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Missing Family Units & Search Stories

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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 Ancestory.com 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, Ancestory.com 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 Ancestry.com) 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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In the Beginning…

Lottie's Reminder

“I’m bored,” said Marlene.

“Me too,” I replied, and then concentrated on my soup.  I hadn’t seen Marlene in…geeze…ten years?  Okay, I’d run into her around town, said a few words; but, I’d gone my way and she hers.  Once upon a time we were good friends.  Life, kids, spouses, work… got in the way.  And then, a week ago, she called me and said something about lunch.   So.  Here we were.  Eating lunch at the local diner.  Catching up.

It wasn’t so much that I was bored.  Exactly.  I felt…adrift.  A tad angry.  And old!  I was staring my 55th birthday in the face, three of my grown children had long left the nest, with the fourth one  (presently eating lunch with us) still hanging in there, trying to find his way in this gawd-awful economy.  When he graduated five years ago, I thought my husband and I were finally free to do the things we wanted to do.  I was euphoric that I no longer had to be so darned responsible every moment of my waking life.  In that same month, my father became ill, was hospitalized, somewhat recovered, and walked smack into Alzheimers.  Although its not right — my anger at my circumstances boiled — that my career had been derailed by the needs of others.

Again.

By the time Marlene called for that fateful lunch I was monitoring medication, cooking full meals, doing laundry, playing cabbie for doctor appointments — flap hand, yada — for my 84-year-old father who simply refused to do anything for himself.  We’d just gotten over a major fight because he insisted on pissing in a bucket instead of walking ten paces to the bathroom.  He didn’t see the sense in using the brand new toilet if the bucket was at hand.  I won the battle; but, carried emotional wounds and the near miss memory of a swinging cane.  Although my husband of thirty years was sympathetic, he’d long since retreated to the television on a daily basis as soon as he got home from work, nurturing his own frustration in the boob tube escape.  I felt like an unappreciated, old biddy servant who’d be better off dead.

Yeah, bored was a good catch-all word — and then some.

“I’m thinking of taking a genealogy course,” said Marlene.  “I’ve been doing it for years; but, I’m sure I could learn something new.  The local historical society is giving a class.  Its forty bucks — six weeks.”

“You know,” said my son.  “You two should do something together.  You really need to get out of the house more, Mom.”

Hmmm.  Ain’t that the truth.

“Why not go to class with me?” asked Marlene.  “I’ll even come and pick you up.”

“I don’t know…” I hesitated.

“I think its a great idea,” encouraged my son.  “You should do it!”

I could feel my right eyebrow raise.  Genealogy?  Okay, so I knew that meant looking into your family history.   I knew some things about my family, especially my father’s side — my mother’s side was a different story and I’d always been curious…

“Oh come on,” wheedled Marlene.  “We’ll have fun!”

Had I but known.

We waited about a month for the class to start, which gave me plenty of time to prep my husband and father.  Hubby was great about it — not so my father.  At the time, whenever my father knew I was going somewhere he would have “spells” — sometimes they were angry outbursts, sometimes he would just collapse on the floor (no, not writhe or black out — just plop down), and other times he would push my buttons with well placed words of complaint.  However, I remained firm.  I was going to that class if it killed me because my lifestyle was certainly murdering my brain now!  Oh, did I mention that my father is OCD?  Yeah — mix that with Altzheimers and see what sort of puppy you get.

The night of my first class came and my father decided he would take three hours to eat his dinner (he usually takes two — no kidding).  He played with his food as much as possible so I couldn’t clear the table before I left.  When Marlene came to the door he tried to brain the dog with his cane, screaming at me that some woman was on the porch.   I gave my husband a look of quiet thanks, grabbed my notebook and literally fled.

In the next six weeks my father calmed down about my leaving, resigned I guess, that there would be a time or two that I would be unavailable for a few hours.  Every week my husband would make a of point of helping me gather my genealogy gear and usher me out the door.  Marlene and I had a great time.  Suddenly, around week five, I noticed I wasn’t so angry with my life any more.  By week six I knew how to spell the word genealogy, bought the Family Tree computer program, and had 235 people in my tree.  I worked on my tree, at first, on the weekends and about once a week — building, documenting, and researching.

Throughout the genealogy course my husband asked me if I’d started his tree yet.  At the time I snorted, because although he was supportive, he had no real clue how much work it was.  He was just happy that I was becoming a human being again, and I think that he thought that if I finished my tree I would go back to the old me.  Understandable.

When our class ended, Marlene didn’t want to give up our weekly time together.  “Why not meet at my office (she owns several businesses),” she said.  “Let’s keep going!”  She asked a few others in the class if they would like to participate, and they agreed.  Marlene is an excellent researcher and I owe her a great deal.  Not only did she provide the means to pull me out of my mental muck, she gave me tons of good advice on just about everything on the subject of genealogy.

In the following weeks I bought a subscription to http://www.newspaperarchive.com , http://www.Genealogybank.com , and http://www.Ancestry.com .  I was really getting into this new genealogy thang.  In honor of Marlene, I bought the rights to my website — Gravediggersgenealogy.com (Marlene’s father among other things, was a grave digger, and his father before him).  I didn’t exactly know what I was going to build; but, I knew I wanted to build it.   Marlene took me on my first historical society archive trip, and I found a gold mine of information.  I was revved — there’s no doubt about it.

One weekend, my husband drove me all over the county on a Sunday afternoon looking for one particular old church so I could get photos of a few of my ancestors graves.  When we got back he said, “When are you going to work on my tree?”

Ohhhhh.  “Soon.”  Uh-huh.

Later that week my husband said, “I’m bored.  All I do is sit and watch television when I get home.  Everyone else is going places and doing things… and I’m not.”

I felt really bad.  “Give me some names,” I said, “and we’ll start your tree.”

Had he but known.

I’m delighted to say that we  began a whole new and exciting chapter in our marriage.  Genealogy gave us both something different to explore, time together, good conversations, and a common interest other than my father and our children.  Recently, we joined Find A Grave, and have started to take pictures for others across the country.  This blog is about our adventures, the mysteries we ran into (and continue to wrestle with), things we have learned, and hopefully…just cool stuff about genealogy.  Our website is still in its infancy and we hope that as we grow, it too, will grow in interesting material and content.  Don’t worry, we didn’t leave Marlene behind.  You’ll be reading about her, too.

Come join our crew — the GraveDigger Genealogy gang.  We’d love to have you travel the road of ancestral history with us.  The more the merrier!

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