Follow Friday – 1940 U.S. Census-Looking for Grandmother Seaver

As I said yesterday, I am interrupting my series on making a research plan for Little Eddy (Edward Dwyer) in the Civil War to search the 1940 Census. recently made new states available, including Missouri.  Some of my great-grandparents have been eluding me and I have been impatiently waiting for Missouri to be searchable in hopes of finding them.  After spending much of the day looking for various relatives, I was glad to read a post by Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings about his search for his grandmother.

When the 1940 Census images were made available in early April, I easily found both sets of grandparents.  Of my great-grandparents, five died before the 1940 Census.   Of the three remaining, there were two great-grandmothers, Martha Gahr and Emily Cowan, and one great-grandfather, John A French (he had remarried when his children were young so I count his wife as a great-grandmother, too, even if not by blood).  I found Martha Gahr in April by browsing the images; she was in the county where she was supposed to be.  The others I could not find.

With the indexes, John A French and his wife Vernie were easy to find.  They were in Kansas City, Missouri, but not where I had thought.  All of their information was correct, including John’s birth in Indian Territory and his attending one year of college (at Drury, in Springfield).  Vernie had attended two years of college, which I did not know.  I’ll have to ask my mother about this.

Emily Cowan was not in the small town in Missouri that I had supposed when I first looked at the images.  My mother then told me that Emily had moved to Saint Louis to live with her younger son Claude (my mother’s uncle).  I could not find Claude without an index, but with the index he and his family came right up.  But Emily is not there!   As Randy did in his search for his grandmother, I tried all of my census tricks.  She is not to be found.  Perhaps she is one of the names mangled by the enumerator and/or indexer.  I expect FamilySearch to have the Missouri index available soon so hopefully I will be able to search there before long.

Otherwise, I guess Emily will be like Randy’s grandmother, “…one of the 3% that were missed in the 1940 U.S. census.”  Perhaps she was visiting a sister.  I will have to look and see if she turned up with any of them.  For the past several hours (Thursday evening) Ancestry searches have not been connecting very well — lots of spinning.  Maybe everyone was happy with the states that were added and has been searching like crazy.  I hope that tomorrow will be a better day! Problem Loading Page


Workday Wednesday – Ship it on the Frisco!

My great grandfather worked for the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, known as the Frisco, for 52 years, retiring when he reached his 70th birthday, which was the age limit.  This was the card that he proudly carried with him after his retirement.

John Alonzo French began his Frisco career as a messenger boy in the Springfield, Missouri, dispatcher’s office, earning $15 a month.  He studied telegraphy and in 1879 became operator and station helper in Lebanon, Missouri, which paid $30 a month.  He progressed through various positions until moving to Saint James, Missouri, in 1907, as agent.  Upon retirement in September 1928, his pension was $63.75, based on continuous service of 52 years, 1 month.

I found this information, and much more, in the Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, Library’s digital Frisco collection.  This includes post cards, employee records and many of the Employe Magazines from 1902 to 1935.  If you had relatives who worked for the Frisco, or if you are just interested in railroads, I highly recommend this site:

An article in the September 1926 issue of The Frisco Employes’ Magazine describes the lives and careers of John A. French, Knoal Kinney and George Burney, the Frisco’s three oldest telegraphers, who had worked for the Frisco for 137 years!  Besides important details about my great grandfather’s early years, career milestones are included.  Six months later an article about George Burney’s death ends with “The death of Mr. Burney breaks the trio of the three oldest telegraphers….The three learned telegraphy at the same time and had been life long friends.”

The article “Tenth Reunion of Vets At Pensacola” in the July 1933 magazine goes into great detail about a trip the Frisco Veterans’ Association took for their 10th reunion.  The 450 Frisco retirees and their wives were taken by train from points in Missouri; “the groups were consolidated at Memphis, and the fourteen-car special Pullman train left Memphis for Pensacola…”  In Pensacola, the veterans enjoyed speed boats, sightseeing, Casinos and “picture shows.”  The next morning a thirty-minute meeting of the Veterans’ Association was followed by an equally succinct meeting of the Old Timers’ Club (40 years employment or more), where my great grandfather was elected vice-president.   Afterwards, buses took them to the Casino on Santa Rosa Island, where just about everyone enjoyed the beach.  My great grandfather is on the left, below.  Doesn’t he look like he’s ready to enjoy the sun and the sand?!

Military Monday – Researching your Ancestors

Following up on last Monday’s post on The War of 1812, I want to expand a little on some of the things I learned in Peggy Clemens Lauritzen’s webinar The War of 1812 – America’s “Forgotten” War.  I also want to give you a list of some of my favorite sites for military information.  All of these sources are free, of course.

Peggy gave a great overview of the major battles of the war, and she pointed out many places to look for records.  She especially encouraged us to look at County Histories to find military lists and other local information about our ancestors. wiki was another source she highly recommended, U.S. Military Records.

Another research aid that Peggy uses is a great idea:  a spreadsheet of ancestors who served in the military.  She has all military events as columns, across the top (French & Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, etc). She lists ancestors/family members down the left side, as rows.  She fills in all the information she knows for each person, such as the name of the Battle, the Regiment, the pension file, and if the person died.  Here is a rough first draft for some of my ancestors (click on the spreadsheet to see it enlarged):

This is a great way to keep track of the data that you have collected, and to see any holes that you have, research that still needs to be done.  As you can see, I have also listed research I want to do.  For example, I know that David Stewart had a land warrant for 902 ½ acres recorded on 21 Oct 1783.  He served in the 1st Light Dragoons 1777-1778 and I need to find out if this warrant is a bounty for that service.

You can go through your list of family members and identify which ones were of an age to have served in which wars.  Or, if you’re not quite ready for that level of investigation, you can simply add a person to the list as you find information for them.  I am creating a spreadsheet for my direct line ancestors which shows their ages during each war.  It shows their age at the beginning and end of each war if they were over 10.  By color coding it, I can easily see who I need to investigate.

Here are some sites that I especially like:
Southern Campaign Revolutionary War Pension Statements
Jacob Martin, my 4th great grandfather, served from North Carolina and his pension application is found here.  The amount of information that it gives not only on his service and his residences but also on his siblings is invaluable.  Ideally, I would like to see the original, but for now, I can use this free source.

Civil War Diaries & Letters Transcription Project
Take some time to read these first-hand accounts of soldiers’ lives in the Civil War.  Wendell Dorn Wiltsie wrote three diaries which are in this collection.  His entries describing the battle injury and subsequent death of his brother, captain of the company, are heartbreaking in their simplicity.  The change in tone of his writing throughout the war, the dirt on the pages, his pride in voting for Abraham Lincoln, all of these entries transport us to another world. My own connection to Wendell makes these diaries that much more special:  Wendell’s mother, Rachel Dorn Wiltsie, was the second cousin of my 3rd great grandmother, Rachel Dorn French.

US Dept of Veterans’ Affairs Nationwide Gravesite Locator
Enter a name and find out where your ancestor is buried as well as information about his service.  See a map of the cemetery.  Spouses may be buried there as well.

National Park Service
Explore these links to find out great details about the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.  Be sure to click on “Stories,” “People” and “Places.”  For example in the Civil War under Stories, there is a section called “The Ordeal of the Border States.”  This includes information about the Springfield, Missouri, area, including the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, which was so important in the lives of my gg grandfather Jay Lansing French and his brother J Schuyler French [if you missed it, see Schuyler’s letter in the newspaper.]  Also be sure to take your time with the “Soldiers and Sailors Database” found in the Civil War section; it has 6.3 million records.

Don’t forget that War of 1812 records are free on until the end of the month.  Only about 3% of the pension files are online at this time, however.  Other publications include Letters Received By The Adjutant General, 1805-181; War of 1812 Prize Cases, Southern District Court, NY; and War of 1812 Service Records for Lake Erie and for Mississippi.

All of this should keep you busy for quite some time, and all within your recessionary budget!

1940 Census, and why I miss the Earlier Questions

Yesterday’s blog post addressed a question Geneamusings’ Randy Seaver asked in his blog  What is the Value of the 1940 U.S. Census?    I wrote about why it is valuable to me.    I am excited about the the 1940 census, but I can also understand feeling a little let down by the information it provides.

I was disappointed when I saw the categories of the 1940 census.  Sure, there are some good additions to the data collected, including residence five years earlier, income and education, and the return of the question about real estate.  One of the most valuable additions may be the notation of which household member answered the questions.  In studying data in a past census, I always wonder about who supplied that information.

The questions I wish had been continued are those concerning parents, marriage and children.  Having the parents’ birthplace is often a great clue as to whether this John Smith is “your” John Smith.  How long a couple has been married narrows your search for their marriage records.  The number of children born and the number still living is one of my favorite questions.  I have learned so much from this.  Unfortunately, it was only asked in 1900 and 1910.   I feel that I understand much more about a family’s lives when I know that they have lost many children – or that all of their 17 children are living!

One of my own marriage mysteries concerns my gg grandparents Louise Johnson and Jay Lansing French.  In the 1850 census, Luiza is living in the town of Neosho, Missouri, while her widowed mother and siblings are in a more rural area of Newton County.  She appears to be boarding, although no occupation is listed; two others living with the merchant and his family work for the county court.   Her uncle Robert Brock, who is Clerk of the County Court, is listed three households later.

I wonder why Luiza was living in town.  Luiza’s mother and siblings left for California in the spring of 1852, but she didn’t go with them.   I always thought that her mother would not have left her unless she was married, but there is no indication when the marriage took place.  No marriage records survive for this area; they were all destroyed during the Civil War.  We don’t have any family information handed down.  And, Luiza’s first child was born in 1856 so this offers no support for an early marriage.

The 1900 census might, however.  Here was a small detail that could easily be overlooked:  Maria L, 3 of 6 children living.   No one had ever mentioned this.  My mother knew nothing about it.   As far as we knew, Luiza and Lansing only had three children:  Martha, born 1856; John, born 1858; and Mary, born during the Civil War.  Adding three more children certainly makes stronger the probability of a marriage sometime after the 1850 census and before her mother and siblings left for California.

A cousin descended from one of the siblings who went west sent me a most precious document:  his great grandmother’s memoirs of the trip from Missouri to California, with a few details of her early life.  In it she had written:  “The eldest girl married a man by the name of Lancing French and remained in Missouri. He had been a farmer in Cherokee Nation.”

So the pieces fell into place.  Luiza and Lansing had married before the Spring of 1852.  Some or all of the three children discovered because of the 1900 census were probably born before Martha.  We may never know more about these children — but at least we know that they did live, if even for a very short time.  We can imagine Luiza and Lansing’s early married life in Newton County, Missouri, a little more clearly, and continue to look for clues.

Unfortunately, the 1940 Census won’t give me answers to these questions for most of the people that I am researching.  However, supplementary questions were asked of two people on each page and this did include some of the information from previous censuses.  Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to find someone on one of those special lines.  And hopefully, over time, I will find that the new information is just as valuable.

New York Divorce Laws, and a Black Sheep

Yesterday I attended the Legacy Webinar “Putting Flesh on the Bones” by Ron Arons, which could also have been called A Black Sheep in the Family.  In fact, Ron has a line of ‘Black Sheep of the Family’ products on his website.  His black sheep was convicted of bigamy in the late 1800s and went to Sing Sing Prison.  There was a question about divorces in New York during the Q&A session, and Ron said they were quite difficult to get until the 1960s.  I had found this out myself last week.

I was researching my French line in New York, including my 2nd great grand aunt Charlotte French.  She married Sylvester Wiley in 1861 and had three sons:  Harvey, Austin and William.  I was having difficulty finding Harvey in the 1910 federal and 1915 New York Census, but I was able to find his wife Mary living with their three sons, as well as a daughter from her previous marriage.  A search of New York newspapers on told me why:

I was not familiar with New York divorce laws and thought that it was interesting that the divorce would go into effect in three months.  I also noted the $5 per week that Mary would receive in alimony and child support.  The last sentence in the newspaper article, however, shocked me:  “…the defendant is forbidden to marry…”  In trying to find out how this could possibly be, I learned that in the state of New York an individual found guilty of adultery could not remarry as long as his/her spouse was alive unless permission of the court was obtained 3 years following the date of the final judgment.  This did not change until 1967!

That person could marry outside of the state of New York and the marriage would be recognized.  Perhaps Harvey never did.  I am still trying to find him in Census records after 1920 but notice of his death in March 1943 lists only his sons and stepdaughters.

From his death notice you would never guess that Harvey had been a black sheep in my family — and by today’s standards, I guess he wasn’t.  I’m glad I learned the interesting facts about New York divorce laws, and  through them I also learned a little more about Harvey.

A free search with a free image led me to a discovery that is priceless!

In my blog post last Friday I talked about following Thomas MacEntee’s advice to search for non-New Yorkers in the New York papers on (this was one tip from his “Finding Your New York Ancestors” Legacy webinar).  I was able to find an article about my granduncle living in Missouri, Horton I French.  So I decided to try another unusual name.

This time I searched for Schuyler French.  He was my great great grandfather’s brother, and they were born in the Schenectady area — so there was a New York connection.  And Schuyler is a somewhat unusual name, although less so in that part of New York.

All the entries seemed to be Schuyler at the end of a sentence and French at the beginning of the next one (Schuyler Street, I think, and then French governess, French dressmaker, etc etc).  But I was persistent.  There were only 66 results so that wasn’t bad.  And I found one blurb of Mrs. Schuyler French of Holla, Mo. (that’s Rolla, OCR can have some difficulty with those old newspapers) visiting her sister — that was in an article for Twenty Years Ago Today; those are always fun.

So, encouraged with this find, I plugged on.  And what I found made me blink several times: Schenectady NY Evening Star and Times, 1861, a letter written by Mr. Schuyler French.

This letter had been written by him in Rockford, Illinois, on 12 Aug 1861, after escaping from Springfield, Missouri.  [For all you history buffs, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was 10 Aug 1861.]  He described how difficult it was to get out and how his Uncle, Paymaster in the Confederate Army, was able to get him a pass from a Rebel General that allowed him to get through.   He told of leaving everything but their clothing behind and how he had just gotten “a nice lot of new furniture, and had everything as nice and comfortable as could be desired…”

Schuyler’s letter told of the devastation in Springfield and you could feel his contempt for the Rebels.  It was a remarkable look into a life in Missouri in the Civil War.

And then it got even better.

He described what had happened to his brother — my gg grandfather!  “My brother has suffered severely from the southern army.   They took possession of the store the first day they came into Springfield….”  The letter gives a detailed account of it all.

Growing up, I had heard this story, but I heard that both sides had looted the store.  You see, my gg grandfather, Lansing French, was married to a woman born in Virginia, and I’m pretty sure that she, at least, was partial to the Rebel side.  One more look into the divisions caused by the Civil War.  In fact, her mother, my 3g grandmother, would not lower the flag when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated — a story that was handed down in more than one line of the family so you can see how important that Virginian heritage was!

The letter does not tell where my gg grandfather was.  Was he in Rockford, Illinois, with his brother?  The family story is that my gg grandfather took his family to New York and stayed with his brother Alonzo over the winter.  We know that a daughter was born in New York.    At some point, Lansing joined his brother who had a shoe store in Rockford  (that’s the family story again).  But we also know that Lansing was a sutler* in the Second Arkansas Cavalry (organized in Springfield, Missouri) from Mar 1864 to Aug 1865; and was in the city elections of Springfield in Sep 1865.

So there are still more questions to be answered (aren’t there always?!).  But finding this letter was an unexpected gift.

And it was the result of a tip in a free webinar and a search at a free site with images of newspapers that are available free.   What does that say about genealogists?  So many people volunteer their time to further the cause.  And that makes Surviving the Recession that much easier — and that much more special.



*A sutler or victualer is a civilian merchant who sells provisions to an army  in the field, in camp or in quarters. The sutler sold wares from the back of a wagon or a temporary tent, allowing them to travel along with an army or to remote military outposts. (Wikipedia)

Old Fulton NY Post Cards by Tom Tryniski

This site is one of the best finds ever, and it’s free.  If you haven’t heard of Old Fulton New York Post Cards, you’ll be amazed.  It has post cards, of course, but it also has almost 20 million pages of New York newspapers, dating back to the early 1800s!

I have a lot of ancestors from the Albany and Schenectady areas; and let me tell you there is nothing better than reading about them in the newspapers!  Census records are fine for locating your families and finding out how many kids there were and their ages, and all that.  But reading about their lives in the newspapers is so much better!

The small town newspapers are great.  They have lots of tiny blurbs about people’s comings and goings, their visits to folks, their vacations, and even their illnesses.  The death notices and obituaries are invaluable; weddings can be a lot of fun as well as a tremendous source of information and clues!

But let me tell you about two of my finds, including probably the best one I’ve ever made:

As I said, I had looked though a lot of the newspapers on, had searched a lot of names, and had found a lot of articles.  But Thomas MacEntee’s Legacy Webinar on Finding Your New York Ancestors (a wonderful one, by the way, I highly recommend it) led me to another find.  Thomas has in his research toolbox and recommended it to the webinar attendees.  But then he added an invaluable tip:  Search for names of people who didn’t live in New York; lots of news is picked up in those newspapers.

Using this advice, the first person I searched for was my grandmother’s brother, Horton I. French.  I thought this was an unusual enough name that maybe something would come up.  Having the last name “French” is not an easy search.  I never knew there were so many French horns, so many French bulldogs, French governesses, French maids, teachers, professors, and on and on.

Anyway, I was thrilled to find that there was an entry for “Horton I French.” He was an Episcopal priest, and this was an item about the first marriage he performed, in a church in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, in 1935.  It was also the first marriage in this new church and the first marriage for both the bride and the groom.  A story from a small town in Missouri was picked up by several New York papers — and there it was for me!

So a huge thanks to Tom Tryniski and to Thomas MacEntee for making this find possible.  Just Google “Old Fulton NY Post Cards” and you’ll find lots of information on using the site.  The FAQs on are great, too.

Next time I’ll tell you about my best find ever!