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Ask Ancestry Anne: Who Are Ethel’s Parents?

Question: For years I was under the assumption that my grandmother, Ethel Hall Burtchell, was the child of Wealthy Hall Burtchell and Walter D. Burtchell. Ethel was born on October 13, 1895, presumably in Brooklyn, but I have not had any luck in finding a birth certificate for her with either the name Hall or Burtchell.  What makes this more complicated is that I found a newspaper announcement of Walter and Wealthy’s wedding, which took place in late October, 1899 - four years after Ethel was born. So was Ethel a child of one of them from a prior relationship? Was she adopted by them? If so, was Ethel a child of another member of the family? Without a last name, I can’t find a proper birth certificate, and there are no elder relatives still around who can help solve this mystery. Can you? 

— Cathy Schaefer

Answer: What I like about this question and some of the conclusions that you have reached is that you are letting the facts drive your assumptions. 


You have Walter and Wealthy’s wedding announcement a date of 1899. There are multiple census records and a Social Security Death Index entry that consistently say that Ethel was born in 1895. Adding these two facts together, it’s not clear that Ethel was the child of Walter and Wealthy.


I couldn’t find this family in the 1900 census. But I did, like I’m sure you did, find them in 1910. Ethel is listed as the daughter of Walter, and Walter and Wealthy are listed as having been married since 1895, not 1899. Wealthy is listed as having three children and all three are living. So if Ethel isn’t Wealthy’s daughter, where is the other child? But it is curious as to why there’s an eight-year gap between Ethel and Gerard …


Walter and Wealthy are living in the same house as the family of Thomas Lyne (not sure if I am reading that last name correctly.)


Fast forward to 1920, we have Walter and Wealthy living with four sons in the same house as Walter Ingram. Ethel is living next door as a boarder in the house of John Hofstad. Are any of these people relatives?


The 1930 census gives us a more tantalizing clue. Walter and Wealthy are living with their four sons. Walter is 57 years old and his age at his first marriage was at age 21. Do a little subtraction and that means he was first married in 1893. Wealthy is 52 years old and her age at her first marriage was also 21. But that means she was first married in 1898. Hmm.

Putting these details together makes me wonder if Walter and Wealthy were married in 1899 as stated in the marriage announcement and if Walter was married previously in 1893, give or take a year.

I dug a little further and found a <a href=>1905 New York Census on</a> that shows Walter and Wealthy living with Peter and Maria Burtchell.

Walter is listed as the son of Peter; Ethel and Gerard as the grandchildren of Peter. Again, there’s an eight year gap between Ethel and Gerard


I could not find Walter in the New York 1892 census.  I found Peter but Walter was not living with him at the time.

If I had to guess, I would guess that Ethel is Walter’s daughter from a previous marriage. But to prove this, I would do the following:

1.     Try to find a marriage certificate from 1892 or 1893 for Walter.

2.     Search for an actual marriage certificate for Walter and Wealthy – something beyond the newspaper announcement. A certificate may give you a clue about whether Walter was previously married.


Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

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