marilyn's photographs was a picture of her brother-in-law—Sam, the poodle trainer for the Ice Follies, who also died of Marfan Syndrome—playing his guitar and singing with friends at an informal evening gathering. The family had always left me the impression that somehow such well-developed talents as this were a hallmark of the syndrome, but here was an example of musicality minus malady.

While the propensity to perform artistically may have been passed down to Marilyn's son and brother-in-law from the Williams' line, in my rapid-fire race through the Williams pedigree, it didn't appear there was any sign of Marfan Syndrome in that side of the family.

However, as often happens in such searches, there were a few other details of interest that I'd like to pause and examine. Call it the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome if you will, but before we judge such a dalliance, let's just call it productive exploration and grant a day's lenience to explore a bit more about the Williams line.

Above: Photograph of Maude Woodworth Bean's son Sam playing the guitar at an informal outdoor gathering; undated picture from the collection of Marilyn Sowle Bean.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Maude's Mom


It may have been a stash of family photographs found in a local antique shop which prompted me to tell the story of their previous owner, Marilyn Sowle Bean, but it was the tragic legacy bequeathed upon Marilyn's husband, brother-in-law and, eventually, her own son which has me searching through Marilyn's mother-in-law's family tree.

Maude Woodworth Bean apparently was a carrier of a once-deadly disease known as Marfan Syndrome, the cause of the untimely deaths of the men in the Bean family. Prompted by that—plus the serendipitous discovery of those family pictures—I've been trawling through the Bean pedigree to see if I could pinpoint which branch of the family might have contributed the unfortunate tendency.

We've already explored the paternal Bean family briefly, but having discovered the same malady in the descendants of Maude's brother's family, we've lately been seeking signs in Maude's own Woodworth family. Though over a century ago there were some childhood deaths on the Woodworth side, there certainly were also some long-lived relatives, as well. But what about Maude's mom? We need to explore that branch of Maude's story, as well.

It was thanks to Maude's father's obituary—a personal history encased within a funeral announcement—that we can glean the timeline of when William Woodworth married his wife. Though as a teenager, William had moved to southern California with his parents, Lafayette and Eliza Smith Woodworth, he did not forget the sweetheart he had left behind in Sioux City, Iowa. He returned there to marry her on October 27, 1890, and bring her home with him to Covina, California.

From the actual record of their marriage, we learn that William's bride—eventually, Maude's mother—was named Effie A. Williams. Though I've been able, from other family records, to determine that the middle initial "A" stood for Aurilla, I have yet to discover any other first name than what seems to be more nickname than formal given name.

According to the Sioux City marriage record, Effie was twenty years of age at her wedding, having said her nuptial vows on the same day as her birthday. However, from other records, it looks like she was actually nineteen at the point when she said "I do."

There was another discrepancy on the marriage register in Sioux City which caused a bit more research difficulty than the year of Effie's birth. Her father's name—Eugene—might have been clearly inscribed in the register, but her mother's maiden name looked like Elizabeth Ferrard. Or was it Ferrara?

Elizabeth it may have been—we can see that thirty years later in Elizabeth's own obituary. Unfortunately, though Mrs. Williams' obituary named her pallbearers and even the names of the soloists rendering her favorite hymns at the funeral, not one mention was made of the deceased's survivors, other than the daughter—"Mrs. W. C. Woodworth"—in whose home she had passed. It took quite a bit of exploration to realize that neither Ferrard nor Ferrara was her actual maiden name.

To explore the possibility that Marfan Syndrome may have made its appearance in Effie's family, rather than Maude's paternal Woodworth line, of course we don't need to start with her mother's pedigree. We can search first among the Williams kin. That will buy me more time to explore the possibilities for Elizabeth's maiden name. In the meantime, we'll examine what we can find on the paternal side of Maude's mother's family.


Above: Inset from register of marriages from Woodbury County, Iowa, showing the October 1890 entry representing Effie A. Williams, bride of William Woodworth; courtesy Ancestry.com.

Sunday, November 14, 2021



If a family tree is never really "finished," what sign does that bode for those of us pursuing our DNA matches?

Lately, behind the scenes, I've been plugging away at my mother-in-law's tree. That's the tree which favors Turi King's characterization of an "interwoven thicket," thanks to the several generations of intermarriages occurring in that tightly woven and isolated community where my mother-in-law grew up.

Suffice it to say I can't be satisfied with simply drawing up a pedigree chart for her family's history. This densely-connected community doesn't produce simple, straightforward relationships. To more fully appreciate the relationships requires consideration of collateral lines over several generations.

In one sitting at my computer, I can easily add dozens of family names for yet another reason: multiplication. Coming from a Catholic heritage, my mother-in-law's extended family took to heart the biblical admonition to be fruitful and multiply.

It's that familial multiplication which has driven my research numbers again in the past two weeks. It hardly seems possible to add 231 names to her family tree in two weeks' time, but that is easily what happened. When adding a census record to a family in her tree might mean adding ten to twelve additional children—almost all of whom will produce nearly a dozen of their own children in the upcoming generation—suddenly realizing hers is a tree with 24,193 names no longer seems unreasonable. This family has indeed taken multiplication to heart.

Granted, on the other side of the biweekly equation—researching my own parents' lines—it can be a rough go to find any new names to add to the tree. Secret name changes might have stumped me at first, but there are other issues tamping down the numbers. Some lines include children in, say, the 1920s who each decided to pursue careers instead of family matters, becoming the last leaf on that branch of their family line. Others ran into hardship—finances or health issues—which prevented raising a family.

Right now, in my own family's tree, I've been struggling with those Polish roots of my paternal grandfather. It has taken quite a bit more time just to find—let alone prove—the sixty one individuals I was able to add to my tree in the last two weeks. While there are 26,784 people represented in that family tree, each confirmed name has been a hard-won victory. 

I have to remember that, if it weren't for DNA testing, I wouldn't have found a large percentage of the cousin matches now connected to that tree. Some of the analytical tools produced by dedicated—and, in my opinion, genius—programmers have become the "magic" which has enabled me to discover how these DNA relatives actually match. The DNA tests might have led me to people I would otherwise never have met online, but it was in those matches' sharing with me the "rest of the story" that we could sort the pieces out and put the puzzle picture together in a coherent way.

Whether a family's story represents the fingerprints of generations of hardship, or the abundance of fruitful multiplication, we need to remember that all families contain valuable stories for us to share. Still, I certainly can say it is far easier to trace the collateral lines of those families which multiply heartily.  

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Off the Shelf: Range


In keeping with my personal tradition of buying books, then never reading them until years later, I recently decided now would be a good time to crack open the cover to David Epstein's 2019 best seller, Range. I had bought the book on a whim only because I favored its subtitle: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

You may have deduced from my selection that I consider myself more of a generalist than a specialist, and you'd be not only quite astute, but correct. Mine is a brain which is far more at home mind-mapping life than outlining it, cross-checking viewpoints with varying vantage points. My life's career has been modeled more closely to what I call the LeTourneau Effect—based after lessons learned from the career-shifting life of inventor R. G. LeTourneau—than what David Epstein referred to as the careers of "siloed" experts. 

The most effective inventors, according to David Epstein, "cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area." Not that I'm smart enough to be an inventor, of course, but I find that cross-domain path to be essential to understanding broad areas of information, or applying knowledge to practical conclusions.

While the book insinuates that "people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive," I'm not sure I could promise such a picture-perfect, angel-choir ending to life's challenge-strewn path. Granted, I'm still working my way through the author's argument, but I do believe he's got a point. Though the book's premise is pointed at the world of business—and, perhaps, includes a shout-out to parents of budding geniuses—I see an application made for what is unfolding in the world of genealogical research.

One example from the book got me thinking about precisely that. (I warned you: I'm a cross-thinking kind of person.) The scene set was that of the world's top echelon of chess masters, specializing in the recognition of every conceivable chess move to conquer one's opponent and dominate the game. The game has a long history, but eventually the inevitable happened: in 1997, world chess champion Garry Kasparov lost a match to the IBM super-computer known as Deep Blue. 

The loss didn't stun Kasparov, but instead proved a source of inspiration. Realizing that artificial intelligence's strong suit was the tactic of recognizing chess patterns but that finding advantage in the strategy of the big picture was better suited to the domain of humans, Kasparov set up the first "advanced chess" tournament, in which each human player was paired with a computer. The machine partner handled the tactics while the human partner focused on game strategy. That, apparently, shifted the playing field significantly.

Last year, an instructor at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy shared a quote which had inspired him and, in turn, impressed me as noteworthy, as well. The observation, attributed to Adrian Bingham, was originally shared in the article, "The Digitization of Newspaper Archives: Opportunities and Challenges for Historians," from volume twenty one of the 2010 Twentieth Century British History. It said, simply,

Because so much less time is spent searching...for relevant material, more time can be spent assessing the meaning of the content.

Exactly: strategy instead of tactics. Let the computers do the grunt work of recognizing patterns—such as searching for word strings like "Lafayette Woodworth" in "Covina, California." That leaves us the time to seek out the bigger picture of how those Woodworths got from Wisconsin to California—and why.

If I was still left to my own devices to figure out why a family in my distant past had disappeared from one community—let alone discover where the family surfaced, given that the answer might involve a distance of thousands of miles—I might never have found the answer. But now, letting the computers become the specialists in finding those small "tactical" assemblages of word groups, the world of research opens up far wider to our inquiring minds.

Books, incidentally, are good for that, as well—not for the memorization of a book's content, but for the ability to see how one idea can apply to other settings, too. When we learn to cross-apply the lessons from one domain to another, that skill can open up unexpected vistas for us. Which may be why the Miller Analogies Test has been one approach to evaluate the future success of graduate students—not so much in evaluating the broadness of one's knowledge of Western culture, but in the ability to envision how one idea can be effectively applied to an entirely different setting.


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