Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A break from your own genealogy: looking for famous folk in historical records

Yes, it is something I consider a fun pasttime - I greet all your shouts of "genealogy dork!" and "history nerd!" with three little words: you're not wrong...

Sometimes the genealogical search becomes overwhelming. Sometimes the brick walls become frustrating. That's when I make a list of celebrities and historical figures to search for on Ancestry.com. Most of them are dead now. Many of them were dead before I was even born. Some of them are preserved forever as either actors or characters in Hollywood films, but there's just something about seeing their names on a worn census form as a child, or with their families, or just eking out a living, way back before anyone ever knew they'd be someone history would one day remember, that makes them feel extremely real and extremely human. (Let the name calling continuing...please, try to be creative with your barbs!)


I guess it started after I watched Tombstone, the Kurt Russell-Val Kilmer movie about Wyatt Earp. Earp was born in Illinois in 1848, and died in 1929, which means in theory he should be able to be found on every census from 1850 to 1920 - there he is as a 2 year old in Lake Prairie, Illinois with his siblings and parents, N.P. (Nicholas Porter) and Virginia; in 1870, he was living in Missouri near his brother and he was married; by 1880, he was living in Tombstone, Arizona with his brothers Virgil and James, which is where the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral would take place just a year later...in 1910, he's now in California with his third wife, Josephine...

Recommendations: Do a bit of research ahead of time. Wikipedia is a good place to start, but like anything on the Internet, don't assume it's all fact. Still, Wiki can be helpful to tell you when and where a person was born, who their parents were, and where they might have lived at a certain time, profession, all helpful for people (not Wyatt Earp, of course, who had a fairly unique name) who might have had a somewhat common name. Oh, and also to look up what their real name is...there are a lot of Hollywood celebrities you won't be able to find because they're known by a stage name...

Wyatt Earp is definitely one of my favorites...some of the other people I've looked up:

Doc Holliday, of course! Real name John Henry, born in Georgia, originally a dentist by trade. In 1870 he's living in Valdosta, Georgia with his father and stepmother as an 18 year old student...by 1880 he's in Prescott, Arizona as "J. H. Holliday" as a dentist (Ancestry does a fairly good job of identifying famous people in their census indexes)

Abraham Lincoln...in 1850, "Abram Lincoln" is a 40 year old attorney living in Springfield, Illinois with his wife and young son...still there 10 years later...

In 1930, the "Hon. Franklin Roosevelt" is living in Albany, New York as the governor...

In the 1900 census, Governor Theodore Roosevelt is living in Oyster Bay, New York with his wife and their gaggle of children and servants...in 1910, he's still there, but now he's a magazine editor...

John F. Kennedy can be found in the 1920 census in Brookline, Massachusetts as a 3 year old with his banker father, Joseph, his mother, Rose, and his siblings Joseph and Rosemary...

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the "Little House on the Prairie" series, another one of my all-time favorites!!! (for some reason I enjoy searching for historical figures like Laura and Wyatt Earp who lived all over the place)...in 1870, 3 year old "Laura Ingles," born in Wisconsin, is living in Rutland, Kansas, with her parents and her two sisters...by 1880, the family is living in De Smet, Dakota Territory...in 1900, Laura is living in Pleasant Valley, Missouri, with her husband Almanzo (A.J.) and daughter, Rose...

In 1900, Amelia Earhart is just a 2 year old girl living with her parents and sister in Kansas City, Kansas...in 1930, Amelia, a "flyer and writer" by occupation, is living in New York City...Seven years later she would disappear while attempting to fly solo around the world...

(Laura Ingalls Wilder and Amelia Earhart are two of my childhood female heroes, rounded out by Annie Oakley, who I am now determined to find in a census - real name Phoebe Ann "Annie" Mosey/Mozee/Moses, born 1860, married to Frank Butler)...another mystery to solve!

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