In graduate school, thirty years ago, I ran across a book listing the people buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama. I was thrilled to find many of my relatives listed, with birth and death dates. It was a good start to my own personal journey through history. But one person was missing. My great-great-grandmother was nowhere to be found. Her parents, siblings, husband, and one child were listed, but not her. For thirty years I couldn’t find her listed after the 1900 census. After trying everything I could think of, I decided to drive the sixty miles to Mobile, find the cemetery, and look for myself. After searching the cemeteryâ€™s computer records with no luck, I walked to the two family plots. There she was. Her head and footstone had been placed on top of her husband’s slab many years after her death and had been completely overlooked by everyone. Her birth date and death date were clear, as was part of her name and her relationship to her husband. We have become so accustomed to relying on computers that we forget that the old fashioned way has its strengths too. Amazing what a little ankle power can do!
I knew my husband descended from Lewis Walker of Chester County, Pennsylvania, because of my mother-in-lawâ€™s book, “Lewis Walker of Chester County and his descendents” by Priscilla Walker Streets. Then I discovered Google Books (http://books.Google.com). Google has scanned many out of print books and put them in PDFs. I also found “Biographical Annals of Montgomery County Pennsylvania,” by Ellwood Roberts. This gave me more information on not only his ancestry, but occupations, relationships, and land ownership. Ancestry.com records and these books helped tell his family’s history. They compliment each other.
Creative Searching Pays Off
This is a note to tell you not to give up if you can not find your ancestor in a census. I knew that Timothy Mahagan and his family had emigrated from Ireland in 1860. I could not find them for years and years. Finally I decided to try the 1870 census one more time. I put in only the wifeâ€™s first name, approximate birth date, Ireland, and the state of New York. Finally paydirt! They were listed with the surname Hagan.
That was so encouraging I decided to try the 1860 census using the name of a son who would have been two years old at the time. This time they were under the name MaHigging. I found two additional children that I wasnâ€™t aware of and the oldest daughter, who is listed in 1880 as Anna, is listed as Hannah in the other two.
So donâ€™t give up. Keep trying different ways of searching. Now if I can ever figure out what happened to the newly â€œfoundâ€ son, Jeremiah.
Skaneateles, New York
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