Many of us have experienced the frustration of some of our ancestors mysteriously disappearing from the face of the earth. They’re here one minute in some sort of record, like a census or a marriage record, and then there are no more records to be found on them. No death certificate or index, no obituary, no nothing. It’s as if they just ceased to exist. I’ve nicknamed them “The Vanishers”.
My wife has three ancestors that fit this categorization, and two of them are not even ancestors that I would have considered that difficult to track because of the time period in which they disappeared. The first ancestor is however one of those ancestors that exemplify a very common occurrence among those that disappear after the 1880 census.
All three of my wife’s subject ancestors are from West Virginia, and the first I want to discuss is my wife’s great-great grandmother, Sarah Jane Griffith. Sarah Jane was born on 15 Sept. 1853 to Harrison Griffith and Elvira Lacy in what was then, Kanawha County.
Here is Sarah with her family in the 1860 census in Kanawha County:
Here is Sarah and family again in 1870 in Washington Twp., Lincoln County, WV:
Sometime between 1870 and 1880, Sarah marries Henry Jackson Miller.
In the 1880 census, we find Sarah with her husband and children and living next door to her father, who appears to have gotten remarried. Obviously Sarah’s mother (another mystery ancestor) must have passed away :
The above census is the last record of Sarah J. Miller (nee Griffith).
At this point, we can only deduce that Sarah died sometime between 1880 and 1900. By 1900, Sarah’s husband is remarried. We will be able to narrow down the time frame of when Sarah passed away and the reason for this will be clear in discussing our next disappearing act.
Our next “vanisher” was the husband of Sarah J. Miller, Henry Jackson Miller, born 6 Aug. 1853 to Absolom Miller and Mary Pauley in Kanawha County. Henry’s disappearance is a little more baffling as he probably passed away sometime between 1910 and 1920. Not exactly a time period when there is a lack of records and death certificates in West Virginia.
Here is the 1900 census for Henry J. Miller:
There is a lot of information we can glean from this census. We can see that Henry and his new wife Jane E. Humphreys have been married for 3 years, placing their marriage year in 1897. We can also deduce from the youngest child that was born in 1892 to Henry and Sarah, that we now have a 5 year time frame in which Sarah passed away. Notice the 2 Pauley step-daughters. They are the children of Jane E. Humphreys and Enos Pauley, Jane’s first husband. Remember that Henry’s mother was Mary Pauley…Henry and Enos were 2nd to 3rd cousins.
Here is the 1910 census for Henry J. Miller:
The above census is the last record for Henry J. Miller.
Another record that did not show up for Henry besides his death certificate was the World War I Draft Registration for 1917-1918, thus placing Henry’s death between 1910 and 1917-1918.
Our last “vanisher” ancestor is my wife’s great-grandfather, Andrew Brooks Deel. Andrew was born on 22 Sept. 1878 to Levi Nathan Deel and Mary Esther Naylor in Kanawha County.
Here is the 1910 census for Andrew, his wife Ada and his children, including Thelma, my wife’s grandmother:
The number of years married is about right. Andrew and Ada were actually married in 1896, but their ages are not right. Andrew was born in Sept. of 1878 which means he would have been 31 years old when this census was taken and Ada was born 22 Dec. 1881, making her 29 years old. This was a prevalent pattern with Ada throughout the years, growing younger with each consecutive census.
The next record we find for Andrew is the World War I Draft Registration for 1917-1918:
Dated 12 Sept. 1918:
I have researched Andrew Brooks Deel for a number of years. The World War I record above had always been the last record that both my wife and I could find for him…until just a few years ago.
After using some different search techniques and thinking outside the box, I decided to go simple and just use Andrew’s first initials, A.B. and lo and behold, I was given a few nuggets of information we didn’t have before. I got these three hits on Ancestry:
The 1st record shows Ada, Andrew’s wife being appointed Administratrix and Ada’s mother, America Deel, Surety, dated 8 Sept. 1919:
A quick explanation about how Ada’s mother also had the Deel name. America (Hayes) Deel was born 24 Oct. 1853 to Stephen Hayes and Amelia Strickland. In 1896 she married Andrew Brooks Deel’s brother, Michael W. Deel who was born June of 1876 (it’s weird…yeah, we know).
The 2nd record shows Ada being named guardian of her and Andrew’s children, dated 8 Sept. 1919:
The 3rd and last record shows the appraisal of Andrew’s personal estate, dated 22 Sept. 1919:
The inferred date of death from these records for Andrew Brooks Deel is now placed in the year 1919. Although we do not have a death certificate, obituary or grave site for Andrew, we are one step closer to finding one of these important pieces of information. We do believe that, in this time period that it is likely that Andrew passed away from the “Spanish Flu” during the pandemic of that time.
Remember, even though your “vanished” ancestors may remain a mystery, they don’t have to remain that way. Pull out all the stops when doing research and use every trick and technique you have in your arsenal and sometimes, you will be rewarded for your efforts.
To my wife Cheryl, who’s support of my research for both our families and the love she gives me means the world to me.