Saturday, January 15, 2011

Persistence Pays

While my mother's family has been fairly easy to track down, particularly those people in the past 150 years, my dad's family has been a challenge.

Part of what has made my mother's family fairly easy to trace is that we had so much to go on from the start. Plus we had names like Fink, Rood and Bogenrief to help us out.  My dad doesn't  know much about his family (or didn't before I started down this road), and on top of that we had fairly generic surnames like Richardson and Miller to work with. 

The first record I found (and it was easy) was the 1930 census of my grandparents, Anna Zora Miller and Floyd Richardson and their first son, my Uncle Floyd ("Junior").
Zora was only 16 when she married Floyd
 I was fascinated to see that my grandmother's mother had been born in Minnesota, where I live now.  Other than my brother, who has since moved back to Michigan, I hadn't known that any of my family had ever lived in Minnesota.

After finding out the names of Zora's parents, I found the 1910 census.
My great-grandparents William H. and Maude E Miller. Anna Z is my grandmother, age 1 yr 1 month.
As you can see, there are several neighbors named Miller, but it doesn't appear that they are siblings, as their fathers were born in different states (or countries!)  The census adds a level of certainty that my great-grandmother Maud was born in Minnesota.

I emailed my dad and asked if he knew Maud's maiden name.  He thought it might be Stillman.  The census showed Maud was 34 in 1910, so that meant she was born in 1875 or 1876.  I searched the 1880 census and found several Stillman families, but none that had a daughter the right age.  I looked for her on the 1900 census, when she would have still been living at home, and couldn't find her there, either.  I also couldn't find the Millers in the 1920 or 1930 census.  Very frustrating!

After searching his memory for a while, my dad was able to come up with the names of his mother's siblings, but had no idea what their birth order was.  Still, I could not find William and Maud Miller, so I started searching on the kids names.  Eventually, I hit pay dirt.

My grandmother's father was going by his middle name, Harry, which explains why I had trouble finding him.  Maude, it seems, is still 34 years old, ten years after the previous census, which explains why I couldn't find her with her original estimated birth year.

With this information, I had an easier time finding the 1930 census record.
Maud and Harry with their youngest children
At this point, I could see the age on the first census record had to be wrong.  In 1930, Maud is listed as 44 years old, and her youngest child is 3 years old.  The record says she married at age 18.  It makes far more sense that she was producing children from age 19-40 rather than 29-50.  I was fairly sure by then that Maud's birth year was 1885/86, not 1875/76.  This actually made searching for census records more problematic, because she was born after the 1880 census.  I was not able to find her on the 1885 Minnesota census, either. 

I decided to work forward, instead, and find the death records for Harry and Maud.  My dad thought Harry must have died when my father was young or before he was born, because his grandmother (Maud) came to live with them.  I could find no SS death index record and no California death index, either.  The California index begins in 1940, so my guess is that Harry died some time between 1930 and 1940.  That left finding Maud's death index record.  My dad wasn't sure when she died, but my mother remembered meeting her, so she had to have died some time after my parents graduated from high school.  I searched in two year increments and still came up with nothing.

Finally, my dad sent me an email saying he thought I was looking for her under the wrong last name.  Some years after his Grandpa Harry died,  Grandma Maud had married again, to a man named Earl Abbott.

This proved very interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, I found her death record immediately, but I also found her mother's maiden name.  Forder.  Next, because I can't let a shaking leaf just sit there unattended, I discovered I could follow Earl back through census records very easily.  And what I found was that he and Maude were both born in Minnesota, both migrated to Washington state at some point (he when he was just a few years old), and they even lived in the same county when they were both young and newly married to their first spouses.  When they married each other, they were both living in Northern California.

I emailed my dad.  It's weird how they lived in the same places their whole lives.  I wonder if their families knew each other in Minnesota and Washington? I mused.

My dad emailed back.  They were cousins!

This is the point where I sigh and think, Why didn't he just tell me that to start with?! But I've realized that it often takes presenting my parents with a detail before they remember something important, especially when those details are something they last heard or thought about 50 or 60 years ago.

Knowing they were cousins, and knowing Maud's mother's maiden name, I thought I might be able to find out who my g2grandmother (Maud's mother) was, and then work forward in time to find my great-grandmother in Minnesota. Through his death record index, I discovered Earl's mother's maiden name was also Forder, so I knew Earl and Maud's mothers were sisters.  From census records and other Ancestry family trees, I could see Earl's mother was Charlotte Forder and that she was born in Indiana, just as Maud said her mother had been.

Soon I found the entire Forder clan in Indiana, headed by William and Maria (Wells), immigrants from England.  Their ten children were born between 1838 and 1862.  The five oldest were boys: William, James, Albert, Robert, and Milton.  The five youngest were girls: Emily (or Emma), Mary, Charlotte, Susan Alice, and Anna, born between 1849 and 1862. One of those five girls was my great-great grandmother and all were within the appropriate age range to make any of them possible.  The only question was, which one was she?

Until the 1870 census, William and Maria Wells were in Indiana, but in 1880 they are living in Meeker County, MN.  Since I knew my great grandmother had been born in Minnesota around 1885, I could assume my great-great grandmother had moved to Minnesota with her parents.

I began looking for marriage records of the five sisters.

Emma, the oldest, was born in 1849.  In 1871, she married a widower with two children, Thomas Plews, in Indiana.  I couldn't find them on any census record after that.

Mary, born 1851, married William Hutchins in Minnesota in 1873 in Meeker, MN.  Mary and William had five boys and eventually migrated to Spokane, WA where they lived together until William died in 1921.  Mary could not be Maud's mother.  The Forder family must have moved some time after 1871, when Emma married Thomas Plews, but before Mary's 1873 marriage.

Charlotte, born 1855 married Francis Abbott in 1874 in Meeker, MN.  They had 8 boys and girls.  They migrated to Spokane, WA and then by 1910 had moved to Arizona.  Their son Earl married Rosealga Silsdorff in Washington in 1903, eventually migrating to northern California.  After Earl's wife died, he married Maud, his first cousin (my great grandmother).  Charlotte could not be Maud's mother.
Susan Alice was born in 1858 and married John Johnson in 1876 guessed it...Meeker County, MN.  They had four boys and migrated to Washington where they lived until at least 1930. Alice could not be Maud's mother.

The youngest Forder was Anna, born in 1862. In 1884, Anna gave birth to twin girls, Ellen ("Nellie") and May.  She was not married.  Eight years later, she married Winfield Clark, but soon divorced him.  In 1905 she was living in Minneapolis with her daughters in an apartment not more than 8 blocks from my first Minneapolis apartment.  She and her daughters continued living in Minneapolis for years.  Anna was not Maud's mother.

At this point, it looked like the only sister who could be Maud's mother was Emma, who had vanished. Since Maud's maiden name was supposedly Stillman, not Plews, Emma's husband must have died and then she remarried.  Based on the migratory and marriage habits of the rest of the Forder family, it looked like they had all moved to Minnesota a year or two after the 1870 census. Since I couldn't find Emma and Thomas Plews on any census, I decided to look for anyone named Plews in Minnesota.  I found no one on the 1880 census, but I did find an 1885 Minnesota state census record.

Could this be them?
Maud isn't on this record, but she was born in 1885 or 1886, so that doesn't eliminate this family.  The main thing I noticed was the name of the parents, which was Silliman.  It wasn't Stillman, but it's close.  Second, there is evidence that the wife has been married before, since there are two boys with the last name Plews.  Also, I notice that J.W. Silliman was born in New York, while M.E. Silliman was born in Indiana, birth places that Maud lists for her parents on every census record.  I was slightly thrown by the initial M for Emma, but the middle initial was E, so I was hopeful.

When I searched the Minnesota marriage index, I found them.  J.W. Silliman and Emma "Clews" (likely a typo) had married in McLeod County (the county south of Meeker) in 1878.  That fits within the gap between the Plews children and Frank Silliman.

I still hadn't found Maud.
 (To be continued...)

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