Martha Gerdeman


Sometimes it’s fun to simply spend time fishing, not in ponds but in records. Maybe a better way to describe what I’m thinking of is “strolling” through records. 

Just for fun, I entered my paternal grandmother’s maiden name into the search box at Ancestry to see what popped up.

This is a line that I haven’t worked much, partly because they came from Germany fairly recently and I had all the names back to the date they emigrated. The first thing that I looked at was the passenger list showing the arrival date of the family. 

I had been told by a great-aunt that they came through the port of Baltimore, so I opened that list. They entered the U.S. on “4 October 1837” on the brig Amalia. And they were cabin passengers, which implies that they had a bit of money.

My direct ancestor George is listed as a boy of 11, making him born about 1826. Previously I had downloaded census schedules for George, so I took a look. In 1900 George reported to the census taker that he was born in July of 1821 and arrived in the U.S. in 1822. That piqued my curiosity, so I looked back at the 1850 schedule and found that he was 23 in 1850, which puts his birthdate about 1827, much closer to the 1826 date calculated from the passenger record.

Since George said he arrived in 1822, I searched for anyone by that name arriving in that year. Nothing. As I’ve mentioned many times, our ancestors did not celebrate their birthdays. The official “as of” date for the 1850 census was 1 June. 

The Neidhart family arrived in Baltimore in October 1837. It makes sense that George’s birthday really was in July, making him 11 when the ship docked, but only 23 on 1 June 1850. He just wasn’t sure about his age. 

I kept looking at various categories which included Neidharts. I found a high school yearbook with a photo of one of my dad’s cousins, whom I think I may have met at some time.

After that, I decided to stroll a bit more. I entered my mother’s maiden name “Folsom” and “Circleville, Ohio,” where the family originally settled, into the search box. Up popped a high school yearbook from the 1930s, listing all alumni of the local high school. There was a cousin of my grandfather, graduated in 1916 and listed as deceased. I happen to know that he was killed in World War I.

I also found the Harvard Law School directory that was periodically issued — which taught me a new word: quinquennial, meaning every five years. 

There was my great-grandfather’s cousin, who had entered in 1844 and left in 1845. Apparently, it took only one year to finish law school then because everyone on the page spent only that long. I knew he had claimed to study law at Harvard, and it seems that he really had. 

He was also listed in an alumni directory of Miami (Ohio) University. Both he and his older brother, my great-grandfather, attended Miami U., but apparently Grandpa George didn’t graduate because he was not on the alumni list. He became a farmer; his brother, an attorney. Guess which line of the family had the most money.

That was fun, so I moved on to my own maiden name “Orsborn,” along with the town in Ohio where I was born. I found the seventh-grade yearbook photo of one of my first cousins. I’m sure she’ll be really happy when she sees I posted it on Facebook. Fortunately, I was unable to find any of my own yearbooks, so she can’t get even.

It sounds like a wasted day, but I really did get some information that I had not previously found. More importantly, I was reminded that there are many sources we do not usually use and sometimes forget exist. 

Even if I had no subscription to Ancestry, those passenger lists are also on FamilySearch, which is free. And in the past, I have found directories for colleges and universities on Google Books. 

Don’t forget that vital records and census schedules are not the only sources of information for your family.

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