Friday, October 07, 2005

Foster child yearns for family history

From: Mary Jane

My father is from Virginia, and the family is no longer living. I was raised in foster care since the age of 3 until I turned 18. I am now 39 and have started searching for his family, etc. My mother says that my father's parents never talked about their life in Virginia and the children are no longer living.

Virginia didn't keep records of birth at the time my (paternal) grandmother was born. According to my father's birth certificate his mother was born in VA. bet. 1903-1904, but then her obit says she was born in 1899. That's a big difference of the 2 years listed. She also used 2 different names:
-- Ethel Fitzgerald
-- May Fitzgerald

We believe her name was Ethel May Fitzgerald. I am trying to find her parents.

My Dad's father is shown as unknown on birth certificate. We believe his name was Jasper Clinton Sanders/Saunders. His obit lists his D.O.B. as July 5, 1879 in VA. I can't seem to find him after 1930 census when he moved here in PA. He died Dec. 29, 1956 in PA. His death certificate shows his father as Jason, but can't find a Jason Sanders/Saunders in VA. I can't find a marriage records anywhere. I thought maybe they married in PA, W.Va., or VA. I also can't find a SS# for them. Any other advice or help? I have an online friend that has been trying to help me and suggested that I email you.


WELCOME to the wonderful (but challenging) world of family history research. A few quick comments, before I do some research for you:

-- You won't normally find a Social Security Death Index entry for people who died before 1969, because the earlier reports were not maintained in the current database available free online at places like

-- Everton's HANDYBOOK FOR GENEALOGISTS states the "Archives Division of the Virginia State Library has copies of all existing Virginia Marriage Records 1853-1936. [...] Probate records are at the county level with the general court and at the county and circuit and superior court. Independent cities have probates at the circuit court clerk's office."

Ol' Myrt here was able to locate this entry, which is quite possibly the JASPER & MAY SANDERS you mentioned:

Name: Jasper C Sanders
Age: 37
Estimated birth year: abt 1893
Birthplace: Virginia
Relation to head-of-house: Head
Spouse's Name: May Sanders
Race: White
Home in 1930: Monongahela, Greene County, Pennsylvania
Enumeration District 30-18, Sheet 17a page 69.
In the household we find:
-- May (wife, age 27, age at marriage 22, born in Virginia)
-- Rolland (son, age 2 8/12, born in Virginia)
-- Harry C (son, age 11/12, born in Pennsylvania)

The entry implies that the marriage took place 5 years earlier, most likely in Virginia since the bride and groom where born in Virginia and so was their first child. Now you don't know WHERE in Virginia to look, so let's see if we can find Jasper in the 1920 US Federal Census, as a child in his father's household.

I AM NOT AT ALL CONCERNED ABOUT BIRTH YEARS BEING OFF AS MUCH AS 5 YEARS IN CENSUS RECORDS. has just completed an every name index of the 1920, so I will look there next. But I'll check the ENTIRE US to see how many other teenagers by the name of "Jasper" or "JC" or "Jasper C" Sanders/Saunders are available. There were many entries (perhaps 30) but they usually had obvious miss-matches such as:

Jasper C Sanders - Oil Trough, Independence, Arkansas abt 1867 Arkansas White
Jasper Sanders - Maschulaville, Noxubee, Mississippi abt 1871 Mississippi White

Jasper C Sanders - Delaware, Defiance, Ohio abt 1917 Ohio White

POSSIBLE, BUT NOT VIRGINIA: (also James not Jasper)
James C Sanders - Wilson, Torrance, New Mexico abt 1908 Texas White

Jasper Sanders - Hart, Yazoo, Mississippi abt 1910 Mississippi Black

VIRGINIA IN 1920, again using
YES, we find that the handwritten "G" could just as easily be a "C" in the following entry:

Name: Jasper G Sanders
Age: 14 years
Estimated birth year: abt 1906
Birthplace: Virginia
Race: White
Home in 1920: Saltville, Washington, Virginia
Sex: Male
Marital status: Single
Relation to Head of House: Son
Able to read: Yes
Able to Write: Yes
Mother's Birth Place: Virginia
Father's Birth Place: Virginia

On viewing the 1920 census image online at we see the other members of the household:
-- James S. Sanders (head of household, 51, born in Virginia, parents born in Virginia, a truck farmer)
-- Sarah E. (wife, 30, born in Virginia, parents born in Virginia)
-- Hector (son, 20, single, born in Virginia, parents born in Virginia)
-- Jasper C. (son, 14, single, born in Virginia, parents born in Virginia)
-- Ethel H or M (daughter, 12, single, born in Virginia, parents born in Virginia)
-- Francis (daughter 10, single, born in Virginia, parents born in Virginia)

With a wife clearly age 30, and James' son Hector listed as age 20, its most likely that Sarah is the 2nd wife, and perhaps not the mother of at least Hector. However, she could have married young and had Jasper at age 16. Don't count on it either way until you learn more about the family.

It is also interesting that "Ethel" a daughter of the same man that is the father of your ancestor Jasper C. And it is interesting that one interpretation of the handwriting was that the middle initial might be "M."

1. Obtain copies of all census records working back as far as possible for James S. Saunders. Expect in 1910 he will just barely be married to Sarah and in 1900, he will probably have a different wife.

2. Search census images for 1900 census, before Ethel May was married. Some likely entries in Virginia (assuming that is her home state) include:
-- Ethel Fitzgerald - Bellefonte, Nottoway, Virginia abt 1898 Virginia Black Daughter
-- Ethel Mary Fitzgerald - South River, Augusta, Virginia abt 1893 Virginia White Daughter
-- May Lillie Fitzgerald - South River, Augusta, Virginia abt 1900 Virginia White Daughter
-- (There are other entries that seem less likely, but I didn't search beyond the state of Virginia.)

IF there was a difference in ethnic groups, that could be a reason for the family to keep things quiet. However, every family has upsets such as divorce or differences in political or religious persuasion that cause people not to talk of that particular branch of the family tree.

3. Look for marriage records. Use the localities of the census records to determine possible county courthouses to search for records. EVERTON'S HANDYBOOK FOR GENEALOGISTS explains: "Washington County was created 7 Cct 1776 from Fincastle. 216 Park Street, Abingdon, VA 24210-3312 Ph 540.628.8733. In 1974 nine square miles of Washington County were annexed to the city of Bristol, which is an independent city with its own clerks office and records. Washington County Clerk of the Circuit Court has marriage, divorce, probate and land records from 1777."

-- Virginia Research Outline
-- West Virginia Research Outline, IBID.
-- Pennsylvania Research Outline, IBID.
-- The Library of Virginia
---- Though in particular, you'll most likely be viewing the Digital Resources:
---- Also see the genealogy pages there:

One big advantage of doing online census research is that you can use both:
-- (perhaps this is free through your LDS Family History Center?)
-- HeritageQuestOnline (service sold only to libraries, so I look at it through
I have found that you must look in both places for every spelling of a name to find different hit lists.
-- 1880 US Index free at with links to free 1880 Census images at

Another thing I would consider -- look at your foster care file with the state or county health department (or whoever had jurisdiction at the time.) Some type of review had to be done to determine the advisability of care to be provided by your parents and your next of kin, so their names and addresses in th elate 1960s would be listed. Let's pray they didn't purge the file.

NOW -- kiddo. Print out this letter, and check off each thing as you complete the task. When you find the census images, etc, print out copies of everything, enter them into your genealogy program, and then file the documents ASAP.

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

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