Thursday, August 13, 2015

In Dogged Pursuit

Many of my cousins ask me how I find information about our shared ancestors. Sometimes it isn't easy. I'll use a recent example of sorting out Aunt Katherine's first cousin twice removed, William J Walter and his wife Lucy Mary Hann. At a family reunion last month, Aunt Katherine, who is 93 years old, asked me to look into her father's family as she didn't know anything about them. She gave me her father's name, Millard Aloyius Walter, and the names of who she thought his parents were. Aunt Katherine is my mother's brother's widow. So I am not related to the Walter family by blood, only by love and affection.

When I started researching William J. Walter, his wife Mary L. Walter and daughter Mary V., I ran into problems. There were several men named William Walter living in Adams County, Pennsylvania, during the same time as my William J. Walter. They are likely all related but the sheer number of men with the same name was giving me fits.

How William J. Walter was related to my aunt's father, Millard
Aloyius Walter

My issues were many:
  • I had no maiden name for William's wife
  • Daughter Mary V. was born about 1878 according to the 1880 census
  • Daughter Mary R. was born in August 1891 according to the 1900 census; Sophia Hann, mother-in-law, lived with William J. and Mary L. Walter. Was Hann Mary's maiden name or had her mother remarried?
  • I couldn't find the family in the 1910 census
  • Two grandsons, Samuel (9) and James (8) Vaughn, lived with William J. and Mary L. Walter in 1920
  • Where was the family in 1930?
  • Why was I getting a 1940 census hint for William and Mary Walter in Erie County, Pennsylvania? Did they really move halfway across the state when they were 90+ years old?
  • I could find no record of William J. Walter's death even though he lived his entire life in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • Were all these records even for the same person as Walter and Walters were used interchangeably as surnames?
  • Four unsourced public trees listed his wife as Mary Lucy Hann, not Mary L. Walter. Could they be correct?
The Gettysburg Times is available on and it has been my go-to source for the Walter family when the going gets tough. I quickly found this record, which I thought explained the grandchildren and gave me a marriage date for Mary R.

The Gettysburg Times, dated 9 August 1929

  • Was daughter Mary R.'s middle name Ruth or was her name Ruth Mary Walter?
  • Why did they get married 19 years after their son Samuel was born?
  • Why is the surname listed as Walters instead of Walter? Am I even tracking the right family.
Scanning the entire page of the newspaper, I realized this article was a continuation of the "Out of the Past Twenty Years Ago" column. So the marriage of Miss Ruth M. Walter occurred in 1909. With her married name, I was able to find her death certificate and the relevant census records. I learned that her widowed mother, Mary L. Walter lived with Ruth and her husband in 1930 and 1940.

With that information, I was able to find a death certificate for Lucy Mary Walter, who's parents were listed as Philip and Saria (Robertson) Hann. This confirmed her maiden name. Once I had a death date, I was able to locate a Find A Grave record. Her name was Lucy M. Walter on her headstone. She was buried St. Francis Xavier Cemetery in Gettysburg. I looked through the memorials of people buried there but no William Walter born in the correct time period was buried there or in any cemetery in Adams County, Pennsylvania, where Gettysburg is located.

Lucy Mary (Hann) Walter's headstone (year of birth is incorrect);
photograph courtesy of Find A Grave volunteer, Karen Hess

I have found a Gallia County, Ohio, burial record for a William J. Walter (1853-1930), which could be my William J. Walter, but a Find A Grave search quickly told me that record was for a William James Walter and should be ignored.

I still don't have a date of death for William J. Walter and Mary V. Walter's fate hasn't been definitively determined but the rest of the family got sorted out. And that how it goes sometimes...every new bit of information has been hard won!

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