Finding Facts for Philip

Headlines after Philip Troutfetter was arrested in 1902

Like any genealogical source, newspapers can contain information that is correct, incorrect, and in varying shades of veracity in between. These 1902 references to Philip Troutfetter after his arrest in Boston make the point.

Troutfetter knew the then infamous Rathbone, but the reference to them as “friends” seems to suggest Troutfetter was involved in Rathbone’s stamp fraud activities in Cuba around the turn of the 20th century–he was not–and that Troutfetter knew Rathbone better than the investigation eventually revealed. Troutfetter was a traveler, but the newspaper headline shown here in the only known “reference” to him being in Mexico.

Troutfetter was an editor of a Kansas newspaper and was wanted on embezzlement charges in Colorado. He was from Colby, Kansas, as the one headline states. Other details in the writeups are confirmed from other records, but a few are not. Some tend to be repeated from one newspaper to another.

That’s an additional reminder that just because something is printed over and over does not mean that it is correct. Confirm what you read in old newspapers and use the information they contain as a springboard to searching in other records.

Make That Chronology

Chronologies do not just have to be for an individual’s entire life. In this case, material in pension affidavits were confusing so every date mentioned in the file was put in chronology. This included dates of documents, dates mentioned in documents, ages given in documents, etc.

We’ve mentioned chronologies before, but the occasional reminder does not hurt.

Reality, Memories, and Stories

There is what really happened. There is what people think happened. There are the stories about the event people actually tell.

The three sometimes overlap in small portions. What really happened may be recorded in contemporary documents and materials. All of those recorded items may reflect the perspective of the creator or informant on the record. What people think happened sometimes reflects their beliefs, social mores, and viewpoints–not just what actually happened. What people tell about the event also reflect upon those things but also includes what they want the larger community to think about them and how they want to be viewed.

People’s memories are one of the things we don’t always get. People tell their stories and some informants are more inclined to share their honest recollection of what happened than others. And some individuals simply make honest mistakes.

That’s why genealogists record everything they find, indicate how they found it, and utilize as many reasonably reliable sources as possible.

What to Leave Out

One effective search approach when querying databases is to leave out various pieces of information. The difficulty is that one cannot leave out every piece of data. What should be left out? The first name? The last name? The year of birth? The place of birth?

Think about what piece of information is easiest to get correct and include those details in your search. A slightly different approach is to think about what information is easiest to get wrong. For some of my families who did not speak English, the last names seem to present more problems. So when searching databases, I tend to leave those out if possible.

If I look for a family in a census record and the entire household should be enumerated, I think “whose name is easiest to spell for someone who does not speak the language?” Then I tend to search for the individuals named John or Anna instead of those named Wubcke or Tjalde.

History of those Heirlooms

Preserving the history of your family heirlooms, particularly those things in addition to pictures and paper items, is important. One way to start this task is to photograph those items individually. You may wish to use a basic graphics program to crop and slightly rotate the image if necessary. Information about the item could be added to the image as well.

Then import those pictures into a word processor and include textual information about the item. Using a word processor gives you flexibility in terms of what text is added and how much text is included. That file can be printed, saved in a variety of formats, etc.

Separate Maintenance?

Couples who didn’t want to divorce because “we just don’t do that, but we can’t live together” may have lived separately for much of their married life.

In some cases, there may have been a lawsuit to separate their property or allocate the amount that one spouse was to pay the other. These court cases would not be filings for divorce, but rather filings for separate maintenance. In many jurisdictions, these legal actions would be brought forward in the same court where divorce cases were heard, but there may be exceptions.

The information contained in the records would be similar to what divorce records contained during the same era–except for the divorce decree and termination of marriage. Date and place of marriage may be given, information on minor children, and disposition of assets.

If the couple owned real property or in some cases chattel property, a deed separating out their individual parcels or items may have been recorded.

Pages, Volumes, Dates, and Courthouses

The declaration of intention of Michael Trautvetter to become a citizen is contained in the order books of Campbell County, Kentucky. The order book contains a variety of other court actions, not just naturalizations. Fortunately most, but not all of the order books were indexed by the clerk at the time the orders were recorded–only the “main names” are included in the index.

I was careful to include the page number for the order on the image and to download the volume cover from which the order was taken.

The declaration was undated and it was necessary to browse a few pages earlier to see that Trautvetter’s declaration and the other orders recorded on page 199 and a few pages before were done on 28 April 1851 at the Alexandria Courthouse.

Always make certain you have the date of an event or statement. It may not be on the actual item you have located (particularly for court orders). In this case, Campbell County, Kentucky, has two courthouses so I made certain to indicate that these orders were ones performed at the courthouse in Alexandria.


Learn about my webinar on navigating and using FamilySearch images.

Emigrated in Bits and Pieces

My aunt’s husband died in 1846 in Germany when their oldest child had not yet turned fifteen. He was survived by my aunt and five children. The family appears to all have immigrated to the United States, but they did not all make the trip at the same time. Based on passenger lists, it appears that the children emigrated with siblings of their mother one or two at a time before the mother immigrated sometime around 1855.

Passenger manifests do not state the relationship between passengers during this time period. Fortunately I knew the family connections before searching for those records and did not overlook those “nearby young passengers” who were actually related to my adult immigrant relatives.

Not everyone migrates as a family at one point in time. Are there young individuals travelling with your immigrant ancestor? Could they be nieces, nephews, younger cousins, or other extended family members?

Don’t Forget…It’s Personal

Many members of one of my ancestral families came to the United States in the mid-1840s. They all initially settled in Kentucky, later heading to Illinois. Except for my third great-grandparents and their children. They waited until 1853.

Of course I wondered why. The parents of the couple had been deceased for some time. That was not the reason. Then I discovered that the mill the father operated in Germany was one that he leased–not one that he owned. Was it possible he stayed until his lease ran out?

I’m not certain. I may never be certain. But it is a possibility. I will not put this down as a fact in my genealogical database. I will not put it in my notes as a known fact. I’ll state what I know: “George leased the mill in the German village where they lived. It is not known what the terms of this lease were. It is possible they remained in Germany until the lease expired.”

Much about our ancestor’s lives is personal and sometimes we will never know those details. If we speculate or are uncertain that needs to be crystal clear in any information we write.

Water Under the Ebay Bridge

I jumped the gun recently in making an Ebay purchase. I read the description of the item a little too quickly and fixated on “north of Carthage, Illinois” and “Long Creek Bridge.” I grew up north of Long Creek and have crossed it many times. In fact, it ran along what we called the “bottom” where my father pastured cattle. I saw the postcard and the bridge and purchased it.

I jumped the gun just a little bit.

When I looked more closely, there were clues this was not the bridge in which I had an interest:

  • The description said “Northeast of Carthage.” The bridge I was thinking of was directly north of Carthage.
  • While the picture was taken 60 years before my first memories, the approach on the left hand side did not match my recollection at all.
  • The horse and wagon on the left side of the bridge gave an idea of how tall the bridge is. The bridge I remember was taller than this one–quite a bit taller.
  • The geography does not look right. The creek bed and surrounding area is too flat. The bridge I’m thinking of was essentially at the bottom of a steeper hill than what is shown in the photograph.

A reminder about assumptions as well here. For some reason I thought the picture was taken looking west. There’s nothing in the photograph to support that assumption either.

My best approach is to find a map as close to the 1910 era as possible and see if I can determine what other bridges over Long Creek were “northeast of Carthage.”

It’s still a neat postcard and I’m glad I purchased it. It was a relatively inexpensive reminder of a few things.