Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on April 1, 2014 in Ask Ancestry Anne, Holidays

There are all sorts of silly pranks that are done on April 1st. And it got me to thinking, have any of my ancestor’s played practical jokes on me? You know, left clues in strange places. Or falsified documents. Or anything that made you sigh and start talking aloud to yourself when you found it?

My 3rd great grandfather was Charlton Wallace and his wife was Martha Jane Cash. Now I know that Martha Jane Cash was the daughter of Ready Cash. (Yes, really, that was the name he went by.)  But who was Charlton’s father? Now I searched and searched and finally dug up a marriage record where William Wallace signed for him.


It didn’t state the relationship between Charlton and Wallace, but it seems like a pretty good clue. But that document took me a few years to find. And that name was right under my nose all along if I had just bothered to look for it!

When I searched for records of Ready, I found him in 1840. Right where I expected him.


Do you think I took the time to look at the next page? I did not. Do I even have to tell you who was on the top of that next page and probably a neighbor of Ready? You know it was William Wallace.


And if I had looked right away, I would have had a really good candidate for Charlton’s father! I felt pretty foolish when I found that a few years later. Lesson learned: Always look at the preceding page and the next page on a census!

All right, which ancestor made a fool out of you?  Time to fess up!

Happy Searching!



Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at She is an active blogger on and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.


  1. Kathleen Schroeder

    My grandfather answered the door to the census taker in 1910 and listed himself among the the residents. He was 20 at the time. Then he apparently ran around the corner to his married sister’s house, answered the door and listed himself living there, too. I thought that was the sort of joke he might pull, so I just laughed. Years later, I had reason to return to the record, and this time I saw that the enumerator was another of my grandfather’s brothers-in-law. So who played the trick? Both, I suspect. It seems to me that this would have been a good story to pass down, but I never heard my grandfather (or the rest of the family) mention it.

  2. Adriana

    Great stories, everyone.

    My husband’s great-grandmother was born to a Swiss-Italian father and an American-born mother of mostly English and Irish descent. She didn’t get along with her father and so she ran away from home in her teen years. In 1910, she appeared in the census of the household where she was a domestic servant. She said she was over 18 years old even though she was about 15 at the time. She also said that her father was born in France, not Switzerland. (More fashionable?)

    In 1920, she lied about her age downward, saying she was in early 20s even though she was about 25. And guess what? She was married to her newly widowed employer!

    Also, her father was still French and she had French-ified her name by adding an -ette at the end. What a character, but she was difficult to track down because of all the ‘pranks’ she played.

  3. gail Mathews

    Thomas Henry Jackson, my grandfather seems to have dropped off the earth with no trace; died in 1929 somewhere in tipton County TN but cannot find his parents; so I am stopped really short of where I hoped to go in my ancestory. Any clues or guides for getting past the hundreds of Thomas Jacksons that are not my grandfather.

  4. What happened to famous relatives?After the rearranging of records all I am doing when researching is looking at other peoples records.This is a joke.

  5. Mike Schindler

    Well my GGG Aunt Ellen fooled me for years. I was very lucky to have a Catholic Deacon as an uncle who was able to get access to Church Birth records, and a G Aunt who gave me the Family Bible of my GGrandfather which enabled me to identify 13 of the 16 children GGG Grandmother bore according to census records. Ellen, however went hiding from me after the 1880 census (the 1890 census destroyed in a fire), and searching as hard as I could I could not find her anywhere for about 5 years in the county marriage records or any where else in any record.
    I had searched the entire census for the town where they lived in 1900 looking at every woman named Ellen married to anyone in hopes that something would come up that identified that Ellen and her husband as linked to my family. I searched until my eyes were crossed, and carpal tunnel set in to no avail.
    And then Family Search started making public the marriage records by county and I started searching those and had little luck until one day I finally just keep going deeper into the files off Schindlers married and back about 10 pages I found an Ellen Shingler was married to a George Hoffman. I had long ago forgotten that variation, which after all is what the name Schindler stands for, a man who makes shingles. On the one census the family name was listed as Shingler, and no doubt Ellen probably only spoke German and was the person who answered the door to give the census taker the information.
    I knew I had found her when I opened the Marriage license and found her parents names.
    So the moral of the story is don’t give on on the variations that might pop up in a name.

  6. Janice

    Well, you may not believe this one! Great-great grandmother Mary, as shown are her death record and census records, was listed as “single.” She had a son and daughter born out-of-wedlock. On the record of marriage for her daughter Helen, Mary was listed with a maiden name and a married name – even though she never married! Further, her daughter Helen had the surname of her biological father. To top it off, Mary’s son had the same surname as Mary – and not his father’s surname. Oh, and Mary also changed her son’s name from Charles to James before he was 10 years old. Confused? I was too – and still am!

  7. Marilyn

    All of your stories I loved…but Ready Cash gave me the biggest chuckle. Can you imagine parents who would do that to a child? lol They had to have a great sense of humor. This is not especially an April Fool’s trick, (just a comment) but the 1860 census is the one I have found to be less likely of all to have accurate information. It appears to me, many were trying to hide…so many people living in the same households, sometimes not related, wrong birthdates, etc. War brewing probably? I have still to find my J Columbus McLain in Civil War records, born in GA, lived in Butler County, Alabama when he joined…but know he has to be there somewhere…have searched for 30 years.

  8. Jody

    I’m currently being pranked by the Reverend John Newton Brown, DD and his kinfolk.

    He was one of my initial research lines decades ago, and I was happily tracing him when I discovered that he had no natural children of his own – all his kids were adopted.

    Disappointed, I put him on the shelf genealogically speaking (though I’ve gone back to look for his works a few times in the past just because I wanted to know where the heck his adoptive daughter Nellie came from).

    Then I discovered one of his children he adopted was his nephew. Queue more digging, only to come up disappointed again.

    That’s when someone contacted me asking for information on the reverend doctor, so I went in and passed on what information I had. That’s when, on a whim, I swapped his lineage from adopted to natural for his daughter then waited to see what my and my father’s DNA did.


    I have enough hits to both his line and his wife’s line to have no choice but to conclude that there is a very, VERY high chance that his adopted daughter was either his own natural child, or his niece.

    The kicker? Browns brother married his wife’s sister. Genetically any children either couple would have had would yield the same results, since all four grandparents would be the same.

    April fool on me, I suppose.

  9. BEE

    My great-grandparents were deceased. My Dad was just 11 months younger than their youngest son, so the hung around together.
    My Dad is missing from the 1930 census, but I found his uncle living with an older sister in an adjacent state, as well as someone with the same name and identification living in a boarding house in another state. Underneath his name is one that was erased, and looks very much like it could have been my Dad’s name!

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