This week Iâ€™ve been working on my mother-in-lawâ€™s family. Her Wolford line is one of the few lines that other family members havenâ€™t taken to pre-Revolutionary days, and since I had poked around this line a bit last year (albeit not using the best methodology—seeÂ the articleÂ for more on this), I decided to take another crack at it. Iâ€™m happy to say that Iâ€™ve actually found some interesting items on Ancestry.com to share with her. Today I thought Iâ€™d share some of the techniques I used and some thoughts along the way that may help you with your research too.
I inherited a lot of charts with names and dates from various family members–but no sources. The charts end with my husbandâ€™s second great-grandfather, who is listed as â€œJacob??â€ Because I am unsure of the sources of information, I am starting fresh with known information and building on it with records I can find online for now. From there, Iâ€™ll be seeking out church records, land records, and consulting other offline resources to fill in the blanks.
I have a lot of information in front of me, so Iâ€™ll need to focus on this one family and try not to get distracted and bounce around to other family groups (which is sometimes tough for me!).
The Census through the Years
Since the census gives us a pretty good look at family structures and provides ages to work with, I began my search there. I started with my mother-in-lawâ€™s father, and worked my way back, pulling enumerations for each decade available and for each member of the family.
As I began searching, I noted that there were several â€œpocketsâ€ of Wolfords in various areas of Pennsylvania. While I may find that some or all of them are related down the road, I need to use care to make sure I trace our Wolfords to the right pocket.
After going back a couple generations using census records and information from my mother-in-law (who has an unbelievably sharp memory), I made my way back to my husbandâ€™s second great-grandfather, John M. Wolford. I found his wife in the 1910-30 enumerations living with her daughter, Vinola, and her husband, Milton Christman. In 1900, I found the family with John listed as a music teacher. I found this really interesting in light of my husbandâ€™s and his motherâ€™s deep love of music.
I really have to tread carefully as far as determining which John I have, since there are quite a few in the census. My mother-in-law helped to confirm it and when I told her about the census entries, she shared some interesting stories about the family and even remembered Vinolaâ€™s address. (Another great reason to share your finds with family–they may lead to more finds.)
Hereâ€™s the family structure as I know it:
John Wolford, born March 1844
Wife, Rebecca, born June 1850
Son, Robert Desmond, born April 1873
Daughter, Vinola, born June 1874
Son, James D., born August 1876
I found another John Wolford in the 1900 Census in Pennsylvania. Coincidentally, his wifeâ€™s name was Rebecca and he also had a son, â€œRobert D.â€ This Johnâ€™s age was off by three years (not terribly unusual in census records), but more noticeably, other siblings didnâ€™t match up. Had it not been for these other children and a thorough search of all the potential matches, my search may have taken a wrong turn. Coincidences like this are common and this is a good reminder not to take the first match you find and try to make it fit.
Going back in time to 1880, Johnâ€™s occupation as a music teacher was another way to pick him out from the crowd of John Wolfords, and it helped to bridge a gap from Carbon County on the east end of the state, to Mercer County where he is enumerated on the far west end of the state. I found him there with other people in the household that I am surmising may be his mother Mary, father John, and possibly an older brother Daniel. Without relationships stated in 1870, and the family unit separated in 1880, I canâ€™t determine from census records alone what the family structure is, so Iâ€™ll have to dig deeper to establish these relationships.
Filling in the Blanks and Starting My To-Do List
As I progressed backwards in time through the census, I began filling in more information in my database. Ages, drawn from the census records were entered, as were birthplaces; in this case, all were born in Pennsylvania. Itâ€™s important that I take a break between each decade and assess the information I have found, noting new clues and entering new data into my database.
The 1900 census lists both John and Rebecca as having been married for 28 years, so I can estimate that they were married around 1872. Using finds like this one, Iâ€™m creating a to-do list for records Iâ€™m unable to access online. Iâ€™ll be adding a search for their marriage record to that list and have already found a possible source on film at the Family History Library. Iâ€™ve noted it in the Research Journal as a to-do item and included the FHL film number, so Iâ€™m all ready when my next trip comes around or to order the film through my local Family History Center.
When I move beyond 1850 to enumerations where only the head of household is listed, I will need as much information as possible to identify them. With their birth years handy, I can easily spot in which age groups columns I should see tallies. I like to use the printable census forms at Ancestry and make a kind of template for each family with the appropriate tallies to compare to the censuses, noting which columns family members should fall in.
I searched the online trees at Ancestry and although I didnâ€™t find any links to direct ancestors, I did find two references to Johnâ€™s daughter, Vinola Wolford through her husbandâ€™s family. While she was the only Wolford mentioned in the databases, one of the listings gave her burial place. In this instance, it turned out that she was buried with her husband and his family and there were no other Wolfords in the cemetery. However, in many cases, you will find other family members buried in the same location. This is another important reminder to research siblings and collateral relatives thoroughly.
I found several other interesting items and Iâ€™ll share them with you next week. So until then, happy searching!
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Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for more than eight years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.