Genealogy is a process. It’s more like a marathon than a sprint. With genealogy, there is always something new to find and something new to learn about a relative. I have been researching my family for almost seven years, and there is still vital and basic information for some of my relatives that I am still looking for like death dates and places. It’s times like these that I have to look at my records and information that I have gathered for that particular relative with fresh eyes. There are some documents that I obtained over five years ago which was the early stage of my research. I have learned more about this genealogy process and know about different research tools and techniques that I didn’t have knowledge of when I first obtained some documents or information. It can be like looking at a record for the first time.
This is certainly the case with my 2X great-grandmother Josie Ward Skipper. I have been able to find her on every US Census from 1870 – 1940 living in Woodruff County, Arkansas. I have been able to find some of her siblings’ death records, but for some reason, I was never able to locate her after the 1940 US Census. When I hit a brick wall with one relative, I always step away from that person for a while and start researching another relative. That is what I did when I couldn’t find any new information about Josie, except that when I stepped away from her that was over three years ago. So when I hit a brick wall earlier this month, I looked at my family tree to see what information I needed and for whom, and that’s when I realized that it had been a while since I tried to find anything new for Josie. Instead of picking up where I left off, I started out from the beginning like I had never researched her before. This time around I decided to use an Ancestor Research Checklist to aid me in my research and keep me focused and organized. I printed out a checklist that I found at my local library and stapled it to the front of a manila folder. That way any information that I printed out for Josie would be inside her folder. This checklist allowed me to document the information as I found it, compare what I had from before, and let me see at a glance what I had left to find which included her placed and date of death and where she was buried.
So after I reviewed all the information I had, I decided to start researching at FamilySearch.com. This is a website that I only just started using more within the last year or so. I figured that I hadn’t used it three years ago, so that’s where I started. I started by entering Josie’s father. I don’t know why, but if I have information about a person’s father, I always search him first. That’s just my research style. And to my surprise ‘Jassie Walker’ popped up as the first result. If you are familiar with FamilySearch.com, then you know one of the research results includes a relationship. And in the relationship column, ‘Jassie Walker’ was listed as a child of Tillman Ward (Josie’s father). At first, I didn’t think anything of it because of the spelling and kept scrolling through the other results. And when I didn’t see anything of interest, I returned and looked more closely at ‘Jassie Walker’ now seeing that the record was a Michigan death certificate, 1921-1952. As I continued to read the entire search result, it also listed Eliza Ward as the mother. I have Josie’s mother’s name as Eliza Ann Ward. Could this be just a coincidence? At that moment I clicked to view all additional information on this record….it listed her name, event type (death), event date (08 August 1941), Event Place (Saginaw, Michigan), gender, age, marital status, birth year (1881), father and mother’s name.
Now that I’m looking at all of this information, I see that the year of birth is off by 13 years. I have her birth year as 1869. The last name didn’t match, and in every Census record, she was listed living in Woodruff County, Arkansas. But the parent’s names were correct, so I thought I needed to look into ‘Jassie Walker’ death a little more before I decided this wasn’t my Josie. So I went to google to see if Michigan had any death certificates online. I found the Saginaw Obituary Index and searched for Josie Walker (hoping that was a misspelling from the Family Search transcriber). I got one result – Josie Walker, and the information matched what I found on Family Search for ‘Jassie Walker’. But it had some additional miscellaneous information that included when she moved to Saginaw and from where. This showed that Josie Walker moved to Saginaw in September 1940 from Grays, Arkansas. That’s it…this has to be my Josie. Grays, Woodruff County, Arkansas is where my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother were all born. Grays is where Josie Ward and her family moved to from Tennessee. And Woodruff County is where Josie Ward married Jacob Skipper in 1887. Then and only then did I feel comfortable enough to do the genealogy happy dance.
I found the information that I was looking for, Josie’s death date and place. But like always in genealogy, I have even more questions now. Where did this Walker surname come from and why was she in Michigan. I learned from the Saginaw Obituary Index that she attended Bethel AME Church and Westbrook funeral home was used when she died. So I have more leads to follow-up on to help answer some of the new questions I now have. Also when I reviewed the 1910 US Census for Woodruff County, Arkansas, I discovered that Josie was listed as a widow, something I never noticed or didn’t know to look for before. Which means that her husband Jacob Skipper died between 1900 and 1910 because he was last found in the 1900 US Census in Woodruff County.
This is an exciting time in the world of genealogy. New records are being digitized and are becoming available online every day. There are so many more records available online that weren’t when I started this journey seven years ago. So sometimes it’s a good thing to take a break (not necessarily for three years like I did) when you hit a brick wall because you never know what will be available to help get you over that wall and hopefully lead to even more questions. And this is why my journey continues….
Click HERE to read more about how I continued to research Josie.