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A New Branch of the Tree

A genealogical discovery upended my research plan for the summer. This month a couple of DNA tests revealed the identity of my previously unknown great-grandfather.

Of course, I dropped everything else to do some research on him. He lived much of his life in the 20th century and left many records:

  1. U. S. census. I found him for every decennial, but his first appearance, in 1860, was not straightforward. He lived with his maternal grandfather that year and was listed with that surname, not his own.
  2. Newspapers. My ancestor homesteaded in Hayes County, Nebraska. The local papers have been digitized and are available on His name appears several times when he bought or sold land and engaged in political activities. He had on obituary which says nothing about my grandmother.
  3. Land records. This man long was a candidate for my great-grandfather because he had legal dealings with my great-grandmother, Laura Riddle (1853-1933). He served as a witness for her homestead application, and he bought land from her. He lived next door.
  4. This website links my ancestor to other members of his family. This gives me a roadmap to follow in searching for primary sources about him and his parents.

My next step is to follow up on those clues and locate some original records. This week I submitted to the State of Nebraska an application for my ancestor’s 1925 death certificate. I hope it includes the names of his parents to confirm the information on posted on FindAGrave.

The newspaper carried a notice of petition for probate of his estate, so I will contact Hayes County for a copy of that file. As far as I know, he never acknowledged or supported my grandmother as his daughter, but I will not know for sure until I look at his probate case to see if it mentions her.

My ancestor had a homestead, and I need to request a copy of his file. Did my great-grandmother reciprocate by serving as a witness for him? Were women allowed to do that in the 1890’s?

All this leaves me with a big unanswered question. Should I contact my ancestor’s other descendants, the half cousins whose DNA we match? They may not know that we even exist. Have they looked at their match lists and wondered who we are and how we are related?

This out-of-wedlock event took place in 1895-96, a long time ago. Perhaps enough time has passed for the shock such news creates to be softened.

I would love to know whether my grandmother looked like her father’s family. I long to ask them for a copy of a photo of him if they have one. I was thrilled to find a portrait of my dad’s half-cousin posted on his FindAGrave site, and I thought I could see a family resemblance between him and some of my grandmother’s children.

My newly found ancestor holds the key to 12.5% of my heritage. Filling in this blank space on my family tree is so satisfying.

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