Hitting the bricks: Part IIPosted: December 3, 2009
I do hate that genealogy cliche, “brick wall”, but only because it’s a sad reality for so many of us. So it is satisfying to be able describe how a tiny opening developed in one of mine.
My great-grandfather refused to be located in the 1900 census. After various census and city directory searches (and increasingly bad moods), I ended up taking a mental-health break from this search, for which my living family thanked me.
Then a little while back, Ancestry.com was talking up a webinar: “Best Strategies for Searching Ancestry.com.” I took it, largely because I hadn’t ever done a webinar and was curious about the process. As ever, I learned a thing or two:
• The best place to start an Ancestry search is not the Search box on the Home page. Better to click the “Search” button in the menu bar, and use the “Search All Records” option.
• In old records, sloppy dates are a feature, not a bug. Search with broad date ranges, even if you’re sure you know the specifics. Start at plus/minus 10 years, and adjust downward.
• When you locate an interesting record, do NOT forget to save it somehow –your Ancestry shoebox or family tree, your hard disk, wherever. (Amazingly, many of us forget this in our excitement.)
The biggest discovery of all? I was doing crummy wild card searches.
Yes, I will embarrass myself by admitting that I didn’t know you can replace any number of characters with a [?], as long as there are at least three actual characters: i.e., Haigney/H?gn?y/H?g?n?y.
Time for some souped-up wild cards! Recklessly, I returned to my evil nemesis, the 1900 census. I searched for my great-grandpa Joseph H*g*n*y, using a 10-year range for his 1860 birth year.
Up popped someone I didn’t recall seeing before: a Joseph Hagney in Jersey City, NJ. This did not sound promising; my ancestors never lived in Jersey City, as far as I knew.
Still, a closer look made me pause. Joseph, 36, born January 1864, boarded in the household of Edwin and Rose Brant and their six children. Joseph was married, born in New York, with parents born in Ireland, consistent with previous data. Most intriguing, his occupation was “house painter,” the same as Joseph’s job description in the West Troy directory of 1899, the last place I’d been able to find him.
The birth date was off by four years, but from what the webinar folks said, this was not a deal breaker. It seemed I might have discovered one reason why I was striking out in 1900: I was looking for Joseph with a wife and children, but Joseph might have been living apart from his family.
I turned to the 1900 and 1910 censuses to learn more about Joseph’s landlords, Edwin and Rose Brant. Hmmm. Like Joseph, Edwin and Rose were born in New York of immigrant parents (Edwin’s were English, Rose’s Irish). They had six children – Cerlia [sic], Harry, Rose, Urslia [sic], Edwin and Margaret. The oldest five were born in New York, ending with Edwin Jr. in 1897. Little Margaret was born in New Jersey in February 1900.
So this family had moved recently from New York state in 1900, just like Joseph. Dare we hope they were also from the Troy area?
Next stop: an online database of newspaper clippings gathered long ago by employees of the Burden Iron Works, a major Troy employer. This treasure trove of death notices and wedding announcements is easily searchable, thanks to the dynamite local history volunteers of the Troy Irish Genealogy Society (TIGS). Maybe Edwin Brant, whose occupation in 1900 was “Moulder,” had a Burden Iron Works connection.
Paydirt: An 1891 obituary for Mary Cerella Brant, wife of Robinson Brant of West Troy. And check out her middle name, so similar to the unusual first name of the eldest Brant daughter in Jersey City (“Cerlia” in 1900; “Cerelia” in 1910).
More digging: In 1880, Robinson and Mary Cerella Brant lived in Troy, just across the Hudson from West Troy. Their 10 children included Edward, 17, giving him a birth year consistent with that of “Edwin” Brant in Jersey City in 1900 and 1910. It may be possible that Edward/Edwin Brant and his family originated in the Troy area, just like Joseph, and left, like him, around 1900. Could this be a classic case of cluster migration? (I love alliteration.)
Alas, I can’t consider this a brick-wall bustdown. The clues seem strong, but they’re still just clues. And I still don’t know where Joseph’s wife and three children were in 1900. But finally, I have valid signs that great-grandfather Joseph did not join an Arctic expedition that year, and I have a new, interesting direction in which to search for Joseph’s family.
All because of a couple of well-placed question marks. How nice is that?