It’s far too tempting to see a cemetery marker for an ancestor and assume she died in that place. And then spend hours trying to find the death record there. But it’s important to consider that she might have died hundreds or thousands of miles away. Even a long-time genealogist can forget this when she really really really wants to find that death record. (Now who could I be talking about....Mary??!!!)
I recently researched the Smith family of Vernon, Shiawassee, Michigan. Smith is rarely a fun name to research and this one was no exception. I found a death record on Seeking Michigan for Robert Smith, age 66 who died in Vernon and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. FindAGrave shows a memorial for him. Though no spouse is linked to him, the photo of the memorial for Elizabeth Smith who died 13 June 1907 at age 71 is clearly another side of the same grave marker.
And that’s where the cautionary tale starts. I spent ages looking for Elizabeth’s death certificate in Shiawasse and later all of Michigan on the SeekingMichigan website. I searched for everyone named Elizabeth who died in June 1907. I searched for every person who died on 13 June 1907. I searched for all the Smiths in Shiawassee. I could not rustle up a death certificate for her. But she’s buried right there! Next to her husband!! Where, oh where, is her darn death certificate?!!!
I finally had to put Elizabeth on the back burner. Searching on Ancestry and FamilySearch I found a San Francisco area funeral home record for Robert Smith, Jr., Elizabeth and Robert’s son, which included a newspaper clipping of his death notice. Lucky for me, Robert Jr.’s sisters and daughters married people with far more imaginative surnames, including Dorward and Coppelberger. Names a genealogist can truly love.... Newspaper searches soon turned up a Flint, Michigan article indicating Elizabeth died in Los Angeles.
And then I dove down another rat hole looking for Elizabeth’s death certificate in Los Angeles. Another cautionary tale - don’t believe everything you read in a newspaper. Eventually I searched the California Death Index on FamilySearch to discover that Elizabeth died not in Los Angeles but in Alameda County. I guess to the reporter in Flint in 1910, one city in California is as good as the next!
So remember, just because someone is buried somewhere, it doesn’t mean they died anywhere near there. Be willing to search far and wide for a death certificate.
Thank you to my friend, Karrie, who lets me research her ancestors like they're my own...
 Michigan Certificate and Record of Death for Robert Smith, Sr. County of Shiawassee, Certificate No. 238. Date of Death 29 Aug 1897
 Find A Grave Memorial# 39077645 for Robert Smith in Greenwood Cemetery, Vernon, Shiawassee, Michigan (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=smith&GSfn=robert&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=24&GScnty=1304&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=39077645&df=all& : accessed 25 April 2017)
 Find A Grave Memorial# 39074584 for Elizabeth Smith in Greenwood Cemetery, Vernon, Shiawassee, Michigan (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Smith&GSiman=1&GSsr=41&GScid=638&GRid=39074584& : accessed 25 April 2017)
 "California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1835-1979," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JNVX-C8M : 28 November 2014), Robert Smith, 15 Nov 1916; citing funeral home J.S. Godeau, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, record book Vol. 20, p. 1-404, 1916-1917, San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History and Archive Center.
 “Death of Mother,” The Flint Daily Journal, 18 June 1907, page 8, col 3 (GenealogyBank.com : accessed 25 April 2017)
 "California Death Index, 1905-1939," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QKSM-DGFS : 5 June 2015), Elizabet Smith, 13 Jun 1907; citing 13872, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
A continuation from last week, as I begin to research the mysterious Mrs. J. A. Achard/Mrs. Shiland of 415A Third Street, San Francisco, who may have had something to do with the death of Sarah Ahern, wife of my great-great uncle, Jimmy Ahern.
The easiest place to begin looking for Julia was the 1900 US Federal census for San Francisco. I found her right away, living on Castro Street. She was 58, divorced, born in Michigan, had given birth to 6 children, all of whom were still alive, and she resided with her 27-year-old son, David Monroe and his wife, Nellie. Although no occupation is listed for Julia, David is a bartender. The city directory for San Francisco was able to shed a little more light on Julia, however. In the 1901 San Francisco city directory, Mrs. Julia A Achard, residing at 415A 3d is a midwife.
But now that I had her son’s name, David Monroe, born about 1873 in California, I thought I’d backtrack a bit on Julia and see what more I could find. The 1880 census gave me a few more names in Julia’s life. In Elkhorn Township, San Joaquin County, Julia Monroe lives with her husband, Percival Monroe and their four children, David, twin daughters Ida and Ada, aged 4, and a son Lewis, aged 1. Also in the house are three farm laborers – Fred Wermuth, the 20-year-old step-son of Percival Monroe, and Harrison and Charles Branack, ages 27 and 21, brothers of Julia Monroe. Looks like I’ve found Julia’s maiden name, Branack, and perhaps another married name for her, Wermuth, as well as five of the six children counted on the 1900 census.
Ten years earlier, Julia and P Monroe live in Elliot Township in San Joaquin, with a 10-year-old boy, Fred Monroe, likely to be the same Fred Wermuth as in 1880. Three presumably unrelated males, perhaps farm laborers, live in the house at the same time. Elsewhere in San Joaquin, in O’Neal Township, resides L.H. Brannock, a 52-year-old male farmer, L.M. Brannock, a 26 year old female, born in Ohio, Sarah Brannock, age 19, H. Brannock, a 17-year-old male, (could be Harrison from the 1880 census), Chas Brannock, age 12 and Estella Brannock, age 9, the last two born in California, plus three farm laborers.
The Wermuth part of the equation gets a little foggy – a Wermuth family seems to appear twice in the census. On a census taken 10 June 1870 in Elkhorn Township appear 44-year-old J.A. Wormeth, born in New York, 46-year-old Eliza Wormeth born in Arkansas and 12-year-old Willard Wormeth born in California. On a census taken 5 August 1870 in Stockton, appear J.V. Wormuth, age 46, Eliza Wormuth, age 46 and Millard Wormuth age 12, all with the same birthplaces as in the Elkhorn Township listing. No other Wermuths (or variants) appear in San Joaquin in 1870.
Rolling back another decade, the 1860 census for Elkhorn Township taken on the 18th of July gives a household full of Brannacks – Lyman H, Hester A, both 42, born in New York and Maine, respectively (the same parental birthplaces listed for Julia Achard in 1900), Julia A, age 18, Emily, 13, Sarah, 9, Harrison 7, Charles 2, as well as Frederick M. Wermuth, age 10/12, and four farm laborers. Alex, Elizabeth and Millard Wermuth are also living in Elkhorn Township.
The census provided some dry facts – names, ages, birthplaces, occupations. Now I had my “cast of characters.” It was when I got into the newspapers that my fascination with Julia took shape…
More next week…
 US Census of 1900, Year: 1900; Census Place: San Francisco, San Francisco, California; Roll: 103; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0134; FHL microfilm: 1240103, lines 34-36, accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
 Crocker-Langley Directory for San Francisco, 1901, page 164
 US Census of 1880, Year: 1880; Census Place: , San Joaquin, California; Roll: 80; Family History Film: 1254080; Page: 195C; Enumeration District: 104; household of Percival Monroe, lines 19-27, accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
 US Census of 1870, Year: 1870; Census Place: Elliot, San Joaquin, California; Roll: M593_86; Page: 79B; Image: 162; Family History Library Film: 545585, lines 12-17 accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
 US Census of 1870, Year: 1870; Census Place: Oneal, San Joaquin, California; Roll: M593_86; Page: 102B; Image: 208; Family History Library Film: 545585, lines 23-31 accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
 US Census of 1870, Year: 1870; Census Place: Elkhorn, San Joaquin, California; Roll: M593_86; Page: 56A; Image: 115; Family History Library Film: 545585, lines 38-40, accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
 US Census of 1870, Year: 1870; Census Place: Stockton, San Joaquin, California; Roll: M593_86; Page: 177A; Image: 357; Family History Library Film: 545585, lines 13-15, accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
 US Census of 1860, Year: 1860; Census Place: Elkhorn, San Joaquin, California; Roll: M653_64; Page: 100 (penned); Image: 354; Family History Library Film: 803064, lines 15-26, accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
 US Census of 1860, Year: 1860; Census Place: Elkhorn, San Joaquin, California; Roll: M653_64; Page: 973; Image: 359; Family History Library Film: 803064, lines 37-39, accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
When you’re searching in online newspapers do you seek out alternate sites with the same newspaper? Maybe you should.
Different newspaper sites, for example Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) and the California Digital Newspaper Collection (CDNC) (http://cdnc.ucr.edu/) have some of the same newspapers, including the San Francisco Call. But they don’t necessarily use the same Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software so one paper may read a string of printed newspaper text as one set of characters and another site may read it differently. If you’ve searched for a word or a phrase, one search engine may find it, but another one may not. You’ve got better odds of finding what you’re searching for if you check out both sites.
But there’s an even more important reason than just the straight-up OCR software used. Some newspaper sites allow readers to correct the text. If you search for the phrase “Wife Wants a Divorce” in the San Francisco Call on 10 December 1904 using the California Digital Newspaper Collection you’ll find an article with the headline “Wife Wants A Divorce from Charles O. Huber.” But if you search for “Wife Wants a Divorce” on the same date in the same paper using Chronicling America, you’re out of luck.
Why? Because someone (me) edited the text on CNDC but not on Chronicling America. I’ve captured a series of images to explain what I’m talking about.
This first image is my search and the results of that search on CDNC. I got a hit!
The next image is my search for the correct spelling on Chronicling America and the following image shows the results. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
But the next two images show my search and results for an alternate spelling. "Aviite avants a divorce." Ah, that pesky OCR! To my ear, it reads a little like Zsa Zsa Gabor ending yet another marriage… “A vife a vants a divorce.” And when Zsa Zsa asks, Chronicling America listens! I got a hit for the article.
The final two images show the text now as it now appears on CDNC after my correction, along with the image of the article. And following that is the text as Chronicling America read it.
Admittedly, I set this example up. But can you be certain that the words you’re searching for in a newspaper appear the same way on two sites? What if someone corrected the text to show how your ancestor’s name was spelled in the article but you didn’t check that site? Instead, you searched in the one with the sketchy OCR mistakes. Are you willing to take that chance? I’m not.
On Saturday 24 September 2016, I'll be presenting "A Nose for the News" at the Kelowna and District Society Harvest Your Family Tree Conference. (http://kdgsconference2016.blogspot.ca/) I hope to see you there!
I wrote a few weeks ago about “boutique” websites in genealogy (http://www.mkrgenealogy.com/searching-for-stories-blog/big-box-stores-versus-boutiques) Today I just discovered a new one for California researchers that I just have to share.
I am a current participant in ProGen, a study group “organized to encourage professional and aspiring genealogists.” (http://progenstudy.org/). Each month we have an assignment to write up and share with members in our groups. Our task for July is to create a Locality Guide for a geographic area where we are specializing or doing research. I am hoping to take a research trip next month to California and spend some time in Amador County. My Irish great-great grandfather, John Fields, settled there in the late 1850s and remained there until his death (at age 99!!!) in 1901. His daughter grew up there, married, and raised her family there as well.
Amador, one of the major gold-mining areas in the latter part of the 19th century, is a bit off the beaten track. It never was a particularly populous county, and genealogical archives and repositories are a bit sparse. I had to look under a few rocks to come up with sources for research. But I’m sure glad I turned over one rock! Under it, I discovered a gold mine, not only for Amador but for all of California. It’s the website of the California State Genealogical Alliance.
On the site is a map of California. Click on any county and you will be taken to a county research page with links to websites, indexes, digital copies of books and more, including photography collections. Topic areas include church records, death records, maps, newspapers, and land records, among others.
What I find particularly great are the links on each county to photographs. CSGA has put a link on each county resource page for photographs, but done all the heavy lifting of narrowing it to images for just that county. Websites included are Calisphere, a service of the University of California Libraries, the Library of Congress digital Photograph Collection, and the USGenWeb Archives links to Penny Postcards. I just have to think of a county, and the smorgasbord of images is laid out for me. I love it!
Don’t just look at the county pages, however. The statewide page has research aids in the form of articles. In the history category alone there are nearly three dozen links, and some of those are to websites with dozens more links.
One caveat – don’t assume that every list is complete. Under statewide resources for Church Records is a link to Roman Catholic parishes. I clicked on the list, and did not find many parishes I was looking for. So the website might provide you a quick link to something like a church website, but if that church is not listed, be willing to do your own search.
I was so excited about this website, I posted to a couple of California interest groups on Facebook and I received some feedback from "management." If you are interested in helping maintain this website and adding content, check the "About Us" section of their website for contact information and how to volunteer.
Check out the California State Genealogical Alliance. You’ll be glad you did!
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.