I have been having some tremendous breakthroughs in this year. With every new name, a piece of me and and my history slides into place. Into memory.
Searching for Matilda’s Roots
My search for my great-grandmother Matilda’s roots is a wonderful example of the value of cluster research. For many years, I knew nothing about her roots and could not trace her history beyond 1900.
Matilda married four times but only appears in the census with one husband. She subsequently married in four different cities and two states.
I found Matilda’s marriage dates in online indexes and databases. But as we all know, we need to examine original sources. So, I ordered the actual marriage records from the proper state and county offices. I wasn’t expecting to find anything new.
John Smith asserted that Matilda’s mother’s name was Viney Neely on her 1944 death certificate. No father was named. Matilda herself provided her mother’s name as Matilda Meely on her first marriage record.
Neither of those names enabled me to find Matilda in the 1880 census. I also checked the name “Virginia Neely” thinking Viney might be a nickname. The search came up empty.
A few weeks ago, I received a copy of Matilda’s Philadelphia marriage record to third husband Peter Vickers. Now keep in mind, only her first husband is my ancestor. But I want to be thorough.
To my surprise, the marriage record included a copy of the marriage application. (I have discussed the value of that source). Pennsylvania was one of the places that asked people the names of their parents, where they were from, and whether they were alive. It’s hard to read in the image below, but Charles and Lavina Nellie were Matilda’s parents names:Matilda’s Parents
Notice that Viney apparently was a nickname for Lavinia.
Now that I had the correct names of Matilda’s parents, I was able to locate Matilda Neely living in the 1880 Taylor County, Florida census with her father Charles Neely!
Charles’ wife’s name in that year was named “Netta” (a second wife) and 8-year-old Matilda was in the household. I also found their household in 1870 in the same county, which was before Matilda’s birth. The presumed wife in 1870 looks like it says Nelvinia. That is almost certainly Lavinia.1870 Charles Neely
This was so exciting! I have siblings for Matilda I can research. I have a new county in Florida. I can also start the tough work of uncovering the enslaved roots of Charles and Lavina. I guess I have just added another 10 years of research to my life;)
Cracking this case was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my family research.
Remember, I would never have found this if I have not retrieved the marriage record for all of Matilda’s marriages, not just the marriage to my ancestor. This is cluster research at its finest.
P.S.—Now I want to know if I am related to the Neelys on the cooking show, so I can get some discount barbeque!
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.
Congratulations! You kept at it with your due diligence, ordered the records, and finally by comparing them first-hand, you were able to get all those crazy spellings into a pattern that makes sense. You deserve this terrific boost, and I’m so glad it has happened to you. They say, “Luck is the residue of design.” Great design!
Between census takers and indexers, names get unbelievably mangled as a rule–it’s not even an exception!
This is great, Robyn! Congrats to you! Hard work and patience do (eventually) pay off!
This is a great post! Yes you are so right about the need to pull every record. So happy for you and you got a lot research ahead of you 😉
What a great breakthrough!
Your breakthrough is truly encouraging and so amazing. This is the kind of research success that makes my scalp tingle — LOL! I am following your lead and have just ordered some primary records that I know will take my research to the next level. KUDOS to you always sis!