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A Step-By-Step Plan for Finding Katherine

I am on the hunt for any information available on my 2nd great-grandmother. So far I have turned up almost nothing, but I am not discouraged yet. I am pursuing a research plan, step-by-step.

The search began at home with tales of family lore. My dad’s cousins and aunts told me that the elusive woman’s name was Katherine Stillenbaugh/Stanabaugh, and she immigrated from Germany when she was eight years old. She died at Indianapolis shortly after giving birth to my great-grandmother, Anna Petronellia Sherman, in 1865.

I have done an exhaustive search on Katherine’s reported husband, my second great-grandfather Thomas Sherman. I have had no luck connecting him to this alleged first wife or her family. He did live south of Indianapolis during the Civil War, so at least that much of the story matches.

Armed with these bits of information, I began my search for Katherine in earnest earlier this month. My steps:

  1. Thomas Sherman and his brother actually resided in Johnson County, Indiana, not Indianapolis, so I looked at the county histories for that location. I found no mention of the Sherman family or any German family with a name similar to the one I seek. I did not find an Indiana marriage record for my Thomas Sherman in the 1860’s.
  2. A search of the 1860 U.S. census for Johnson and surrounding counties turned up an extended German family named Stilgenbauer or Stillabower. This family name sounds promising, and I decided to do some research on them to find out whether anyone had a likely daughter named Katherine.
  3. On FindAGrave.com, I found memorials for many members of this Stilgenbauer family. Each contained links to the others. This family descends from three brothers (Jacob, Adam, and Johan Michael) who immigrated from Bavaria—a German state. Interestingly, these southern Germans seemed to be Lutheran, not Catholic. This information fits, too, because Thomas Sherman was Protestant, not Catholic, and it is unlikely he would have married into a Catholic family. Thank you to Mike E. Wirey who created all these memorials in 2007.
  4. I spent a considerable amount of time this week reviewing Wirey’s information and reconstructing the Stilgenbauer family relationships on a white board. Catherine seems to be a common name with them, but I did not spot a girl who fit the profile of my Katherine. They all either died quite young or had married names other than Sherman.

Still more digging remains to be done. The FindAGrave information is not a complete family tree. What will I do next?

  1. I can try to contact Mike E. Wirey to find out if he has any additional Stilgenbauer information, particularly on girls named Katherine.
  2. I can look at the 1860 U.S. census for Johnson and all the surrounding counties for more members of the Stilgenbauer family to see if I can find another Catherine who seems a better match for my ancestor.
  3. I can take a DNA test to find out if I am match for any Stilgenbauers or their descendants who might have taken a test.
  4. I know where Thomas Sherman lived in 1863, and I can reconstruct his neighborhood, looking for clues.
  5. I can work to identify pertinent records at the Johnson County Museum, the Johnson County Historical Society, and other repositories. Did Thomas Sherman associate with the Stilgenbauers, or did the families have associates in common? Thomas had a German sister-in-law named Mishler, so I know his family associated to some extent with their German neighbors.

This search promises to take a long time. I probably will never find a single piece of paper proving the identity of my ancestor. But I can pursue my research plan in the hopes of identifying a likely candidate and then building enough circumstantial evidence to prove a case.

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