Have you ever been researching and run into two men of the same name? How do you know which was your ancestor? If you choose the wrong individual, you could end up tracing an entirely wrong line of ancestors. I encounter this scenario often in my research and have some tricks up my sleeve to share.
My recent research subject was named Edward Sullivan, born March of 1852 in West Virginia. The son of Irish immigrants, John and Julia Sullivan, Edward is first listed in their 1860 household as an 11 year-old. (1)
Locality 1860, Virginia, Greenbrier, Lewisburg Post Office
Enumeration Date 23 June 1860
John Sullivan 42 M Laborer Ireland
Julia Sullivan 40 F Ireland
John Sullivan 15 M Ireland
James Sullivan 13 M Virginia
Edward Sullivan 11 M Virginia
William Sullivan 9 M Virginia
Mary Sullivan 4 F Virginia
By 1870, his parents had moved to Scioto County, Ohio, but Edward isn’t listed with them on the 1870 census. Like so many of our ancestors, Edward is nowhere to be found on the 1870 census. In the aftermath of the Civil War, it seems many people were missed in the population listings.
Who should turn up in Scioto County, Ohio in the mid 1870s? Not just one Edward Sullivan, but two. Both Edwards married in 1875/1876 and both are listed on the 1880 census – one age 28 and one age 29. Both Edwards list Ireland as the birthplace of their parents. How does a researcher decide which is Edward, son of John and Julia Sullivan?
Research the Family
The clues that we need to identify an individual are going to be found not only in his records, but also those of his family: parents, siblings, children, and even extended family.
In Edward’s case, researching his father John Sullivan discovered an obituary for John that gives an important clue. (2)
15 March 1900. Children surviving are Edward Sullivan, of Ashland, KY; James and William of New York; Mrs. Mary Adams, of Pittsburgh; John, ex-postmaster and well-known citizen of Buena Vista. The latter is the oldest of the children.
To separate the two Edwards, I designated them Edward 1 and 2.
Researching Edward 1, I discovered that he married Anna Zamp in 1875, and moved to Kentucky, as evidenced by the death certificates of six of his children. Each death certificate names their father as Edward Sullivan born West Virginia. He seemed a shoe-in for the son of John Sullivan mentioned in the obituary, but good research needs to look at every bit of information.
Analyze the Records
After gathering the records, we can assemble them in a timeline and analyze each piece of information to make connections and point to inconsistencies.
While researching the family of John and Julia Sullivan, it became evident that they were practicing Catholics. The older sons were baptized in Ireland and some of the siblings were married in the Catholic church. Edward probably would have followed family tradition. Which seems a more likely Edward?
Edward 1 married Anna Zamp, a daughter of German parents, on 5 January 1875. The marriage was performed by D.R. Coll, M.G. (Minister of the Gospel).
Edward 2 married Mary O Bryan, a daughter of Irish parents, on 10 February 1876. The marriage was performed by M Joseph Merlein, Minister.
I leaned towards Edward 2 simply because the term “minister of the gospel” generally pertains to a Protestant religion and Anna Zamp was not likely Catholic, being of German descent.
Viewing the 1880 census listings for both Edwards, I noticed something.
Edward 1 had a household that included a William age 22 who was listed as a son. This couldn’t be right – Edward himself was age 29. William was probably a brother to Edward which fit with the family of John Sullivan. Surely this proved he was the right Edward, although his birthplace was listed as Vermont. (3)
1880, Ohio, Scioto County, Portsmouth
Enumeration District 175, Sheet 256 D , Line 18
Enumeration Date 4 June 1880
Edward Sullivan M 29, Boiler Maker Vermont, Ireland, Ireland
Anna Sullivan F 24 Wife Keeping house, Ohio, Germany, Germany
Hannah Sullivan F 4 Daughter
Mary Sullivan F 2 Daughter
Edward Sullivan M 1 Son
William Sullivan M 22 Son, Works at mill, West Virginia, Ireland, Ireland
Except, that in 1880, William Sullivan, son of John, had married and was living in his own household in Scioto County, Ohio.
The 1880 household of Edward 2 listed just himself, his wife Mary, and daughter Bridged. Edward 2 was also born in Virginia, as expected. Edward 2 was living in the township of Buena Vista in 1880, just a few households away from his brother John Thomas Sullivan and his father, John Sullivan Sr. (4)
Locality 1880, Ohio, Scioto County, Buena Vista
Enumeration District 169, Sheet 152 A , Line 19
Enumeration Date 11 June 1880
Edward M Sullivan M 28 Stone Cutter, Virginia, Ireland, Ireland
Mary Sullivan F 19 Wife Keeping house Ohio Ireland, Ireland
Bridged Sullivan F 1 Daughter Ohio
Analyzing the records, Edward 2 was emerging as a more likely candidate for the son of John and Julia Sullivan.
A very important clue came with the discovery that Edward 1 died before 1898. His wife, Anna, was listed in a city directory of Covington, Kentucky, as the widow of Edward. (5)
Since the 1900 obituary of John Sullivan named Edward as a living son, of Ashland, Kentucky, Edward 1 couldn’t be his son, could he? As we know, obituaries and news articles can make errors, so more clues could help solidify the conclusion.
Map the Location
The 1900 census would certainly clear up the confusion, but no records have been located yet for Edward 2 in either Ohio or Kentucky following the 1880 census. Without any other evidence, could understanding the locality help?
I needed to visualize the locations found in the records and see what made sense. John Sullivan lived in the Portsmouth, Scioto, Ohio, area on the border of Ohio and Kentucky from from 1870-1900. Both Edwards were married in this area and were enumerated there on the 1880 census.
Edward 1 moved to the Covington, Kentucky, area after 1880. Anna, his widow, is listed there in 1898 on the city directory and six of his children died in the area. With his death prior to 1898, he would not be the “living child” Edward of Ashland noted in the 1900 obituary of John Sullivan.
Does it make sense that Edward 2 would be the Edward named in John Sullivan’s obituary as Edward of Ashland? Viewing the locations on the map, I saw that Ashland, Kentucky was quite near Portsmouth, Ohio. It is reasonable that Edward 2 would have moved to Ashland and that the obituary was correct.
Without any conflicting data, I concluded that Edward 2 was the son of John Sullivan.
Putting it all Together
How do you make sense of a complicated situation such as two individuals with very similar identities? It takes thorough research of all family members, analyzing the data, and then understanding the locality.
How did I organize this search? Using the Research Like a Pro process! My research log holds all of the records and through writing up the research, I was able to make the appropriate connections. If you’re looking for a better way to research, why not join me! Learn more about my book – Research Like a Pro: A Genealogist’s Guide. Learn more about the Research Like a Pro eCourse and Study Group.
Best of luck in all of your genealogical endeavors!
(1) 1860 U.S. Census, Greenbrier County, Virginia, population schedule, Lewisburg post office, page 57 (printed), sheet 255, dwelling 405, family 338, John Sullivan household; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 July 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 1348.
(2) “Prominent Citizen of Nile Township Dies in Pittsburgh,” Portsmouth, Ohio, obituary, 15 March 1900; media gallery, “John Sullivan,” Whalen Family Tree, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 July 2018).
(3) 1880 U.S. Census, Scioto County, Ohio, population schedule, Portsmouth, Ward 5, sheet 256D (stamped), page 8 (printed), Enumeration District (E.D. 175), dwelling 73, family 78, Edward Sullivan household; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 December 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1064.
(4) 1880 U.S. Census, Scioto County, Ohio, population schedule, Buena Vista ,sheet 152A (stamped), page 13 (printed), Enumeration District (E.D. 169), dwelling 113, family 113, Edward M. Sullivan household; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 December 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1064.
(5) “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” Anna Sullivan, wid. Edward, Covington, Kentucky, 1898,digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 December 2018).
(6) Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:1873 Asher Adams Map of the Midwest ( Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky ) – Geographicus – INILOHMOKTTN-aa-1873.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org :accessed December 18, 2018).
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