Using Ancestry: Starting Fresh, Part 2: Finds in Local History, by Juliana Smith

Liberty Township, Mercer County, Pennsylvania, 1873When we last left our story, Timmy had fallen in the well and Lassie was going for help… Oh, sorry–that’s the wrong story.

Okay, here’s the right one. Last week I shared some of my findings from my mother-in-law’s Pennsylvania-based Wolford family, and this week we’re following up with a few more avenues that you might like to try as well.

Exploring Ancestry and a Cartographic Find
After I filled in as much information as I could and had traced the Wolford family back through the census to 1850, I set out to explore what other records I could find at Ancestry. My first stop was to the Search tab, where I selected Pennsylvania from the map in the lower left corner of the page. I browsed through the listings of databases and did a quick check for John Wolford in the Civil War databases. John would have been around eighteen years old in 1862 and although I found several “Johns,” follow-up is something I can’t do just now, so this went on my to-do list. Since he lived relatively near the Ohio border, I’ll need to begin my search for him in regiments from both Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In addition to the list of databases there, I also wanted to check out what was available in the Family and Local Histories Collection. For this I used the Card Catalog, and did a search for: 


One of the three hits I got was Combination Atlas of the County of Mercer and the State of Pennsylvania: From Actual Surveys & Official Records, 1873.  Since I’m still relatively unfamiliar with Pennsylvania research and geography, I thought this would be worth a look. The family had appeared in Liberty Township in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, so the date of the atlas was perfect.

It took a little bit of bouncing around, but I was able to locate the map of Liberty Township on page 28.
Wow! This was much better than I expected! The map listed a “J. Wolford” and a “J & Dan Wolford.”

In the 1870 census, John had been enumerated in the same household as Daniel Wolford, those who appear to be his family, and an older woman named Mary Wolford. The previous year, it was broken down into two households enumerated next to each other, one listing John, Mary, and John Wolford (the latter being listed with the occupation of music teacher), and another household with Daniel and his family.

Since there are no relationships stated, we can’t state for certain what the family structure is, but one possible scenario would be that John and Mary are John and Daniel’s parents. John would have been born a little late, with both parents near age forty, while Daniel would have been born around 1827 when the parents were twenty-one or twenty-two years old.

Since the elder John would have been deceased at the time of the atlas, and John the music teacher would have been newly married, it’s likely that J. Wolford is John Wolford (music teacher), and that J. and Dan Wolford is Dan and his eldest son, Jacob, who would have been twenty-one in 1873.

Also on the map, near them is Sch. Ho. No. 4, possibly where John began his teaching career. (You can view this map on the blog version of this article. Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Expanding the Search
I decided to branch out a bit and did a Google search for:


I found a biographical sketch from Butler County online at RootsWeb. An entry for a Henry Wolford has some interesting information that I’ll want to follow up on. Of particular interest was this portion about Henry’s father:

His father, John WOLFORD, was a native of eastern Pennsylvania, and came of Dutch ancestry. He lived and died in Westmoreland County where he followed the occupation of a miller and farmer. His family consisted of the following children: George; John; Peter; Henry; Christian; Daniel; Jacob; Betsey, and Susan. All of these died in Westmoreland County excepting George, who settled in Indiana County, John who located in Mercer County, and Henry who came [p.1286] to Butler County, and spent the remaining years of his life here.

Early censuses, 1810-40 list what appear to be several generations of John Wolfords in Mercer County, but I’ll have to do quite a bit more research in other sources to confirm this. In 1800, there are no John Wolfords (or Soundex variants) in Mercer County, but I found a John Wolfard and John Woolpheart in Westmoreland County.

Much Remains to Be Untangled
With the pre-1850 enumerations I have gathered, I will need to sit down and analyze the ages of the various family members throughout the year and hopefully will be able to piece together some kind of family structure, albeit without names. For example, using the first John Wolford on the 1830 census page and the tallies under the various age groups, I find a family with:

One male born 1825-1830
One male born 1800-1810
One female born 1825-1830
One male born 1800-1810

As I follow them back, I’ll compare the family structures this way and see if they are consistent. This is going to take some time and patient analysis, and with my article deadline looming, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to rush it. It will be helpful to have as I seek out other records.

Clues like another line in Henry’s biography, that says “Mr. WOLFORD was a member of the Lutheran church, and both he and wife died in that faith.” will help guide me to more records.

In the meantime, in just a couple days, I have gathered quite a nice collection of family records to send to my mother-in-law with her Christmas package. I hope she enjoys them as much as I enjoyed looking for them.

P.S. For those who are wondering, Timmy is fine and Lassie is enjoying a hero’s dinner of kibble. 😉

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Juliana Smith has been an editor of 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 of American Genealogy, rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

14 thoughts on “Using Ancestry: Starting Fresh, Part 2: Finds in Local History, by Juliana Smith

  1. Thanks a bunch for these two articles. I used the first one in my family history class of five and will use this one also.

  2. I well written concise article I enjoyed reading both Parts even though my research is not in the USA. Juliana creates good/informative articles.

  3. Thanks for this article-i needed to see the approach for the pre-1850 census as I have some families to work through this way! It helps to visualize it!!

  4. Enjoyed your two articles. I too have been searching PA in a simmelar manner and it does take time and patience. Also nice to know my aproach isn’t out in left field.


  5. Your article was very helpful to me. I have searched Pennsylvania until the cows come home and you gave me some new avenues. Thanks Mickey

  6. Between 1950 and 1954 I lived in Union City, Erie County, PA. I was six to nine years of age during that period and attended public school with a boy named Jimmy Wolford. His family had a farm and several horses. I had a terrific crush on him and his horses. Would there be a connection to your Wolfords perhaps?

  7. I, also am researching the Wolford line. My husband’s grandfather was Troy Wolford. Troy is a descendant of a John Wolford born in Virginia. This John Wolford served during the Civil War (in fact, my research leads me to believe he, along with two of his sons, was killed in the Civil War. I wanted to point out to you that there is also a Mercer County in Kentucky. Please note: July 15, 1861- The War Department authorized U.S. Navy Lt. William Nelson to establish a training camp and organize a brigade of infantry in Kentucky. Lt. Nelson commissioned William Landrum, a Colonel of Cavalry, T. Garrard, T. Bramlette and S. Fry, all Colonels of Infantry. Landrum turned his commission over to LT. COL FRANK WOLFORD. Garrard, Bramlette and Fry established their camp at Camp Dick Robinson in Garrard County, KY and WOLFORD erected his camp near Harrodsburg, MERCER COUNTY, KY effectively breaking Kentucky’s neutrality in the Civil War. Taken from an article by Bryan S. Bush and also found at Wikipedia. I am not saying your information is not correct or that mine is – just “food for thought”. Thank you.

  8. I have a subscription to I bought it thinking I could find all kind of records. I have followed your instructions to the tee and every time I put something in there it comes up with nothing. I don’t understand this. There has to be something on Lamar County Texas for instance.
    Thanks for your article. It was very interesting.

  9. I have traced a Margaret Wolford, born Dec. 8, 1802 perhaps in Bradys Bend PA; died March 22, 1881 who had a father named George Wolford. Margaret married Andrew Kaylor, born Dec. 8, 1792 in Westmoreland Co., PA and died March 15, 1858. Both are buried in in White Oak Cemetery. Any info on GeorgeWolford and wife would be appreciated.

  10. When I saw the name Woolpert show up on your search for Wolford’s I remembered that the Wolpert’s moved into our community in Fruitland, Idaho in the 1930’s, and Mr. Wolpert was a piano teacher. His fingers were so wide I couldn’t see how he could avoid the “NEXT KEYS”. Children included Arnold, Wilhelmina, Paul and three more. They had lost their farm in Alberta, Canada and lived in a house belonging to a sister.

  11. I started reading at your “previous week” beginning and found it interesting anh helpful. when I began on this week I got to this poin ~ “In addition to the list of databases there, I also wanted to check out what was available in the Family and Local Histories Collection. For this I used the Card Catalog, and did a search for:
    mercer county pennsylvaniat” ~
    You completly lost me there. I clicked on the “card catalog” link and I wanted to put in the county in PA I was interested in but I was not sure which line to put it in. I tried putting it in the top window “database title” and got nothing. Then I tried the “keyword” line and got nothing. I guess I am easily confused Can you help me on this point?

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