Reader Question: Slaveholding Ancestors

This week’s genealogy question comes from Pam, who wants to know more about the following ancestor:

Patience Julia Mobley, b. 1856 in FL-d. 1907 in FL.

the daughter of

Zilpha Smith, b. 1810 in GA (I think)- death unknown and

John Riley Mobley, b. 1810 (I think) in GA-death unknown.

Pam further writes:

  • I have reason to believe that all of the Mobleys had indentures as well as slaves. In the 1850 census, there is a Charity Thompson living in the household who is in fact an indentured servant.
  • My question is how do you research indentures and slaves???
  • How do I KNOW that this John Riley Mobley is indeed descended from John Rickard Mobley?
  • Why aren’t there more records available to me regarding this family?
  • I don’t fully understand how indenturing works…Seven years and you’re free to leave? Seven years and you’re free to live as the head of household’s wife? Does your status change in some way? Does being an indentured wife involve the usual wifely duties in addition to something more?
  • I am trying to confirm or negate that these particular Mobley’s are descended from slaves (either or both of them)… Did these men ever marry their slaves?

 The Genealogist’s Answer

To answer all of your questions, I will divide my answer into three categories:

1) What web sites to search

  • I begin all of my online searches with Google–I Google the ancestor’s name alone if it is rare, or their name plus locations and dates, if it is more common.
  • Then I move on to genealogy sites (like FamilySearch and and any local sites hosted by historical associations or heraldic organizations near the area my ancestor lived.
  • I also Google state records, and consult Michael Hait’s eBook, Online State Resources for Genealogy.
  • Then I check for any federal records pertaining to an ancestor, by using the US National Archives’ search engine OPA

Once I have exhausted online records, I start doing offline research.

2) Next step: Offline Research

Online records will likely not give you enough evidence about the identity of your ancestors, so you will need to look for information about them offline, too.

For this phase of my searching, I do all of the following:

  • Visit the courthouse in the county where my ancestor lived, or
  • If their courthouse is too far away, I order microfilm copies of the courthouse’s record’s on FamilySearch
  • As I go, I make an inventory of what I have found, to make sure I haven’t missed anything

~ To learn what offline records FamilySearch has for your ancestor’s hometown, follow this tutorial:

~ To learn what other offline records exist for your ancestor’s hometown, look it up in the FamilySearch wiki:

~ Be sure to Google the name of your ancestor’s town with terms like “genealogy” and “records,” in order to locate additional helpful resources!

3) How to find out more about slave-holding ancestors, indentures, and intermarriage:

I can recommend the following excellent reads about slave-holding whites, their relationships with slaves, and what life was commonly like in slave-holding plantations:


White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh


The Hairstons, by Henry Weincek


Communities of Kinship by Carolyn Earle Billingsley

4) How do you KNOW who is really descended from whom, and why aren’t there more records about this family?

Pam, I’m not Accredited for African American or gulf states research, but the following genealogists are, so you might want to consider contacting them for a consultation:

In the meantime, here are my simple answers to this question:

You will know which historical data is most accurate and what other records are out there after you study these guides:


The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Genealogy


The Family Tree Problem Solver



 Elements of Genealogical Analysis

Thank you for your question, Pam–as you make progress, please send me your updated research logs and charts, and I’d be happy to explore them, as well, on our site for additional discussions about your fascinating case!

Until then, good luck and happy hunting! :)




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Infographic: How to Find Genealogy Evidence

Today I made this infographic to help my genealogy students understand the difference between genealogical information and evidence. I hope it helps other researchers out there who are learning how to analyze historical data, too! :)

How to Find Evidence

To save a copy of this to your research reference files, simply right-click on the image and then save it to your hard drive.

Good luck in your research, everybody–happy hunting! :)



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How to Find Microfilmed Genealogy Records

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, genealogy is currently ranked as the second most popular internet activity, so we know people are going online to seek out their ancestors.

However, after working as a volunteer for one of FamilySearch’s geography-specific Facebook communities, I discovered that very few of these Internet genealogy enthusiasts know how to find microfilmed versions of their ancestor’s offline records.

Alas, the largest private microfilmer of genealogical records––buries their microfilms in a hard-to-navigate catalog that takes ten steps to access, so it is an “insider secret” of sorts.

Today, I’m sharing the secret with everybody! :)

Here is how you can get started:

~ How to Find Microfilmed Records ~

The folks at have been traveling the world, making copies of birth, death, and marriage records everywhere since 1894. Most of these records are on microfilm–and you can rent copies of those microfilm no matter where you live!

Here’s how it works:
  • You look up the location of your ancestor on FamilySearch’s Family History Library Catalog.
  • Find the record type that interests you (land records, military records, or whatever)
  • Then you order a copy of the microfilm to be sent to the FamilySearch center nearest you (there’s one in almost every town in America).
  • You pay for shipping (currently $7.50 each)
  • When the film arrives, you can scroll through it until you find your ancestor’s military record, birth certificate, or whatever it is you are looking for, then you can make a photocopy or scan a copy to take home with you.
Below are some screen shots, to walk you through the process:

1) First: go to and click on “Search”

FamSearch site homepage

2) Next, click on “Catalog” at the top of the page:

Screen shot 2013-07-29 at 10.27.20 AM

3) Enter the country where you are searching, then wait while the site pulls up a list of cities. Then click on the city you are looking for:


4) Then, go to the “Search These Family History Centers” option and choose “Family History Library.” (This is where the worldwide collection of microfilms is catalogued)

FHL dropbox

5) After you click “Search,” you will be taken to a list of record types on film for that location:

Genealogy search results for Russia

6) Click on the arrow to the left of any record type, and it will drop down to reveal the name of each record collection:

Russian genealogy documents available

7) Click on the hyperlinked title of the record collection that interests you most. This will take you to a page of detailed information about the collection, including the microfilm number. Click on that microfilm number to order a copy to be sent to you:

russian film notes

8) Clicking on the film number will take you to an order screen, where you can pay $7.50 to have the film sent to you at the nearest FamilySearch Center (there is one in almost every town in America).

order russian film

9) Once the film arrives, the FamilySearch center will email you to let you know. You can then visit the center, scroll through the film, then copy or scan any documents with your ancestors’ names on them. You can’t take the film home with you, but you can take as many copies as you want! :)

Here’s a video that shows what you can expect in these centers and what the microfilm machines look like:

10) When your rental period expires, the FamilySearch center will send your film back to the Family History library, or you can pay extra to keep the film longer, if you need more time for research.

If, after reading this post, you still have questions about how to find ancestors offline, please feel free to ask me more in the “Comments” section, or you can send a long, detailed question in to the “Ask a Genealogist” site.

Good luck, and happy hunting! :)



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How to Identify an Ancestor of Uncertain Identity

Trent has a question about his West Virginia ancestor’s identity:

My ancestor, Ivy Inice Powell (1874-?) is the most elusive ancestor I’ve researched. I believe I found her on an 1874 Birth record for Marion County, West Virginia. The thing is the person is listed as Ivines Powell. I searched every similar name I could think of, I even used “Iv*” to see if anything would come up. I found no other person in West Virginia that matched her information as closey as Ivines did, the birtdate is only a month apart, and she was born in the right county. She was also married in the same county as Ivines’ parents.I have tried every name variation for both first and last, but I believe it is the same person based on the unusual name “Ivy Inice” it seems that “Ivines” is a mixture of the two. I only found her on a marriage record and the 1900-1910 census, and then she disappears. Do you think that, based on the similarities between the two people, that they are actually the same person?

This name has only been used 1 time for her, I have tried online searches and went to the library (Downtown Columbus has a huge Genealogy department) but nothing ever turned up. I tried looking for name similarities in the children but found none. I found her name listed as Alice on her daughters death record, but every other record has ver as Ivy or Inice. I cannot find a death record, I know she divorced her husband but I don’t believe she remarried, so she either kept Hillberry or went back to Powell. I used the West Virginia archives and history website for the records.

Trent also included two record copies:

The supposed birth record for Ivy Inice/Ivines:

And the marriage record between of “Ivy Inice” to Trent’s ancestor:

Trent, misspelled names and name variations are a hallmark of genealogy research!

Because of literacy rates, re-copying of records from original sources into indexes, and other human errors, it is very common to find several different names for one person. To locate more records for Ivy/Ivines/Ivy I. so that you can more clearly establish who she was and what name she went by most often, I recommend you take the following three steps:
  1. Make a chart of everything you already know about Ivy, from the records you’ve already found. I’ll provide an example below.
  2. Expand your research to include offline records and known associates, as shown below. Note that the records you sent to me are only index entries–the actual birth records and marriage certificate remain to be found!
  3. If all the entries in the chart (from online AND offline records) don’t clearly tell you who Ivy is, draft a proof argument in which you make that conclusion on your own. I will show you how, below.

Now I’m going to give you the breakdown for these three steps:

1) Make a chart.

Take all the records–even interviews with relatives about Ivy!–and plot their information on a spreadsheet. I have started one here, based on the two records you provided to me, to show you how this might look:

Sample chart for Ivy's records

Sample chart for Ivy’s records

2) Expand your research to include offline records.

If you’ve never worked in offline records before, You can learn how it is done in the following tutorial:

When I followed the steps in the offline research article, I found a lot of great records on film for Taylor County, West Virginia, where Ivy was married:

Records on microfilm for Taylor County, WV. You can rent these microfilms at any FamilySearch center; there is a center in almost every town in America!

Records on microfilm for Taylor County, WV. You can rent these microfilms at any FamilySearch center; there is a center in almost every town in America:

In the image above, note how there are 13 different vital records collections (posted at the bottom of the page)? Well, when I click on the arrow next to “vital records,” I’m shown a list of collections that will definitely be of interest to you:

Taylor County marriages

FamilySearch microfilms of birth and marriage records from the year Ivy was married! Also death records that might list her husband (depending on where he died . . . ) To learn how to access these films, visit this link.

Be sure to look in these records for Ivy, her husband, her siblings, and any known associates, as their records will tell you a lot as well! Enter their information into your chart whenever it pertains to Ivy’s identity, or provides you with the smallest clues to her whereabouts at any given time

3) If the online AND offline records don’t clearly tell you Ivy’s name, whereabouts, and parentage, you can prove her identity and parentage yourself, by drafting a proof summary.

You can also read a sample proof summary here, and a how-to article here.

One example of a proof argument–that you will definitely want to study for ideas!–is available in this summer’s edition of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Here are the article’s details:

Laurel T. Baty, “Parentage of Martha Smith of Alabama and Mississippi: Overcoming Inconsistent, Incorrect, and Mission Records,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly101 (June 2013): 85-102.

Trent, once you are able to prove Ivy’s identity–whether via the records or your proof summary–you will have a story worth publishing in periodicals like the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, so be sure to keep a detailed set of research notes as you go! :)

Good luck, and please keep me posted as you progress through these three steps!



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How to Find an Ancestor’s Missing Parents

Blog reader Mary J. can’t find her ancestor’s parents. Sometimes, when the records don’t tell you who an ancestor’s parents are, you have to prove it yourself. My blog post today will show how this is done.

Here is Mary’s question:

My 2nd great grandmother might have been named Mary Smith, born abt 1818 and died aft 1885, all in Adams Co. Ohio I believe.  I found  marriage information for her and Job Washington Denning (1817-1904) for the year 1846, I think they married in West Union township Adams Co. Ohio.  There are several children documented being born to Job and Mary after the year 1846.
The problem is that my great grandmother Mary Jane Denning Blakemore was born in the year 1844.

My mother told me that her  grandmother ( my great-grandmother) Mary Jane Denning Blakemore 1844-1925 had two older sisters named Harriet G. Denning Vance 1841-1924 and another sister I have not been able to find any information, her name was Julia Denning. They were all born in Adams Co. I believe.

Harriet's headstone. You can find the image at her husband's entry at this link.

Harriet’s headstone. You can find the image at her husband’s entry at this link.

I found information through Ancestry for Harriet Denning Vance.  One source claimed that Harriet’s mother was named Mary Grimes. I proceeded to look for Grimes families in Adams co. and did find several but really nothing specific for a Mary Grimes .

In the 1840 census for Tiffin township Adams co. Ohio I found Washington Denning ( the first name Job was omitted) listed  with two other individuals both in the 20-30 age column, one was male and the other female. Of course I am thinking the female was his wife…Mary Grimes?  But no way of finding anything else in this census decade…of course.

I also have not been able to find Job Washington Denning listed in the 1850 or 1860′s census on Ancestry I think due to  spelling errors in each census.

I am guessing that I would need to search church records for Tiffin town ship and surrounding areas for marriage and birth records.

I also  found information for my great-grandmother Mary Jane Denning that her mother was named Mary Smith….

What I ultimately would like to know my Maternal lineage going past my great grandmother Mary Jane Denning Blakemore.

Mary, what you are experiencing here is a common circumstance in genealogy: lots of “maybe” matches, but no records that point, 100%, to your ancestor’s parents.

When this happens, you should:

1) Sort out the different Marys and their records in a spreadsheet.

Using Excel, I made a sample sheet based on the limited information I received in your question to me:

Take all the information you have collected, put it into a chart, then you can begin to discover if Mary's mother will be found via records, or via a case of circumstantial evidence.

Take all the information you have collected, put it into a chart, then you can begin to discover if Mary’s mother will be found via records, or via a case of circumstantial evidence.

As you can see, this spreadsheet has some holes in it. For example, you mention that “One source claimed that Harriet’s mother was named Mary Grimes.” But what source was it? This needs to be listed in the spreadsheet, so that we can weigh the information presented by different sources. Also, you never said where you got Mary Jane Denning’s birthdate (so that part is blank on the spreadsheet)

2) Expand your search to include offline records.

The records available on the internet are often riddled with scanning or indexing errors, so you will learn much more about your ancestors if you look for them in offline records. Be sure to read this article:

Here are some offline records available for Adams County, Ohio:
These are all the different records that you can rent on microfilm at any FamilySearch center in the world (there is a center in almost every American town).

These are all the different records that you can rent on microfilm at any FamilySearch center in the world (there is a center in almost every American town). You can view this list online at this link.

Within that list, I would start with “Vital Records,” first:

There are twelve different vital records collections available for Adams County, Ohio.

There are twelve different vital records collections available for Adams County, Ohio.

You will also want to look at the records for Tiffin Township, which aren’t as extensive as the county records, but worth checking out nonetheless:

These are the microfilm collections of Tiffin Township's records.

These are the microfilm collections of Tiffin Township’s records. You can view them online at this link.

A closer look at the collections on microfilm for Tiffin Township.

A closer look at the collections on microfilm for Tiffin Township.

You can also find more of Adams County’s offline records at the FamilySearch wiki page for Adams County, Ohio; it lists lots of other places you can find their records online, too. And don’t forget to use Google for genealogy–quickly Googling a couple of your ancestors’ names, I found great stuff like this Rootsweb entry.

3) Write a proof argument.

If–after extensive research in offline records–the records don’t come right out and tell you who Mary Jane Dennings’ parents are, you will have to prove who they are yourself.

To prove an ancestor’s identity without the help of direct evidence from historical records, you write a “Proof Summary” based on the circumstantial evidence (or “indirect evidence” some people call it) that the records seem to imply. To learn how this is done, I recommend that you buy a copy of The Legal Genealogist’s Legacy Webinar, entitled “Building a Family from Circumstantial Evidence.”

If the records never tell you directly, this webinar will teach you how to prove who Mary's parents were, based on circumstantial evidence.

If the records never tell you directly, this webinar will teach you how to prove who Mary’s parents were, based on circumstantial evidence.

You can also read a sample proof summary here, and a how-to article here.

If you still feel lost or uncertain after completing steps #1 and #2 in this post, please send me your evidence log (excel sheet) and I would be happy to look over it and help you decide how to proceed. Personally, I think proof summaries are tons of fun–they really bring out the inner detective/lawyer in all of us! :)



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Good luck!

Looking for Irish and Italian Ancestors in New York

Jim M. needs help finding his Irish and Italian ancestors in New York. He writes:

My Great Grandfather, Gustave McCune, was born in NYC in 1848 to Patrick McCune and Mary Marchioni. There is no info that I can find on Patrick. Mary shows up in 1860 Census in NYC under her maiden name with a 12 year old son Gustave. In the 1870 Census Gustave is alone living in New Orleans. In 1871 Gustave marries Sue Burdge of New Orleans. There is a marriage record which names Gustave’s parents as Patrick McCune and Mary Marchioni which is where I got their names. I’ve been to several churches in NYC but no one seemed to have and info for me or the time to search for info. I’d like to know where they came from in Ireland and Italy and as much as possible about them.

Here’s my advice for Jim–please post YOUR advice for him in the “Comments” section at the end of this post!


  • You mention census records and visiting churches; have you tried ordering any microfilms of New York’s other records? There are thousands of different records for 1800′s NYC available on microfilm (including many of NY’s oldest church records!) that you can rent anywhere in the world via FamilySearch. Have you tried renting any of their films? I’ll include a brief tutorial to finding those films at the end of this post.
  • Also, make sure you are looking up other online records repositories, such as the New York Public Library’s genealogy page and similar sites for New Orleans.
  • As you continue searching the microfilms and web sites, be sure to follow what I call the “Basics-to-Biography” research path that I use in my own research, meaning: first, locate the most basic information via vital records and census records (“born, married, died, buried!”); second, fill in the biographical blanks with other records such as directories, newspapers (obituaries, immigrant lists, etc), land records, immigration records, court records, tax records, etc.
  • You didn’t mention Gustave’s siblings, but assuming that he had siblings, be sure to follow the “Basics to Biography” strategy for each of them, too. I often find a lot of missing family data in siblings’ records, especially obituaries or biographies!

Jim, please give these tricks a try, keep a detailed log in Excel (like the one I suggested here), then bring it back to me if you still haven’t had any luck, and we will see what the next step might be.

How to Order Microfilmed Historical Records:

  1. Go to and click on “Search” at the top of the page:FamSearch site homepage
  2. Next, select the “Catalog” option, to search the catalog of microfilms: Screen shot 2013-07-29 at 10.27.20 AM
  3. In the catalog search pane, look up the geographical area (city or county) whose films you want to find: NY dropbox
  4. All microfilms are housed at the Family History Library, so go to the “Search These Family History Centers” and select “Family History Library.” Search FHL
  5. The results will be a list of the different records for New York that have been filmed by FamilySearch, which you can rent for free at any FamilySearch center (you have to pay for shipping and processing) NY records at FamilySearch
  6. By clicking on the arrow near “Church Records,” for example, you will find that there are inventories of NYC Catholic records on film (inventories of what records are in NYC, not the actual records themselves). Since your ancestors were likely Irish Catholic and Roman Catholic, this is a good place to look: Inventory to Catholic records in NY
  7. There are also 193 different actual church record collections on film for NYC, too: 193 church films
  8. Click on the title of the collection that interests you, and it takes you to a screen with detailed information about the microfilm. Depending on where in Ireland your ancestors are from, the Irish Protestant Church records of NYC might be of interest to you, too:Irish Protestant Church Records
  9. If this is the film you want to order, click on the film number: film number
  10. Then you will be taken to an order screen, where you can pay to have the film shipped to the nearest FamilySearch center near you. These centers are located in libraries and Mormon churches worldwide, so there is pretty much one in every mid-size town in America: online film ordering

I look forward to hearing back from you, Jim, with your continued progress in this case.

I’ll leave the “comments” section open for my readers to chime in with their favorite NYC research tips and strategies, too.

Good luck, and happy hunting! :)


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Lost Ancestors: Seeking Almina Bailey’s Parents

A reader named Trudy sent in the following research question:

How do I solve this brick wall?I am looking for the parents of:

Almina Bailey Reed, B. June 28, 1831 (poss. NY), D. July 18, 1851 Richland County, Wisconsin

George W. Reed (1825-1912)

George W. Reed (1825-1912)

Bur. Sextonville Cemetery, Richland County, Wisconsin (Almina was the first person buried in Sextonville)

M. George W. Reed, ABT. 1850 possibly in Wisconsin

George and Almina had a daughter born June 10, 1851, name, Eleanor B. Reed

George was born July 7, 1825 in Port Leyden, New York, he died Dec. 3, 1912 in Richland County, Wisconsin

Wisconsin was in its infancy during this time period.  No recorded marriage record.  No newspapers for an obituary.  The cemetery records do not list her parents.

Trudy, when I hit a brick wall like this in my own research, I always ask myself four questions:

  1. Have I searched ALL the available records?

  2. What do siblings’ records say?

  3. Have I carefully parsed ALL the information in those records?

  4. What patterns emerge in visual charts and timelines? Do I see any holes there?

Before I can help you push past your own stalled research, I first need you to answer questions #1 and #2 for me. Here is how:

FIRST: Make a checklist of records you’ve already searched and/or collected from Almina’s life. If certain records types are not extant for her locality, be sure to note this and why. I use an excel spreadsheet to do this, but you can find simplified version on various genealogy web sites, such as this one, available at the Midwest Genealogy Center web site:


Use a checklist like this to keep track of which records exist for your chosen ancestor, where they are, which you have already searched, and which you have yet to search

SECOND: Apply this same checklist (above) to Almina’s siblings, carefully charting any clues regarding their parentage in a detailed research log. Below is a sample research log that I’ve made for one ancestor. Note how you can glance at the “Record” section and easily assess which records I’ve already searched, and which I have yet to search. You can make one chart like this for each sibling, or combine them if the records are scarce:

This is an example of one of my research logs; I couldn’t fit the entire thing in this blog post, but it also includes many records types that I searched without success. It is important to keep track of records where the ancestor was *not* found, because an ancestor’s absence says a lot (either about their life, or your research methods).

This is an example of one of my research logs; I couldn’t fit the entire thing in this blog post, but it also includes many records types that I searched without success. It is important to keep track of records where the ancestor was *not* found, because an ancestor’s absence says a lot (either about their life, or your research methods).

I made this research log in Excel, but you can make them in Word with tables (I prefer Excel because it lets me sort the records by date, name, etc.) If you will compile a detailed research log for this ancestor and send it to me, I’ll be better able to help you identify where else you might be able to search.

Thank you for your question, Trudy–I can’t wait to see what your charts and checklist say, so that we can decide on your next move! :)


Looking for: Stephens/Cash Ancestors of Virginia

Map of Virginia's Counties, from

Map of Virginia’s Counties, from

~ The Inquiry ~

In a message from “Lynn,” we received the following inquiry about two historical Virginia families:

 Looking for the parents of William F Stephens and/or his wife, Elizabeth Frances Cash.

  • According to a family Bible, William was born in Virginia 15 November 1822.
  • The same Bible indicates Elizabeth being born in Virginia 1 April 1832.
  • They married in Shenandoah County 15 April 1851 according to the family Bible
  • But the database, Virginia Marriages 1851-1929, on has the date as 27 June 1851.

Census data -

  • 1860 and 1870 census, they are found in District 1, Allegany County, Maryland
  • In 1880 they are located in Oakland, Garrett, Maryland.

Their children are as follows

  1. David Alexander Stephens(1853 Virginia-1941Maryland)
  2. Mary Ann Stephens Kisner (1856 Virginia – 1935 Maryland)
  3. Ellen Frances Stephens Kisner (1860 Maryland – ?)
  4. Margaret Stephens (1863Maryland-1907Maryland)
  5. William McKee Stephens (1867Maryland – ?)
  6. John Wesley Stephens (1871Maryland – 1954 Virginia)
  7. Isaac Lorentz Stephens (1875Maryland – ?)
  8. Carrie Elizabeth Stephens (1880 Maryland – 1889 Maryland).

Other Information:

  • William’s death occurred  2 August 1895 in Oaklnd, Garrett, Maryland as a result of drowning after having gone missing for a week or so.
  • Elizabeth is then located in the 1900 census in Ward 10, Baltimore City, Maryland living with her son, John and a grandson Charles Stephens (son of Ellen).
  • In 1910, Elizabeth is enumerated with her son, John’s family in Staunton, Virginia, Ward 1.  I have not found her in later censuses so I assume she died between 1910 and 1920. It is unknown as to whether she was living in Virginia with her son, John, or if she was just visiting.

I believe that I found Elizabeth Cash in the 1850 census enumerated with the family of Christian Comer living in District 58, Shenandoah County, Virginia.  On ancestry, she is indexed as Cark instead of Cash.  I have also found other Cash/Cark/Carsh children/young adults in the county in 1850, Mary, Margaret, and Isaac.  I have wondered if they are siblings whose parents died and were living in other households.  Isaac is with a Henry who is of the age that he could be a grandfather.

There are too many William Stephens/Stevens in Virginia in 1850 to narrow down any one person as being the correct one.

~ My Response ~

Looking at this inquiry, I see a lot of reliance on records that are available online. Whenever someone hits the proverbial “brick wall” in their research, the first thing I ask is, “Have you looked offline, too?”

To find out what records offline might tell Lynn more about William and Elizabeth’s parentage, I recommend that she:

  1. Identify offline records for both the state of Virginia and the counties where Elizabeth/William may have lived and left a paper trail. There are *so* many different records out there that are not yet online, but which can answer this question! You can identify these records at the Virginia research guide from FamilySearch. The FamilySearch guide tells you not only where and how to find Virginia’s online and offline historical records, but you can also click on the counties you want to research, and those county names take you to a county-specific page with more record locations
  2. Check the Redbook for any other Virginia records you may have missed. Click here for their Virginia chapter.
  3. Keep an inventory of sources you have searched for records that might list parents. Once you have searched ALL the available record types, if you still haven’t found her parents mentioned in a record, we can go back to the drawing board. But for now, the best way to inventory your sources searched is with a records checklist, like the one, below, from the Midwest Genealogy Center:MGC-researchchecklistimage
  4. Apply the above checklist in a search for all of Elizabeth and William’s siblings. In my experience, the best way to find missing parents is by pulling all of a sibling’s records. %95 of the time I find one or both parents listed in the records of a sibling!

After doing this, if you still haven’t found Elizabeth or William’s parents, please contact me via our contact page and we can try adding other strategies, depending on what you find. Actually, I’d like to hear from you even if you find them–then maybe I can add your results to a new “success stories” thread.

Good luck–I can’t wait to hear how it goes! :)


I Need Your Genealogy Questions!

Welcome to my new blog, Ask A Genealogist! As a Family History Professor, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with all the different research problems posed to me by my students; I find answering them to be both a fulfilling and professionally educational experience.

And so, I am starting this web page with the objective of helping as many researchers as I can, from beginners on up.

So if you have any research questions, please send them to me at, or tweet them to me at!/AskaGen or via the #askagen hashtag.

I can’t wait to get to know you all, and your ancestors, too!


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