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Missing Family Units & Search Stories

Write Your Own Search Stories! Let the next generation enjoy your heartfelt prose!

1930 Missing Family Group — Cletus Ward Strader

A cold February afternoon.  Icicles hanging long from the trees and spouting.  The white house across the street stark against a snow grey sky.   I know the world is moving out there beyond my office window.  I just don’t feel a part of it.  I’m cocooned among old photos with no names, documents with faded handwriting, and the oh-so-many mysteries of family genealogy.  Today I am bound and determined to solve one of those puzzles — where the heck is the census information for Cletus, Ina, and Mildred in 1930?  A cursory search on all three names on various genealogical sites came up empty.  It was time to put my sleuthing cap squarely on my head.

I have always lived in Pennsylvania; but, not so for Cletus (my grandfather), Ina (my grandmother), and Mildred Mozelle (my mother).  They were born, bred, and raised in Upshur County, West Virginia.  I’ve learned that when you are looking for a family group, go with what you know and allow room for error.  It is highly possible that for a ten year period, your missing family group might have moved to another state, and then moved back.  It can happen.

Try Logic First
Review what you know.  If you are a kinetic personality, you may like to set up a story bulletin board in your work area, or use 3×5 cards that you can move around on your desk when you are working on a particular family group.  Every person could represent the one key to success that you are looking for.  What you know about each of these individuals can help you to solve the mystery of the missing group.  In this case I only had three people to work with.  I considered what I knew:

1.  They all lived beyond 1930.  I knew my mother and grandmother, and was present when they passed in later years.  I also knew that Cletus died in West Virginia in 1944.  Therefore, all were alive in 1930.  Therefore, there should be a census record for them.

2.  My grandfather was a West Virginia coal miner.  I’d heard stories about his profession, and found that he worked in Century No. 2 mine according to his obituary.  In 1930 he was most likely in West Virginia.  A quick search for Century No. 2 mine, however, didn’t give me the location of the mine.  If I had to, I could go back to that and dig deeper.

3.  My mother was born in 1928, therefore I knew that the family group was most likely (notice I said, most likely) together in 1930.  Her birth certificate indicates Buckhannon, Upshur, West Virginia.  Given that they were all together in 1930 they may still be in Upshur County.  Unfortunately, the 1940 census records at the time of this search are not available.  I could, however, search business directories if necessary.

With these three facts in mind — my mother’s birthplace because the date was in close proximity to the census date, Cletus’ employment, and that they were all three living in the selected year — my focus should be on West Virginia first, Upshur County second, and possibly the Buckhannon district.  I then looked at the most unusual name of the three individuals.  Ina is an odd name, so is Cletus.  Mildred is common; but, throughout life she used her middle name as her first — Mozelle.  I’d already plugged in all four names in the search engines with no success.  I finally chose the head of household, Cletus Strader as my focus in reviewing the census records.

Perusing the 1930 Census

Using I went into the 1930 Census Collection and bypassed the individual search options as they previously didn’t hit.  Instead, I pulled up Upshur County and the districts associated with Buckhannon.  For two hours I searched line by line, checking every head of household entry.  I realized quickly why I couldn’t find my family unit — the handwriting was abysmal, the spelling was atrocious, and the condition of the document images was extremely faded.  No wonder I couldn’t find them in the general search!

As hour two slipped into hour three the sky outside my window blazed a birdie blue.  Sunlight now streamed across the white surface of the house across the street and the sound of melting snow and ice tapped its own beat on the sidewalk outside.  I was just about to take a break when, in Buckhannon District number 4, sheet 20 B, Upshur County, I found my family unit!  Whoopee!

Talk about a messy entry!  All three names were spelled incorrectly, and my mother was listed as Mazelle.  I shook my head.  Even the last name was spelled wrong, and the handwriting was so bad that in tracking back under individual records, I found the family unit listed as Anders — of course it wouldn’t come up in previous searches — the last name was totally different!  I’d been dealing with a faulty record to begin with and a transcription error on top of that.  I didn’t blame the transcription process — if I didn’t know what I was looking for, I would have probably made the same mistake.  Luckily, allows you to add transcription changes so that future folks can find the information easier.  On the other hand, I did mutter an explicative or two in regard to the enumerator’s handwriting and spelling abilities.  I wondered who that person knew back in 1930 in order to get the job in the first place.  Argh!

Collecting the Data

The best way to work with the census records is to use a blank form (you can get them for free at and copy the census information onto the form.  Yes, you can digitally copy or photocopy  the actual record (which I do) to your tree and put a hardcopy in your file without writing anything out; however, when you take the time to write each entry by hand you get to know the family unit better, see things that you might have ignored before, and have a legible copy as a bonus.  This process takes only a few minutes and allows quick eyeball review for information that can be used in later searches.  By the end of the day I’d added the information to all three individuals on my tree both on-line and in my hardcopy notebooks.

Search Story

By the end of the day, I was excited about what I’d found; but, when I tried to share the information with my family they were all just too busy.  Genealogy is a subject that you have to be enamored with to appreciate it.  Someone 2,000 miles away may congratulate you whole-heartedly on your success; but, the people you are doing it for, right under your nose, won’t put much import to it at the moment because their life cycle hasn’t brought them to the place where they are ready to quietly enjoy the mystery — and that’s okay.  As I cleared the table after that night’s supper I realized that whenever I showed my research to family members, all they saw were charts, data, old documents and perhaps some pictures.  There was nothing there to really bond them to the material.  All they saw were burgeoning notebooks filled with boring facts.  They needed a presentation, of sorts, to hold their focus.

I decided that I didn’t want to lose this moment of personal joy in solving just one piece of the puzzle that would be locked away in a musty notebook.  Instead, I wrote about it, and developed a new format for my genealogical books — pages that say:  Search Story, along with artwork and how I found the information.  It took a bit of ingenuity.  I worked with PhotoShop9 and Word2007 to create a background template that could be used for multiple stories, though I’ll change the theme per family generation to keep the book interesting.

To me, the journey is just as exciting as the mystery and I really wanted to share that with my family.  Someday, somewhere, someone will be delighted when they find these stories.  I probably won’t be around when their interest brings them here.

But, my stories will.

And that’s enough for me.


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8 thoughts on “Missing Family Units & Search Stories

  1. Kristi Lado on said:

    Thanks, Silver. 🙂

  2. Dee Wall 'tree on said:

    I think this is a wonderful idea! When sorting through my father’s things I found an envelope addressed to my grandmother from 1962 (before I was born). In that envelope was a series of articles sent by a friend. The friend had found them in her Chuch’s regional newsletter. The articles were written by my, already deceased, grandfather’s distant cousin. They were stories about my great-great-grandparent’s; their path from Pennsylvania through Canada, Wisconsin to Utah and back to Iowa in the 1850’s. I so loved coming across this bit of history; and in story form too! It included birthplaces, and the order of their children. It even explained where my grandfather’s name came from. He was the namesake of a man who befriended and aided the family during a time of hardship. So, you may not know who will benefit from a narrative -but some future seeker of family stories and tales may well be provided a great insight from your efforts now.

    Blessings, D. W.

    • Thank you for posting this, Dee! I can feel the excitement of reading that information! Marlene is so right — their lives — are just as important as the pedigree info! I’m absolutely delighted that you were afforded such wonderful information! Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Marlene Badger on said:

    What a wonderful story, and you are right someday someone will really appreciate what you wrote. I know I would. Not only do you want to write how difficult it was to find the information, but write about everything you find out about the family members to make them seem human instead of just another name with dates. I know with the generations further back, it is more difficult to write stories about them, but you can at least write how you felt about them and the information you found, or for example how hard you thought they worked at farming because of how much property they owned or the posessions they willed after their transitory life. Write about the reasons you think made them move from one place to another, whether it was because they were adventureous or because they needed to so they could improve their lives. Check the history of the location and time frame they lived in to figure out what they had to endure. All this makes your family history more interesting, and sometimes helps you find other avenues of research because you want to know more about them, like who they really were as a person, not just a name with dates.

    All the sites on the internet are wonderful for finding things when you don’t live in the area of your ancestors or have time to physically go researching, but every chance you get you should go to historical societies, archives, libraries, etc. to find the hard copies of newspapers, wills, deeds, marriage records, that you can’t get on the internet.

    I have found most of the information on the internet in family trees is a copy of another on-line tree, with very little documented on where the information came from, therefore only use these sites as a stepping stone for possibilities of names and dates, please verify what you find, and document it. Always start with you or your children and work back through your ancestors one at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

    This is a very time consuming endeavor, but as I see it, every moment researching and writing about what you find is worth it, not only to build your family tree, but to build you as a person from finding out why you are who you are, to learning things you never thought were important before.

    Enjoy, and Happy Hunting, you never know who you will meet next.

    • I agree of the danger of the copy and paste to get the dates — without the research there is so much room for error! By the way folks, Marlene is the one that got me into genealogy! Without her great tutoring I wouldn’t have half the information I’ve gathered!!! You rock, Marlene!

  4. Kristi Lado on said:


    *I* am delighted that you were able to piece together your family history. From an adoptee’s standpoint, I’m always delighted when somebody acknowledges the importance of genealogy. I born before the open adoption movement & managed to find my birth mother only because the lawyer let her name slip to my parents. Most people don’t know that we adoptees do not have access to our original birth certificates (we are issued an amended one with our adoptive parents names on it). You get a lot of “Why does it matter?” and I was always dumbfounded by that question. IT MATTERS. Believe me, you don’t miss it until you can’t have that connection.

    By the way: My birth mother’s family is from Davis, West Virginia. Not far from your relatives. My great grandfather was a coal miner. I have the greatest picture of him with the long white Hatfield/McCoy-looking beard. 😀

    Happy Trails,


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