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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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