Alford Abner Sisley

Have you ever thought about being that person who invents a catch-phrase? One of those phrases you hear people say like, “later, dude” or “Cowabunga”? Or maybe when you were younger you wanted to start a new dance craze? Well, my mother and grandmother have the great distinction of inventing Alford Abner Sisley out of thin air.

Alford Abner Sisley was born on February 11, 1848 in Meadville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania to Lewis William Sisley and Catherine Betts and died on February 11, 1948 in Clinton, Rock County, Wisconsin. Look him up, he’s all over the internet, on family trees dotted throughout the United States. Like Forrest Gump, Alford probably fought in wars and met presidents. After all, he lived to be 100 years old. And like Forrest Gump, Alford is a purely fictional character. Made up out of thin air.

Alford Abner Sisley
Birth 11 Feb 1848 in Meadville, Crawford, Pennsylvania, United States
Death 11 Feb 1948 in Clinton, Rock, Wisconsin, United States
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• Birth
1848 11 Feb
Meadville, Crawford, Pennsylvania, United States
• Death
1948 11 Feb Age: 100
Clinton, Rock, Wisconsin, United States

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Family Members
• Lewis William Sisley
1803 – 1880

Catherine Betts
1807 – 1880

Show siblings
Spouse & Children
• No Spouse

You might ask yourself why my mother and grandmother would have done such a thing. The answer is simple. It was the early 1950’s and they were transcribing a family Bible. The actual reading should have been Absalom Sisley but they had difficulty making out the faded ink and read it as Alford. From that moment on, Alford took on a life of his own. He made it onto family trees in the 1950’s and 1960’s and then came the invention of the internet. Alford loved the internet! Alford has soared through the internet with the ease of no one double-checking their facts. He soared through the internet with the ease of absolutely not one piece of documentation supporting his birth, life, or death.

Since his creation Alford has spread his wings so wide that he can never be recalled. Sending emails and adding notes to trees is useless because he just sprouts up on a new tree. Poor Alford, a man without a document or a burial place. Sentenced to roam across the World Wide Web forever. When you come across poor Alford, do him a favor, don’t add him to your tree. Alford has had a miserable life and deserves to pass away into the thin air from whence he came.

A Perfect Courthouse

I had a dream about the perfect courthouse for genealogical research. My perfect courthouse was not in a basement smelling of mold and mildew. It was not a room furnished with old wooden benches with splinters that dug into my legs and one old scarred wooden table that I couldn’t write on without piling up notebooks to give myself an even level on which to write. It was not hot in winter and cold in the summer.

My perfect courthouse was a new, sparkling glass, climate controlled building with tables big enough to spread my working materials out and comfy, pillowy chairs on which to sit for hours and the records room was on the first floor in an easily accessible, brightly lit room. In my perfect courthouse all the records I want are filed correctly and never missing and filed at eye level so short people like me (in my family we call ourselves normal and everyone else is a giant) can read and reach. My perfect courthouse has workers who are as much enthralled with genealogy and history as I am and they enjoy conversations about interesting topics like cemeteries and county histories and when the first marriage was recorded. And my perfect courthouse is filled with researchers having fun.

In my perfect courthouse, there has never been a fire or a flood. The records are not dry and brittle and the ink is not fading. In my perfect courthouse, they recorded every marriage and actually kept the records and I finally learned the name of my 4th great-grandmother. Ah, my perfect courthouse was a wonder to behold, but alas, I awoke to find my perfect courthouse fading away in a wisp of smoke.

So I am faced once more with the difficulty of deciphering 19th century script written with faded ink on brittle paper. I search for names like Sisley that are spelled in a hundred different ways with the S interchangeable with C and the other letters used however the writer felt at the moment, sometimes Sisley, sometimes Ceslee, or maybe it is filed under Z. So many choices.

There are some wonderful and remarkable courthouses throughout the United States that house interesting collections. If you get a chance, drive by the Decatur County Courthouse in Greensburg, Indiana, they have a tree growing through the roof! My New Year’s wish is that you get to do research in your perfect courthouse and this year find that one record which will break through your brick wall. Happy New Year.

Marietta E Henshaw

A stone monument in Oak Hill Cemetery in Red Bluff, California bears the simple words, “Marietta, wife of M. Merritt” and “Rosanna, daughter of M. and M.E. Merritt” with their birth and death dates engraved, telling us that Marietta died at 22 years old and Rosanna at 21 days. Who were Marietta and Rosanna and what circumstances led to such early deaths for mother and child?

Marietta E Henshaw was born in 1856 in Iowa to James Henshaw and Margaret Trullinger. James was a farmer and carpenter born in Ohio in 1815. Margaret was born in 1821 in Fountain County, Indiana. She was from a strong German family whose ancestor, Hans Michael Trullinger, emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in 1743 as part of the Palatine German Immigration to the United States. Each coming generation would see that family move further West, from New Jersey to Ohio, to Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and then to California.

Marietta’s father served in Company L, Illinois 16th Cavalry Regiment and died January 20, 1864 at Camp Nelson, Nicholasville, Kentucky during the Civil War. He is buried in Kentucky, Marietta was 8 years old and her sisters Elizabeth and Sarah were 9 and 12. Life on that Iowa farm must have been very difficult for Margaret Henshaw with a farm to run and three young children who still needed mothering.

On September 24, 1873 Marietta married Marion Merritt in Davis County, Iowa. In less than two years, Marion and Marietta would leave their families behind in Iowa and make the long and difficult trek to Red Bluff, Tehama County, California. We don’t know if they traveled by wagon over land or if they were able to take a train from Iowa to Sacramento and shorten the long overland trip. By whatever means they arrived, they would not be in California alone, Marion’s oldest brother, George Merritt was already living in Cottonwood, Tehama County, California and he and his children were eagerly awaiting the couple’s arrival.

Marion and Marietta settled on a ranch four miles north of the town of Red Bluff on the Sacramento River. It was here they started their new lives in California. How different the area must have seemed as compared to that in Iowa, with the fruit trees and green grass in winter. Winter wheat was a major crop in the area at the time. Growing wheat in winter was unheard of in the Midwest. Marietta often visited with her neighbor, Mrs. Pierce who lived less than a mile from the ranch on the Humboldt Road. In 1875, according to the book “History of Davis County, Iowa” Marion was said to be “engaged in lumbering and later farming” in Red Bluff.

Sadly, Marion’s brother George would die in 1876 at the age of 44, leaving behind six children, three of them under the age of eighteen. He is buried in the Cottonwood Creek Ranch Cemetery. George was able to send a letter to his sons in the lumber camp asking them to come down the mountain to see him. He had been sick with chills since he had returned from the camp three weeks earlier. Writing to his son Frank he said, “I am in an offel fix I think”.

On Wednesday, June 26, 1878 Marietta gave birth to their daughter Rosanna. It is likely that she had other pregnancies during their 5 years of marriage but this is the only one recorded. Tragically, the baby would die only weeks later. According to friends and family, from that time on Marietta would be subject to bouts of depression. One can only imagine the doubts and self-incriminations Marietta placed upon herself and we can wonder whether the isolation of the area and the times played a part in coming events.

On Friday, December 6, 1878 Marietta walked through the fields to her neighbor’s house one final time. She spent most of the day visiting with Mrs. Pierce and the newspaper reports that as she left, she casually asked Mrs. Pierce for some strychnine because the rats had become “somewhat troublesome” around her house. At 4 pm, her husband and a ranch-hand heard loud screaming coming from the home and rushing in, they found Marietta alone, screaming and thrashing and suffering greatly. The ranch-hand quickly ran to town stopping first at the nearest house and sending Mrs. Pierce back to help Marion. Dr. G.W. Westlake returned within an hour but there was nothing that could be done. Mrs. Pierce told the doctor about the poison. Marietta was 22 years old, her sad death chronicled in The Daily People’s Cause, Red Bluff’s local paper at the time.

Marietta’s funeral took place on Sunday morning, December 8 at 10 am at her home, the Reverend J.E. Fisher conducted the services. According to the newspaper a large number of friends and acquaintances attended. A large procession passed through town for the final interment at Oak Hill Cemetery. Marietta was buried next to her daughter. The monument in their memories still stands today as a stark reminder of how difficult life was in the 19th century.

Marion left Red Bluff in 1880, he had watched his brother die, his child and finally his wife, there appeared to be nothing more than memories tying him to California. We can only wonder about his last day, did he visit their graves before he left? He returned to Iowa and in 1882 married Magdalena Bircheinier. They had 2 daughters, Ida was born in Missouri in 1884 and died at the age of one year on January 12, 1885. Effie was born in Missouri in 1886 and was three years old when she died on August 25, 1889. Marion Merritt died in a tragic work accident on October 31, 1890 when a falling brick struck him on the head, he was 39 years old.

As Christmas nears, I think of Marietta and how she must have dreaded that first Christmas after the loss of her baby girl. My heart breaks for what she went through and the losses she experienced. Marietta Henshaw was my first cousin 4x removed.

Research Documents

1860 FC Lick Creek, Davis, Iowa; Roll: M653_317; Page 739; Image 227; Family History Library Film: 803317

1870 FC Fox River, Davis, Iowa; Roll: M593_386; Page 68B; Image 142; Family History Library Film: 545885 Iowa, Select Marriages, 1809-1992 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2014. Original data: Iowa, Marriages, 1809-1992. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

Obituary: The Daily People’s Cause, Red Bluff, CA 7 Dec 1878 U.S., Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, compiled 1861–1865. ARC ID: 656639. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s–1917. Record Group 94. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

History of Davis County, Iowa: Des Moines: Iowa Historical Company, 1882 California, Voter Registers, 1866-1898 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Great Registers, 1866–1898. Microfilm, 185 rolls. California State Library, Sacramento, California.

Newspaper article of Funeral: The Daily People’s Cause, Red Bluff, CA 9 Dec 1878 U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2010. Original data: Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Farmington Hills, MI, USA: Gale Research, 2012.

Adoption and Genealogy

Friends of mine are celebrating the finalization of their adoption journey. What a wonderful time of year for that kind of celebration. Adding new family members is always a joyful time be it through marriage, birth, or adoption, we throw parties and celebrate. I like those kind of parties!

Adoption brings unique challenges to genealogy. Some of those challenges include closed records, lost records, forgotten or lost facts, people whose memories are fading. Thankfully for the genealogist, each year it is a little easier to search for those adoption records and histories. One site to look at when beginning an adoption record search is

When you are searching for adoption history though, don’t overlook the obvious. By that I mean those people who were around during the adoption. Family and friends. They always know the secret. Not every adoption is closed with difficult to obtain records. Some are open and the adoptee is welcome, even encouraged at times, to seek out birthparents. But even in those cases, some facts and perceptions are left out of the records.

Turning to the friends and family who were supporting the adoptive parents can give you an understanding of what was really going on at the time. Perhaps they know the convoluted relationships that made the adoption possible. You know the relationship, the one where Cousin Mary’s brother-in-law’s niece is in a difficult situation? Having that information when a search began would drastically narrow the search parameters.

With all that being said however, we need to be cognizant of the fact that maybe this isn’t our duty as the family genealogist. If the adoption was years ago and everyone involved has died then I say go for it, no problem. If, however, some of those involved are still living we need to realize that unless we are directly involved, this may be none of our business. “I just want to put facts in my tree”, you say. “Are those your facts to share?” I ask in return. This is not just a case of revealing Skeletons in the Closet as my previous post addressed. These are real people with real hurts and we need to understand that adding to that already existing pain is not what we want to do.

Adoption and genealogy go hand in hand and I praise God when I come across it in my own tree because I know that here is someone who cared about this child, someone who loved this child enough to share their name. If an adoptee in your family comes to you looking for information, consider their age and the circumstances before you answer. Think through on whether the person is ready for what you will share or whether their parents are ready for you to share what you know.

Adoption and genealogy are challenging. What do you do when you come across an adoption? Do you stop and thank God? As family historians, let’s be the ones who bring adoption out into the open, not to reveal the pain, but to share the joy.

Puppy’s At The Bottom and other sayings

A large storm passed through Northern California this week, the weather folks called it the “Pineapple Express”, instead of pineapples though, it dumped lots of water, and caused localized flooding. Sitting up on the higher side of town I could only watch and worry as other areas were inundated with fast moving water. Reading an account in the Red Bluff Daily News of one man’s struggle with the flood I smiled when he was quoted as saying, “It was a 2 cup coffee kind of day”. What a quaint saying I said to my mother later and she told me a story about her grandmother, Anna Mary Sisley born in 1878 in Iowa and died in 1966 in Montana.

It seems that whenever Anna Mary served soup or stew she would announce, “Puppy’s at the bottom”! What did that mean? I learned it was in reference to her time spent living in the Dakota’s near the Sioux Indians. A Native American phrase? Further questions led me to the answer. “Puppy’s at the bottom” refers to the fact that the yummy, tasty, tender meat of the stew is at the bottom of the bowl or pot. Not that I’m condoning the eating of puppies, but I think I might have to make that one of my catch phrases now. I will enjoy watching my family’s faces as I serve Christmas dinner while proudly announcing, “Puppy’s at the bottom”.

Another saying we have in our family is, “The fruit man is here”, always said in a happy, excitable voice. This is something my grandmother, Katherine Beck Jankus born in 1915 in Baylor, Valley County, Montana and died in 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada, would announce loudly to anyone in hearing distance whenever she learned the Fruit Man was in town. What is a Fruit Man? Similar to what we know as a peddler, this was someone who traveled from town to town selling his wares, in this case, fruit. Glasgow is in Valley County in North Eastern Montana and before the advent of modern conveniences people there had to wait for the yearly arrival of the Fruit Man to buy that fruit they were unable to grow themselves.

Are there sayings that are unique to your family, something that holds special meaning? Have you shared those stories with your children and grandchildren? The next time your family gathers together share with them the stories behind those everyday phrases. Or just surprise them by announcing, “Puppy’s at the bottom”!

Yukon Helen

As family researchers our jobs are not just to investigate the facts but to learn about the people, the times, and how they influenced each other. Are there occasions you when came upon a name that just drew you in, someone whom you wished to know more about? That is just the way I felt when I came across Yukon Helen and thankfully her son kept a couple of letters giving me some answers to my questions.

Helen Branch was born in 1838 in St. Lawrence County, New York and married Walter Elon Howe, my 1st cousin 5x removed. Helen and Walter had 3 sons, 2 living to adulthood. So far they appear to be a normal hard-working farming family settled in upper New York, but looks can be deceiving can’t they?

After years of marriage, with their two sons grown, one newly married and the other practicing medicine in Iowa, Helen made a choice that would affect all of their lives. She made the fateful decision to travel from New York State to the Yukon Territory in search of gold! Helen was 59 years old. She writes in a letter to her younger son Artie that she doesn’t wish for her older son William to travel to the Yukon without “near family”, I’m guessing she didn’t consider his new wife to be “near” enough.

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So Helen, her son William and his newlywed wife Mabel Short packed their belongings and made the journey to Seattle where they joined the throngs of men (and a few women) heading for the gold fields of the Yukon Territory. Arriving in Seattle the small group learned that the gold fields had all been claimed. Since they had prepaid for their journey to Skagway, they decided to continue. One of the requirements the Canadian government had set in place was that each person was required to carry in with them 1,000 pounds of food and supplies.

Being resourceful people, Helen and William bought 1,000 pounds of flour, sugar and blackberries. They made the arduous journey and settled at Lake Bennett which was at the bottom of Chilkoot Pass and the spot where the miners began their boat trek on the Yukon River. In this spot Helen, William, and Mabel set up a sales counter and began to bake and sell blackberry pies for $100 in gold dust each. William also purchased used mining equipment from the men returning to the States and resold it to newly arrived prospectors.

Helen died in 1898, just a few short months after arriving in the Yukon. Although there is a headstone in Potsdam, St. Lawrence County, New York with her name inscribed, I think it is more likely that she was buried where she died in Tagish, Yukon Territory. The cost of transporting her body at that time would have been prohibitive. William and Mabel remained in the Yukon for a few years, showing up in Seattle in the 1910 Federal Census. They moved to Los Angeles sometime before 1930 where William died in 1933. Mabel lived a great many more years, dying at the age of 95 in Los Angeles in 1967.

Yukon Helen is remembered in her family as a woman of great spirit with an indomitable will to go her own way. Genealogists love to seek out stories of perseverance, grit, and determination and pass them on, it is a way of learning who we are. I encourage you to pass on your stories. You can start by just writing them down.

Is It Time To Prune Your Tree?

I enjoy searching and finding and adding records to my tree. I take great joy at picking through lists and tables and finding something that relates to my family. That being said, sometimes I am wrong. I admit it. There are many times I’ve spent hours doing research and adding names only to realize at some point late into the night that I’ve been bamboozled. I have followed a rabbit trail of ancestors and ended up in a deep lagoon so to speak. So I backtrack, one by one I delete my entries until I am back where I started.

It’s easy to spot my error when I’ve just started working on a new line, but what about something I entered two years ago? Sometimes I have to go back over information that I’ve worked on in the past and make sure it is still valid. We are blessed to live in a time where we can instantly access many records and new ones are posted every day, sometimes every minute. By reviewing past entries many times I can see new avenues for research and also see where I might have gone off-track.

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Hattie, Hiram Allen, Ruby, and Merle (my great-grandmother)

That is what happened with my 2nd great-grandmother Hattie Jane Thomas. I knew when she died (1910) and where (Kansas), I knew from census records she was born in Ohio about 1873. However, I had no idea who her parents were or how she got from Ohio to Kansas. After much research I found a Hattie Jane Thomas the right age living in Kansas with her grandparents. Everything fit. Except it was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The following year my mother was searching online records from Iowa and found an adoption record for Mary Alice Thomas who was adopted in 1882 by Aaron and Josephine Stuver. This information led to Iowa census records which listed a father and 3 sisters including Hattie Jane Thomas. New doors were suddenly opened and the old ones shut tight.

From that little bit of information I was able to track down obituaries which listed Hattie Jane’s parents’ names. Suddenly I was able to trace Hattie Jane’s line back to Massachusetts and learned that Joseph Bailey and his wife Priscilla Putnam Bailey, my 9th great-grandparents were one of the leading couples involved in the Salem Witch Trials.

These new family lines only came available to me because I was willing to let go of my preconceptions. As researchers we must be open to new ideas and we must be willing to graciously accept when we have incorrect information. Are you watching out for the sick branches so they don’t infect your tree? As your tree branches out into more limbs and branches do you continue to prune?

How Many Rosina Goehrings Can There Be?

I was spending some time recently filling in information on a relative not in my direct line. Too many people in my tree? Too much information? Never. I know that at any time, the least likely person may email me with that wonderful tidbit for which I’ve been waiting years. So to make it easy for that as yet unknown person, I prodigiously add people. While working on Henry Fauth born 1869 in Russia and died 1948 in South Dakota I noticed discrepancies in the information for his wife Rosina Goerhing.  Some records had her dying in 1933, some in 1948 and yet there she was in the 1940 census living with Henry in South Dakota, albeit with a slightly different birth year.

The interesting thing about researching Germans from Russia and my Germans from Germany lines is that everyone used the same names. It was a rule. An unbroken rule that they must name every child with the same name and these children all had to be born the same year in the same place. If their child died, they just reused the name until it stuck. So not only did I have to verify I had the correct Rosina, I had to verify I had the correct Henry. The other interesting thing about researching records for Germans from Russia? Many of the records are in German. Did you know there were German newspapers in South Dakota, Montana and California?

I received a copy of Henry Fauth’s obituary written in German of course, and with my limited knowledge of the German language I began to pick my way through it when I had a breakthrough. Henry’s wife Rosina Goehring had died in 1933 and within months he married Rosina Goehring. Aha! There are two of them. That too must be a rule for Germans, always marry another person with the same name as your deceased partner.

When we are researching we need to keep in mind the fact that even though the name is the same we could really be looking at the record of an entirely different person. This is especially true when researching women. Look for secondary records or support for your hypothesis because that Mary in the 1850 census might not be the same woman as the Mary in the 1860 census. If something looks questionable to you then keep asking your questions. You too might have two Rosinas and not know it.

Skeletons in the closet? Quick, shut the door!

skeletonSkeletons in the closet? Quick, shut the door! What is your reaction when you learn about the skeleton your family has been hiding all these years? Are you horrified? Do you pretend it isn’t real? Or do you face it head-on, like an historian?

Skeletons are scary things. We are frightened of them and many times it is with good reason. When we discover something unsavory in our history it is difficult for us to acknowledge the depravity of humankind and that it exists in our own family tree. Having said that we need to recognize that there are skeletons and then there are SKELETONS. Believe me, there is a difference.

Learning about a peccadillo your 2nd great-uncle was involved in is much different than learning he was a mass murderer. So what should you as an historian do when you find a skeleton leering out at you from behind a long-forgotten record? Do you shove him back or do you let him out? The answer depends. Yes, it really depends on the situation.

Will letting him out hurt someone now living? Will revealing this skeleton cause more pain in your family? Or is it so long ago or so minor compared to what goes on today that no one really cares? These are the issues we as genealogists must consider each day. Will what I post online cause pain to someone I love? If your answer is yes, my suggestion is to hold it back and wait for a more suitable time to reveal that particular skeleton. You might have to wait years but it is something you won’t regret. As genealogists we love knowledge in all its facets, however that love is not something shared equally in our families. If keeping that skeleton hidden just a couple of more years is going to protect great-aunt Miranda from learning about something objectionable her father did 90 years earlier, than do it. You won’t regret it.

Now that you’ve heard the story what do you do next?

Now that you’ve heard the story what do you do next? You know the story I mean, the one grandpa tells every time the family gets together. Maybe your story is the one where grandpa’s great-great-grandfather fought under George Washington. Or maybe he married a Cherokee princess, or maybe his cousin was Hannibal Lector.

When you are ready to learn the true facts of your family’s stories, narrow down which story you want to most prove (or disprove). Focus on just that one story. That word is the key to success. Focus. Single-mindedness. Don’t allow yourself to be side-tracked by the other interesting stories you come across. Note them down for later research and immediately return to your main goal.

Having a goal will keep you motivated and on the track to completion. If your story is about an ancestor fighting under Washington, look for your ancestor’s Revolutionary War pension application or land grant.

Research your ancestor’s movements in the Revolutionary War, in what battles was he involved? From which colony did he join? Was he the right age? Research the possibilities before you try to prove the connection. Why spend your time researching General Washington’s battles if your ancestor wasn’t born until 1770. You’ve never wasted your time when researching your own ancestor.

Keep notes on what you learn, record everything that you find, companies he was in, and captains he served under, other family members he served with, and pay records. Each of these documents will help you to slowly build your case. Once you have your proof contact your local Daughters of the American Revolution or Sons of the American Revolution Chapter and ask them what documents you need to join, they will be happy to give you that information. Good luck on your family story!