Saturday, April 22, 2006

Great-grandmother's female siblings

From: Jim Cochrane
I am stumped in trying to find the names of my gg-grandmother's female siblings. My gg-grandmother was Eliza Ann Cochran, she is listed as being confirmed at the Presbyterian church in Westfield, NY in 1837. Her obituary, from 1888, in the Gary Interstate Newspaper of Gary, SD says she had 4 sisters and a brother. Through research done by my aunt many years ago, her brother evidently lived in Washington state in the late 1800s. I believe I may have located him and he never married. I have been trying to figure out how I could learn the names of her 4 sisters who must have lived in the Westfield, NY area for a time. I have written the church there, and don't ever get a reply. I have tried the Pendergast Library without success as well. Do you have any suggestions?

Although it is often difficult to trace female ancestors, your do have several options available since you already know the maiden name. Ol' Myrt recommends:

-- US FEDERAL CENSUS RECORDS (searchable at and through library access to Heritage Quest). Most particularly you will want to view the 1850, since it is the first to list every member of the household by name. Unfortunately the relationship to head of household isn't mentioned until the 1880, which would be too late for Eliza Ann's birth family.

-- MARRIAGE RECORD of Eliza Ann as perhaps one of the witnesses is a member of her side of the family. I am thinking specifically of the civil marriage license application and return, not the church record. Also look for any other brides with the maiden name Cochran, as they may prove to be Eliza Ann's siblings or cousins. These will probably be loosely indexed on the "C" page at the BEGINNING of the marriage register book.

-- DEATH RECORD for Eliza Ann. Did her spouse provide the info or was it a child or sibling of Eliza Ann that was forthcoming?

-- PROBATE RECORDS in Westfield, New York for anyone with the last name Cochran. You are hoping to find parents and paternal grandparents who will mention Eliza Ann and her siblings as heirs. Admittedly we have no way of knowing that they died in the area. These will probably be loosely indexed on the "C" page at the BEGINNING of the will books or a separate index to probate files.

-- PROBATE RECORDS in Gary, South Dakota for Eliza Ann's will and/or distribution of estate. It is entirely possible one or more of her siblings will be listed. Remember to look for her under her married name. It would be advisable to look at her husband's will and probate packet for the same reason.

-- CHURCH RECORDS. OK, let's tackle this matter. Imagine how the secretary at the church would receive your family history query, at the same time the local congregation is worrying about fund raising to replace the old organ, and what to do with the squirrels in the belfry. You must admit that we do not know if Eliza Ann is the oldest or the youngest, so the church secretary would have to look at about 40 years of records prior to her confirmation and 40 years following her confirmation. With cryptic handwriting in old church books being what it is, I can see how a busy office worker would not be able to honor your request. Unless the inquiry is specific, and involves looking at ONLY one record, you are probably not going to get a response. So what's a family historian like you to do?

SAMPLE OBJECTIVE: Obtain Eliza Ann Cochran's confirmation record, which your family believes occurred in 1837. This would give you her parent's names.

-- Search for the record first on microfilm through the LDS Family History Library or its 4,000+ branch Family History Centers. See the online catalog at for the correct microfilm number to order. If the records are on microfilm, you can search them to your heart's content to find the confirmation of all of Eliza Ann's siblings. Hopefully all of the sisters were married in the same church as well. Then you could trace their families under the new married names in US Federal Census records and such.

-- Failing that, send your SINGLE request to the church via snail mail.

It also occurs to Ol' Myrt that there might be more than one Presbyterian church in the Westfield area. A thorough study of that county history including printed books and info at should reveal the answer.

-- Carmack, Sharon. A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Female Ancestor: Special Strategies for Uncovering Hard-To-Find Information About Your Female Lineage. 152 pp. (1998) ISBN: 1558704728

-- Schaeffer, Christina. The Hidden Half of the Family. 310 pp. (1999, 2003) ISBN: 0806315822.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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