Tips from the Pros: Disappearing Ancestors

by Michael John Neill

Did your retirement age ancestor disappear after their spouse died? After Augusta Newman died in Indiana in 1861, his widow sold the farm and move to Iowa to live near one of her children. She’s buried there and her husband is buried in Indiana. Her children scattered to three states and it was necessary to locate her son in Iowa to find her tombstone.

In another example, William Rhodes’ wife died in Missouri in the 1880s. All his children stayed in Missouri, except one. We thought he was buried in an unmarked grave in Missouri only to find out that he ventured to Oklahoma to be near his one son who moved to that state.

If you have a missing ancestor, make certain you have located the final resting places of all their children. You may find Mom or Dad, or even Grandma or Grandpa buried right beside one of them.

14 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Disappearing Ancestors

  1. You are so right. I went to a cemetary, here in Seattle, to look
    for my great-grandfather’s Aunt Sarah’s grave. I was trying to
    establish how she was related to him. I was so surprised and
    delighted to find that her mother, my great-great grandmother
    was buried next to her. She had died in 1890 and the last
    record I had found for her was the 1880 census and she was living
    with another daughter in Illinois where the whole family had
    lived during the mid 1800’s. You just never know what you will

  2. I agree. I have found relatives buried in cemeteries but without head stones. I found a wife buried in a cemetery, with no mention of her, but her husband has a headstone. I have used the Ohio Death Certificates which are available from 1908-1954. Often there was no family to create a head stone or the stone has long since been destroyed. I have even found relatives buried in the county home cemetery, but no listing of their final resting place has been located. Never overlook the death certificates if available in your state.

  3. The widow or widower may have remarried-even if they were in their 80s. I looked for one couple after 1870 and they’d just disappeared. The husband turned up in another state near on of his children and a marriage record was found.

  4. If you can’t find your ancestors, retired age or not, in the USA between 1870 and 1925, look in Canada, specifically Alberta. During that time the government of Canada had agents all over Europe and the US promoting the opportunities awaiting settlers in Alberta. There were ‘Emigrant Cars’, trains that took homesteaders and all their posessions (including in one case, a whole framed house)from St. Paul and Wabasha, Minnesota. My ancestors left from Kansas to Lucky Strike, Alberta Canada in 1910 but by 1924 most of them had returned to the United States.

  5. Fortunately I know the story of a weird disappearance which really did nothappen. The grave beside my grandfather’s is missing the tombstone,just a concrete base remains. The vandal was my grandfather. His second wife was somewhat dominated by her youngest daughter from her first marriage.
    After many years of marriage to my grandfather,her daughter encouraged her to divorce him, taking many items that belonged to his first wife with them when she helped her mother move out. This was devastating to my grandfather since he did not believe in divorce. He had pre-purchased gravesties in another state where his first wife was buried. He was so enraged, that he traveled back to the state, cut off the unmarked tombstone and delivered it onto the porch of the woman’s older daughter who had ended up with her mother when So some people that come across the gravesite might make all kinds of erroneous assumptons as to who was buried there and there isn’t anyone.

  6. When searching for grave sites of your ancestors, you might try looking for 2nd marriages. That is how I found My G-G-Grandmother Mary Anne ‘Polly’ Brown Waterman (husand Charles C. Waterman-8 children. When Charles died in 1861 in Mechanicsburg,Sangamon Co. IL, Mary Anne ‘Polly’ remarried R.J.Burgess 2 years later. Now that many cemeteries have accessible data bases, I found her in unmarked grave on this list under name Polly Burgess, d. March 25, 1899 in Mechanicsburg Cemetery.
    Thanks for all the news on this site.

  7. Please leave all the information you know for later generations and leave it in several hands. Tracking down ancestors for whom little info is available is an often frustrating adventure. My paternal grandfather’s mother died before he was 5. His father remarried some time later and the two younger children were in an orphanage where they remained due to, according to family lore, the stepmother’s unwillingness to raise them and my great grandfather’s unwillingness to insist. William F. Johnson’s mother, Julia, was listed in his obituary, but I’ve no other information about her not her maiden name or where she is buried, but I do know her husband was a potter. Bill, my paternal grandfather, grew up to be a fine man who died much too young in 1956. Christmas at their home was a child’s delight. How fondly I recall retiring to their pine paneled den, after a veritable smorgasboord at their Duncan Phyfe dining table, and hearing my paternal grandfather read from Luke 2 why we were gathered for this very special birthday celebration.

  8. I think I am too looking for a grandmother who remarried. Her name was Emily Tennessee but her children’s name was Purser. She was listed as widowed on the 1930 census (age 82). My Purser grandfather was not counted on the 1900 census (about 18 years old) but was listed on the 1910 as married with 2 children. This is truly difficult to go on with great grandparents and beyond.

  9. It is often useful to get the actual cemetery records as there may not be an actual tombstone. I found my great grandmother buried in the same plot as three of her grandchildren (her daughter’s childen, thus a different last name. The information for the plots that my grandfather bought revealed that his mother-in-law was buried there also. The same is true of another family who has some stones and others buried in the plot without stones.

  10. I have just recently found this to be true. My gg grandfather Jacob West, a photographer, is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Bradford, PA. After walking the hill with directions from the cemetery office, we couldn’t find Jacob’s grave. I knew his wife’s first name was Mary, also a photographer, and she owned the plot Jacob was in. It wasn’t until a few months ago, when a second cousin called my mother out of the blue and told her Mary’s maiden name was Zuver and she was buried in Butler, PA many years after her husband’s death. Jacob’s grave wasn’t marked and an obituary never appeared in the paper because Mary and Jacob were on the outs at the time of his death. I now have information on Mary and her 2 photographer brothers. The amazing path one little bit of information can lead you on!

  11. How true. I have pictures of gravesite with matching tombstones for my grandfather, William H. Vogt and grandmother, Ole (Hale)(Traylor)Vogt that match, but can’t find the cemetary. William H. Vogt is buried in Lawton OK, Highland Cemetary. Walked cemetary and found gravesite (Stone is different), and viewed cemetary records. But, not for Ole. Still looking.

  12. My grandmother’s name was Lena Hartmann and it is believed that she along with her siblings spent time in an orphanage near Taylorville or Mechanicsburg, Il. how can I find any information. The only mention I have of her is the 1930 census where she is married to my grandfather Ernest Dougherty in Evanston, IL. She is living with his married sister and brother-in-law and he lives with his parents. She has a child listed who should be my mother but the names do not match. Any help!

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