Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Surname Spellings May Require Creative Searches

Are your ancestors hidden in the shadows because their names are misspelled in records? All of us have probably faced this issue at some point in our research.

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:

  • Bankart
  • Bankerd
  • Bankert
  • Beankart
  • Benkert
  • Benket
  • Bunkert
  • Renhert

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.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Another Friday the 13th

Happy Friday! It doesn't bother me when the 13th falls on a Friday, but many people are superstitious. Here's an article about this special day that was published in a Pennsylvania newspaper in 1922:

Indiana Evening Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania), October 13, 1922

    "Keep your fingers crossed--look out for ladders and spilled salts--and run if you see a black cat. For today is Friday the 13th, the star Jonah combination of them all. That is, if you are superstitious.
     But if you're inclined to scoff at the Friday jinx, here are a few arguments in your favor: Columbus' expedition which discovered America, set sail on Friday and landed on Friday; Richard Henry Lee introduced the Declaration of Independence on a Friday; Cornwallis surrendered on Friday.
     And to argue against the 13 superstition: There were thirteen original united states; there are 13 stripes in our flag, and, originally, it contained 13 stars; President Wilson considered 13 as his lucky number--and he was right about it--California's 13 electoral college votes re-elected him.
     As for Friday, the 13th: General Pershing was born on Friday, the 13th. The Yanks won at St. Mihiel on Friday, September 13, 1918.
     Where the Friday 13 idea came from is still in doubt. The most probable explanation is that the Crucifixion gave rise to the Friday part and the 13 part from the fact that the Hebrew words for 'death' and for 'thirteen' were identical."

You can find great articles by searching newspapers, especially if you find pieces that mention ancestors!

Related Post:  Superstitious Beliefs of Ancestors

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Which Traits Will Help Genealogists in the New Year?

Genealogists share many personality traits but, in other ways, we're very different. I'm an introvert who could research for hours (and days!) without speaking to anyone, while others are more outgoing and need interpersonal interaction. Are there particular traits that will help us succeed at solving our family tree mysteries this year? Here are some that come to mind:

Accuracy / Attention to Detail - It's important to take time to review information before adding it to your family tree database and to include sources for all facts. Typos can lead to a mother giving birth after she died and other strange facts you've probably seen in online trees. Since facts are the foundation for building and expanding your family tree, accuracy is critical to your success as a researcher.

Commitment - Genealogy is a long-term project, and you certainly can't set a deadline since it won't ever be done. Individual success stories are often the result of hours and hours of research, and researching your entire family tree is a life-long commitment.

Creativity - Some family branches and their records are straight-forward, but others may take some detective work. Tapping into your creative mind can help in looking at a genealogy issue in a new way, which can lead to finding the answer you're looking for.

Curiosity - Questions about your family got you started in genealogy, and that curiosity continues to be important as you uncover facts. Why was a person missing from a household? Where were siblings and other relatives? When did someone arrive in the U.S.? What religion did a person practice? Asking questions and finding the answers may provide details to advance your research.

Focus - We all know how easy it is to get sidetracked while researching! The path to success is quicker if you can identify your research problem, locate the sources that may hold the answer, and then stay focused while you review the records. Jumping from collection to collection or person to person in a random manner may be more fun but won't be as effective.

Generosity - I've found that the genealogy community is very generous. Many have helped others by blogging, teaching in the community, posting photos of headstones, transcribing records, etc. Asking questions and learning from others will undoubtedly lead to success with your research, and paying it forward will help someone else.

Humility - We all make mistakes, and successful researchers are those who can admit it, fix it, and learn from it.

Patience - Although many online resources can provide instant gratification by showing scanned images in seconds, there are still times when you'll need to wait. Whether it's a response to an email, a record or reel you've ordered, or getting that brick wall to crumble, good things often come if you're willing to wait.

Persistence - Many ancestors are elusive characters who stay hidden for years. Records can contain inaccurate information or don't specify a key detail, so you'll often need to keep digging. Don't give up and you'll find success!

Post a comment if there are other traits you would add to this list. And good luck with your genealogy research in 2017!