Friday, January 16, 2009

One Reason Why Finding Family Records is So Difficult

This is a copy of my husband's grandfather's death certificate. We found it online at the West Virginia History and Culture site; older records are slowly becoming available online, a huge help to those of us who can't go to the sources ourselves.

If it had not been for this one piece of digital paper, we would probably be no wiser than we were 2 years ago when we started looking for Larry's family records. This paper, while filled with inaccuracies, was the key to unlocking the rest of the story.

If you can read the document, you'll see that John Holstein (my husband's grandfather) died on April 1, 1940. The person filling out the certificate spelled the last name wrong at first but corrected it. However, John Holstein's father's name is given as Kelby or maybe Kelley Holstein, and his mother as Louis Pain. Louis, for a woman?

After many more hours of searching, we discovered that a lady we did not know, but apparently a distant relation, had been searching for Larry's ancestors too, several years earlier. She had posted some of her work online at Rootsweb. And there we discovered that Kelby was a bad mispelling of Caleb! This lady had it as Calbe and had not been able to find the information she wanted either. However, as we began to search for Calbe Holstein and Louis Pain (using as many variant spellings as I could think of!), I found at last the right names: Caleb and Louise Paine Holstein.

From there I was able to find Census records, and through the online genealogy site, to link the family back to the earliest Holsteins who settled in Kanawha County on Bull Creek. And that family links back to the Holston River Valley, and from there to Philadelphia and further back to Sweden.

But oh, the problems caused by bad spelling. I pity the person who might be looking for Larry's Uncle Ot. If you look at that death certificate, you'll see he's listed as "Auto"!

Have you run into similar problems searching for your family tree? I am glad we got this much done and it certainly changed Larry's ideas about who his people were--he assumed they were part of the wave of immigrants brought in to mine coal in the mid to late 1800's. He also thought they were German, and Confederates during the Civil War.

It was quite a shock to learn they were very early settlers (and possibly among the first settlers in Kanawha County) in West Virginia, had owned land and been farmers, that they were of Swiss and not German descent, and that many of them fought on the Union side of the war. I don't think he's fully reconciled to that yet!


Janet, said...

Susanne, I used to be into genealogy big time. I subscribed to for a few years, but finally quit, because it was so expensive and I wasn't using it that much any more. Oh, the misspellings and wrong info you come into! What is most helpful is when you find other genealogists researching the same family. There was a group of us McMillion genealogists that found each other that descended from the original brothers that were born in the late 1700s. Every now and then we would have a 'eureka' moment and discover something. It was wonderful! In one of the old records my Grgrandpa was listed as Lige. His name was Elijah.I had never been able to find my grgrandpa Homer's death date until I sent for his civil war pension records and it had his death date listed on the last page. It was one of those 'eureka' moments. It is so addicting until you get to that brick wall and can't find out any more info. Good Luck!

Matthew Burns said...

I have some various notes on the Holsteins from the names you sent me a few weeks ago. Will have to email them to you. Not sure if they are the smae folks that you seek, but perhaps. If you need any census records, I can get them for you, I have access from home.

Also, while I can't comfort Larry now that he found out his people fought for those thievin' yankee's, a consolation prize is that most immigrants from Switzerland during the early immigration were German speakers!lol. You know me and my German obsession.

I have some Swiss ancestorsd as well. The earliest Swiss immigrant being Nils Frande, whose son Israel Friend was arguably the first settler in what is now WV. He lived within the current state's borders for 25 years before the Morgan family ever set foot on this ground. His farm was on both sides of the Potomac River and he owned what became Antietam Battlefield. His home was on the WV side (then VA), but his farmland was on the MD side of the river, so he got overlooked by history as the earliest WV settler. He was a close friend of a young George Washington.

I love tracing the paths of my incestors. It is neat to see how and why they ended up in Pendleton County. Perhaps a blog post is needed on the Friend Family's migration to Pendleton.

Granny Sue said...

OOPS! My bad, Matthew. I meant of SWEDISH descent, not Swiss!

Matthew Burns said...

Oh, that would make it a different country! lol. Makes me wonder if I misspoke too. Now to double check my Friend family


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