Categories
Unique Visitors
27,533
Total Page Views
498,440
View Teri Hjelmstad's profile on LinkedIn
 

 
Archives

The Box

Beginning when I was a teenager, I have amassed a tremendous number of genealogy-related books and papers. My home office contains several file cabinets and bookcases filled with materials I use to pursue my research.

A lot of it I inherited a few years ago when my father’s 93-year-old cousin passed away. She, too, was an avid researcher. Her family did not want her library or her work, so I offered to give it a home.

After some time has passed, I have integrated much of our two collections. I am always amazed at what she discovered about our family in the years before the internet. She never used a computer, and all her work lies in paper folders and notebooks. I love digging into them to see what she already had collected when I begin investigating an ancestor.

One of her large boxes, however, remained untouched. Filled with miscellaneous papers, the contents do not fit easily into either of our filing systems. I have kept meaning to empty it one day, but the task seemed daunting. I continued to put it off.

Finally, I have become tired of looking at this box and receiving its silent rebuke. I can no longer procrastinate on the task of cleaning out this box.

I have decided that each evening I am home, I will take one item from the box. Each paper will go into a new or existing file, into the to-do tray, or into the trash. I began this week.

One of the first papers I removed turned out to be a little gem. It was a long-ago letter from a cousin. She was writing about our mutual great-grandfather, Samuel H. Reed (1845-1928), and his activities after his 1904 divorce.

She said he had acquired land in Sayre, Oklahoma that he thought had potential for oil. Fearing that a woman with whom he was involved would make a claim on it, he conveyed the property to some of his grandchildren. Unfortunately, my dad would not be born for another decade, so he missed out.

Following the clue in the letter, I learned that Sayre is in Beckham County, Oklahoma. Family Search has their deed index online. Sure enough, I found my great-grandfather’s name on the index, both when he received the property and when he passed it on to some of my father’s cousins. The public records verify the story told by a relative, and I can request copies of these deeds from the county.

Who knows what else the box contains? At the rate of a few papers a week, it will take me a long time to find out. I hope will find some more treasure in my cousin’s box. Now I have some motivation to clean it out.

What Was Their Status?

Many ancestors followed a typical life pattern of marrying and having a family. During harsher times, often one spouse died and the other then remarried. I can document most of my family lines along this predictable path.

An exception occurs with my great-grandmother, Laura Riddle, and her elder sister Tamson. Tracking them, particularly through the 1870’s and 80’s, has raised some unresolved questions about the status of their relationships.

 

Laura Riddle (1853-1933)

Laura had three sons with George Edmonds. Did she ever marry him? No record of a union has been found.

We have circumstantial evidence for a marriage. The 1877 birth record for the second son, Lewis, records his birth as legitimate. For all three sons, the mother’s name is recorded as Laura Edmonds. Laura was listed as the wife in the George Edmonds household on the 1880 U.S. census.

By 1884, however, George had gone on to marry a 16-year-old girl who lived across the state line, and Laura had resumed using her Riddle surname. Always after that, she described herself as single, not divorced.

Many women in these circumstances would have kept the same surname as the children. To save face, they often said they were widows. Not Laura. Why? Were George and Laura married or not?

Many years later, Laura lived in Nebraska and had a daughter with an unidentified man. We do not know her relationship to him, either. Was he a long-time acquaintance or a cowboy passing through the area? No records pertaining to this relationship have been found.

 

Tamson Riddle (1845-1922)

Tamson had an out-of-wedlock son named Aden in 1867. Her parents raised the boy as their own. Aden and Tamson appear in her parents’ household on the 1870 census, both with the Riddle surname. The identity of Aden’s father remains a mystery.

Tamson next appears to have had a relationship with a man named either Frank or John Blakesley or Blacksley. She had at least two children with him, Frank and Cora, during the 1870’s. Young Frank’s records give his father’s name as Frank Blakesley. Cora’s records say his name was John Blacksley.

No marriage record for Tamson and Blacksley has been found. He has not been located on any census or death record. Who was he, and what became of him?

Tamson finally married a man named John Williams in 1878, at the age of 32, and they had three children. The family did not enjoy a stable home for long. John Williams passed away in 1885.

By 1900, Tamson lived as a boarder in the home of Oliver Wilcox. She still lived there when the 1910 census was taken. Later that year, she married Wilcox. By 1920, they were living separately.

Tamson appears to have had relationships with 3 or 4 men or more. She married at least two of them, but what was her relationship to the others?

 

These sisters, Laura and Tamson, were the exceptions to the usual relationship patterns of the day. Five of their six siblings all followed the usual course with easy-to-find marriage records. The sixth sibling, Seymour, never married and had no family.

What led Laura and Tamson to stray from the common path? Their parents set a good example and had a long marriage. Their siblings did likewise.

Everyone who would have remembered these people and had knowledge of their circumstances is now gone. No one in my own household ever mentioned these matters. The secrets and explanations lie buried with Laura and Tamson.

I Get In Touch With My Nordic Roots

I have had an amazing week. My mother’s family stepped in to give me a much-needed break from the frustrations of trying to locate a birth family in my dad’s line. Mom was half Norwegian and half Finn, and recently I have had contact with people from both heritages.

A Huge Family of Finlanders

Several days ago, I received an amazing e-mail message from a man in Finland who specializes in finding missing relatives. He learned that his client’s great-grandmother, Hendrika Lampinen Andelin, and my great-grandmother, Ada Lampinen Mattila (1879-1948), were sisters. He put me in touch with his client, and he told me that I have a lot of relatives in Finland.

I had always suspected as much, but I had no easy way to find them. My family did not keep any contact information after my great-grandmother died in 1948. My own grandmother stated that she knew nothing about her mother’s family because they all stayed in Finland.

A few years ago, I did some genealogical research on the Lampinen family. I learned that Ada had 10 other siblings besides Hendrika. The new correspondence from Finland now tells me the Hendrika alone had 15 children. I cannot imagine how many Lampinen descendants there are.

When I did my Lampinen research, I focused on working backwards from Ada. This gave me her lineage but did not tell me anything about siblings and their descendants. Doing this aspect of research presents many challenges because of modern-day privacy laws.

Now I have an open door for learning about my extended family in Finland. My new cousin has many family photos dating from my great-grandmother’s day. She also has photos my family sent to her great-grandmother up until the 1940’s. She has sent me several from her collection, and I can really see my grandmother’s resemblance to her Lampinen family.

I hope my cousin can reassemble the modern-day Lampinen descendants. The family stretches not only from Finland to America. A couple of Ada and Hendrika’s other sisters married Russian soldiers after WWI and emigrated to Russia. My cousin hopes to locate their descendants, too.

Norwegians On Tour

This week my husband/tech advisor and I had the opportunity to have dinner with a group of travelers from Norway. These 40 or so Norwegians came across the sea to tour the American Southwest. Upon their arrival, they stopped in Denver for a couple of days. The Trollheim Lodge of Sons of Norway hosted a supper for them and invited locals of Norwegian descent to participate. We greeted the tour bus with waving Norwegian flags.

Once inside the Lodge building, we all enjoyed a Western meal of pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, cole slaw, and baked beans. Of course, the Trollheim folks added some Norwegian touches like pickles (beets and cucumbers), desserts, and coffee, lots and lots of coffee.

Few of the Americans speak much Norwegian, but many Norwegians speak fluent English. This allowed for international conversations all along the banquet tables. We learned about the tourists’ travel plans and something about their homeland.

I also had an opportunity to ask a few questions in anticipation of our own planned visit to Norway next spring. The Norwegian group did not come from any of the areas on our itinerary, but some of them had visited places like Bergen and Lake Mjösa. They pointed us to must-see sites.

I enjoyed my pivot from research on my American brick-wall ancestors. Although my mom’s family has resided in the U.S. for over 100 years now, I still feel comfortable with Nordic culture. A week spent interacting with the Finns and the Norwegians was time well-spent.

Laura Riddle’s New Mystery

Our recent research trip to Nebraska revealed an unexpected mystery to solve. Although I thought I had a pretty good timeline for my great-grandmother Laura Riddle’s life, a review of the documents we retrieved exposed an unexplained gap.

I had assumed that Laura farmed on her land near McCook from the time she paid for a cash entry in 1885 until she filed on a homestead in Hayes County in 1892. I was very surprised to learn that she sold the land near McCook to her brother-in-law John Evert the same year she bought it. He, in turn, resold it in 1887.

If she had no farm, where was Laura living during the years from 1885-1892? Did she remain in the McCook area? Her oldest son, Francis, lived with a nearby farmer in 1886 and 1887 while he went to school, but where were Laura and the other two boys? And what happened to them after 1887 when John Evert resold her farm and Francis no longer appears in the school records?

Perhaps she stayed with her sister and brother-in-law, at least until the Everts sold out and moved north to Hyannis, Nebraska in Grant County during the late 1880’s. Did she go with them?

If only we could consult the 1890 U.S. census. Alas, it is long gone. For Grant County, Nebraska, we have a couple of substitutes, but Laura’s does not appear on them. She is not listed on the county directory for 1890 although both her brother Seymour Riddle and her brother-in-law John Evert are on the list. The other existing record for 1890, that of Civil War veterans, does not include women.

I believe I need to take another research trip, this time to examine the records in the Hyannis area. Perhaps newspaper or land records there hold some clues for Laura’s whereabouts before she claimed a homestead.

 

Probing My DNA Results

Recently I began combing through the family trees of my DNA matches looking to see if I could determine how I am related to these people. I have several brick wall ancestors, and a DNA match offers the possibility of breaking through one.

My first success was a connection to a descendant of the Stillabower family of Indiana. I have long suspected that my great-grandmother’s mother was a Stillabower. This match provides some evidence, especially since neither the other tester nor I recognized any other surnames in common.

This week I looked through my matches again for anyone who claimed a Riddle ancestor. My second great-grandfather, John Davis Riddle (1821-1896) was born somewhere in Pennsylvania, but I know nothing of his family. If I could find a Riddle match whose family also came from Pennsylvania, it might help my own research.

As I scrolled through my matches, one person who listed Riddles in his family tree seemed like a possibility. Further investigation, however, showed that his ancestors lived in the Carolinas, not Pennsylvania. Odd, then, that we should be a DNA match.

As I looked more closely at his family tree, I realized that our genealogical match probably is not from our Riddle lines at all. He has Carter and Templeton ancestors from Tennessee, and so do I. This common heritage is much more likely to be the reason for our DNA match.

Analyzing this match made me much more aware of how difficult it is to prove relationships with DNA testing and how careful one must be. Finding a common surname does not guarantee the DNA match is on that line. My matches and I must also match a third party who also descends from the suspected common ancestor. This is called triangulation. Once this occurs, one has a proven descent.

I will keep trying. As new matches are added, I will look for the surnames of all my mystery ancestors, Stillabower, Riddle, and Sherman. I will also search for close matches I do not recognize in the hopes that one may be from the family of my unidentified great-grandfather.

Sometimes there just is no paper trail to move us back in time. DNA testing can provide answers.

Thanks to the Palatines To America

Last weekend the Colorado chapter of Palatines to America, a national group that researches German-speaking ancestors, hosted a half-day session at the Denver Public Library. The speaker was Katherine Schober, a German-English genealogy translator.

My husband/tech advisor (who is half German) and I decided to go. We were glad we did.

Katherine addressed a couple of topics including an introduction to German genealogical research and some tips and tricks for deciphering German handwriting. She introduced us to helpful websites.

Katherine was a good, entertaining speaker. She also took time during a break to look at a puzzling, centuries-old German document related to my husband’s family. She identified it as a journeyman’s record. This is an exciting find for us.

From her presentation, we picked up several good strategies to use as we pursue our own research. I also picked up an application to join the Palatines organization.

Over the years, I have attended many of their events. My motive was to become more knowledgeable and help my husband with his research. Now, with a recent DNA match to a German family in my dad’s line (Stillabower), I feel like I can join this German group on my own behalf.

In Search of a DNA Match

My local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society began its 2018-2019 season this week. At the meeting, we welcomed Mark G. Liverman of Pinewood Genealogy as our speaker. Well-known in Colorado genealogical circles as an expert on DNA testing for genealogy, he spoke again on this topic.

I sat in on this lecture because I wanted to refresh my memory on the fundamentals of DNA testing for genealogy. I need to dig more deeply into my family’s test results in the hopes of identifying some of my brick wall ancestors.

When I visited Nebraska last month, I found no clues in the county records to the name of one of my great-grandfathers. A DNA match will offer my only hope of learning who he was. Other descendants of his family would be my 2nd or 3rd cousins. This is a pretty close match, one I should be able to find if the right person does a DNA test.

How do I go about finding such a person? By taking DNA tests and reviewing the DNA matches.

I have DNA test results on file at Family Tree DNA. So does my late father.

My Dad also took a DNA test at 23andMe. This widens our test pool beyond those who have tested at just one company.

Neither of us tested with the big kid on the block, Ancestry.com. Twice they turned away Dad’s saliva sample, saying it was inadequate for testing. This is not an unusual response for someone in his 80’s. The elderly often cannot generate enough saliva for their test.

I have not tested with Ancestry yet, but perhaps the time has arrived for me to do so. My chances of matching other descendants of my great-grandfather or his parents are greatest there. They have a database of 10 million people. 23andme has half that many, and Family Tree DNA has fewer than a million.

As Liverman always says, chances of success in finding a match are greater if you fish in every pond.

No Biological Dad Found

My paternal grandmother, Grace Riddle (1896-1976) has an unidentified father. This man continues to refuse to make himself known despite my best efforts.

Grandma herself claimed ignorance of the man’s identity. Her contemporaries in the family told me they had no ideas as to who he might have been. Apparently, her mom, Laura Riddle (1853-1933), took this information to her grave.

Last week my husband/tech advisor and I made a trip to southwest Nebraska to investigate this mystery. I really did not expect to uncover any new information. Yet the Genealogical Proof Standard requires us to make exhaustive searches. Until I looked at local records, I could not claim to have been thorough.

From 1885 to 1933, Laura Riddle lived in four Nebraska counties along the Colorado and Kansas borders. My grandmother was born at Palisade (Hitchcock County) during the time her mother resided on a homestead just north of town in Hayes County. I do not know whether Grandma was born on the homestead or in town.

Before we left for our trip, I made a checklist of all the types of records and repositories available in the counties where Laura lived after she migrated from Michigan in 1885. Then we visited courthouses, libraries, a genealogical society, and an historical museum to look for sources. My husband/techadvisor worked out a timeline for us because many of the repositories in these rural areas keep limited hours.

We searched several types of records during our stay:

  • County and town histories,
  • Guardianships,
  • Land records,
  • Historic newspapers,
  • Paternity cases, and
  • School census records.

Neither of us found any mention of a father for Grace Riddle. Now, as the genealogist at the Southwest Nebraska Historical Society in McCook (Red Willow County) counseled, my best bet for identifying my great-grandfather will be a DNA match.

We did not come home empty-handed, though. Other information about Laura Riddle’s life turned up:

  • Her eldest son, Francis Edmonds (1876-1944), attended school near McCook in 1886 and 1887. During that time, he resided with a neighboring farmer, John F. Black, and probably worked on that farm.
  • Laura and her younger sons retired from their Dundy County homestead in 1923, earlier than I had thought. Her son Joseph (1880-1956) traded his portion of the ranch acreage for a house in Palisade. With the help of a town plat, we identified the address, visited the property, and took photographs.
  • Laura sold her share of the Dundy County ranch, also in 1923, to the same man who traded for Joseph’s share. She offered the man a mortgage, but he defaulted. She was forced to foreclose in 1928. The next year, she received her share of the ranch back via a Sheriff’s Deed. Ultimately, she resold her land in 1932.
  • Joseph outlived his mother and brother Lewis (1877-1935) by a number of years. By 1949, he needed a Guardian. The court appointed long-time family friend C. C. Cole to care for Joseph, and I picked up a copy of the guardianship file at the Hitchcock County Courthouse.

As we drove through these counties, we took time to visit the sites of Laura’s three homesteads in Red Willow, Hayes, and Dundy Counties. The Red Willow site lies just east of the airport. The Hayes land is on the high ground north of Palisade, currently inaccessible but viewable from a distance. In Dundy County, we drove for what seemed like miles along loose dirt roads (thanks, Google Maps!) until we reached the site. Upon our arrival, we learned of a much better road back to Haigler, NE, and returned to our lodgings by that route.

After completing this trip, I cannot think of any other records that might reveal my great-grandfather’s identity. I believe I have done a reasonably exhaustive search. Now I must turn to DNA testing in hopes of uncovering this information. With all the records I have about Laura, I have a good list of many of her associates. If a DNA match turns up, perhaps I will recognize a surname. If not, perhaps my great-grandfather was a passing cowboy rather than someone she knew well.

 

 

 

Give Tax Lists a Try

For some states and time periods, tax lists can provide good genealogical evidence. People who owned land or livestock had to pay annual taxes on these sources of wealth. Counties kept records of these payments, and these lists can work as a yearly census of residents.

For my own family and my search for the roots of John Davis Riddle, I am looking at tax lists for clues. I know this ancestor was born in Pennsylvania in 1821, and he married Olive Dunbar in Summit County, Ohio in 1843. I have no information on his family or his whereabouts before 1843. Perhaps tax lists can help me.

Family Search (familysearch.org) has some Ohio tax lists online. I plan to search those records beginning with 1849 (when the Riddles left Ohio) and then work backwards to see if I can locate any likely Riddle families in Summit and the surrounding counties. I will also search for Davis families because my ancestor oddly signed the marriage register as a Davis instead of a Riddle when he married.

If I can locate my ancestor on one of these lists, I can then follow up with a search of other county records kept during the same time period. If he owned real property, his transactions will be in land records. If he had only valuable personal property, at least his name should appear on a list. In either case, I can look at marriages and probates for those same years for more information about him.

If he had little of anything, I will not find his name. I will be out of luck with tax lists as a clue for this genealogical problem.

Dead Ends, Genealogically Speaking

Earlier this summer I reported hearing from a new research contact. The person suggested a location to search for information about my 2nd great-grandfather, John Davis Riddle (1821-1896).

I know nothing of this ancestor’s origins, other than a purported Pennsylvania birthplace. He ultimately settled and died in Mendon, Michigan.

Three of his children and grandchildren married into the nearby McClish family. The McClish researcher suggested that I search for my ancestor in Washington County, Pennsylvania because the McClishes had once lived there. I took a look recently.

Using the U.S. census and cross-referencing with family trees posted on Family Search and Ancestry, I investigated several Riddle families who lived in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio in the 1820’s, 1830’s, and 1840’s. I found no likely candidates for my John Davis Riddle.

I did eliminate a couple of Riddle families who resided in Washington County, Pennsylvania during that time:

  • Samuel Riddle (1759-1825) who married Martha Johnson. This man moved his family from Pennsylvania to Mahoning County, OH around 1803, long before my ancestor was born. Although his children were born in Pennsylvania, they grew up and were married in Ohio. No one seemed to remain behind to father my John Davis Riddle in Pennsylvania in 1821.
  • Samuel Riddle (1794-1879) who married Jane Turner. This family remained in Pennsylvania. Their son, John Aiken Riddle, was born in 1846. It seems unlikely they would have an older son also named John.

I also eliminated a Riddle family living in Ohio during the 1840’s when my John Davis Riddle resided there:

  • Thomas Riddle (1781-1823) who married Minerva Merrick. This family lived in 1840 and 1850 in Geauga County, OH. They began their pioneer journey from Massachusetts through Pennsylvania until they reached Ohio. Geauga County is a bit northeast from Summit County where John Davis Riddle was married in 1843. Thomas’ son John Adams Riddle was born in Massachusetts in 1814 and lived until 1884. Again, it seems unlikely they would later have another son named John.

One family bears more investigation. Samuel Riddle (1795-1857) who married Margaret Scott comes from a large Riddle family in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

I have not completed my research into these Washington County families. If my John did come from this place, he will not be so easy to find.