Friday, April 01, 2005

Oh where, oh where is my ancestor from?

From: Gwendowlyn Knapp

I have records for my Huffman family (1830 census, 1845 guardianship papers) that have the family name spelled Huffman and coming from New Jersey (children born in NJ). This is while the family was in Ohio. Then, later, when the family had moved to Indiana, sometimes it is spelled Hoffman, other times Huffman.
Also, in my gggg-gm obituary, it states that she was born in PA (not in NJ like it was on census records up to 1900). The 1840 census has her parents born in NJ and then her and her sister born in NJ, her brother and other sister born in OH.

The question is.....what trail would you go down? Would you look for Huffmans in NJ Hoffmans in NJ Huffmans in PA or Hoffmans in PA? I'm stuck in Ohio and don't know which path to go. I've found a
couple of William Huffmans in NJ, but then again, there are also William Hoffmans there; the same holds true for PA.

Genealogists all over the world could sing this lament to the tune of that familiar childhood tune about a little dog gone:

Oh where, oh where is my ancestor from?
Oh where, oh where can that be?
I've looked high and low
Thru three courthouses you know.
Oh where, oh where can it be?

Seems you now understand that in genealogy, spelling doesn't count. This is particularly true when we realize there was no standardization of name spelling in the US until the advent of the Social Security Administration. Daniel Webster did his part to standardize spelling of other words, but these were both 20th century efforts.

You are correct to question the obituary's listing of your ancestor's birthplace, since more than likely the informant at the time of her death was not present at the time of her birth. Her personal response to a census enumerator is more likely correct, though you have know way of knowing if she was the respondent. It may be that the census taker interviewed her spouse, child or one of her neighbors.

However, it could be that the birthplace was just "across the river" from New Jersey, somewhere in Pennsylvania. Either way, you won't know until you investigate. Keep trying!

WHERE TO LOOK? Unfortunately, you haven't provided details of your 4th great-grandmother's name and calculated birth date. Nor do I have any clues as to your oldest known Huffman/Hoffman ancestor's name,
dates, siblings, etc. Therefore, I cannot provide results of an investigation on your behalf.

Even info in the 1850 census would have given me much more to write about.

But not to worry. Let's take it from where we are now.

FIRST: Find out more about all the NJ and PA Hoffman/Huffman by locating them in each available US federal census. I recommend a thorough search of census records at both:
-- through a library like

SECOND: Make notations of the towns/counties where the Hoffman/Huffman name shows up, and where those Hoffman/Huffman folks said they were born in response to the enumerator's query.

THIRD: Search probate records of anyone named William Hoffman/Huffman in both PA and NJ. (Where were the 1845 guardianship papers filed?) You'll probably find these on microfilm through your local LDS Family History Center. Check the online catalog before you go, since its unlikely the local Center will have the exact 3 microfilms you might need from the 3million+ collection out in Salt Lake. See:

Then scour those case files to find the list of heirs that match the names and ages of your 4th great-grandmother's known siblings. Build a body of evidence, and do a write-up on each William Hoffman/Huffman until you are convinced you have the most likely one as her father. Don't forget to look for her mother's probate packet. Unfortunately, it's possible she died after marrying a second or third time, so her name won't be Hoffman/Huffman. You may find her in the household of one of your 4th great-grandmother's siblings in her declining years. On the other hand, she could have pre-deceased her husband. You never know until you look at those old census and courthouse records.


"This table can help you decide which records to search. It is most helpful for post-1800 research.

  1. In column 1 find the goal you selected.

  2. In column 2 find the types of records most likely to have the information you need.

  3. In column 3 find additional record types that may be useful.

  4. Then look for the record type you need in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog.

Note: Records of previous research (Genealogy, Biography, History, Periodicals, and Societies) are useful for most goals, but are not listed unless they are especially helpful."

FIFTH: The United State Research Outline (IBID) has quite a few worthwhile suggestions. There is also a research outline for NJ and another for Pennsylvania. Just go to then click the "search" tab, then click the desired letter of the alphabet, and scroll down to click on the research outline in question.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207

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