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Brick Wall

Genealogy is often like pulling the arm of a slot machine. Sometimes you do it just to watch the symbols spin by without any real expectation that you’re going to hit a jackpot. But it’s pretty amazing when you do and 30 years of arm pulling finally pays off. This past week I made an unexpected find in the form of an obituary for Elizabeth E. Ferry. This particular brick wall (not the best way to talk about your great great great grandmother!) stemmed from the fact that none of Elizabeth’s 10 surviving children seemed to know the name of her mother. The line for Mother’s Maiden Name on Elizabeth’s Certificate of Death reads “Don’t Know”. The death certificates of Elizabeth’s children were no more helpful. How could people not know the name of their grandmother? I still don’t have an answer to that, but I do now know her name.

You might be thinking “Why didn’t you look for an obituary earlier?” I did look and often. I’ve spent untold hours combing through old York county and Maryland newspapers. In fact, I have a couple obituaries and newspaper memorials for Elizabeth, but they didn’t give any information not already included on her Certificate of Death. This past Friday however, I stumbled upon an obituary in “The (York) Gazette and Daily” dated 14 Apr 1937. It was longer than the others and packed with names, not surprising for a woman with 12 children. A quick skim revealed no mention of parents. There were however a grouping of unfamiliar names listed after her children. My slot machine jackpot read as follows:

Also surviving are three half-sisters and one half-brother, as follows: Mrs. Amanda Miller, York; Mrs. Hannah Harding, Texas, Md.; Mrs. Sadie Harmon, Cockeysville, Md.; and J. E. Knopp, Rocks, Md.

All I needed were leads and now I had four. Elizabeth’s father was John Ferry; that’s all I know about him. If the people listed in the obituary were half-siblings, that meant Elizabeth’s unnamed mother was married at least twice. It took no time at all to find Joseph E. Knopp, Jr. of Rocks, Maryland (and his wife Amanda and their ten children). Next, I found Hannah J. (née Grafton) Harding of Texas, Maryland (and her husband Ephraim and their five children). Notice the maiden name? Mr. Grafton is Husband #3 for Elizabeth’s mother. Third, I found Amanda (née Grafton) Miller of York, Pennsylvania (and her husband Thomas and their five children). Lastly, I found Sarah (née Grafton) Harmon of Cockeysville, Maryland (and her husband Samuel; still digging-up information on them). So who is the mother?

In 1920, Thomas and Amanda Miller lived at 588 North Water Street in York, Pennsylvania. Thomas was a signal repairman for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Every night he’d come home to his lovely wife, four children, and his mother-in-law — Sarah Grafton. We have a name! Sarah was 79 years old and widowed, probably for the third time. Finding Sarah before 1920 has been difficult, she does however appear in 1860 under the name Sarah Knopp, married to Joseph E. Knopp Sr., with a one year old daughter (who was not living at the time of Elizabeth’s obituary). In that census, Sarah is living with her parents, John and Susanna (née Cramer) Harman.

One breakthrough just gave me two generations and an abundance of family to research. The question is, why didn’t the Channells know who she was? Elizabeth used to visit her sisters in Texas, Maryland (near Cockeysville) from time to time. Whoever wrote the obituary knew every surviving Channell and their whereabouts (including Clarence who was imprisoned in Denver at the time) and the names and locations of Elizabeth’s half-siblings. What happened to Elizabeth’s husbands? Did she have a special mushroom soup recipe that she served when it was time to move on (thanks Tamara!)? There will never be an end to the questions but there was one more thing to do before diving back into the census records, newspaper archives, death certificates, etc. This morning, I threw the kids in the car and we took a trip to Ashland Presbyterian Church in Cockeysville. I didn’t recognize the area by GPS but when we got close I realized that I’d passed that place countless times before. The little stone church sits on a dangerous curve along Paper Mill Road, a route we used every time we went to visit Uncle Albert and Aunt Diane as kids. There, in the second row, plainly visible from the street, stands the stone of Sarah J. (née Harman) Grafton, my great great great grandmother.

Tombstone of Sarah Grafton

Tombstone of Sarah Grafton

Grandma Sarah, pleased to meet you! I promise not to call you a “brick wall” ever again.

Grove Cemetery

This past Thursday, I visited New Brighton, Pennsylvania for the very first time. More specifically, I visited Grove Cemetery in the hopes of finding my 3x great and 4x great grandparents. I’ve been to and through Pittsburgh on a number of occasions, but never visited Beaver County before now. The Devinney family that I was searching for has never been high on my research list. The nearest relative being Annie Elizabeth Devenny (the spelling seems to vary with every generation), my 2x great grandmother on my dad’s mom’s mom’s side.

When I arrived in New Brighton, the fog had lifted but the morning remained cold and wet. It didn’t take long to find the cemetery. Using plot numbers found on Find-A-Grave, it didn’t take long to find the section where my family should be. Without a map of the lots, I would have to walk the hillside rows until I found them. No Devinneys. Grove cemetery is hot huge at 30 acres, but it’s far from small. I resigned myself to walk every row in every section (which weren’t clearly marked) until I found them. Hours later, I was climbing back into the car with my collapsing Totes umbrella, mud-caked Muck boots, and the camera around my neck. I had found a few Devinney graves, but no directs. Thinking I’d drive back empty handed, I checked my iPhone one last time and found an email from the caretaker asking me to call. I’d emailed him the day before but he hadn’t responded until I was already walking around the place. When I explained to him that I was at the cemetery he agreed to come by and meet me in the caretaker’s house. There we poured through some 150 year old ledgers and located every Devinney burial at Grove Cemetery. I photographed the pertinent ledger pages. He also handed me a small pile of section maps with numbered lots. I thanked him for his time and returned to the car. After entering all my new information into a spreadsheet, I then used the maps to plan my second trip among the stones.

I returned to Section D and counted right to left until I found (what I thought was) Lot 15. Single lots had multiple stones, so it wasn’t as simple as I first assumed. Initially, I found an empty plot of ground and assumed the worst, no stones. It was raining heavily by then, so I returned to the car to look over the maps once more. It occurred to me that maybe I was looking in the wrong place. From the car window I spotted another gravestone with the surname “Dickey”. That triggered a much needed light-bulb. The pages I’d photographed were all the early burials for surnames starting with D. I combed back through the page images until I found the Dickey burial. Once I knew which Section and Lot the Dickey stone was in, I discovered I was looking in the wrong row and was three lots to the right of where I should be. I grabbed my umbrella and camera and dashed back out into the rain.

I wish I could say that my adventure ended with an overturned stone (of which there were many) that I was able to tip over and find the name and dates for my 4x great grandfather perfectly emblazoned in clear letters and dates. That didn’t happen. What I found were two plinths, presumably belonging Percifer Devinney and his wife Rachel Ann. I stood staring at them for a moment, wondering how I could possibly know for sure that this was the correct place. That’s when I saw the points of a bronze star sticking out through the leaves. Brushing the leaves aside I found a Mexican War marker, the only one I had seen throughout the cemetery. Percifer was a career soldier, enlisting for service in 1829, 1834, 1840, and a five years span between 1844 and 1849. After his service, he returned to Beaver County, married Rachel Ann and worked as a laborer until his death in 1875. Percifer, his wife Rachel, their son Pierce, and daughter-in-law Sarah are all buried in the same lot. If not for a small bronze star, I might have walked over them without ever stopping to say “Hello”.

Mexican War marker

Mexican War marker

Sourcing on

Entering information directly onto is often frustrating with the occasional stab of fright. While the site does offer unprecedented access to millions of transcribed records, the way it handles that information is unpredictable and sometimes scary. For the purposes of this article, I’m not going to address the misapplication of Marriage and Marriage License dates (bugs me), Birth and Baptism dates (really bugs me), and the site’s inexplicable desire to create multiple instances of the same marriage within the same record (really, really bugs me). Today, I just want to talk about sourcing. Sources, for the uninitiated, are the blocks upon which family history projects are built. Without good, reliable, detailed, and verifiable sources, all you have is a jumble of names and dates that may or may not be true. is brimming with these “junk trees”, Frankenstein-like projects cobbled together from the parts of other trees. The site makes it easy to import information from others’ trees regardless of whether they’re supported by good research. These unsourced projects are like Red Light Districts. They’re interesting to look at, but if you get too close you’re going to catch something. Which brings me back to sourcing, the cornerstone of building a vibrant, disease-free tree.

Given that the site prides itself on providing original (i.e., scanned) sources, you would think they would hold the information gleaned from those sources as inviolate. They do not. Each individual’s profile page has a “Edit this person” button. That opens a tabbed page with options for Vital Information, Facts & Events, Relationship Events, Relationships, and Notes. For the purposes of this article, I will be addressing the Name, Birth, and Death facts. There is no point in talking about Marriage facts, because you’re only allowed to have one date, place, and description for a given marriage, even if you’ve found multiple sources for that event. The problems with Name, Birth, and Death sourcing are identical. If you choose “Preferred” for one of these, not only will it overwrite your existing information, but consequently your original source will then be attributed to the updated information. Clear? No? Let me give you an example. Let’s say in an interview with your grandmother she indicated that your uncle’s name was “Joe Bob Smith”. In Ancestry, you can create a source called “Interview: Grandma Smith” and attach that source to your uncle’s name. Later, you find him listed in the Social Security Death Index, but he’s named “Joseph Robert Smith”. Thinking that you’d rather use his full name, you select “Preferred” (instead of “Alternate”) and click OK. Everything good? Not quite. If you click on “Edit this person” and then “More Options…” (to the right of the name fields) you’ll find there are no alternate names, and both the “Social Security Death Index” and “Interview: Grandma Smith” are both attributed to his full name. What did Grandma used to call him? If you don’t have it written down somewhere, it’s gone, because Ancestry assumes that “Preferred” means you don’t care about the other version. That, to me, is scary. I don’t want a research tool that erases my research. A name or date that might not seem important or correct now, might be both.

To confuse matters, if you do have a person with name variations, you can click on “More Options…” and “Make this the preferred name”. This option does not overwrite anything. For this reason, users should ALWAYS use the “Alternate” option when entering new data (e.g., Name, Birth, Death) rather than “Preferred”. It might also be helpful to create an unsourced alternate name, birth, and death fact that incorporates elements from multiple source citations. I guess that’s my take-home message. Remember to use the “Alternate” option, always. You can make it preferred later.


I’ve had this idea for a while now, but wasn’t sure how I should present it. The idea was to take a snapshot of my research status, broken out into each of the major surnames of my family tree. I limited the snapshot to great great grandparents, to keep the linked spreadsheet from ballooning in size. The result looks quite a bit different than I was expecting (which is why we do these things in the first place). Each column represents one surname. Each surname column is divided into three sections (let’s call them drums). Blue drums indicate the number of generations from myself to the first appearance of that surname. Red drums indicate the number of direct ancestors with a given surname that for whom I have research that supports their place in the tree. Green drums indicate the number of direct ancestors with a given surname for whom I have no sources (other than others’ assurances).

Snapshot: March 2014

Snapshot: March 2014

I hope to revisit this chart every year or so and update it with new findings. That being said, don’t expect the height of the red drums to change any time soon. Hopefully, I won’t lose the spreadsheet between now and next time the chart needs updating. :(

Looking for Baileys

I am currently for searching tombstones belonging to my 3rd great grand father, Jacob Bailey and his wife Barbara Ann Tracey. I know that they lived in the Parkton and Wiseburg areas of Baltimore county, Maryland where Jacob was a stone mason. Jacob’s death is mentioned in the 1870 census with a small notation that reads “died this day”. That page of the census was enumerated on 21 Jul 1870. His wife is believed to have died the year before. Jacob and Barbara had a large family with at least nine children, e.g., John Thomas, Warnel, Mary Catherine, Anna E., Jane, Mariam, William, Adam Isaiah, and Dora. Finding any of their children’s families would be helpful as well.

This Saturday, I dragged my family to yet another cemetery. We stopped at the Wiseburg United Methodist Church in White Hall and combed through the rows looking for Baileys. It didn’t take long to find Bailey stones, but it soon became apparent that either a) Jacob and Barbara weren’t there, or b) their stones weren’t there. Instead, I found the family of Adam Isaiah, his wife Annie, and their children. Most of these stones had already been cataloged on Find-A-Grave, but you can never be sure how thorough other volunteers might have been. There was no one in the office the day we stopped by. I may have to visit during the week if I’m going to have a chance of looking at the church records.

Next, we will be visiting other cemeteries in the area.

Westmoreland County

This past weekend, my father and I took a trip to Western Pennsylvania. We planned to do this years ago, but for one reason or another the stars never aligned. This year we finally made it happen, and I’m glad we did. The Boddices emigrated from England at the end of 19th century and settled along the steep mountainsides that line the Monogahela River. While in the area, we stayed with my father’s cousin George Burgman and his wife Betty. George is the grandson of the immigrant, John Boddice, through the second marriage of his daughter, Jennie. On the first evening, while talking family history with him and his wife, George let slip that there was a Boddice family Bible. He explained that he’d looked through it years before and that there wasn’t much inside. After some digging through the attic, he brought down a thick volume with a badly degraded spine and plopped it on the table. I carefully opened the book and could feel the cover and spine slowly disintegrating in my hands. As George had mentioned, there was nothing in the front of the book, but that’s not where genealogy notes are kept in Family Bibles. At the book’s center were two complete pages detailing births and deaths of the immigrant family dating from 1872 to 1913. It was our first evening in Westmoreland county and the trip was already a success! I spent the evening scanning the Bible, photos, and funeral cards.

Detail from Family Bible

Detail from Family Bible

The next day we drove to Monessen and visited Grandview Cemetery. The cemetery sits atop a high ridge overlooking the river valley. It didn’t take long to locate John and Lillian’s graves based on a photo I’d found online. Curiously, there was a lot of empty ground around their headstone and we wanted to know who was buried near them, if anyone. The cemetery office was closed, so we left a message and decided to return later in the day. George led us back into the town and showed us the house where George and Lillian had lived, the locations of bars that they used to frequent, and the steep roads and staircases they used to climb the mountainside. After touring the town we returned to Grandview and found the caretaker’s son near the office. The young man took us inside and pulled a small pile of burial cards which I transcribed. The caretaker showed-up soon afterward and pointed us toward the necessary sections. At the day’s end, we returned to Dravosburg, for one last night.

On our final day, I explained that I wanted to visit the grave of another 2nd great grandfather, that was no relation to George. Luther Rambo Mack was buried in Monongahela Cemetery near Charleroi. I had no idea where that was in relation to Dravosburg, but we ended-up traveling back up-river (along the opposite bank) the same as the day before. The entrance to Monongahela Cemetery was beautiful. Tall old trees cast shadows across deep green slopes with a simple road winding up into the woods. We quickly found the cemetery office and then spent the next 10 minutes trying to orient ourselves among the labyrinthine paths and roads that criss-crossed the grounds. It was easily one of the best kept non-military cemeteries I have ever visited. At the top of the ridge, in a more sparsely treed area, we found the stone for Luther, Annie, and their immediate families. I took all the photos that I could, and some extras for Find-A-Grave, and called it a weekend.

Thanks again George and Betty!

Lost and Found

My Uncle Albert started doing genealogy on my maternal lines long before me. When asked, he would bring out a book of names, dates, and photographs and let me look (carefully!) through the pages. There was one picture that always stood out to me, that of a dapper looking young man in a long coat, hat,  gloves, and holding a clarinet. The story behind the photograph was that Clarence (my great granduncle) left Pennsylvania to seek out his fortunes in the West but was never heard from again. This would have been around 1910. Sometime later, I also learned that Clarence had borrowed money from family members before disappearing. Nobody could tell me what happened to him; most of my surviving family didn’t even remember him. Once I started doing my own research, I was determined to learn what happened. As of today, I have finally succeeded! Sadly, everyone that might have cared or been interested, has passed on. Since I can no longer tell my uncle, grandfather, grandaunt, or second cousin 2x removed… I’ll share the mystery of Clarence Channell with you.

Years later, I found Clarence in the 1930 Federal Census, sitting in the Colorado State Penitentiary. There was no data indicating why he was there; his name was accompanied only by the relation “Inmate”. After some searching, I discovered that the  Colorado State Archives has extensive prison records. Indexes of these records are available online. After some quick searches, I found a number of hits: Clarence Channell #9694 (1915), G. C. Channell #11163 (1921), G. C. Channell #15192 (1929), and G. C. Channell #17246 (1932).  I couldn’t be 100% sure that each of these belonged to my great granduncle, but my curiosity was piqued. This year, for Christmas, I decided to give myself a gift of uncovering Clarence’s story. According to the Social Security Death Index, he died in 1966, so it’s not like he would care. I submitted my request online and talked to one of the archivists on the phone about what I wanted. One credit card transaction and a week later, I now have a much better idea what happened to Clarence Channell. There may be court and police records that give more insight into his crimes, but the paperwork I have paint a fairly good picture, Great Granduncle Clarence was a grifter.

George Clarence Channell, 1915

On August 23, 1915, Clarence was convicted for “Forgery” in Boulder County, Colorado. He was sentenced to one to two years. He was paroled on July 24, 1916 and discharged May 14, 1917. On January 20, 1921, Clarence was convicted for “False pretense” in Larimer County, Colorado. He was sentenced to eight to ten years. He was paroled on January 10, 1925 and discharged January 14, 1925. Governor Sweet commuted his sentence from six years to ten years after a violation of parole in May 1926. On July 18, 1929, Clarence was convicted of “Con” in Grand County, Colorado. He was sentenced to three years and discharged on November 12, 1932. Finally, Clarence was convicted for “False Pretenses and Confidence Game” on October 18, 1932 in Denver County, Colorado (possibly while on parole). He was sentenced six to ten years. He was paroled on July 18, 1935, returned for parole violation on January 1, 1936, and finally discharged on May 5, 1937 after Governor Johnson revoked his parole. After 1937, Clarence’s name pops-up at the Denver Superior Court. In November 1960, a Writ of Error, i.e. appeal, was dismissed due to a failure to prosecute.

Somewhere beneath all these dates lay some very interesting stories. I guess the lesson here is not to trust men bearing clarinets.

Find A Grave

A couple months ago I registered at Find A Grave. I have a large number of photos and transcriptions that I’ve compiled over the years that would be more useful on a public website than in my private database. Find A Grave has been around since 1998, almost as long as THIS website! :) I’ve visited Find A Grave a few times in the past, found it less useful than I was hoping, and continued on my way to other resources. Sadly, I missed an opportunity to share the information I had. In the meantime, thousands of other volunteers have been creating and managing memorials in my absence. Late to the game, I’m now trying to squeeze my way into the project and create or enhance my family’s memorials. What I’m discovering is that there are large gaps in my family tree where I have no idea where my ancestors are buried. What I’ve also discovered is that there are people who transcribe massive amounts of graves (100s of 1,000s), add them to the database, and then have no time to address the management (e.g., corrections, links, photos) of every grave they’ve contributed. You can submit a request for a memorial transfer, but that’s up to the person who created the record in the first place. This is more than a little frustrating when you have information to add. One of the best things about the project is that it’s an easy (and free) way to find other researchers. Now I just have to find some free time to start walking cemeteries again.

In Search of Florence

I made a breakthrough today thanks to the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.  I first discovered Florence L. Boddice (my grandaunt) in early 1900 census data that placed her at the Western Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (yeah, they’ve changed the name). In 1996, my grandaunt Aggie told me that Florence was deaf, but not from birth.  She also said that Florence played the piano beautifully even after her hearing loss. Florence’s name came up again this past August while speaking with a cousin. He showed me a large photo of the Boddice family taken on Christmas 1932. I asked why Florence was missing and he explained that she died before that date. Wanting to know more about her, I e-mailed the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and asked whether they had any records. I didn’t really expect a response, but respond they did! They initially told me that their old records were spotty, but that they would look just the same. Today, they responded with more information than I had hoped for! It appears that Florence is listed on an early registration log as the 862nd student of the school. It also states that she became deaf as a result of measles when she was 9 years old, that she enrolled in the school in 1907, and graduated in 1920.  What happened to her between graduation and Christmas 1932 is still unknown.

Tackling Census Data in TMG

I mentioned earlier that I’m experimenting with the GRAMPS family tree software. I’m still waffling on whether to make that switch. Adopting another application would be nothing short of life-changing. I have no idea how much time I’ve invested into TMG, but it could probably be measured in the 1,000s of hours. Any move to another application would almost certainly mean that some of that data would be lost. I probably wouldn’t lose names, dates, and relationships, but would probably lose a great deal of painstakingly recorded sources. So, while I weigh which way to go, I continue to enter data and learn about TMG.

Today, I experimented with recording and reporting census data. To date, I’ve been using tags for each individual, i.e., if John Stanley appeared in the 1880 census, I would give him a “Cen 1880” tag. I would also include the date and place of enumeration, dwelling and family numbers, his age, birthplace, and occupation. If he had six people in his household, each person that was enumerated with him would also get a “Cen 1880” tag. Though inelegant, I liked being able to see (at a glance) if a given individual was missing the census tag for a given year. The problem with this method is that the structure of each household is lost. This has bugged me for sometime but I didn’t know what to do about it. I have used thousands of census tags, and am not about to go back through the database and change everything. Today, I found a solution.

The first thing I did was look at how other TMG users handle census data. The program is very customizable and there’s no one right way to handle censuses. A number of published solutions (here, here, and here) suggest establishing one census tag per household and attaching all other members as witnesses to the Principal. I’ve known about this solution for years but never implemented it because I didn’t like a bunch of undifferentiated Witness tags floating around. After clicking around the Master Tag Type List, I discovered that within a given tag’s properties (Tools > Master Tag Type List > Cen 1880 > Edit) there’s an option (in the Other tab) to use the tag’s original title, rather than Witness (Display Witnessed Tags / Using the Label Above). Now, even the witnesses to the primary “Cen 1880” tag have the same apparent tag. Squee!

Attaching people to the Principal as Witnesses recreates the census households, it does not however give a sense for the household’s structure. For that, I created dozens of roles for each census tag. Within the “Cen 1880” tag, I currently have the following roles: Head, Wife, Dau01, Dau02 thru Dau10, Son01, Son02 thru Son10, and Boarder. I can add more as needed, e.g. Mother-in-Law, Grandmother. Each of these roles has a sentence associated with it. Dau02 for instance, has: “[RG:Dau02]<,  aged [WM],> appears in the 1880 Federal Census <at [L]> as the daughter of [P].” Since the roles are gender specific, there’s no need to create a Female Sentence Structure under the Tag Type Definition. When adding Dau02 as a witness, I now enter her census given age (whether it’s correct or not) in the Edit Witness / Memo field. That supplies the [WM] variable with the age required. Earlier censuses that do not list relationships include sentences like: “[RG:Enum02]<, aged [WM],> appears in the 1870 Federal Census <at [L]> in the household of [P].” Other than this, the sentences do not vary much between censuses, so I used cut-and-paste liberally when building roles.

So, why create a Head role instead of just using Principal? In my original implementation of census tags, every person that appeared in a census had a Principal role. In my new system, the Head role has the following sentence: “[P] appears as head of household in the 1880 Federal Census <on [D]> <at [L]>.” By leaving the Principal role intact, I do not have to go back through all my old census tags and adjust everyone’s role to fit the new system. The old sentences remain unchanged. When entering new families however, I can select their appropriate roles. The system requires a lot of upfront work creating roles and sentences, but I think the result is much cleaner. Anyway, that’s how I’m entering census data now. I hope this write-up helps someone! As always, feel free to e-mail me with questions and/or ridicule.