There seems to be an inordinate amount of spinsters and childless couples among the siblings of my ancestors. For example, my maternal grandfather had seven siblings who survived to adulthood, but only my grandfather and his two youngest sisters had children.
We know when we research our family, it is a good idea to research not only our direct lines, but collateral lines, also; but, what about those who didn't leave any descendents? Wouldn't it be okay to just gather the vital statistics on them? What would we find on them anyway? The answer – you may find the one piece of information on your family that you couldn't find anywhere else!
A good example of the importance of tracing ALL siblings comes from my paternal grandfather's family. Grandpa was the youngest of four children. All three of his siblings were quite a bit older than he. Both of his parents died when he was young, in Pennsylvania, and he ended up living with one of his sisters in New York until he married my grandmother. Neither he nor his sister had kept in contact with relatives back in Pennsylvania.
Fortunately, I became interested in researching my family about a month before my grandfather passed away, so I was able to talk to him about his family. Unfortunately, he really didn't know anything. He said his mother's name was Dorothea, but did not know her maiden name and didn't think his siblings had known either.
Now, two of Grandpa's siblings passed away long before I was born and the third, the sister he had lived with, died when I was young. Shortly after Grandpa passed away, my father and I went to visit my dad's oldest surviving cousin on that side. When I asked this cousin about his grandmother, Dorothea, I got the same response that I got from my grandfather: "I don't know her maiden name and my mother didn't know either." It seemed that I would never be able to find out my great-grandmother's maiden name, as they had left few records in rural Pennsylvania in the 1890s, and she would forever be a brick wall in my family line.
Enter the childless older sister! Grandpa's oldest sister, Rose, stayed in Pennsylvania. She had married and divorced, but never had any children. Rose had been a tough one to research, as she still has only turned up in one census record (1920). I had known that Rose was killed in an automobile accident, but not exactly when. An aunt had told me it was in the 1940s. After years of searching, I finally found out it was actually in 1936, and I immediately sent for a copy of her death certificate – BINGO!! Her mother's maiden name (turns out the sister had known her mother's name at one time). Genealogy happy dance time!!
Would I have been able to find out my great grandmother's name had I not decided to search the older, childless sibling? Probably not - I had already been looking for over 25 years!! Oh – the other sibling? A brother, who also lived in New York and passed away in 1923, leaving a spinster daughter (!) and a son, whom I have not been able to find. (Death certificates are much harder to obtain in New York than they are in Pennsylvania.)
A great-great aunt, a spinster, on my maternal grandfather's side, had written a short genealogy of the family. Consisting, mainly, of her parents and siblings, with brief notes about her grandparents who died in Germany, it wasn't a lot, but it was SOMETHING, and I was able to use it as a starting point to research that side of the family.
No, these single or childless individuals may not have left you any third cousins to correspond with, but they were important to your ancestors and helped to make them what they were, so research them for that fact alone. Besides --- you never know what family information they may be hiding!! Ask around the family and find out where their things went after they passed away. Chances are they were passed around amongst various family members. See what exciting pieces of your family story you can find. Hope you have a happy dance experience!
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.
Would you like to browse through our collection of GenWeekly articles written exclusively for Genealogy Today? Yes, take me there Would you like to keep up-to-date with the latest releases from Genealogy Today, along with news from a variety of other sources by receiving The Genealogy News (a FREE service) by email? Yes, sign me up Would you like to become a Genealogy Today member and be able to manage your research experience, post messages to forums, add comments to resources and much more? Yes, show me how Would you like to tap into our community of over 85,000 members by posting a query and get assistance breaking down your most difficult brickwalls? Yes, show me how Would you like to go shopping in a marketplace of over 700 items, including charts, scrapbooking materials, books and a variety of unique gifts and supplies? Yes, take me there