When researching your family history, it is a good idea to revisit resources and repositories that you have used in the past. New information may have been added since your last visit or you may have gained additional knowledge that will make you see the information in a new light. Such was the case with my paternal great grandfather, Overton Woodfork.
From my research, I knew that Overton’s parents were William and Louisa Woolfolk and his mother’s maiden name was Shakespeare. I also knew from my research with the census (via ancestry.com) and the DC City Directories (using microfilm and the actual directories) that Overton had lived in Caroline County, Virginia during the 1870’s and early 1880’s; Washington DC during the late 1890’s and the 1900’s; and returned to Caroline County, Virginia during the 1930’s where he died in 1933. There were time periods, where he seemed to disappear and I did not know where else to look for him since, to my knowledge, he had only lived in Caroline County, Virginia and Washington, DC.
I had recently learned that one of my Shakespeare ancestors, Martha Shakespeare Lewis, and her husband, Arthur, had moved from Caroline County, Virginia to the Walnut Hills area of Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1890’s where they lived until she died in 1915 and he died in 1935. I also knew that some of my Shakespeare ancestors had moved from Caroline County, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland.
Periodically, I search ancestry.com for my ancestors to see if I can locate any new information. A few months ago, I decided to search for my paternal great grandfather and was surprised to see the search results contained an ‘Overton Woodfork’ in several Cincinnati, Ohio City Directories. Since Overton Woodfork is not a common name, I had a suspicion that it might be my great grandfather. The 1886 entry in the Cincinnati City Directory really caught my eye because in the section for the address it said “bds Arthur Lewis’ Walnut Hills”. Another search result was for an entry in 1887 Cincinnati City Directory contained “rooms 20 Curtis Walnut Hills”. After checking my research notes form Martha Shakespeare Lewis, I confirmed that she and her husband also lived at this address. Therefore, I am almost certain that these entries for ‘Overton Woodfork’ are my great grandfather.
A little while later I searched for Overton Woodfork again on ancestry.com and this time the search results also contained entries from the Baltimore City directory. After making this discovery, I decided to browse each Cincinnati City Directory and Baltimore City Directory manually during the time periods that Overton did not live in Caroline County, Virginia or Washington, DC. I found Overton Woodfork in several of the directories that did not show up in the online search results either because his name had been transcribed incorrectly or some of the names on the page had not been indexed. I also visited the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, Maryland to search the microfilm for the Baltimore City directories that were not online.
After completing this research, I now have a more complete timeline for Overton Woodfork. There are still a few years where I don’t know where he was living, so I still have more research to do to fill in the blanks.
In addition to illustrating the importance of revisiting resources and repositories, this experience demonstrates the importance of not solely relying on online search engines to perform research. It is also necessary to browse through the original documents to search for information. You may discover new information that will help you fill in the blanks on your family tree.
If you read my Genealogy Envy post , you know that I am always complaining that my family is boring. Yesterday, I thought the genealogy gods had smiled on me and given me a breakthrough. It turns out that would not be the case, but I thought I would share my adventure.
On Saturday, November 19th, I attended a meeting at the Central Maryland Chapter of AAHGS. Angela Walton-Raji , gave a very informative presentation on the Best Internet Resources for African American Genealogy Research. After leaving the meeting I was inspired to visit some of the sites she mentioned. I have not been working on my family history for the past two years, because I have been doing research for a book I am writing on Union High School in Caroline County, Virginia.
I decided to search FamilySearch.org for my 3rd great grandfather, Sancho Shakespeare. I had searched the website in the past but had not found much information. To my surprise I found an entry in the Ohio Death records for Martha Lewis who died in 1914. She was born in Virginia and her father was Sancho Shakespeare and her mother was Lucinda. I got excited because there was a link to view the death certificate for FREE. With the exception of her mother’s last name, all of the information was what I expected. Unfortunately, the death certificate did not have an informant.
Martha Shakespeare is the sister of my 2nd great grandmother Louisa Shakespeare. Everything I found out about her has been by accident. She is listed in the Freedman’s Bureau Register of Colored Persons of Caroline County, State of Virginia, cohabitating together and husband and wife on 27th February, 1866 as one of the children of my 3rd great grandparents, Sancho and Lucinda Shakespeare. She is also in the 1870 census with them. After that I could not find her. So I stopped looking for her.
After a few years I found her marriage license by accident when I was searching the Central Rappahannock Heritage database for my great 3rd great grandfather, Sancho Shakespeare. She married Arthur Lewis. This was her second marriage because she is listed as a widow and her name is Martha Hart. I found Arthur and Martha Lewis in the 1900, 1910 and 1920 census in Washington, DC that I thought were them, but could not find anything else. So I stopped looking.
My new find on FamilySearch.org let me know that Martha and Arthur had moved to Ohio. I started searching the census in Ohio and found her and her husband in the 1910 Hamilton County Cincinnati Ohio census living in the household of John W. Merritt. John’s wife was Ella Merritt. Martha was listed as John’s sister-in law and her husband was listed as John’s brother in law. Since John’s wife was born in Virginia and Arthur was born in Virginia, I guessed that Arthur was Ella’s brother.
Arthur continued to live with the Merritts in the 1920 census. However, in the 1930 census he was a boarder in the household of Gertrude Anderson. I wondered what happened to the Merritts. Further research in FamilySearch.org showed that Arthur Lewis died in 1935 in Cincinnati OH. I retrieved his death certificate and saw the informant was Ella Merritt who was living in Chicago Illinois. That solved the mystery of what happened to the Merritts.
I looked for the Merritts in the Chicago, Illinois and found them in the 1930 census. John and Ella were living in Cook County Chicago Illinois. Their adult children: William, Arthur D. and Lenora were living with them.
I continued to search for the Merritt’s in Illinois. Ella died in 1945. Her son, Arthur died in 1969. The social security death index in Ancestry.com had a link from the record to the Cook County, Illinois website which has a lot of their vital records online. Each record can be accessed for $15 plus a $1.75 fee. I didn’t want to spend $30+, so I took a gamble and purchased Arthur’s death certificate since he died more recently. I was hoping I could use the informant on the death certificate to locate a living descendant. I paid the fee and retrieved his death certificate. Much to my chagrin, the informant was the Admitting Clerk at Mercer Medical Center. I WASTED my hard earned $16.75.
Arthur and Martha did not have any children that I could tell. (The census says Martha has one living child, but he/she is never living with them.) I was hoping to trace the Merritts to a living descendant and find out more about my Shakespeare ancestors. But that trail ran cold because all of their children never married, never had any children, and lived with their parents forever!!!!!
So now I am stuck again!!!!! My genealogy luck stinks. 😦
But on a positive note, I did learn that FamilySearch.org is a great research tool.