Will the real Mrs. My Ancestor please stand up? This RecordClick professional genealogist wishes sleuthing through old records was that easy for the family history researcher. I’ve had my share of headaches trying to keep various relatives in my ancestor search straight deciphering and organizing common first names, common last names, ages and residences.
One quiet afternoon, recently, I was perusing the 1900 U.S. Census as only a family history researcher can and wondering how many people with the same name could I find on a page. Knowing settlement patterns, I selected “Jacob Hofer” in Hutchinson County, South Dakota and found well over a dozen. That creates a situation for the family history researcher where keeping individuals and families straight is a challenge, to say the least.
When working with families, the family history researcher needs to keep two things in mind – actually it’s more than that, but we’ll start with two. First, use the census and work backwards. Second, decisions have to be made as to who isn’t the desired ancestor. Then, a decision has to be made as to who is the ancestor in question. In some circles, it’s known as the process of elimination. Information helps with the process – and the more information the family history researcher has, the better.
To make things easier for this family history researcher, I thought I’d see if I could find the father of one certain Jacob P. Hofer. In the 1910 U.S. Census, State of South Dakota; Hutchinson County; Silver Lake Precinct; ED 239; Sheet 1B; Dwelling 11; Family 11; Lines 59-64:Line Name Relation Age Marital Children
59 Hofer, Jacob P. Head 24 M4
60 Hofer, Rebecca Wife 25 M4 3 born – 3 survive
61 Hofer, Joseph Son 3 S
62 Hofer, Katie Daughter 2 S
63 Hofer, Jacob Son 11/12 S
64 Hofer, Anna Mother 71 Widow 13 born – 8 survive
Of major help to the family history researcher is the fact that Jacob’s mother, Anna, is living with him. She is 71, older, and is the mother of 13 children, eight of whom survive. The next step for the family history researcher is to go back to the 1900 U.S. Census. Jacob P. could be in one of two families. The Jacob Hofer in the first family is 13, whereas the Jakob Hofer in the second family is 14.
State of South Dakota; Hutchinson County; Township 100 Range 57; ED 192; Sheet 2A; Dwelling 15; Family 16; Lines 3-12:
Line Name Relation Birthday Age Marital Children
3 Hofer, John Head Jan. 1857 43 M21
4 Hofer, Anna Wife Oct. 1858 41 M21 10 Born – 8 Survive
5 “ Kath. Daughter Feb. 1880 20 S
6 “ John Son July 1881 18 S
7 “ Rebec. Daughter June 1883 16 S
8 “ Jacob Son Apr. 1886 13 S
9 “ Paul Son Sep. 1887 11 S
10 “ Joseph Son Jan. 1890 9 S
11 “ Sam’l Son Apr. 1892 7 S
12 “ Anna Daughter Dec. 1895 4 S
State of South Dakota; Hutchinson County; Township 100 Range 56; ED 182; Sheet 3A; Dwelling 37; Family 37; Lines 11-14:
11 Hofer, Paul Head Mar. 1841 59 M41
12 Hofer, Anna Wife Dec. 1838 61 M41 13 Born – 8 Survive
13 Elisb’t Daughter Jan. 1883 17 S
14 Jakob Son Dec. 1885 14 S
Family history researcher: Who is the father of Jacob Hofer? Both Jacobs are similar in age, less than six months apart. Both have a mother named Anna who has eight surviving children. How can people be eliminated? We compare the families:
- The two mothers, Anna Hofer, are quite different in their ages. Anna (John) is 41 and Anna (Paul) in 61.
- The two couples have been been married far different lengths of time. Anna and John have been married 21 years, whereas Anna and Paul have been together 41 years.
- Although both Annas have the same number of surviving children, Anna (Paul) gave birth to 13 while Anna (John) gave birth to ten. In 1900, Anna (John) is 41 with all eight children living at home. She is too young.
My conclusion: Anna (Paul) is 61, the correct age and the number of children she had matches the 1910 U.S. Census. Jakob’s name is spelled differently in each census, but that could be attributed to the German spelling of the name or the census enumerator. More ancestor research should be done, but it is likely that Jacob P. Hofer’s father is Paul and Paul died between 1900 and 1910. Additionally, while Jacob and his sister, Elisabeth, weren’t born until after 1880, Paul and Anna had older children. The couple could be used to find other children in the 1880 U.S. Census.
I am going to add two notes here for the family history researcher about working with German families and naming practices. Some families in the ancestor searcher followed the idea of naming the first son after the father and the first daughter after the mother. Other families, in the family tree search, especially as time went on, may have been less structured in selecting the given names for their children. Secondly, with the abundance of Jacobs, Johns, Pauls, Davids, Rebeccas, Elizabeths, Annas, and Katharines, a family history researcher will find that middle names became an important identification tool. If a middle initial is used, it can be a valuable sorting resource in your ancestor search.
Working with families and similar names can be confusing for the family history researcher. If you get stuck and need help, a RecordClick professional genealogist can assist you. We will identify family members in your ancestor search and organize your family tree research. Assistance is also available in creating and publishing your family history.