The 52 Ancestor challenge is put on by Amy at No Story Too Small.
Welcome to one of my brick walls! This is my 4th great-grandfather (David>Gard>Gard>Glenn>Bobby>Dad). He is frustrating.
Now, most of my brick walls are women or the immigrant ancestor who left no trail of where they came from. Even then, the majority of my family has been in the United States since the 1600′s and 1700′s with my mom’s side having the most recent from the early 20th century.
THIS guy though… oy! Okay, let me explain a bit. First, the name Witherell was never common to me. I grew up as the ONLY one in my school (besides siblings and one random one that came in during my high school years who left me thoroughly confused because I could not figure out how we were related – this should have been a clue for how “unique” my last name really was). The only Witherell’s I knew were ALL related to me. There weren’t many in Saginaw. My great-grandfather had two other brothers. One died in his early 20′s with no children and the other moved southwest and I don’t know that side in the least. My grandpa was the only boy and my dad was the only boy. My aunt did have a son and she put her maiden name on his record so there is one Witherell cousin. But that was it!
So as I’m climbing backward I see that Gard Jr. had a brother who went off to Canada (currently trying to find more on him), so no more Witherell’s there. Then there is Gard Sr – one of five with only one other brother. I discussed that side a bit here. That family was surprising in all the children that were born, given my ancestor’s inclination to small families and they were the first ancestors who settled in Saginaw – with Gard Sr being the first of that line born in Michigan. So I finally got to a new state with Gard Sr.’s parents!
Which brings me them, and in particular to David, the father of that group that came to Michigan. David Witherell. Oy. That name is way too common for my taste (I really hope I don’t run into any Smith’s anytime soon!). And even worse? He disappears. No note, nothing! Just up and left! Well… there’s more to it than that but I have few actual records of him. Most are indirect along with some tiny clues.
I can’t confirm David’s birth but I know it was around 1815 and he was born in New York (1). The only record I have on who his parents are is from a county history book (stupidly did not write it down – this was before I kept better records. Or well, any records.) where it is in relation to his wife, Martha Wolcott (whose family seems much more prominent than David’s). It states that Martha married David, son of John and Judith (Bullard) Witherell. I won’t get into how common John Witherell is… you’ll get the idea just from this post!
Around 1844/45, he married an Anna Maria. I don’t know her maiden name as I can’t find the record for their marriage. My assumption of the date has to do with the birth of their son. I do know they were married, though. How do I know this? Well, first, know that he was one of the first ancestors I had started researching about ten years ago. Before I kept records, as I said. (I really could kick myself over that one.) How I know is a bit more of a hypothesis based on a few clues:
Anna Maria and David have a boy name John in 1846. In 1847, Anna Maria dies (2).
David then meets, woos, and marries Martha Wolcott in March 1849(3). I know for sure that Martha and David are my ancestors, so at least that is clear.
By the 1850 census, the two are living together with John in Shelby, Orleans County, New York (1). Martha is also from New York and I have a LOT more information on her than on David. I hadn’t expected that. David is listed as a carpenter and they live near many Wolcotts – one can assume they are related to Martha in some form or another. Her father is listed on the same page in fact (4). She came from a large family that were mostly farmers. Either way, there they are living with a four year old son. Assuming they had no children before they married in 1849, it would make sense that John is not Martha’s child.
Sadly, by the age of 5, John has died (5). Now here’s where I bring my connections in; be warned that they are weak and I need more research. So here’s my hypothesis. The citation there is for a findagrave.com grave. It states that John is the son of David WITHERAL (one of the MANY ways to spell that name by the way. Another headache) and Anna Maria. Looking at the other graves in the cemetery with Witheral as the surname, I find Anna Maria (6), which matches the death records I found for Orleans County (2). So, I am assuming from this that Anna Maria was married to David, had their son John, then passed away. John then followed a few years later and the David is the David that married Martha and is related to me. That explains why there is a four year old in a newly wed home. Weak and flimsy, right? It’s a work in progress.
From there, my records go to his children’s death records. Morbid, I know, but they are the only records I really have for his existence. One nice thing is how ALL of his children list David Witherell as their father and Martha Wolcott as his mother on the death certificate. I’m not sure who saw to that, but that takes some of the guesswork out when everything seems to agree. Frances, the oldest, was born in 1850 (7); then there is John (see how this name keeps popping up?) in 1852 (8); and Jane in 1853 (9). These three children were born in New York. So I know that the family left between 1853 and 1857 (which is a big enough time gap to make me wonder if there was another child in between there). Gard, my ancestor, was born in 1857 somewhere in Michigan (10). Maybe Flint, which is the family tradition but I have no idea. There weren’t birth records from around that time anyway and as far as I know, the Witherell’s weren’t big on religion as far as sticking to one denomination goes, so I wouldn’t know where to start on baptism records.
Then there’s Helen – my biggest clue. Her death record is for 1868 (11). She died from lung congestion at 8 years old! So I know David was most likely alive in 1860. On the death record it states that David Witherell is her father but that he is dead. So I know he died between 1860-1868. Martha isn’t listed as remarried on there but I know she is remarried by 1870.
Now I know what you are thinking – Civil War right? That was exactly my thought too! So I began to search for some records on Fold3 and low and behold, there were some widow’s pensions files for David Witherell. I excitedly ordered them without looking at other David Witherell’s. I mean… he has to be my ancestor, right? So I spent quite a bit of money and patiently (ha!) waited for the records to come.
It wasn’t him.
This David – also from Michigan, also born in New York – was married to a Sarah and was born about 20 years after my David. This impostor-David then moved on to a different state, where that pension was filed from. If I had only paid more attention…. I have a tendency to get caught up in the thrill of the moment when it comes to finding new records for ancestors.
This was my beginner’s mistake in ordering from the National Archives.
So… now what? Martha was remarried by the 1870 census and I know by 1868 that she was already in Saginaw City as that was where Helen died. I’m hoping for an obituary (I called the library to ask about it) but there weren’t a lot of obituary’s from that time, especially for an 8 year old, or so I was told. But I am checking. No stone un-turned and all that.
Then, while playing around on findagrave, I found something (12). Could this be MY David Witherell? Had he really fought in the Civil War and then died? Maybe he had returned to New York to join up there? Of course I couldn’t find a record for him on Fold3 but that doesn’t mean he didn’t die from the war or that his name is spelled so oddly I just haven’t found it yet. I called the cemetery to see what information could be found on the file for him. Sadly, all they had was his name and date of death. Not even what war or unit he fought in. I should have asked who bought the plot but I didn’t think of it.
Either way, here I am, at a dead end. My next step that I want to try is to go to New York and see what kind of records I can find there. I also plan on looking at the probates in both Saginaw and Flint to see if maybe, because he had minors especially, there would be an intestate or testate record. We shall see but I’m not sure how quickly Martha remarried and I believe that would have impacted any probate proceedings.
I am open to suggestions as always!
Many lessons were learned from this one ancestor: 1) don’t expect all brick walls to be women 2) don’t expect your last name to be as unique as you thought and 3) RECORD EVERYTHING!!! Otherwise, you’ll be sitting here like me, looking at your notes wondering where in the world that “fact” came from.
1) 1850 U.S. Census, Orleans County, New York, population schedule, Shelby, sheet 542 (penned), 271 B (stamped), dwelling 487, family 488, David Wihenil; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 April 2014), citing National Archives microfilm publication M432, roll 575, image 547.
2) Orleans County, New York, “Birth, marriage, and death returns from various towns, 1847-1849,” Anna Marie Witherell death, 1848; FHL Microfilm 1010198.
3) Orleans County, New York, “Birth, marriage, and death returns from various towns, 1847-1849,” Witherell-Wolcott, 1849; FHL Microfilm 1010198.
4) 1850 U.S. Census, Orleans County, New York, population schedule, Shelby, sheet 542 (penned), 271 B (stamped), dwelling 492, family 493, Thomas Wolcott; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 April 2014), citing National Archives microfilm publication M432, roll 575, image 547.
5) Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, database (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 April 2014), Record, John Witheral (1846-1851), Memorial No. 111398661, Records of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, West Shelby, New York; record copyright RobMinteer57.
6) Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, database (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 April 2014), Record, Anna Marie Witheral (1820-1847), Memorial No. 111397556, Records of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, West Shelby, New York; record copyright RobMinteer57.
7) “Michigan death records 1898-1920,” digital images, SeekingMichigan.com (http://www.seekingmichigan.org : accessed 15 April 2014), Frances Wardell, 1915, registered no. 593.
8) “Michigan death records 1898-1920,” digital images, SeekingMichigan.com (http://www.seekingmichigan.org : accessed 15 April 2014), John Witherell, 1915, registered no.439.
9) “Michigan death records 1898-1920,” digital images, SeekingMichigan.com (http://www.seekingmichigan.org : accessed 15 April 2014), Jane McWatters, 1902, registered no. 322.
10) “Michigan death records 1898-1920,” digital images, SeekingMichigan.com (http://www.seekingmichigan.org : accessed 15 April 2014), Chas Witherell, 1915, registered no. 528.
11) “Michigan, Deaths, 1867-1897,” index and images, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 15 April 2014), Helen Witherall, 21 Aug 1868; citing Saginaw, Saginaw County, Michigan, Department of Vital Records, Lansing. FHL microfilm 2363448 image 600-601
12) Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, database (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 April 2014), Record, David Witherall (?-1863), Memorial No. 2601057, Records of the Cypress Hill National Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York; record imported from US Veteran’s Affairs.