Thursday, May 19, 2022

Without a Trace


Here's a curiosity: when we trace the life trajectory of our ancestors, we expect that, at some point, each person will have reached the end of their years. At that point, family members—or at least someone—will have buried their departed loved one and, at least in previous centuries, have marked their final resting place as a memorial. How, then, for a family member who lived—and, presumably, died—in the same place for decades, can we not find a trace of their passing?

I'm closing in on the supposed nine children of my husband's third great-grandfather, Michael Metzger. In addition to the four I already knew about—Michael's namesake son plus daughter Elizabeth and other two sons Henry and Jacob—we've been considering the household next door to the younger Michael's home in Jackson Township in Perry County, Ohio. In that home, the oldest listed in the 1850 census—shortly after the elder Michael's death—was a man by the name of Gregory Metzger. 

We've since discovered that two of the Metzger women in Gregory's household were eventually noted to be sisters. That, we discovered in the 1880 census, after Gregory's supposed death.

Today, I was working on locating some death records on this Metzger household. While deaths in Ohio before the 1900s were generally not noted at the state level, I happened to know from multiple trips to the Perry County courthouse years ago that the county had kept an index of deaths in the last few decades of the 1800s. Though I kept photocopied pages listing family surnames from previous visits, I had recently discovered that the entire index is now digitized and available on

Since the two Metzger sisters we discussed yesterday had been buried in Perry County—easily seen by their memorials at Find A Grave—I thought that would be a good start for pulling up their records on the Perry County death index. Since Mary Ann Metzger was the one of the two sisters to have died the most recently, I checked first for her name—and found no entry.

Puzzled, I took a look at the entire Metzger section for Perry County. Though there were many Metzger names listed, there was none for either Mary Ann or her sister Joanna. 

Well, what about that alternate spelling, Metzgar? Since it was listed right above the alphabetical entries for Metzger deaths, I scrolled up the page to take a look. 


Obviously, from the photographs included on their Find A Grave memorials, both Joanna and Mary Ann were buried in Perry County. Since it was not unusual in that era for a person to have died in a different location and then to be returned to their family's burial plot back home, I began wondering just where the two women might have died.

While considering that issue, I realized someone else was missing from the death index: the very person whose will I had been seeking—Gregory. His name was missing from the Perry County Death Index as well.

I confess, that's when I caved and recalled that Find A Grave volunteers had entered two additional names as children of the elder Michael Metzger. While I certainly appreciate all the work these volunteers have done for the website, I have learned to hesitate about outright acceptance of such suggestions as document-able reality. I've found errors in the past.

The thought, however, nagged at me. After all, I have DNA test results at showing ThruLines connections to two other sons. What were their names? Were they the same as the two names listed at Find A Grave?

Sure enough, the names matched up. But I can't just take those assertions at face value. You know what that means: we'll have to examine the records for ourselves, check the documentation, and then trace those lines—including the DNA matches Ancestry has discovered for me—all the way back to the Metzger line from the early 1800s. It's time to build some additional hypothetical lines to the Metzger tree.

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