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Monday, December 10, 2012

Give All Information When Writing a Query

 Teddi sent a request for help to Olive Tree Genealogy. Here is her email to me:
I have been searching for my grandmother, Theodora Marino Pensyl, for several years now. She was married in Elkton, Maryland, on August 31, 1939 to Charles Wilbur Pensyl from Bedford, Bedford County, PA. They lived in Philadelphia, Pa near Jackson Street and my mother was born on September 18, 1940.
My mother's names is Dorothy Alice Pensyl; she was christened at the Catholic Church in the early part of December, 1940. My mother never had a birth certificate.
She never met her mother and she was raised by her grandmother, Alice Pensyl, until she turned five; at which time she was able to live with her father and his new "wife" (although they never legally married).
We do not know if Theodora was dead, or living and not able to see my mother due to my grandfather's ability to keep her hidden. I have tried and was unable to reach anyone for assistance. Any ideas you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
Dear Teddi

Sometimes when a reader asks me for help, I immediately have questions. In this case I'm wondering how you knows these exact dates of marriage and birth of her mother. Why am I wondering? Because if you have the marriage record it must surely show an age for Theodora - and that would at least give an approximate year of birth. The birth record of Dorothy may show more details. Both are worth sending for if you do not already have them. If you do have them, you should consider sharing the information found on them when writing a query on a message board or privately (as you did to me)

Even though you say your mother never had a birth certificate, it is quite likely that one was filed and can be obtained. It's worth requesting it. 

Next question - have you found Charles and Theodora on the 1940 census? That would be very helpful to know because that will give you an age for Theordora and a location of birth.  It will also give the place of birth of her parents plus more detail.

Being curious, I had a quick look on Ancestry and I also googled the names. I found several queries you posted over the last several years. To my surprise you gave tidbits of information with each one - different each time - about Dorothea. I suspect you didn't realize how important and helpful each of these little pieces of information could be.

For example in one query you said Theodora sometimes went by Dottie. So that is another name under which to search, and I suspect Dorothy is yet another. In another query you mentioned you thought she had a sister Annette and a brother or father named Leo - these are names you can also search for online. It's crucial to provide these bits and pieces to anyone whose help you want whether on message boards or via email. Even family lore can prove helpful when facing a challenging research puzzle.

So please send for the birth and marriage records and let us know here on the Ask Olive Tree Genealogy blog if you have any other details (plus that all-important 1940 census record!)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Analysing Clues to Help You Figure Out Where to Search Next

Sherri asked about her grandfather's death:

I have been looking for information for about 5 years about my grandfather who is named Burrell Charles Ball first married to Doreen Roxie Morcombe (from Omemee) and then afterward I think Estelle Ball was his wife.  Burrell’s brother I know was from Emily Twp, Albert and he died a few years back and Burrell died around 1993 but I do not know when, where, how etc. 

Also Russell Charles Ball was their father and I believe he lived in Lakefield but there is little information about any of them.  I know there was a fire in Russell’s Lakefield home where he had Burrell, Albert and Barbara E. Ball (I think).  He was married to Julia Secreta Wood that I believe died when she was young.   Where can I go to find out more information?

Olive Tree Genealogy Answer:

Hello Sherri. Since you did not provide an estimated year of birth for Burell, I had to hunt on the 'net to find some mention of him.  Luckily I happened on one of your message board posts where you stated he was born circa 1920 and, best of all, that he was in WW2.

His military service is a great clue and means there are a number of steps you can now take:

Step One:
Did you know that you can send for his military file from Library and Archives Canada? This will give you lots of detail about your grandfather, and may include his death date and location.

Step Two:
Also you can search the online records of the Legion Magazine's Last Post. These are death notices for servicemen and women. Burell is found - just conduct a search under his name. His death date is given as November 14, 1992 (no location). So if he were my ancestor my next step would be to write to the Legion Magazine and ask if they have any other information on Burrell.

Step Three: 
Write to the Legion Branch (Haliburton) where Burrell was a member. Ask if anyone remembers him or if there is more information available. 

There are other steps you can take even with the few clues you have given me.

Step Four:
Send for Burrell's birth certificate from the Registrar General in Thunder Bay.  This will give you an exact date and location of birth, as well his parents' names and ages. With any luck the info found there will lead you to finding his parents in the 1911 census or in earlier records.

Step Five:
Lakefield is in Peterborough County so I would write to the Peterborough Museum & Archives and ask if they have any information on the family.

Burrell's Parents
Now, turning to Burrell's parents. You don't seem to have found the information available on Russell and his wife Julia. has Ontario marriage records to 1927 online. The marriage of Russell Charles Ball age 29 to Julia Secreta [sic] Wood age 19 is found in Peterborough County 6 June 1917.  You will want to obtain this record. Julia's middle name appears to be a mistranscription of the actual name given in the image. has very nicely shown that there are other records online for Russell and Julia - namely Russell's birth, 1891 census, 1901 census, 1911 census, Julia's birth and her death. Their places of birth and parents' names are found in the record of marriage record.

Next, since Lakefield was mentioned by you, why not search the online Lakefield Cemetery website? I did, and found Charles Russell Ball, Julia and several other Ball burials. You may be able to match some of them with whatever you find in the census records. This will give you some family groups with dates.

Going clue by clue I've now found Russell Charles Ball's birth record, marriage record and burial. Each new bit of information was a clue I used to find another bit. I have also found his parents' names and  their deaths too. Their deaths provided me with their locations of birth.

There is much more available online but I'll leave you the fun of following the trail I started for you.