With the help of Ancestry, Bryan recently traced the many dubious men in his family tree and discovered just such an ancestor: Joseph H. Cranston, his 2nd great-grandfather. Not only was his name recorded incorrectly on his son’s death record, but the only record in widely-available Canadian sources seemed to be the record of his son Daniel’s baptism. Otherwise, Joseph was a ghost, leaving his wife destitute and his son in an orphanage.
Dealing with these spectral ancestors can be a tricky proposition, especially when you have so little information to go on. For Bryan’s case, we first scoured all the Canadian records we could find online and in local archives, including the Drouin Collection of Quebec Vital and Church Records on Ancestry. Bryan was also able to see little Daniel Cranston’s baptismal record in the flesh (or in the manuscript) at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal. Luckily, the digital collection is complete enough to save you the airline miles.
Joseph and his wife, Sarah, didn’t appear to have had any other children, nor could we locate their marriage record in Montreal, but there were a handful of baptisms and marriages for other Cranston families, and a few of these were witnessed by Bryan’s ancestral Cranstons.
It was fairly evident that Joseph was related to some of these individuals, so we built as complete a picture of their lives as possible, expecting that it might provide additional information about the nefarious Joseph himself. Censuses, vital records, directories, and obituaries all came into play, painting a much clearer picture of the Canadian and Irish Cranston families, including more details about where they were from, their common occupations, and even the names of their parents.
That allowed us to utilize far broader searches, expanding to multiple countries in our search for Joseph, in the hope that he hadn’t slipped off the map entirely. This round-about investigation eventually brought us to the Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Ohio, where we found a record that, when combined with the baptism alone, was not sufficient proof of any connection. Coupled with all of the evidence gathered about Joseph’s relatives, however, it became very clear that we had located Bryan’s wayward ancestor. Searches in newspapers and military records filled in much of the rest of the story, one that proved to be not much different than the skeletons Bryan had unearthed in an earlier generation.
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