Before Louise Binkert married her second husband, my 2nd great-uncle, her life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, seemed to be a mystery. Her 1925 death certificate and obituary indicate that her maiden name was Binkert, but I couldn't find her in the census records. Binkert doesn't seem to be a difficult name, right? But I was surprised by the spelling variations that I eventually found.
My uncle's military pension file contained a copy of their 1905 marriage certificate, which shows that Louise's name was Ofhouse, the surname of her first husband. That clue led to her 1883 marriage record from the West End United Church of Christ. Louise's surname was handwritten as "Bankart." Thinking that this earlier record might have the correct spelling, I searched for "Bankart" and "B*nk*rt" but still couldn't find her in the 1870 and 1880 censuses.
Louise's death certificate shows that her father was "Hanson Binkert." I couldn't find that name in any of the censuses either. In fact, the only match was a Pennsylvania death certificate for a Mary Binkert Geartner which shows her father was Hanson. I searched for other Binkert deaths in Pennsylvania and found that their fathers were recorded as "Ansom" and "Anson." Both of these spellings also appear in several Pittsburgh city directories next to his widow's listing. But there is one that says she was the widow of "Anslem." Finally a breakthrough!
I found the Binkert family in 1880 after several different searches using wildcards. Louise was listed as "Louis Benket" and her father was "Anslen Benket." Below is the list of various spellings of Binkert that I found in records for Louise's parents and siblings:
At the risk of making this post way too long, I must share that Louise had one sister whose married name was completely botched as well. I'm still not sure at this point what the correct spelling is! The marriage record for Maggie Binkert shows that she married John Thuering. The 1900 census recorded it as Thuring. Her death certificate shows her surname as Tiering. Since Maggie's cause of death was tragic (her clothes caught on fire), I searched Pittsburgh newspapers for those surnames but couldn't find the story.
I tried searching newspapers for her address that's listed on her death certificate but had no luck. Then I searched for "Allegheny General," which was the hospital where she died, the word "fire," and the year 1909. There were four news stories about Maggie's accident, and her surname was spelled as "Theeny," "Theney," "Therry, and "Theery." I never would have found those spellings!
Whether looking at all family members for clues, using wildcards, or searching for addresses and key words other than surname, it's often necessary to think creatively in order to discover your hidden relatives.