My sister hates the signature whine her GPS makes when she deviates from the agreed-upon route:


For a piece of electronic engineering, it sounds remarkably petulant. However, sometimes redirECTing is unavoidable, as we could tell the GPS if it were in the mood to listen.

Particularly in genealogical research. Particularly when your original route is leading into a swamp.

For example: One of my great-great-aunts, Mary Ann Haigney (1872-1956), inconsiderately married a person surnamed Walker. Sorting through Walkers in directories, documents and federal censuses is not nearly as efficient as sorting through Haigneys, and I just don’t know as much as I’d like about them. I did have a bunch of newspaper clippings about Mary Ann, including her obituary and several society items about family parties mentioning visits from her son Edward and his wife, a grandson, and “Mrs. Geis.” I really wanted to confirm the names of Edward’s wife and son, and find out who the mysterious Mrs. Geis was.

But this year, I had a couple of super-strengths to put into the Walker search.

The first was the 1940 census. The second was the address book kept in the late 1930s and early 1940s by my great-aunt Anna.  When I got this address book last fall and realized its value as a 1940 search tool, I felt like holding it aloft, superhero-style, and waiting for thunderbolts to explode out of it.

In the address book was a Brooklyn address for an “E. Walker,” whom I devoutly hoped would turn out to be Mary Ann’s son Edward. Using another awesome thunderbolt of genealogical power, the Unified 1940 Census E.D. Finder, I located:

Walker, Edward, head, 38

Walker, Frances, wife, 43

[redacted], son, 11

Geis, Caspar, brother-in-law, 58

Geis, Henrietta, sister-in-law, 49

[redacted], niece by marriage, 23

Identities for Edward’s wife and son! Plus, an explanation for Mrs. Geis!

Clearly, Caspar was Frances’ brother, and Frances’ maiden name was Geis. Fantastic. I decided to take a lunch break.

Astute readers will know that any time the word “clearly” appears in my text, things are actually not clear at all. Over a sandwich and tea, I recalled that phrase “by marriage.”

Wait a minute. Whose marriage? Was Edward linked to the Geis family through Caspar, or through Henrietta? I read through the entry again. Sure enough, it was a classic case of stopping too soon for a lunch break. There was a seventh name in the household:

 Schemank, Mary, mother-in-law, 77

With that, I had the complete picture. As the full household list implies (and other documents eventually confirmed), Edward had married the former Miss Frances Schemank, not Geis. Henrietta (Schemank) Geis is one of Frances’ sisters (she had two, plus a brother). Caspar Geis, of course, is Frances’ brother-in-law, not her brother.

And I’m just glad my genealogy GPS redirECTed before I drove the car into a swamp.


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