What About Those Collateral Branches? by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

Last week’s Ancestry Weekly Journal included a Weekly Planner item from Juliana about collateral relatives that made me stop and think about my own collateral research. If I hadn’t researched one great-grandfather’s brother, I may never have found the place they left in Scotland (Arbroath) and would have missed the death and burial place for my great-great-grandparents.

If I hadn’t researched my grandfather’s siblings, I would not have known about the relatives still living in Ireland–all those collateral relatives that eventually immigrated to Boston and to Omaha. Nor would I have been visited by relatives from the Dingle Peninsula.

If I hadn’t researched another great-grandmother’s siblings, I would not have received some very neat pictures, articles, and more. I would not have known that they sent coffee to their relatives in Sweden during WWII, leading me to eventually contact descendants of those relatives.

If I hadn’t researched one more great-grandmother’s siblings, I would not have learned that I was researching the wrong name. They weren’t Irish or English Dows, but rather a French-Canadian name, Daoust!

And that is just part of what researching the collateral lines did for me. Don’t enter just the direct line folks into your Family Tree Maker software. Enter all siblings, aunts, uncles, and even their spouses.

Check for obituaries and death certificates for those collaterals–the one you miss just might have the clue to the mother’s correct maiden name. Look for those obituaries in the town where they died and also in the place where they used to live or where they grew up. Check out the obituary for Leah Ritter from Cambridge City, Indiana, on 12 January 1899. (It begins at the top of the second column.) After you read it, you’re going to want to adopt this family as yours!

Research all those names of gift givers in the old baby and wedding albums. That James P. Gunckle who signed the book and mystified you might turn out to be a relative whose granddaughter is also working on the family history.

As you make contact with other relatives, ask them if they have memories and contact information for other family members. Ask them if anyone has a family Bible.

Gather military records for male collateral relatives. The Civil War pension record for great-grandpa’s brother may list some places of residence that you didn’t know about before.

The county history listing for great-grandma’s brother-in-law may have details on his wife’s family–your great-grandma’s sister.

Check out probates for even distant cousins. Your great-great-granduncle’s daughter’s son may have left a will stating that $1,000.00 is to be given to the parish in Germany where his grandparent’s were married–clearly naming your ancestor’s parish.

The state where your grandparents were married may be one where the marriage records don’t give much more information than the date, name of bride and groom, ages, and officiant. Grandpa’s sister Susan may have been married in a state such as Wisconsin where many of the older marriage records give the bride and groom’s parents’ names, including the maiden names of the mothers.

That 1880 U.S. census that has a family on page 23 with the same surname as your family on page 21 is reaching out to tell you to figure no longer exists for your family’s state. Maybe those folks with the same surname moved to a state that took a state census that can help fill in for that destroyed 1890 federal census (e.g., 1894 State Census of Michigan, Minnesota State Censuses of 1885 and 1895, etc.).

Still can’t figure out where in Arkansas Grandpa was born? What if his brother, Grover Hanley, is in the World War I draft records at Ancestry.com? Your grandpa was too young to be included in this draft, but Grover Harrison Hanley states that he was born in Clarksville, Johnson County, Arkansas. It’s at least a starting point for working on your grandpa.

One of the joys of reading old newspapers is the local news (a.k.a. gossip) column. Schedule a time to go the historical society for several hours to read them. Don’t just look for your own grandparents going to dances, attending a wedding shower, or going to play cards. Look for other names that might be familiar. (Were they listed in the wedding album?) Seeing that Mrs. John Griffin went to her sister Mrs. Edward Hanley’s house for a luncheon might just add more family connections. What records do their descendants have?

Is all this work really worth it? You betcha! (Yes, I am from Minnesota.) What was my bonus from working on the collateral relatives? One picture of the family home on the Dingle Peninsula, two Irish parish names, one Scottish place of origin, death and burial dates and places for great-grandparents, family in Ireland and Sweden, a copy of my third great-grandfather’s 1830-1840s journal, meeting a Danish cousin with lots of family knowledge, meeting cousins who are now friends, getting pictures galore, and that’s just a hint of what the collateral research yielded for me.

Now, it’s your turn. What have you found on collateral relatives? Share your story with us here on the blog.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer who is frequently on the road. She coordinates the American Records Course at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She writes for several periodicals including “Ancestry” Magazine. Comments and additions to her columns will reach her at PaulaStuartWarren@gmail.com or via her blog www.PaulaStuartWarren.blogspot.com. She regrets that she is unable to answer individual inquiries due to the volume of requests. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. Your name will not be used, but your place of residence might be listed (i.e., Salina, Kansas).

Paula’s Upcoming Events
(I enjoy meeting fellow genealogists at these events so please introduce yourself as an Ancestry Weekly Journal and 24/7 Family History Circle reader. Many of you do take me up on this suggestion!)

19 thoughts on “What About Those Collateral Branches? by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

  1. All of the wonderful “memory stuff” like old family records that belonged to my mother and father burned up in a fire so I have devoted the last 25 years to researching my ancestors. I figured that I didn’t have many relatives and research would be difficult (some of it was).
    I entered wives, kids, and just about any relatives that I found into my data base. Now because my ancestors are listed on the internet with some of their relatives, I have received terrific photos, great information that extended family lines, and awsome stories about many of my ancestors. Best of all I have a whole bunch of wonderful “cousins” that have helped me and fun family reunions to attend.

  2. In researching my great grandmother, I found an obituary for her sister, Maria Pluecker Gerth. Her sister and parents emigrated from Germany in 1866. The obituary gave the town/village of origin as Kohlgrund Germany in the Fulda area of Hessen. This area has not been filmed by LDS. In doing some further on line research I joined the Hessen list serv and they helped me contact the archives in that area of Germany. I contacted the archives and for a small fee was able to get the direct lines of my great grandmother’s mother and father which took me back to 1750 on the direct lines of both parents
    HERBOLDT and PLUECKER and all their marriages, maiden names, villages where they lived, occupations, and a copy of theentire parish church records in German.
    What a terrific find! What if I never found the obituary for Maria Pluecker who was born in Germany and immigrated with her parents. Maria was born in Germany in 1865 and my great grandmother and her middle sister and other siblings were born in the USA.
    This find also lead me to the FHC in SLC where I was able to find the “permission to emigrate” papers for this family.


  3. Had I not entered the siblings of my four grandparents in my FTM, I would not have found a Smith Family Bible through one line; would not have found the father of a great grandfather through a Trentham line; would not have found an unpublished life story of an Owen great uncle that gave a history of birth and marriages for his siblings including my great grandfather; and on and on. Searching through my FTM with ancestry.com has rewarded me over and over through the collateral lines of my grandparents! I recommend this to all my friends in DAR who are searching for Rev War ancestors and some have had good success with this search tool.

    Barbara Pilgrim Sams

  4. My husband’s ancestor, Nickolas Meistrell, was born in the US shortly after his parents arrived in the US with one daughter. His father died in the 1840s without any records and his mother died with a very short obituary in a German language paper without note of the place from which they emigrated. His sister also left few records. I thought I was at a brick wall until I investigated a young Meistrell living nearby who appeared to be related some how (I later learned he was a nephew). After much researching (prior to the internet days), I found his Civil War pension file with his place of birth as “St. Wendel, Germany”. Sankt Wendel’s Catholic church records were microfilmed by the LDS so I was able to go back to the early 1700s. Then my efforts went to trying to find the Meistrell family on a passenger list. I knew they had come to the US 1839-1840. Try as I might, I couldn’t find them. Again, I didn’t have Ancestry back in those days so my search was painstakingly slow. As part of my genealogical research I would often order newspapers on microfilm for signifcant family dates looking for any information. As long as I had the roll for several weeks, I would go through and look for any other articles of interest. While doing so I saw a 60th anniversary article of Nickolas’ business partner Andrew Smith and his wife Catherine (Franken)… who also happened to be the sister of Nickolas’ wife. I decided to read the article and buried at the end was pure gold! The 1928 article stated that there was an odd coincidence. The Meistrell, Smith and Heinen families all traveled together from Germany on the same ship. They left LeHavre, France and sailed on the George Huddlebut for 6 weeks arriving in New Orleans. They traveled up river to Missouri. Each of the families had a son born in the US who later married one of the Franken sisters. WOW… I couldn’t believe my luck. First of all I never even considered New Orleans as the port of arrival. Secondly, to have such specific info was unbelievable. Unfortunately, New Orleans records for 1839 are incomplete and LeHavre says they don’t have any records. Without this news article I would never know the emigration information.

  5. Thank you so much for publishing this article, I had no idea that the newspapers from Cambridge City, IN were online… My gr-mo Leah Hebble was b in Dublin in 1901, her father Elmer Ellis Hebble in Milton in 1873 and when I put the name “Hebble” in the search box, hundred of entries came up, I can’t wait to wade thru them! Thanks so much! Helen

  6. Rather than a research breakthrough, my collateral ancestors have provided our family with the great enjoyment of tangible, practical artifacts. My 3rd great grandfather was the youngest son of my DAR patriot, Captain John G. Schanck, well documented and with many children. I noticed two of the older sons, my 3rd great granduncles, were listed as silversmiths in NY and NJ. Sure enough, the work of the Schanck brothers, Garret(1768-1795) and John (1774-1864) can be found in the DAR Museum and the NY Historical Society, not to mention on eBay!

    I’ve made a lovely notebook with photos of their pieces recently offered on eBay. I’ve bid on some, and have acquired beautiful and useful spoons, sufficient for all our grandchildren, at very affordable prices. I’ve even spotted the monograms of other collateral relatives of this prolific family on some pieces.

    I strongly encourage other genealogists to seek out, preserve, and enjoy the creations of their direct and collateral ancestors.

  7. This article really hit home for me. While researching my (Frost) family, began to find many other family names occuring thru marriage. The research resulted in names of 16 families: Barnes; Blakeslee; Brockett; Cooper; Frost; Gilbert; Grannis; Ives; Heaton; Pardee; Payne; Pierpont; Sanford; Smith; Todd and Tuttle resulted in more than 250 marriages. They are all related in one way or another. The Excel spread sheet ended up 2100 lines 17 columns. The dates range from 1609 to 1837. Most lived in CT. Would like to know if this number of marriages is unusal. Research in Ancestry.com is incredible.

  8. I can’t urge people enough to check those collateral records. My husband’s great grandfather was born in “Ireland”. That’s all the information I was able to get looking at his records. Great grandpa was very tight lipped but through his brother’s Civil War pension records I learned the family was from Streete Parish, Westmeath County. Under the question where has the soldier had lived since the war, I was able to research those areas and found more vital information. Also, the same brother wrote an article for the Nebraska State Historical Society about their travels around the west after the Civil War. His story began “When I and my TWO brothers …” I had no idea until I found that article that there was even a third brother involved. I’ve since learned his name was Michael, but he is proving to be as elusive as the great grandfather. At least I know he exists. Collateral records have turned up tombstones with previously unknown family members, death certificates that have expanded the number of siblings, divorce records showing previously unknown in-laws It turned out my 2nd great grandfather had an affair with his wife’s sister-in-law. If I had not researched “the other woman”, I would never have found the the first wife’s parents nor her maiden name. I’ve gotten some of my best direct ancestor information through collateral relatives. It has paid off so many times that it has now become a habit to research the brothers and sisters and their in-laws. There is no good reason NOT to research collateral relatives.

  9. I love collateral families! By researching my gggrandfather’s sister I found cousins who sent me a photo of my third great grandfather and a letter written in 1867 by my ggggrandmother to her son my gggrandfather and that is full of wonderful family information. Also on my mother’s side I am now in touch with a second cousin from Scotland who coming to visit the US tomorrow and my 7 year old daughter is thrilled about meeting a new cousin. Also, the photos I have collected from getting in touch with 3rd, 4th and 5th cousins have greatly improved my collection. I’ve also found out I’m related to two US Presidents and many governors and senators. I love family history and ancestry!

  10. How can one not research collateral relatives? It is through contact with gg-uncle’s descendants in Ohio that I acquired many pictures and stories of my ancestors. I also found out my g-grandmother had a second marriage & divorce that none of the family in Arkansas knew about — my grandmother thought it was a disgrace to be divorced so she never told us. G-Grandmother had a sister that had 3 marriages that none of us ever heard about either. I also met several cousins in Ohio who were researching and extremely helpful in my research–we also became good friends. The collateral relatives round out the family & make it more interesting. Some may have talents that have passed down generations. Good to find out about medical conditions that may be in the genes.

  11. From time to time I will spend some time going through the Newspaper section on Ancestry.com looking for any mention of my ancestors. Last week I started with my paternal G-G-Grandmother Catherine Wells in Illinois. She was originally from Kentucky and married in 1831 in Indiana on the way to Illinois. Her maiden name was Jones and I had no connection to her family at all. My search was for Catherine Wells and I got one hit on an obit for someone that I had not come across till then. She was listed as sister living in a neighboring city. His name was Claybourn Jones and he was born in Shelby County Kentucky about 1809. He had come to Macon County Illinois, with his parents, about the same time as his sister Catherine and married about 1837. I am anxious to pursue this find because Catherine’s obit was what spurred me into my genealogy quest. She died in 1904 and my grandmother had kept her obit in her keepsake drawer. When I read the obituary I realized that there was very little known about my father’s family. During the past three years I have been able to find a couple of cousins that have shared some photos that I would never have found without the aid of the obits found on Ancestry.com.

    When searching through the old newspapers start a chronological ledger with your finds that mention the newspaper, date and page number, this way you can refer back to the original publication for additional research. I also save a copy of the page on my computer.

  12. Several years ago my uncle had a gathering which included his (& my mother’s) 1st cousin’s who were in town. Of the 3 children of my great grandfather, only one was then living, my great “Uncle Bill”, was also in attendance. Two momentus things happened at that gathering.

    First, I had prepared a booklet for each of the first cousin’s on my “Wischer Family” research, which included images from a small notebook written in German of birth’s & death’s recorded by my 2nd great grandfather, but also a picture that was unidentified, but all had been found together tucked in the back of a drawer of my grandmother’s before she moved into a nursing home.

    I was anxious to show the picture to “Uncle Bill”, but even with failing eyesight, right away he stated “that’s my Grandpa”!

    Later in the day I was able to sit awhile with “Uncle Bill” who liked to talk. I tried to ask specific questions, I’m not sure if he ever actually answered those specific questions, but I could tell he was traveling down memory lane, and I listened. He mentioned that he recalled “some 20 years ago” that he had gotten notice that he was to inherit money from a distant cousin that he recalled visiting as child & they called her “Maderia Minnie” (Maderia is a local place here in Hamilton Co. OH) & that she lived with somebody named Brinkers who owned a Hardware Store.

    I don’t recall now my path in finding “Maderia Minnie”, but a combination of census searches & Ohio Death records at ancestry led me to a probable suspect, which then led me to the local courthouse for probate records. Minnie actually died in 1963 & had lived with her sister & brother-in-law, the Brinkkrogers, who predeceased her.

    Not only was my great-uncle named, also my grandfather and siblings & many other names which then led to further research. Most notable was 2 sisters, who were listed in the 1920 census as being from “Dunhoft” which was my 2nd great grandmothers maiden name! They were actually listing their maiden names as “place of birth” rather then the actual “place of birth”. Since one of the sister’s had come through Ellis Island, which records told me where she had emmigrated from, I was led to a trail of research enabling me to find my own 2nd great grandmothers baptismal record in Germany and other ancestors “beyond the ocean” and connecting many of the families with the Dunhoft surname here in the Hamiliton Co., OH Northern KY vacinity.

    Without “Uncle Bill’s” lead, I may never have found all of this wonderfull information. “Uncle Bill” died this summer, just short of his 95th birthday. I wish I would have been given the time to talk to him more.

  13. If I hadn’t put in all the relatives of brothers and sisters that I could find, I wouldn’t have made it as far up the tree as I have. I found my great great grandmothers maiden name by looking at all her children and found her name listed on a Iowa census for a sibling of my great grandfathers. I cant tell you how important it is to really look at these records some people don’t and miss a lot of information. I found this same sibling on other peoples trees and they had the wrong parents for him. If they took the time to read the census’s and compare dates of wives and children it would save a lot of errors. Once I found her name I was able to go back to the 1200’s on her family. How cool is that!

  14. I found out so much about my New England ancestors from family descended from the brother of my great grandmother Cordelia Steinberg Piper. One cousin had even researched her grandmothers family back to the Mayflower. Pictures, letters and other wonderful documents all appeared to make the family history a wondeful story, filled with both sadness and joy.

  15. For all of those just starting out on their research journey let me relate my experience with collateral line information that helped my research so much.

    Way back in 1970, one night after a family dinner, my father-in-law started talking about his youth and growing up in Auburn, New York. I, having always said “someday I want to really get into genealogy”,thankfully, grabbed a pencil and paper and started jotting down names, dates, family stories, etc. that he was rattling off with a clear and precise memory. He died suddenly and unexpectedly,a few months later at the early age of 52.

    Armed with the information he gave me and with the knowledge that life is just too short to wait for “someday” I headed off the the local Morman Family Library a few months after his death. While waiting for a reader to become available I noticed a whole book shelf of New York Historical and Biographical Society’s “The Register” and I just reached up and picked a 1964 mid-year issue. I looked at the table of contents and didn’t find any listing for “Beardsley” and almost put it down but then just casually started fanning the pages from the back of the book forward and WHAM…I see the name Anna Phillips Porter and it sounded familiar to me and so I read further and there was my first clue to taking the family back further and I was instantly “bitten by the bug.” I found that the article was on a branch of the Edwards family, which I didn’t recognize at all but again, Anna Porter rang a bell. Reading on I found that Anna Phillips Porter married Alonzo Glover Beardsley who turned out to be the third great grandfather of my father-in-law and as I read further found the connection to Suzanna Edwards, a daughter of the head of the family and subject of the article. I furiously made copies and from this one article I gleaned the information I needed that has lead me to find every male in the line back to the immigrant ancestor (and several generations further from him) plus all the wives and their families. All because my father-in-law, Winthrop Chedell Beardsley,took the time to share with me and I took the time to listen!
    I learned a valuable lesson that day…don’t give up on a book just because you don’t see a particular surname. Take the time to scan further and you just may be surprised what you find!

    From there I took some classes and began a passion for genealogy that has brought so much pleasure over theirty-five years now…not to mention, on my own family line, finding and finally meeting an aunt, three uncles and seven cousins that I never knew growing up!

  16. I was researching my great-great grandmother who was buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Veteran, New York. I actually went to look for it on one vacation but never found it. Her name was Eliza Maria Lyon Daily. Her husband, Zebulon, remarried after her death and was buried presumably with his second wife as there is no record of him with his first. I always felt bad that Eliza was in this cemetery with 10 or 15 strangers.

    I decided to look into their backgrounds on a whim. What I found was that every single one was related by marriage or a child of Eliza’s with their married name listed. She was actually in there with her children and grandchildren!

    I am still researching this, but it has given me several insites into why some of the family moved to different locations, etc. It was completely worth it to look into children and siblings.

  17. I too was dumbfounded with my husband’s grandfather’s ancestry. The grandfather (came to America in 1895)Wilhelm Dietzman died when the young Henriech (henry) Dietzman was four years old. When Henry’s mother remarried two years later, out of respect to the new husband, no one mentioned or talked of the late Wilhelm Dietzman so therefore we knew nothing about the family. Taking a German class through Ancestry, I found a few things I could do; one was to get the existing German directory. I did know Wilhelm was born in Wagensfeld Germany. So I looked up Dietzmann’s(original spelling two n’s) and wrote letters(with a German translator) to all of the Dietzmann’s in that town (approx 12-13) After a year of trying to get them to correspond to me, one did write back, sent a genealogy chart as to how our lineage was, and told us originally Kriesmann was the name, then aka Dietzmann, right before they came to America they started using the Dietzmann name, why I do not know. And then some of those that came to America dropped the one n. Through Ancestry I did find a cousin, of Wilhelm’s. This cousin father was an Uncle to Wilhelm, and that is possibly why Wilhelm came to America. Since then this cousins, descendant’s and I have corresponded. Each day it seems like we gain a little more info, and Ancestry classes, and info on Ancestry, like the immigration manifest, have given a lot of that information to us! Thanks! So yes you need to broaden your scope on the possibility of there being more siblings, etc.

  18. I listed Surnames I have been researching on Message Boards. I received an e-mail inquiry asking for information on a relative. I responded. I found him to be the Grandson of my mother’s step sister. I had no information on the family since 1961. I visited his grandmother in 1946. We are exchanging family history and updating records. I am planning a visit to see them in two weeks. I have been given relatives I had lost many years.

  19. John Ingraham Ginn was my husband’s second great-grand uncle. In researching him, I discovered that one of his sons, Hayward Ginn, was a silent movie actor who married Maude Gilbert, a silent movie actress. This is something the family would never have known if this research had not been done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *