How Much of a Gap Do You Have?

For years I struggled to find information on a sister of an ancestor. She was reasonably well documented after 1869 when she was listed in her brother’s estate settlement in Hancock County, Illinois. Her death record in the 1880s does not provide significant information, but she has one and was found in the 1870 and 1880 census enumeration–all in the location where she was stated to be living in 1869. Born about 1810 in Germany, there had to be something else on her. Somewhere.

But there was nothing before that 1869 reference. She had no probate record and no known children. No probate for a woman during this time period was not unusual because of her gender and the very real possibility that she had no estate worth taking through probate. No children was a possibility as well–that happens. And no obituary or death notice would not really be a surprise either–especially in the 1880s.

But then I got to thinking:

the husband she had at the age of 60 might not have been the husband she had most of her life.

She could have spent most of her life under a different surname. There could have been a husband before the one she had in 1869. There could be children she had with that husband under a different surname. They could be “hiding in plain site” in the same location where she ended up. She may not have had children with the first husband either. There may not have even been a first husband at all. Her 1869-1880 era husband may have been the only one and she may have married him after she was no longer able to have children. There were many real possibilities other than her being in some witness protection program or being temporarily abducted by aliens.

I went back and reviewed where other members of the family had lived after their immigration to the United States. I knew that two of her brothers had made a brief pitstop in Kentucky in the 1840s and early 1850s before heading to Illinois. Had she done that? It would be logical for her to have settled near them, especially if she were single (widowed or not).

And there it was–an 1852 marriage in Campbell County, Kentucky. The only name that was “wrong” was her last name at the time of the marriage. Everything else (first and last name of husband and her first name) fit. The marriage bond indicated that the bride had been married before. By itself it was not proof it was her.

But it gave me another last name to work with.

Gaps are opportunities. But those opportunities are best seized when one gets to looking past the assumptions ones has made.


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