Thursday, August 1, 2013

Finding Ann McCue

I recently found a brand new family on my family tree, and since several people have expressed interest in learning how to do this kind of research, I thought I'd share my process with you.

One of my fourth great-grandfathers is John Hook Jameson, and this last week, I've been researching his sister, Sarah Ann Jameson. I found her husband (Barney McCue) and two of their kids (Charles P. McCue and Susan Elizabeth McCue) pretty quickly using census records and

Finding their oldest daughter, Ann McCue, took considerably longer.

The thing about researching your ancestors is that there are literally hundreds--if not thousands--of potential duplicates, and if all you have is a name, a birth year, and a birth state (which is all I had for Ann), the chances of pinning them down are slim to none. So you have to get tricky.

Step #1: Start with what you know.

The 1860 and 1870 censuses had informed me she was born in Iowa in 1855 (or maybe 1856), but by 1880, she was no longer living with her family of origin. The most likely explanation was that she'd gotten married, so I decided to try to find her marriage record.

Step #2: Find a specific record.

When I'm looking for a specific record, I focus on the collections most likely to produce it. To do this, I go to, then scroll down to the list of territories at the bottom of the page. For this search, I clicked on United States, then Missouri, since that's where Ann McCue was living in 1870. That brought up eleven collections, one of which was Missouri, Marriages, 1750-1920. (I could have tried Missouri, County Marriage Records, 1819-1969, but if you click on that link, you'll notice that the collection hasn't been indexed, which means the only way to find a record is to browse through ALL of them. It's an option if you're desperate, but I wanted to try the easy way first.) From there, I entered the following information in the appropriate search fields:

--My ancestor's name (Ann McCue)

--Her suspected marriage place and a range for her suspected marriage year (Missouri, 1870 to 1880--I could have specified a town or county but wanted to leave it more general)

That brought up four results, one of which was a marriage record for an Annie Mccue and an Issac W. Nichols. It didn't have a ton of information, but the date certainly could have been right, and the marriage took place in the same county where my Ann McCue was living. In other words, this was a strong contender.

Step #3: Look for more clues.

When I find a lead, the next thing I always do is look for corroborating evidence. If I can find an Ann or Annie Nichols who was born in Iowa in 1855 and also married to an Isaac W., then that's hard to dispute. So I went back to the homepage and searched for Ann and Isaac W. together:

--My ancestor's name (Ann Nichols)

--Her suspected residence place in 1880 (Missouri, 1880 to 1880--if I'd wanted to, I could have searched just the 1880 census)

--Her spouse's name (Isaac W. Nichols)

The top result was a census record that showed an Isaac, an Anna, and a Charles Nichols all living in Des Arc, Iron, Missouri, United States, which is the same town where Ann McCue was living in 1870. You'll notice that this census listed Missouri as her birth state, but I wasn't too concerned. People messed up their birth states ALL THE TIME (or the census workers did).

Step #4: Find a related person, like a parent or a spouse.

Since I now knew a little more about Isaac W. Nichols, I decided to do a general search for him back on the homepage:

--My ancestor's name (Isaac W. Nichols)

--His birthplace and a range for his birth year (Missouri, 1856 to 1858--I always include a narrow range even if I know the year exactly, since birth years can get messed up in census records)

Men are often easier to track, and sure enough, the top three results looked very promising. I was especially interested in the census record from 1910, since it appeared to list some children (but no Ann). The record itself included an explanation--Isaac W. reported he was widowed--and his children also reported that their mother was born in Iowa. At this point, I was all but certain that I'd found my family.

But I had one last place to look for Isaac W. Nichols: (To get to their search engine, you have to click the link on the right side of the page that says Search 102 million grave records.) In the "Died" field, I entered "After 1910," and in the "Cemetery in" field, I selected "Missouri" from the drop-down menu. That search produced exactly one result, but luckily for me, it appeared to be the right one.

(You'll notice that everything on the headstone matched up except for Annie I. Nichols's birth year. I still can't account for that discrepancy, but since it would have been impossible for a woman born in 1876 to have had a daughter in 1885 (as the 1910 census indicated), I feel relatively confident that this was an error. Besides, the chances that there were two sets of Ann and Isaac W. Nicholses who lived and died in the same small town in Missouri are extremely remote.)

If this seems like a long process, it was. I spent close to two hours going through the steps I just described, since I ran into a few dead ends along the way. But I found Ann McCue, my Ann McCue, not to mention her husband and a bunch of her kids, and that made it all worth it.


Jenilyn Collings said...

Thanks for the glimpse into your process! :-)

K. L. Hallam said...

So cool. Thanks for the resource.
My journalism teacher in high school, told me I was related to Arthur H. Hallam (In Memoriam, Tennyson)
I shall see.
(she did say, she had the word of my great aunt) Hmmm?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post. I've been lucky to have other people in my family do all the work. One question though. Any suggestions on finding information on orphans? I have a great-great-etc. that was an orphan.

Melodie Wright said...

Very cool - isn't the Internet great?
In my family, all the first daughters' names have been placed on a silver porringer going back to the Revolutionary War.(I have it now - it'll go to my daughter, who is #10, when she has a girl.) It's fun to see how intertwined those early New England families were...many intermarriages and mixed up relationships to sort out now!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

You're welcome, Jeni!

Karen, is a great resource. It's just nice to be able to see things for yourself. My great-grandfather always told us he immigrated to the States by stowing away on a ship from the Netherlands as an eleven-year-old. He said he jumped off the ship in New York Harbor, swam to shore, and sold hot dogs on the streets of New York City for several years before heading west. But then my great-aunt found a ship manifest that showed him arriving as a paid passenger in Philadelphia as a young man. The story isn't quite as cool, but at least it's the truth:)

Karen #2, orphans are tough. It's been difficult to find information on the great-grandfather I mentioned above because he was an orphan for all intents and purposes, never talked about his parents or his life back in Europe. I'd recommend looking for sources from when your ancestor was an adult--marriage records, death records, that sort of thing--because they often listed parents' names on those kinds of things. Of course, that will only work if your orphaned ancestor remembered the names of his/her parents, so you might still be stuck:(

Melodie, what a wonderful heirloom! That must be quite the treasure. And I don't think New England families were the only ones who intermarried. My great-great-great-grandfather's second wife on one line is also a great-great-great-great-grandfather's niece on another. I guess that's just what happens when you live in a small town in Missouri and don't get out much:)

Susan Oloier said...

If I had more time, I would love to go through this process. Thanks for sharing it with us, Krista!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the help. My ancestor was orphaned as a baby. Guess I'm stuck.

Your post to Melodie made me laugh by the way.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Everything in its season, right, Susan? I'm sure you'll have time at some point!

Yeah, Karen, that information is going to be hard to find, especially if this ancestor wasn't adopted by a family member. And yes, the more I research, the more tangled up my family tree becomes:) (Case in point: I just found two first cousins who married each other and had a gaggle of kids. Luckily, I'm not descended from them:) )