Genealogy Detective Work

Researching your family tree requires you to be a bit of a detective. Sometimes the branch you are following is clear and easy to follow. Other times, you ​ gather every clue you can find and still can't make the breakthrough that answers your genealogical questions. Genealogists call those ​seemingly dead ends "brick walls" and we all reach them at some point in our research.

​​Sometimes you just get lucky and the solution to a brick wall turns up out of nowhere. As more and more records are digitized and made available online, the record we need to solve a puzzle can turn up at any time. ​​Often though, family mysteries require sifting through documents that, at first, ​don't seem to be directly related to the ​question at hand but turn out to be key to the solution.

​One of my great-great-great grandmothers was named Lucina Smith. I know a lot about her but, I could never find out her parents names. If I look at Lucina's entry in other family trees on, most don't list her parents at all. The ones that do name them don't agree with each other. I see Enos Smith and Lucina Chapin, George Smith and Lucena or Lucina Durfee and Christopher Smith and Polly Randall. Which set of parents, if any of them, is right?


​This is a good place to make a note about using other peoples family trees as a source. As this example shows, you should never just accept anther persons research without verifying it for yourself with other sources. These trees are a good place to find hints to use as a starting point but not as proof of facts about a person.

​​To get my answer, I needed to go back to what I knew about Lucina and search for ​sources that I hadn't seen before. Just searching for the name Smith wouldn't get me anywhere. There are just too many Smiths. I had to search specific locations and for related people.

​I knew that ​Lucina married Charles Weller and, from census records, that she was born in New York about 1826. Charles and Lucina had ​moved from New York to Pennsylvania and then on to Wisconsin. They had five children all born in Pennsylvania. The 1870 and 1880 censuses showed them living in the village of Ellensboro, Wisconsin. Charles Weller died there in 1884.

After Charles died I lost track of Lucina and ​​I couldn't find her ​on any other census. So, I put the search for her parents aside for a while and began researching her children. ​When I did that though, Lucina herself turned up again. 

I ​learned that her daughter Rosalia married a man named George Countant. On the 1900 census, I found George and Rosalia living in Ossining, Westchester, New York with their daughter​ Pearl. Also in the household was an older woman listed as Lucina Miller. I immediately suspected that this was a transcription error. A quick look at the actual record revealed that this was indeed Lucina Weller - N​OT Lucina Miller.

1900 U.S. Census Transcript
1900 U.S. Census Image

​Now I knew Lucina ​had gone back to her birth state of New York after the death of her husband Charles but I found no further records naming her. That is where my search remained for several years.

Just recently though, I found a new record from the 1905 New York state census that listed a Lucina Weller living in the home of William and Emma D. Sutton and their children. Her relationship was listed as "aunt."

1905 New York State Census

​Was this my Lucina or just a coincidence of names? If this was my 3rd great-grandmother, then William must be her nephew or Emma was her niece. If I could find a Smith ancestry for one of them I ​just might find Lucina's parents.

Finding out ​which of the Sutton's she was related to turned out to be easier than I expected. 

I didn't find birth or  marriage records for William or Emma but I did find a marriage record one for their daughter Tena. That record told me that the brides parents were William Sutton and Emma Smith. Now I was almost positive that I had the right Lucina Weller!


​From the information I had gathered so far, I could build a family tree that looked like this:

Hypothetical Tree

​​Since I was ​convinced that Emma's father was Lucina's brother, if I could learn the names of the two Smith men I would also learn the name of Lucina's father. As it turned out, finding the name of Emma's father ​took some serious detective work!

I would have liked to have found a birth or marriage record naming Emma and her parents but, so far, I have not found one. I ​did find many census records ​for Emma Smith and Emma Sutton living in or near Stockton, New York. Comparing these and using other ancestry family trees as hints, I eventually concluded that Emma was the daughter of David Montgomery Smith and Amorillus (or Amorillis) Ames. ​The 1870 census raised some questions. On that ​a 15 year old Emma Smith was living in the household of Harvey and Amorillus Solomon. Was David dead by then and ​Harvey was a step-father?

​Once I had settled on David​ Montgomery as ​Emma's father's name, I hit the jackpot. ​The Stockton entries in the New York Town Clerk's Register of Men ​Who Served in the Civil War included David Montgomery Smith and two of his brothers. All three men had enlisted in the Union Army in August of 1862. Sadly, that fall, David and his brother William both died of disease ​while encamped at Suffolk, Virginia​.

​The register ​gave me David's date and place of birth and his parents names. He was the son of Christopher Smith and Polly Randall. His death date of Nov. 14, 1862 also explained why his wife ​was remarried by the time of the 1870 census.

Civil War Soldiers From Stockton New York

​Click the image to see it full size.

​There I had it! After years of thinking I would never find the names of Lucina Smith's parents, I had finally ​knew them. Like most things in genealogy, I can't be absolutely positive that this info is correct but I would certainly ​rate it as "Highly Probably" to "Almost Certain."

​Revisit your family tree's brick walls from time to time. New information just might help you solve a mystery!

Now if I could just find the names of her husband ​​Charles Weller's parents...

  • Gary says:

    I always find the family history search to be very interesting.

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