Do you have females in your family tree who have few records and have left even fewer clues to their origins? You may have a maiden name and an estimated birth year, but there may not be any marriage record. Perhaps birthplaces conflict with one census naming one state and another census naming a different state. How do you tackle this type of brick-wall research? When faced with a tough challenge, one proven methodology is to research the woman’s FAN club – her friends, family, associates, and neighbors.
I’m currently researching my third great-grandmother, Mary Clemsy Cline. No marriage record for Clemsy and Henderson Weatherford has been located; I know her maiden name because two of her children lived long enough to have death certificates. Both agree with the surname of Cline for their mother. I suspect Clemsy might have been a nickname for Mary because a granddaughter was named both Mary and Clemsy in the records. Three censuses list Clemsy by her married name of Weatherford – 1850, 1860, and 1880. They reveal an estimated birth range of 1817 – 1825 in either Illinois or Alabama.
Where do you start in this type of research scenario? With no specific birth or marriage details, it may seem there is nothing that can be done. However, doing a focused research project can work wonders by opening up possibilities. For our fall Research Like a Study group, I decided it was time to revisit Clemsy Cline and use her FAN club to further the research.
Research Question and Objective
The first step in any project is to identify a research question, and I wrote: Who was the father of Mary Clemsy Cline, born about 1817 in Alabama and died after 1880 in Wise County, Texas?
With a difficult research question involving the identity of a female in the early 1800s, it may take several research phases to finally prove parentage. Each phase can have a specific objective. I decided this first research phase should focus on finding a candidate for Clemsy’s father. Subsequent phases can then use DNA to test the hypothesis. My objective follows:
The objective of this research phase is to discover a candidate for the father of Mary Clemsy Cline. She was born about 1817 in Alabama and died after 1880 in Wise County, Texas. Clemsey married William Henderson Weatherford about 1839 in Arkansas.
With the objective set, next, I reviewed the records I had for Clemsy, mining them for every possible clue. I created a timeline for Clemsy, adding the conflicting birth data from the three censuses. Having all three listed ensures better analysis when it comes to deciding which to use. You’ll notice in the screenshot below that Clemsy’s birth year range is 1817-1825, and birthplaces of both Alabama and Illinois are listed in the censuses – a common scenario in our research. I hypothesized that the 1817 date may be the best because, as the head of household in 1880, Clemsy likely provided her birth year and birthplace of 1817 in Alabama. The 1860 census is the outlier. I’ll keep in the mind the birth year of 1825 in Illinois as a possible clue to Clemsy’s origins.
The Airtable timeline I use has a column for FANs (Family, Friends, Associates, and Neighbors), so I added those. The 1850 census lists Clemsy in the household of her husband, Henderson Weatherford, and interestingly, two Cline children are also present: John Cline, age 8, and Talitha Cline, age 10. On the same census page, I saw Jacob and Talitha Cline with several children, which seemed to be a nuclear household. After the youngest child, another adult, Mahala Cline, is listed. She was also Alabama-born, and her possible son, Robert, was born in Arkansas, suggesting a similar migration to that of Clemsy and Henderson Weatherford. Could these Clines be related to Clemsy? It seems highly likely, and they are all part of her FAN club. As neighbors in 1850 with the same surname, this is a huge clue to follow up on.
I created the following simple table as a way to analyze the Cline and Weatherford households. I suspect that Jacob Cline could be Clemsy’s brother. His birth in 1811 in Virginia fits with her listing her father’s birthplace as Virginia. If Clemsy was born in 1817, Jacob would be six years older. In those six intervening years, it seems reasonable that there could have been a family migration to Alabama, where Clemsy was born.
Adding FANs to the Timeline
I added Jacob Cline to the timeline so I could get a clear picture of his life and gather clues from his records. If Jacob was Clemsy’s brother, researching him could identify his father and give me a good candidate for Clemsy’s father as well. I added an “Individual” field and then grouped the timeline table by that field to create a mini-timeline just for Jacob. Notice the FANs field on the far right, where I’ve listed several neighbors for Jacob Cline. I’m especially interested in John Cline, who lived in Morgan County, Missouri, in 1840. Could he be a brother to Jacob and Clemsy? I’m gathering a nice list of possible Cline connections to explore!
The initial timeline analysis identified three adults with Cline connections: Jacob, John, and Mahala. I also discovered three locations for research, Morgan County, Missouri; Wayne County, Kentucky; and Izard County, Arkansas. Before research planning, I need to discover what records are available for the time the Clines resided in those areas. The timeline provides very good clues to migration, and my research plan will center on discovering records that can give me clues as to how these people are related to each other and to Clemsy.
Stay tuned to see what locality research discovers about the three locations discovered in this foundational analysis.
Best of luck with all your genealogical research!
I love your book, podcasts and blogs!
Ya’ll have been a big help in keeping me focused.
I read with interest about your ancestor with both Alabama and Illinois listed as birthplace. I have an ancestor in the 1850 census in Texas with birthplace listed as IL and Ala in a later census. My working theory is that’s a non-standard location code for “Indian Land” (IL) in Alabama. Just thought I’d share.
Thanks for the comment. I’m glad our content is helping you in your research! That’s a very interesting theory that IL could be Indian Land. I’ve never heard of that designation before. You could test that by possibly looking at the census to see where else the enumerator used the IL to see if it makes sense using other families records.
I am reading this series with interest as I have a 3rd great grandmother that remains a mystery to me and many others. We have a first name, but nothing else. She lived in a badly burned county (Twiggs County GA) in the 1820s and was probably married there. After that she lived in a different county and/or state every ten years. None of her children’s death certificates give a maiden name.
Since I don’t even have a maiden name, how do I start on solving this mystery? I want so badly to figure out her maiden name.
That’s tough! With no maiden name, it’s important to look at her husband’s fan club in the time period closest to when they got married, if any records remain for him in that burned county. You can also correlate that with DNA evidence! Also, try ordering federal records like land and pension files that might have her maiden name. Also connecting with cousins who are DNA matches could be a way to find family data like bible records. You could also trace down a matrilineal descendant and have her take a mitochondrial DNA test.
Thanks! I’m working on putting all the fans from the various census records and tax lists, along with whatever deeds I’ve found, into Airtable to see if anything pops out at me. I’m guessing that network graph made with Gephi could be helpful for isolating any clusters that might extend back far enough to be of help. Thanks for your blog posts laying out how to make network graphs with Gephi!
You’re welcome! Good plan to save the FANs in Airtable.