St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Watching the Family Tree Bloom

Have you noticed the pollen counts lately?  Where I live, the trees and early spring flowers are blooming their little heads off and sending those of us with (and without) pollen allergies running for our boxes of kleenex. 

I so marvel at the wonder of spring as the trees awaken from their deep winter slumber and everything comes to life once more. Branches you thought were dead spring to life with new leaves,  just like my genealogy trees.

A cousin just popped up as a result of reading some of my earlier posts.  How fun is that?  It's always interesting to be able to share the information as you know it to be with other family members who are just beginning their search for their roots.  Of course, it is even more fun for me to be able to solve some mysteries of the past and verify what I think I know.

A good source to research is that of old obituaries.  They can be hard to locate, but sometimes, they can really send you into screaming fits of joy.

Take, for example, the obit of Austin McClain BRENDEL.  His May 1935 obit confirms the name of his wife and their two children.  The surprise of the obit came in two parts:  "...Mr. Brendel leaves.....and a daughter, Mrs Floyd TAYLOR of Akron, OH......."  and "He was buried in the Southside Cemetery beside his mother."

Really? Another daughter?  Does that mean an earlier marriage?

The obit led us on a goose chase for Mrs. Floyd TAYLOR.  We found evidence of her and, then we lost her.  The name was just too common and she appeared to have left the area.  That was several years ago. 

We've just found her daughter alive and well.  Or rather, she found us with the able assistance of her son.  This is so cool.  Emails are flying and more tidbits of information are coming in.  Now we have more leads to follow to try and nail down some of the past that we think we know.  Will we have moments of "aha" waiting for us?

We knew where Austin was buried as I have been to the site and my father's cousins had told me.  This had also been confirmed by the cemetery.  What we didn't know was that his mother, Henrietta Renton McCLAIN BRENDEL, was also buried there.  Surprise.  There are no headstones for either of them.

The newly found cousin was able to supply the name of the first wife, so now it's off to see what supporting documentation will show up on her family.  A local history book has identified the family names, so the search is on.  A local hysterical society :) in the area has confirmed they have information on her family and I am patiently waiting for them to identify what the information is. 

I have also been able to find when his first wife filed for divorce by finding it in a 1910 Pittsburgh newspaper.  Now I wait for my "sweet tea" buddy to make his monthly trek to the Allegheny County courthouse to find the hard evidence for me.

Old obituaries are really great.  They can provide the names of those grieving for the deceased.  Those names, in turn, can sometimes be traced to a living descendant.  If you are lucky enough to locate an old obituary, you can then start the hunt for a living, breathing kinsman who may be able to fill in some gaps.  Even the smallest tidbit can lead you to finding a pot of gold. 

You can also compare the names with some of the early censuses to see if you are following the correct family.  Censuses can be difficult as they are not always accurate.  The early ones were done by folks in the neighborhood who sometimes were known to make educated guesses.  Just remember, a census is secondary evidence when trying to find your roots.  If possible, go by the death, marriage, land, wills, probate, church, draft registration, SSDI or other records.  Look for patterns and a preponderance of evidence to support your theories.

If you've got roots in the Pittsburgh area, my merry little band of 47 volunteers is still busy digging them up out of old newspapers.  The list blooms each day and we strive to send a new upload to the web about once a month or so.  To date, we have almost 70,000 death entries, over 16,000 (so 32,000 names) marriage entries, and 1103 divorces.  The dates of the newspapers range from 1806-1997. 

You can check out the dates here:

And the names here:

We also have been hard at work on a military service personnel index for WWI.  This information is also coming from the old Pittsburgh newspapers.  We currently have almost 70,000 entires uploaded on this index and I have more waiting to go.  Check it out here:

Ahh, genealogy.  Sometimes, it's not the pollen that has you running for the kleenex, it's the new branches on the family tree.

©2011 AS Eldredge

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