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Ask Ancestry Anne: What’s the best way to connect my family to an American legend?

Question: My middle name is Lee for General Lee, a rumored relative of my paternal grandmother. I’m also said to be related to Martha Washington, but I can’t find a connection to either. Which way should I work – forward from the legend to my family or backward until I reach the legend?
- Martha Garstang Hill

Answer: The short answer is start with your own family. Family legends are often a mixture of a fact or two with some wishful thinking thrown in, so trying to trace from the famous to the modern day is very much like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Instead, start with your paternal grandmother. Who were her parents? Document each one then focus on her grandparents. My guess is you will find the evidence you’re looking for in either your great-great-grandparents or your great-great-great-grandparents. Remember, since you’re trying to prove if a legend is true, the best and easiest place to start is with what you know and systematically work your way back. That way you’ll be sure you’re discovering your family, and if you happen to find Robert E. Lee along the way, that’s even better.

Be skeptical of all family legends no matter how attractive they are.  Skepticism will lead to better research on your part. My own family always claimed that we are related to “Bigfoot” Wallace. I’ve never found any facts to support this, but I’ve found plenty of other great family stories that are supported along the way.

As you research your own family, pay particularly close attention to any males born between 1818 and 1846 to see if they served in the Civil War and, more specifically, if they served in the Army of Northern Virginia. If it turns out that your family isn’t related to Robert E. Lee, this may turn out to be the source of the legend – your ancestor may have served under Robert E. Lee instead.

Also, look into history to see if it can lead you to answers. Robert E. Lee’s wife was Mary Anna Randolph Custis, the great granddaughter of Martha Washington and her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis. Robert E. Lee had seven children, but only two of them had children – William Henry Lee and Robert Edward Lee. A quick Internet search on both of these gentlemen will probably tell you if either could be in a direct line of your own ancestors.

Remember to focus first on finding your own family. That way, whether you watch their lives unfold in history books or census records, you’ll always know that you’ve uncovered the moments that matter most to your family tree.

Happy Searching!
Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: I Found a Death Record — How Can I Learn More?

Dear Ancestry Anne:

I’ve been looking for my grandfather’s birth record but no luck. I have his death record, which provided me with the following information:

Name: Henry Clinton Jones
Birth: February 9, 1855, Kansas City, Missouri
Death: January 24, 1942, Las Vegas, New Mexico
Father: John Jones (an aunt confirmed this)
Father’s birth: 1819, Mercer County, Kentucky
Father’s death: 1863

Here’s my problem: I don’t have enough information about John Jones – his name is so common and we’ve also been told he may have gone by Robert Jones – and the dates are simply years. Various family trees I’ve seen list John’s wife as Mary Elizabeth Kanfield, born in Virginia or Illinois, died in either Dent County, Missouri, or Fort Bend, Texas. I’ve also heard that my grandfather had a sister named Fannie Jones Chumley; I’ve researched her and learned she was born in 1851 in Kentucky, married young and had lots of children. But so far, I cannot find anyone in my grandfather’s family ever living together.
Where do I look for next?
- Mary Lou

Dear Mary Lou,
First, good for you for wanting to verify that the birth information for your grandfather on his death certificate – it’s highly likely that the person who reported the information on the death certificate wasn’t present for your grandfather’s birth and may have some information wrong.

To find the birth certificate, start by going straight to the place pages. Click on the search tab or visit Scroll to the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the U.S. map. Click on the state where you think your grandfather was born and look for Birth Marriage and Death listings to see if there’s a data collection at that fits the years you need.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for, try an alternate route. For example, if you’re looking for your grandfather’s parents and not just a confirmation of his birth date, search for all census records that would have been created for him during his life span. Start with the last-available census record: 1930. Where was your grandfather? Was he already in New Mexico? Was he living with his family? Note the informant listed on the death certificate, who could be a clue about your grandfather’s living situation at his time of death – if it’s a family member, track down that person in 1930 to see if Henry was living with or near that person then, too. Also ask a few more questions, if possible, of the aunt who confirmed Henry’s father’s name – does she know more about Henry’s life, family or whereabouts?

Once you’ve pinpointed Henry in a census record, use all identifying information to try to work your way back through his life. Note details like birthplace for him and his parents as well as his occupation, address and any other family members he may be living with who could point you to him in earlier years. Also review a few pages before and after your grandfather’s census record for other family members.

If you can’t locate your grandfather, try following the person you believe was his sister and follow her back through history to see if the two ever meet up (this will either help you locate your grandfather or determine if he was really related to the Fannie you found). You may find her living with the parents either before your grandfather was born or after he moved out of the house.

Use all census records you find to help you sort through clues and point you to new search locations. For example, if you find Henry and Fannie living in the same household and their birthplaces differ, you’ll want to search for information on these siblings in both of those states.

Your grandfather died in 1942, which means there’s a chance he or someone else collected social security benefits. If he appears in the SSDI, send off for his social security application, which will give you more than a few genealogical goodies there such as birth information and parents.

By the way, don’t be disappointed if you can’t find a birth certificate for your grandfather. States weren’t required to keep vital information until the 20th century, although some states started earlier. And remember, on occasion records that were kept may have been later destroyed by fire, war, flood or some other calamity.

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: Can You Help Me Find My Great-Grandfather’s Father?

Question: I am trying to find William Foxworth, who was married to Sallie Andrews in Wahee, Marion County, South Carolina. Sallie is listed in the 1880 census in Wahee as a widow with four children, William (or Willie), Annie E., Julius, and Bennie. In the 1880 census, Sallie and her daughter are listed as white, but Sallie’s sons are all mulatto. I am assuming that her husband must have been black and maybe even a former slave. I would like to find him. Willie, by the way, was my great-grandfather; I learned Willie’s parents’ names, William Foxworth and Sallie Andrews, from his death certificate. But I can’t find anything about the family in the 1870 census. Please help.
- Ronald H. Foxworth

Answer: You’re starting your search with a lot of great detail about Willie’s family but it may not all add up. And realize that while the information on Willie’s death certificate provides fantastic clues, the person who reported the information may have supplied incorrect information since that person likely wasn’t present at Willie’s birth. So I’ll take a different approach to see what else we can learn about the family.

I start by looking at the 1880 U.S. Federal Census that you referenced.

Sallie Foxworth (Andrews) is listed as age 33, born about 1847. The only child listed who would have been alive on the 1870 census is Willie, age 12, born about 1868. But I, too, can’t find the family in the 1870 census (FYI – the 1870 census has a reputation for missing people, especially in the southern states).

Moving forward to 1900, however, I can find Sallie with her son Bennie, still living in Wahee.

Both Sallie and Bennie are listed as “white,” and Sallie has four living children. If this is accurate, it suggests that the four children in the 1880 census are Sallie’s only children. I look for more information about Sallie in the 1910 census, but I can’t locate her. Sallie may have died sometime between 1900 and 1910, but this is just a guess.

Since I can’t find Willie in 1900, I turn to a different technique: I try tracking down his other brothers and sister to see if they can provide additional family information. In 1900, Julius is also living in Wahee, now with a wife and two children. His race is indicated as “black.” He also appears in 1910 in South Carolina and in North Carolina in 1920.

Julius died in North Carolina, which is where I locate his death certificate. The informant was Edward Foxworth, who was probably one of his sons.

Julius’s death certificate provides some clues: first, his parents are listed as Charlie Berry, born in Marion, South Carolina, and Sallie Foxworth, born in Florence, South Carolina. So maybe all of the children did not have the same father.

Next I search for William Foxworth in 1870, who, according to Willie’s death certificate, was his father. I find a good match in Wahee for William with a son named William. Even the ages are correct. But the mother is Margaret, not Sallie.

Moving forward to 1880, Margaret and William and son William are still living together, which seems to rule this family out since you found your great-grandfather Willie living with his mother Sallie in 1880.

What now? Your next step should be to search for obituaries between 1900 and 1910 for Sallie Foxworth in Marion County, South Carolina. Or if you know the denomination of the church they attended, look for all churches in Wahee of that faith and contact them about records they may have for the Foxworth family. This may be the best way to unravel more about the family mystery and finally discover Willie’s father’s name.

Happy Searching

Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: I’ve Found My Grandpa but What About His Wife?

Question: My grandmother, Era Thompson, married my grandfather Arthur R Hobdy, Sr.  I have all sorts of records for Arthur but I’m stumped when it comes to finding records about Era.  I know she came from a small community north of Nashville, Tennessee called “White House.” Can you help me get started?
- Harriette Hobdy Wilson

Answer: We know we’re looking for Arthur R. Hobdy, who was married to Era Thompson. Given that Arthur is a senior, there is a good chance that Arthur and Era have a son named Arthur as well. Using the little information I have, I create a small tree.  
Honestly, dates would help. Even so, I already have a hint for Arthur Hodby, the son of a Arthur and an Era T. I click on it to find out it’s for the 1930 census, which shows me the following:

Arthur Senior was born in Tennessee as were his parents. Era was born in Kentucky, her father was born in Louisiana and her mother was born in Kentucky. All the children were born in Kentucky. But there is something odd about this particular family: the children have their mother’s birth place as Tennessee.  Was Era not their mother?  Or was she really born in Tennessee and the enumerator got her birthplace wrong – or did the enumerator get the the birthplace of the children’s mother wrong?

I suspect this is the correct family, but I do a search for all Arthur Hodby’s in the 1930 census.  There are a few other variations of Arthur Hobdy, but none of them have parents named Arthur and Era, so I’m pretty sure I’m on the right trail.  
From the 1930 census, we know that Arthur Sr. was born about 1877, and Era was born about 1889.  Their oldest child in the 1930 census was born about 1910. I’m guessing they were married between 1905 and 1909; the information in the “age at first marriage” field helps me narrow this down to approximately 1905. I look next for the 1910 census. Here’s what I find:

This is one of those genealogical moments that happen too rarely. Arthur and Era are living with what appears to be Era’s father. Arthur is listed as the son-in-law of Wether Thompson, Era as the daughter.  Wether is a widower born in Louisiana, his father in North Carolina and his mother in Alabama.  No Tennessee connection yet.

Also, we see that Era and Arthur have been married five years, and each is in their first marriage (M1 indicates first marriage, M2 would indicate a second or later marriage).

Now I look for Era Thompson living as the daughter of Wether, moving back to the 1900 Census.

I find Era Thompson, daughter of Wilber Thompson and Emmer Thompson (Wilber and Wether? I can see how handwriting could make those two look close to the same).  While Willber’s parents are both listed as being born in Louisiana, I still I suspect these are the same people. However, If this were my family and wanted to be sure, I’d start gathering every source I could find so I could verify I’m looking at the right people. But for the purposes of this exercise and since I’m just testing a theory here, I’ll continue on.

Emmer Thompson’s father is listed as being as born in Tennessee. Is this the Tennessee connection?

Next I jump back to 1880, but I couldn’t find any Wilber or Wether Thompsons in the 1880 census who seemed like the right person. I then did a search for  Emmer’s born between 1865 and 1869 and living in Allen County, Kentucky or surrounding counties to see if any of them had a father born in Tennessee and a mother born in Kentucky.  But I didn’t find one.

I also checked Kentucky marriage records for a Wether/Wilbur and Emmer, but found nothing. Searching courthouse records, however, could turn up more.

So what now? Since I’m pretty sure that I’ve found Era Thompson’s parents, I need to find more sources to back up this assertion. Here’s what I’d do next:
• Hunt down the marriage record for Wilber/Wether and Emmer
• Find a birth record for Era and/or her brothers and sisters – any one of these might hold valuable clues as to who Wilber/Wether and Emmer were and where they came from. And since locations for birthplaces vary from document to document for this family, I’ll be very careful as I hunt them down. I can’t assume the first one I see will be the correct family.

As for Era Thompson’s Tennessee connections, it appears that she was born in Kentucky. But maybe one of Era’s parents was from Tennessee.  The mystery is not solved, but we did get a few steps closer.
Happy Searching!
Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: How Do I Find a Confederate Soldier?

Question: Can you find William Smith of Rockbridge County, Virginia? He’s the father of Mattie Smith, who married John Wesley Duling. And William was also a Confederate soldier.

-John Deacon

Answer: We have names and locations here but no date.  However, if Mattie is the child of a Civil War veteran, I’m guessing that she shows up married to John Duling in the 1900 through 1930 censuses.  And I’m going to take it on faith that you have a record that shows that William Smith was Mattie’s father and was from Rockbridge County.  It is typical of Virginia marriage records in the 1800s to state that information.

My first step is to look for John Duling in the 1900 census in Clifton Forge, Virgina.  If I can find John and Mattie in the 1900 census, not only will I have the year they were born, but the month they were born. I find John W and Martha Duling on the 1900 census in Clifton Forge:

Note that although John is transcribed as John N Duling, if you compare the initial with the W in Willie in line 72, this is most probably John W Duling. Martha H was born in Virginia in July 1859 and “Mattie” is a known nickname for Martha. Both of Martha’s her parents were also born in Virginia. John and Martha have been married for nine years, so they were married around 1891. If this is Martha’s first marriage, it is very likely we will find her on the 1880 census with her father.

I find a Mattie H Smith born about 1860 in Bath, Virginia in 1880. She is the daughter of William and Agnes Smith and has brothers and sisters Emmit, David, Maggie, Mary and James.

Bath County is north of Clifton Forge and west of Rockbridge County, so it is in the realm of possibilities that this is the correct family. Martha/Mattie’s middle initial is also the same.
I then search for this family in 1870. I find them again in Bath County.

You’ll note on the census that not only is the birth state given, but the county is as well, even though they are crossed out. This states that William is from Pendleton County, Virginia, and is wife is from Bath.  Three children are listed as being born in Rockbridge, David, Martha and Maggie, which would mean, if correct, I will find the family in 1860 in Rockbridge County, Virginia.
And sure enough, I do:

You’ll notice in 1860, 1870 and 1880, that William is listed as a tailor which leads me to believe that this is definitely the same family. You’ll also notice that on this census, Martha/Mattie is listed as M Hester, which now explains the initial H in other census records.

So is this the correct William Smith and the correct Mattie?  It is possible and even probable, but it’s still not definite. If you have access to the marriage record and can verify that Mattie’s mother’s name was Agnes and/or that Mattie was born in Rockbridge County, you can feel much more confident that this is the correct family.

You stated that William Smith was a Confederate Soldier.  Given that he lived in Virginia his whole life, he probably enlisted in Virginia. There is a William Smith who enlisted in Staunton, Virginia in 1861 at was the age of 45 (birth year 1816), who is listed as a tailor.  This could be your William Smith, but the age is off by almost a decade, so it is far from definitive. When you examine the muster and discharge records for this William, you’ll see that this William was born in Kentucky, so it is very unlikely he is your William.
I did find a Pension Request (at the Library of Virginia site) for a William H Smith who was living in Clifton Forge, Virginia in 1902, that stated he enlisted in Rockbridge County, Virginia in April of 1862. In this record he states that he is a shoemaker.  However, no records can be found that indicate he actually served.

I also checked the local history “A History of Rockbridge County” which lists the different units and the men who served.  William is not listed.

William Smith is a common name — he may be in the records and I may have not been able to locate him. There is a gap between Maggie Smith, born in 1861, and Mary Smith born in 1866 that supports the idea that he served in the war.

Here are my recommendations are these:
1. Find the marriage record for Mattie and John.
2. Learn more about Mattie’s brothers and sisters; there may be clues there.
3. See if you can read the pension file I mentioned or order a better copy (that one is hard to read).

Hopefully this is enough information to get you restarted on your search.

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: How Can I Find Someone Who Was Living in Germany in 1920?

Question: “My grandfather’s parents are listed on the 1920 census as being born in Germany. But I’m not sure how to find them overseas. Any suggestions?
–Marnie Little

Answer: The first thing you should to do when you start searching for your ancestors in another country is familiarize yourself with what’s available for that country on Just as every state in the U.S. differs in the records that they have, every country does as well. There are two places that I recommend to learn more.

Place Pages: On the navigation bar, click on the Search tab, and then scroll to the bottom of the page.

You will see the “Explore By Location” panel,
If you are searching for German records, click on Europe, then on Germany. You will see a page that lists all the data collections we have specific to Germany.

On the right, you will see data collections specific to German states as well.

Card Catalog: If you click on the arrow next to Search in the navigation bar, you will see a drop down, and you can click on Card Catalog. [march-image4.jpg]
On the right hand side, you will see a Filter by Location:
Choose Europe and then Germany. You will see all of the data collections we have that have German records in them. You can then narrow those down by record type or era if you like.

You can then click on a data collection and search it individually.

And don’t forget, back on the “Search Homepage” (you get there by clicking on Search in the navigation bar), in the upper right, you will see the Recently Viewed Collections panel.  This allows you to go back and look at collections you were searching earlier.

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne