Posted by Ancestry Team on August 23, 2015 in Entertainment, Who Do You Think You Are?

A frustrating occurrence in many genealogical research projects is when an ancestor disappears entirely from the records.

Cranston1You have a great line of sources proving your conclusions back to the 1800s, but there’s one person who is holding you back. Maybe he ran away from his family to start a new life or find adventure. Perhaps he died or left for war and never returned. A single missing person can leave a large gap in the family narrative, not only because you’re missing a potentially tantalizing bit of history but also because there could be a plethora of documents from his later life that you’re missing out on.

As Bryan Cranston traced the many dubious men in his ancestry, he discovered just such a fellow: Joseph H. Cranston, his 2nd great-grandfather, was a multifaceted mystery. 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.

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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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Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists

This process doesn’t apply only to ancestors who abandoned their family; it’s useful across a series of genealogical dilemmas and in many countries.

  1. When you are lacking information about a particular ancestor, try to build a broader picture of potential families they might belong to, even if it requires you to make some leaps in logic. You’ll never know if you are right until you do the research, but be careful not to add it to your tree until you are certain.
  2. Explore the Ancestry catalog for underutilized sources; don’t stick with just those that appear at the top of your search results. There are thousands of record types that might be of use to you, and you’ll only see a fraction of those if you don’t broaden your searches.
  3. Pay attention to every detail in a record—occupation, witnesses, informants, and so on. Even something small might eventually crack your case.

 

Learn more about Bryan’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 9|8c on TLC.

 

8 Comments

  1. Bryan Lee is also the name of Bryan Lee Cranston’s grandfather’s employer. So, maybe he was named after him. Also, a census record shows that his grandfather worked for the railroad but that his 2 brothers and a sister were actors/actress for a stage.

  2. Taj

    I have a similar situation with no such luck. My great-great-great grandmother was Marie Emilie Duggan (nee Therrien) of Quebec. She was born 15 Aug 1855 in St. Gabriel de Brandon (Quebec), and died 14 Sep 1948 in Quebec City.

    I can find no record of Emilie before the baptism of her daughter Marie Emilie Ada Duggan in 1876 at Levis (Quebec). I can find no record of her marriage to her husband Arthur Thomas Duggan (who was a Protestant while she and their children were Catholic), nor can I find her in any census before 1891.

    Her birthdate comes from two different sources — the 1901 census and her 1940 National Registration form. I can’t find any matching record in the Drouin collection for a Marie Emilie Therrien born 15 Aug 1855. Her National Registration file also says her father was born in Sainte Anne de la Pocatiere, and her mother was born in Sainte Scholastique. The closest match I can find is Marie Emilie Therrien, who was born in Saint Gabriel de Brandon on August 25, 1848 to Joseph Therrien and his wife Sophie Goyer dit Belisle. Joseph and Sophie were married in 1842 in Sainte Scholastique.

    Any tips?

  3. Joan

    I do not feel his aunt is the daughter of the ggrandfather (?). On her death certificate it showed her father as William Kelly. Not Cranston

  4. Rizwan Haider

    Her birthdate comes from two different sources — the 1901 census and her 1940 National Registration form. I can’t find any matching record in the Drouin collection for a Marie Emilie Therrien born 15 Aug 1855. Her National Registration file also says her father was born in Sainte Anne de la Pocatiere, and her mother was born in Sainte Scholastique. The closest match I can find is Marie Emilie Therrien, who was born in Saint Gabriel de Brandon on August 25, 1848 to Joseph Therrien and his wife Sophie Goyer dit Belisle. Joseph and Sophie were married in 1842 in Sainte Scholastique.
    http://www.salarypk.com/

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