Perils of ‘Point and click’ genealogy

Are you my grandmother’s parents?

Hint found, online family tree database: George H. Maurer, age 61, born in New York and wife, Anna, age 55, born in New York living in Manhattan, New York, 1920.[1]  Must be my great-grandparents!  My momma told me that her grandparents were Herman and Anna Maurer and that they lived in New York City. Minor detail that husband recorded as “George H.”  His middle name could be Herman! Given name and name person is known within family aren’t always the same!  Another minor detail: George’s parents are recorded as born in New York. According to mom, Herman’s parents were German immigrants to the United States.

George_Anna_branch or tree

This is one example of my experience with genealogy point and click syndrome, a.k.a, ‘shaky leaf syndrome’.  A shaky leaf appears on the online family tree. I read the record in a cursory manner then, ‘point and click’ to attach the record to a person. Or, I saw the record on another person’s online tree. The record fits some information about the person or family, so it must be OK.

The problem?  This George H. and Anna Maurer are not my direct ancestors! How did I find out? Only after I carefully reviewed paper and digital records. The review, prompted by Genealogy Do-Over, presented several clues. Specifically, Herman’s parents were born in Germany. Second, Anna Klee Maurer, died in 1918! Where did I go wrong? How can I prevent this from happening? “It’s simple,” you say. “Question everything!”

Read more about Ancestry hints on Amy Johnson Crow’s  blog :  “The truth about Ancestry’s Hints”. Posted 4 January 2017. 

Not really so simple. Novice genealogists, in particular, can easily catch this syndrome. If not careful, even experienced genealogists occasionally follow a wrong lead based on one or two facts.  Names, dates, locations are close and look right. I am blessed that Great-Aunt Viola wrote a brief family genealogy.[2] I have often referred to that document in the past several months and continue to use it as a base.  What if I didn’t have that document?  How would I know that Herman and Anna, living in Manhattan in 1920, are not my ancestors? The single census record doesn’t divulge that information.

1920 Census_George_Anna_Maurer

!920 U.S. Census, New York City, New York. George H. Maurer and wife, Anna Maurer.

So, it’s back to the basics. My solution:  Search for a census record closest to the year and location of another known event that you can confirm.  The record may or may not include Herman or Anna. Analyze every piece of information on the record.  Repeat with other records, moving forward or backward in time. During the process, you may circle back to where you started.  But, you could also end at a different place. This seems almost too logical but I believe that we sometimes bypass this guideline in the quest for an older ancestor or event.

Here’s my case study. What if  I had few documents and only this basic information. For the moment, forget previous posts about this family.

  • Mother, Eunice Tucker, born 1919 in Huntington, Suffolk county, New York to Esbon J. Tucker and Charlotte Maurer.
  • Mom lived in Huntington until her marriage to Dad.
  • Grandmother (Mom’s mother), a.k.a. Gram, k.a. Lottie, was born in New York City, possibly Brooklyn, to Herman and Anna (Klee) Maurer.
  • Viola, a.k.a. Aunt Olie, Gram’s sister, lived with Esbon and Lottie.
  • Grandfather (Mom’s father), a.k.a. Pop, born in Greenville, New York to William F. Tucker and Bertha Traver. I remember Pop saying that he was from upstate New York.
  • We often visited Gram and Pop in Huntington.
UpstateFun fact:   What is the definition of ‘upstate New York’?    For some, upstate is all areas of New York except New York City and Long Island. Others consider west of the Hudson River as ‘upstate’ or name specific counties as being ‘downstate’.  Join the conversation on twitter:  https://twitter.com/hashtag/whereisupstate

The 1920 census for Huntington, Suffolk county, New York, seems like the logical choice. Search criteria:  Esbon Tucker, Lottie Tucker,  Eunice Tucker (mom).  An online database quickly displays the record  IF the handwriting is clear and  IF the names are transcribed accurately.  If not,  inspect the record images page by page until you find an entry that looks like it ‘could be’ the right person or family.  I missed my mother and her parents the first time that I looked.

1920 U.S. Census_Herman Maurer_Huntington

1920 U.S. Census, Huntington, Suffolk county, New York. Page 7A.

Transcription for dwelling # 130, family 139, 1st Ave, Huntington, New York, reads: [3]

  • Herman Merured, head, age 60, head, M, W, wd [widower], b. New Jersey, father b. Germany, mother b. Germany
  • Viola Merured , daughter, age 13, f, w,  single, b. NY, father b. New Jersey, mother b. New York
  • Esmond  Tucker, son-in-law, age 28, married, b. NY, mother b. New York, father b. New York.
  • Charlotte Tucker, daughter, age 28, daughter, married, b. New York
  • Esmond Tucker, grandson,age  2 6/12, single, b. New York
  • Eugenies  Tucker, age 8/12, single, b. New York

Next, evaluate each data point separately.  Start with a person whose information is clearer and/or closest to a known fact. For me, the names of Herman, Viola and Charlotte stood out.

  1. Herman Merured, head of household, age 60, ‘wd’ which means ‘widow’ or ‘widower’. “Merured” could be “Maurer”. His wife died before 1920.
  2. Viola Merured – daughter. Viola, Gram’s sister, lived with Gram and Pop.
  3. Charlotte Tucker, daughter. One name transcribed correctly!

Judge the other entries:

  1. Esmond Tucker – son-in-law. First name close to Pop’s given name of Esbon. Surname transcribed correctly! Inferred husband of Charlotte.
  2. Esmond Tucker – mom’s older brother, Esbon; spelling is close. Age of 2 6/12 suggests date of birth about July 1917. (Note: Esbon’s date of birth is 30 April 1918 on his birth certificate).
  3. Eugenies Tucker – close to Mom’s given name of Eunice Tucker. Age 8/12. Inconsistent with Mom’s birthdate of 31 August 1919 and only 5 months old in January 1920. Possible transcription error or census taker error?

Is this record close to known information? Yes, but only because I know about mom’s family. Another researcher, less familiar with our family, might say ‘no’ or ‘maybe’. This census record suggests that Herman’s wife, Anna, died before 1920.  Tying the pieces together, I  now state that Herman and Anna Maurer, living in Manhattan in 1920, are certainly not my ancestors. Next question: When did Anna die?

Be sure to document search attempts and findings on a research log.  State why information is consistent or inconsistent with other information. For questionable information,  I use a red pen and question marks on handwritten notes and highlights or colors on digital notes.  Any source may have multiple types of information.  You will save time and effort later.  This will save time and effort later.

TO-DO LIST:  Search for Herman and Anna in previous census, such as 1915 New York State Census. If Herman again listed as ‘wd’,  locate 1910 U.S. Federal Census. Continue searching earlier census records as needed to narrow range of possible death years for Anna.

Found:  1915 New York State Census record for Herman and Anna.

Fortunately, the census taker for this part of the 1915 New York State Census wrote more clearly. This facilitated ready identification and display of the transcription for this family:   [4]

1915_NY State Census_Herman_Anna_crop1.jpg

1915 New York State Census, Huntington, Suffolk County, New York, Herman Maurer, part of page 47.

1915 census Herman final

Herman, Anna and their children were in Huntington in June 1915. Since Herman was listed as ‘wd’ (widower) on 1920 census  Anna’s death date narrows to between June 1915 and January 1920.

Another search of my paper files yielded an almost forgotten item from an online message board, an obituary for Anna Maurer.[5]  I verified the message board entry by locating a transcription of the obituary from another source.[6]  The obituary reads:

“Brooklyn Standard Union, July 28, 1918. Anna Maurer. Funeral services for Anna Maurer, who died on Thursday at her home in Huntington, where she had been a resident for fifteen years, will be held tomorrow at 10 A.M. at the funeral chapel of Mrs. George Ehlenberger, 295 Wyckoff Avenue, near Linden Street. Mrs. Maurer was born in Brooklyn fifty-four years ago and is survived by her husband, Herman Jr, and two daughters, Viola and Mrs. Mattoe Pucker. Interment at Evergreen Cemetery.”

“Mrs Mattoe Pucker”? I don’t have a copy of the original printed obituary to see if this is a print or transcription error. Names of Herman and Viola are consistent with other records.

Finally, I discovered a death record for Anna Maurer in Klee_Anna_mMaurer_death index_1918_crop21918, Huntington:  [7]

The New York Department of Health reports an 8-9 month wait to obtain a death certificate for genealogical use.

FYI: Yes, I marked George H. and Anna Maurer census record as ‘negative evidence’ and ‘not my ancestors’.

Addendum: Anna Maurer from 1920 census found?

As I checked databases and sources for this post, I found two records for another Anna Maurer,  who could be the same Anna Maurer who lived in Manhattan in 1920.  Hopefully, someone reading this post will recognize her as their ancestor.

1940 Census[8]: Anna Maurer, age 76.  Estimated birth year 1864.  Female, White, birthplace New York. Inmate, Wards Island, Manhattan State Hospital, New York City, New York.

New York, Extracted Death Index[9]:  Anna Maurer, age 77, birth year abt 1864, death date: 1 March 1941; death place: Manhattan, New York, USA.

Are the two Maurer families related?  Maybe.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

REFLECTION:

I recognize my error now and am being more cautious. I document searches and results on more regular basis. I realize how easy it is to confuse persons with similar names, birth years, birth dates, and residences. I could have easily marked Anna Maurer, who died in 1941, as my great-grandmother.  My mother died in 2007 so I cannot ask her. Mom’s brothers and sister are also dead. A cousin knows some of the family history.  Get the information from your oldest relatives as soon as you can!

When I began collecting and analyzing records, I didn’t follow any logical process outlined here. I have become more systematic in my approach. I document more often and more thoroughly.

I sometimes get discouraged. I keep finding gaps and missed information. I remind myself about the purpose of the Genealogy Do-Over:  to improve genealogy research skills, including data management. As a result, I view items and information differently. I am more skeptical and keep better notes. I ‘point and click’ less often and take notes/ make comments more often.

What I learned:  Carefully check and re-check information. In the 1915 census, my grand-uncle, William Charles Maurer,  listed his occupation as registered nurse. I have been a registered nurse for 45 years. Even now, only about 10% of nurses are male. There is a story to be discovered and told!

What helped:  Documentation of previous searches and records found. Organization of paper and digital files begun last year.

What didn’t help: Incomplete transcription (by me) of data in records. I didn’t actively search for and find the death index record for Anna Maurer until this month.

TO- DO:  Order Anna Klee Maurer’s death certificate – one of 6 on my list!  Transcribe all data found in a record, even if the information isn’t relevant to the current question. Review Genealogy Do-Over Months 1 and 2.  Take a breath!

Sources:

[1] 1920 U.S. Census, New York, New York, population schedule, Manhattan Assembly District 13, enumeration district (E.D. 965), page 21B (penned), dwelling 2469, family 490, entry for George H. Maurer, 55; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed, downloaded 26 Jan 2014); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Microfilm publication T625, Roll 1209.

[2] Viola Blanche Maurer Tucker, “Maurer-Tucker Family History,” [Page]; MS, 1800s to 1980s, Huntington, Suffolk County, New York; privately held by great-niece, Susan Mercedes Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use], Yukon, Oklahoma, 2017.  Carbon copy of original document created ca. 1975-1980 sent to Ms. Ellerbee by her great-aunt.

[3] 1920 U.S. Census, Suffolk county, New York, population schedule, Huntington, enumeration district (ED) 113, p. 7A (penned), dwelling 136, family 139, Eugenies [Eunice] Tucker; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed, downloaded, printed 14 March 2017); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Microfilm publication T625, Roll 1269. Census date:  22nd & 29th January 1920.

[4] 1915 New York State Census, Suffolk county, New York, population schedule, Huntington, , pg. 47, Hermon Maurer age 55; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, printed, downloaded 10 January 2017); citing New York State Archives, Albany, New York..

[5] Cyber Angel, “Anna b Bklyn d Huntington NY 1918 hus Herman,” Maurer Family Genealogy Forum, message board listing, posted 8 February 2002; (http://genforum.genealogy,com/cgi-bi/pageload.cgi?Herman, Maurer: :maurer:::836.html  : accessed 9 June 2007).   “Anna Maurer”, obituary, Brooklyn Genealogy Information Page, Newspapers, Brooklyn (Daily) Standard Union, 1918 Deaths. . l July 11th-30th (http://bklyn-genealogy-info.stevemorse.org/Newspaper/BSU/1918.2b.html  :  accessed 18 July 2018).

[6] “Anna Maurer”, obituary, Brooklyn Genealogy Information Page, Newspapers, Brooklyn (Daily) Standard Union, 1918 Deaths. .  July 11th-30th (http://bklyn-genealogy-info.stevemorse.org/Newspaper/BSU/1918.2b.html  :  accessed 18 July 2018).

[7] “New York State Death Index, 1880-1956,” database with images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com :  accessed & downloaded 23 July 2018); entry for Anna Maurer, 1918, 26 Jul, Huntington, pg. 1003; citing “NY State Death Index,” New York Department of Health, Albany, N.Y.’ Certificate number: 45345.

[8] 1940 U.S. Census, New York, New York, population schedule, Manhattan, enumeration district 1649, sheet 30B, Ward’s Island, Anna Maurer; imaged at Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 July 2018); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication T0627-02663.

[9] “New York, New York, Extracted Death Index, 1862-1948,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 July 2018); entry for Anna Maurer, death 1 March 1941, certificate #5345; citing “Index to New York City Deaths 1862-1948,” Indices prepared by the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group, and used with permission of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal Archives.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and “Posting Family Roots” blog, 2018.  

One thought on “Perils of ‘Point and click’ genealogy

  1. Pingback: Herman Maurer & Anna Klee, maternal great-grandparents | Posting Family Roots

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