Archive for the ‘Unsolved Genealogical Mysteries’ Category

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Murphy & Aspery

I feel pretty confident on what I’ve found so far with the Murphy and Asperys, so I’ve created a public tree and have attached most of my sources. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll email you the link. This includes the surnames: Murphy, Quinn, Aspery, and Perchase.  The Murphys moved out of Ireland in the early 1800’s and were always on the go throughout Wales, England, and then finally ended up in Pennsylvania.  Their movements seemed to be guided by the rise and fall of various ironworks around the UK.

Richards & Williams

Margaret Ann Richards (Murphy Patterson) had a sister named Bessie and parents John Richards and Ann Williams. Family lore is that Ann died when the girls were young and John moved them with their step-mother to Pennsylvania from Yorkshire, England in 1882.  I’ve found a potential 1881 census record of a Margaret, Bessie and parents John and Ann in Yorkshire.  But, it also includes other siblings Polly, Joseph, and Elizabeth.  As far as I know, Margaret never mentioned having any other siblings, other than Bessie.  I’m still trying to figure all this out.

Duncan & Rostron

This line includes surnames: Duncan, Glass, Ford, Rostron, Barwell, Kane, and Sullivan.  I’m looking for a descendant of either James Duncan (1769-1861) or Hugh Duncan (1799-1870) to compare DNA with. Also looking for an obituary for Jennie Salina (Ford) Duncan who died in 1936 in Effingham, Illinois.


Definitely need to find a descendant of Samuel Willis (abt 1823-?) or Sarah Jane Hilliard (abt 1818-?) to compare DNA with because I have NO IDEA if these are the correct grandparents of Loretta Alice (Zillifro) Hutchinson. She claimed that her “real” mother was a native american that died during childbirth – which, I know, is very unlikely, but I think it’s still possible that her real mother did die during childbirth and her father, Egbert Zillifro, remarried very quickly after. I’d really like to connect with someone from the supposed step-mother’s line to get to the bottom of it.


I spent so much time on this line, almost an entire year exclusively, that I barely look at it anymore. It includes the surnames: Hutchison, Moorhead, Campbell, Patton, Jamison, Shryock, Anderson, and Blackstone.  They are Irish and Scottish immigrants from the late 1700’s and ended up in the area of Indiana, PA and Butler, PA. This is the line that connects to Fergus Moorhead, our Revolutionary War ancestor and would qualify the women in my family to join the Daughters of the American Revolution. Unfortunately, the application rules are so stringent that I completely lost interest.


The Updegraffs are well documented back to the late 1500’s.  It’s my oldest line and they have interesting connections to the creation of the Mennonite church, William Penn, and early Philadelphia. But, I have little to no information on any of the women that married into the Updegraff family (it’s a very lopsided tree!). I’m particularly interested in the Millers of Hagerstown, MD and Somerset, PA.

Pirolt & Rauscher

Oh, my Austrian ancestors!  I feel like I will never know their story. I have a couple leads. One is that my grandfather’s brother supposedly died in WW2 at the Battle of Monte Cassino. If I could be on the show “Who Do You Think You Are,” I would definitely want to do this family line.

Henry Miller Hutchison

WHY did Loretta divorce her husband after 20 years of marriage and leave her two youngest girls mostly unsupervised while she took an extended trip to visit family in another state?  WHY and where did James Joseph Murphy contract typhoid?  And HOW did all ten Davis family members survive the Johnstown flood, floating on the roof, when their house was near Washington Street – the area that was hit the hardest?

I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a bit of a busy-body.  Sometimes the most frustrating part about genealogy is not having a lot of context for certain relationships and events.

But when you have enough details on paper, you can fill in the blanks with your imagination.  And that is one of the best parts of genealogy.

Here’s a good example.

Alexander Campbell Hutchinson (my 2nd great grandfather, Cametta Marie’s father) had three unmarried aunts that lived together for the better part of 85 years: Esther, Isabelle, and Margaret. They reached the marriage age 3-5 years before the Civil War, so that may have something to do with why they never got married.

I was doing some research at the Butler County Courthouse a couple years ago and came across Esther and Isabelle’s will.

Esther Hutchison b. 1938  d. 8 Sep 1900

“Sarah C Wackers son Henry Miller is not to git one dollar of my money as land whaver it may be those that is not scaefied with this my will can git nothing of myen”

Isabelle M Hutchison b. 20 July 1840  d. 27 May 1907

“i have not fixed my mind on who i will leve what money i have left to but if any thing should hapen to me before i have things fixed i wont some friend to see that i get a respectable burial and monument.  friends that has wronged me is not to get any of my money Miller Hutchison is not to get one dollar”

Isabelle’s will was never filed at the courthouse, but was found months after her death stuffed in the chimney.  The newspaper article says that Margaret found it “while ransacking thru the house.”

So, who is this Henry Miller Hutchison?  And I definitely need to find Margaret’s will to see if she also mentions him.

(Margaret J Hutchison b. 22 July 1825  d. 2 February 1910 – if anyone in the Butler area wants to take a trip to the County Courthouse)

It turns out that Henry Miller Hutchison was their nephew.  He was the oldest son of their brother Robert J Hutchison, who died at the young age of 35 in October 1865.

Did Henry Miller do something terrible to his aunts or were they just three crotchety old women?

I can only imagine!

Cursive Handwriting Mysteries

I’m terrible with cursive writing.  We only spent a couple weeks on it in elementary school, then moved on. My 8 year old self thought it was a complete waste of time.

My least favorite part of genealogy is deciphering handwriting.  For goodness sakes, why weren’t most vital records printed, neatly?

Here are my current hang-ups.

Slave, Kane, Cain

Margaret A Rostron was born September 1879 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.  She’s my 2nd great-grandmother, grandmother to Charles Duncan.

Margaret A Rostron’s parents were Annie Nora and James Rostron.  Margaret’s marriage certificate from 9 August 1901 gives both her parent’s names and her mother’s maiden name.  But, her mother’s maiden is not so clear (to me at least).

Margaret Rostron Marriage

Margaret Rostron Marriage Clip
For the longest time, I thought her mother’s maiden was Slave, but it’s not very common and didn’t lead to anything.

Then I found James Rostron’s death certificate (Annie Nora’s husband) from 1925 which listed his wife: Nora Cain. Instead of “Slave” is the first record actually “Kane?”


Her death certificate also lists her father as a Cain, but it’s the same informant on both certificates.


Hannon in Chester

My next mystery is from the death certificate of my 3rd Great Grandfather, William Murphy.  Thanks to the Pennsylvania State Archives opening up death certificates to the public, I’ve had a ton of great breakthroughs.

Everything on the death certificate matches up, his address, occupation, age (range).  But I can’t figure out who the informant is.

WMurphyInformantHe passed away at the home of his daughter, Sarah Davis.  He had two other daughters that I don’t know what happened to, so I’m curious if this is one of them.  I’m also curious because Chester is on the other side of the state so this couldn’t be just a neighbor.

It’s something like Mrs. Nod Hannon? I have no clue.

Catherine Aspery – Solved?

I think I may have actually figured out who her parents were and where she came from.  Here’s how it went:

Thomas Aspery
I started researching Thomas Aspery a couple weeks ago, from the list I made of possible relatives (see previous post).  He had the same uncommon last name, was born in England, same generation as Catherine, and lived in Sharon, PA.  They must have been related!

New Castle News 3 Sep 1917

First, I ordered a couple obituaries for Thomas.  This one lists a father named John Aspery and a sister, Phoebe Talbot of Youngstown.

Phoebe Talbot
Luckily, Phoebe Talbot was not a very common name combination, so it was pretty easy to find her death certificate on

Phoebe (Aspery) Talbot’s Death Certificate

The father is listed as Henry Aspery, not John as Thomas’ obituary said.  Both records are secondary though… maybe the father’s name was “John Henry?”  Another possible issue is Phoebe’s birth year of 1861, making her 22 years younger than brother Thomas.  Either way, the mother’s name is extra helpful: Sarah Perchase.

Sarah Perchase
I began searching England census records for a Sarah, married to either a John or Henry, with children Thomas and Phoebe (and maybe my Catherine!). One census record was particularly promising.

Here we have Sarah with husband Henry and children Thomas, Phoebe, and a Catherine! The grandson named “John Henry” fits with my theory about the father’s name.

Thomas’ age is only slightly off from his obituary, but Phoebe’s is about 8 years off her death certificate age and if this is my Catherine, her age is off by 9 years compared to the 1900 US census.

I found Phoebe in 4 more census records, all of which were consistent with the birth year of about 1853 (within 2 years), so it’s likely the informant on her death certificate just didn’t know exactly.

At this point, I decided that the Thomas and Phoebe in the US is the same Thomas and Phoebe in England, and that they were children of (John) Henry Aspery and Sarah Perchase.  But that still left the question, is this “my” Catherine?

I was at the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg pulling some death certificates and found they have a microfilm of Mercer County death records for 1898-1906.  Catherine died sometime between 1900 and 1906, so I started looking and here’s what I found:

Of course I was on the microfilm machine that doesn’t make copies, so here is a cell phone photo of the image.  That’s my Catherine Aspery-Murphy and her parents were Henry and Sarah!  She died 21 January 1902 at 52 years old (or 56, or 59 depending on who you’re asking!)  With all this I now know lots about Catherine, her parents, siblings, and birthplace.  I may be inferring too much, but I think it all makes perfect sense.  :)

Hutchinson Mystery Men

Hopefully the Vital Records Bill SB-361 gets passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives because I need some vital records! Pennsylvania is super restrictive on their vital records and is one of only eight states that doesn’t offer death certificates and/or indexes online.  For more information, go here: People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access.

Until then, my list of records from PA I’d like to have will just keep getting longer.  Here are two ancestors that I would love to know more about:

William Hutchison
3rd Great Grandfather
Mystery: Missing in 1900 census, unknown death date, unknown birth date, no real source for connection to parents, and an unexplained nickname.

Born around 1821 in Butler, Pennsylvania to Forgus Hutchison and Jane Campbell
Married Ann Marie Jamison and had the following known children:

  • Forgus M Hutchison 1846-1912
  • Mary Elvira Hutchison-Snowden 1848-1915
  • Thompson J Hutchison 1851-1907
  • Margaret A Hutchison-Thompson 1853-?
  • Amanda Jane Hutchison-Ewing 1857-1916
  • Alexander Campbell Hutchinson 1858-1940 (2nd great grandfather)
  • Sarah B “Euphemia” Hutchison-Dieter 1860-?
  • Rosetta Hutchison 1865-?
  • William Hutchison 1869-?

William appears in the Census from 1850-1880 and is living with his wife and children.  His birth years range from 1815-1825.  There are multiple un-sourced trees that list a 1904 death date and the nickname “Fox Bill” or “William Fox,” but no one had any idea where it came from when messaged.  It had to originate somewhere!  Maybe he served in the Civil War?  I couldn’t find William’s will at the Butler County office, but I did find his father’s *very long* one that leaves lists of items to various people, but never mentioning specifically his “son” William.  The 1900 Census would certainly provide more information, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find it.

Alexander Campbell Hutchinson
2nd Great Grandfather
Mystery: Missing in the 1930’s census, possible unknown 2nd wife

Born April 1858 in Butler, Pennsylvania to William Hutchison and Ann Marie Jamison.
Married Loretta Alice Zillifro 14 July 1893 and had 8 children, 5 lived to adulthood:

  • Oscar Bower Hutchinson 1893-1973
  • Roscoe Campbell Hutchinson 1897-1948
  • Victor Harold Hutchinson 1899-1950
  • Cametta Marie Hutchinson 1902-1954 (my great grandmother)
  • Rose Ellen Hutchinson 1904-1982

Alexander Campbell (went by “Cam”) and Loretta were divorced in 1912.  I was so curious why they were divorced as most were only granted under circumstances of cruelty or abandonment.  But, after finding the record in the Butler County Prothonotary office, it just states that Loretta filed for divorce and it was granted a couple months later.  In the 1920 census, Cam is a boarder with an older woman.  He died 23 October 1940; when the PA vital records become public, this is the first death record I’m ordering.  Cam is buried in Concord Cemetery in Butler, but doesn’t have a headstone (the church does not have any older records of the cemetery either).  His obituary states that he leaves a wife at their home in Butler.  I wonder if that is a misstatement, if Cam actually remarried, or if Loretta had moved back in.  The 1940’s census will certainly help with that.

Here’s how we’re related: Forgus Hutchison -> William Hutchison -> Alexander Campbell Hutchinson -> Cametta Marie Hutchinson -> Robert Lee Updegraff -> Barbara Lynn Updegraff -> Me

Friedhof Pörtschach

Greetings from Austria!

What better time to research my dad’s family history, then while on vacation in his hometown!  I’m really starting from scratch  and was hoping to visit the church archive and interview some older family members while on vacation.  Upon contacting the Archiv der Diözese Gurk (Catholic Church Archives), I found out that you must make a FOUR month in advance appointment to do research – a huge disappointment.  This was confirmed over the phone with the church archivist.  So, the archives will have to wait.

One of the first things we did was visit my Oma’s grave in Friedhof Pörtscach.  I loved my Oma very much.  We visited the cemetery many times with her, as most of her family is buried there.  On these visits, she had no interest to explain who was who and I had never had the interest to ask.  But times have changed and now my Oma’s name appears on the headstone with her husband’s, and I have lots of questions.

Who are these other two people: Matthias and Juliane Feicht?  My dad recalls that Oma would explain that Juliane was her aunt (…who liked to flirt with younger married men).  Aha! That tells me so much!  But who is she really?  She could be my great-grandfather’s sister; I have a photo with three mystery women one of which could be her.  Which of the three looks more flirtatious?  :)  Then again my great-grandmother could have had 12 sisters for all I know!  As my dad said to me leaving the cemetery “that’s for you to figure out!”

The cemetery visit still provided a lot of information.  All of my Oma’s siblings are buried there and I now have all their birth dates and spouse names.  We will return once more to the cemetery for further reflection.

To view photos of the headstones, visit the family photo album here.

Who is this?

I had this photo labeled as James Joseph Murphy, but I’m starting to think this may be someone else.  James J Murphy died in 1917 at 36 years old.  This man looks a little older, don’t ya think?  To give some comparison, the photo on the right is actually James J Murphy.

The hair part is different, but the eyes and cheeks are very similar.  Could be him, his father, or someone completely different.  What are your thoughts?  Does anyone know where the photo on the left came from?

James J. Murphy-Mystery SOLVED

The mystery of James Joseph Murphy is SOLVED!  A million thanks to Ken W. who located the marriage record of Margaret Richards and James Joseph Murphy.  This marriage record was found at Family Search and is the glue to all the questionable details that were lingering about.  I stopped using the Family Search website about a year ago; it was complicated and I couldn’t figure out where to find actual sources-just other people’s trees.  (suppose I should give it another try)

I can’t wait to continue researching my 2nd great grandfather!  Here’s what I know of him so far:

Born 1 January 1881 in England to William Murphy (Irish) and Katherine Aspery (English).  James had nine siblings, of those were two older brothers, John and William, and two younger twin sisters, May and Sarah.  The remaining 5 siblings are unknown. The oldest child, William Murphy, immigrated to America in 1891.  His parents and siblings came one year later and settled in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.  According to the 1900 census, all the men of working age in the household had been unemployed for six months.    

James Joseph Murphy married Margaret “Maggie” Richards on 17 August 1903 in Mahoning County, Ohio (even though they still lived in Pennsylvania).  James and Maggie’s marriage date is one year after the birth of their first child, Pearl.  Scandalous! It looks as though there was some fibbing on the 1910 census to make it look like they had been married longer.   

James died 30 May 1917 at Youngstown’s Saint Elizabeth Hospital of Typhoid Fever.  He was buried on 2 June 1917 in Sharon, Pennsylvania.  The informant for the death record was John J. Davis of Sharon, PA (possibly a brother-in-law).

My new wish list for James Joseph Murphy:
1.  Burial location and headstone photo
2.  Obituary (need to search Mercer County libraries)
3.  Death dates & burial locations for his parents and siblings
4.  Immigration records
5.  Birth city

James Joseph Murphy-Part 2

Continued from James Joseph Murphy-Part 1

Here’s how my investigation went:

1.  Called the Mercer County Historical Society to inquire about Margaret Richards and James Joseph Murphy’s marriage record.  The historical society contains indexes of vital records stored at the Mercer County courthouse.  The marriage certificate would likely list parent’s names, birthdate, and birth location so it’s a very useful document when doing genealogical research.  Since 1885, marriage licenses were required by Pennsylvania law and maintained by the county issuing the license.  Unfortunately, there were no records of Margaret and James’ marriage in 1901. But, it would certainly help to spend more time searching the indexes at the Historical Society and the local library.

2.  Checked the Ohio Historical Society, Online Death Certificate Index.  There are NO James Murphys in the death index for 1916, as Margaret’s obituary states.  But, there is a James J. Murphy that died 30 May 1917 in Mahoning County, Ohio.  This is what the death certificate tells us about this James J Murphy:

  • Born in England 1 January 1881 (same country, but 3 years off his 1910 census birth year)
  • Laborer (same occupation), Married
  • Father: William Murphy, Ireland
  • Mother: Katherine Aspery, England (one of his daughters was named Katherine)
  • Died 30 May 1917 of Typoid (year conflicts with Margaret’s obituary stating James died in 1916)
  • Address: 328 Adams Street (not the same street they lived at in the 1900 census)
  • Place of Burial: Sharon, Pennsylvania (same county that Margaret and James lived before moving to Youngstown)

I’m not convinced that this death certificate belongs to “my” James Joseph Murphy.

3.  To further investigate the possible death certificate, I found the James J Murphy (from the death certificate) in the 1900 census:

  • William Murphy, Father, Born July 1851 in Ireland
  • Cathrine Murphy, Mother, Born May 1854 in England
  • William Murphy, Son, Born September 1872 in England
  • John Murphy, Son, Born June 1879 in England (Could this be James’ “twin” brother? Born two years apart, family might have referred to them as twins?)
  • James Murphy, Son, Born October 1881 (Conflicting birthdate by 3 years), Occupation: Day Laborer (that’s a match)
  • May Murphy, Daughter, Born May 1884 in England
  • Sarah Murphy, Daughter, Born May 1884 in England (actual twin sisters)
  • Immigration Year: 1892 (conflict with the 1885 date given in the 1910 census)
  • Naturalized Citizen (James was a naturalized citizen in the 1910 census, Margaret was not)

Still not convinced that’s him.

4.  Tried to find James J Murphy (from the death certificate) in the 1910 census in Sharon, Pennsylvania or Youngstown, Ohio but couldn’t get an exact match.  If I did find him in the 1910 census, that would completely rule out the death certificate, as it would differentiate from  “my” James Joseph Murphy, who I already have the 1910 census for.

So, that still leaves the possibility open that the death certificate  is my James Murphy, but doesn’t solve the mystery either.

5.  Went to the Youngstown Vindicator obituary archives.  Found some great articles, but nothing about James Joseph Murphy.

6.  Searched more census records and found a possible 1900 census of a James J Murphy serving in the 9th Infantry, U.S. Army during the Philippine Insurrection.  Luckily, I live near the National Archives in Washington, DC and was able to visit and search through the Philippine Insurrection military records (fascinating!).  I found 9 possible James Murphys serving during the Philippine Insurrection.  It took TWO full days looking through those 9 records and did not find a match (The National Archives is VERY complicated but definitely a treasure chest!).  For example, one of the Murphys died during service so that’s not him; I was certain another record was my relative, until I found an enclosed letter from his father discussing his own service in the Civil War; another was serving in the Calvary, instead of Infantry; another enlisted under the name James Murphy, but changed back to his real name William; others were too old or from the wrong states.

7.  Searched immigration records.  Because the name James Murphy, even with the middle name Joseph, was so common and immigration/naturalization records before 1900 don’t offer any genealogical information, there’s no way I could determine which record is his.

So, this is where I end my search.  Every once in a while I’ll get a hunch and try something new, but so far (as you can see) nothing budges on this mystery.  My next step will probably be to search the Mercer county records and local library, but given I live 5.5 hours away, I’m not sure that will happen anytime soon.

Any thoughts?

James Joseph Murphy-Part 1

I cannot imagine a family tree that is truly complete.  I will probably be researching my family history well into old age, thanks to an ever growing list of unsolved mysteries.  As one mystery is solved, two more present themselves (reminds me of LOST). The person that I’ve spent the most time researching and have found the least amount of information is my 2nd great grandfather James Joseph Murphy.  (Because this is a long post, it will be broken up into two parts.  Please check part 2 for a list of possible leads)

Here’s what I know from the 1910 census and his wife Margaret’s obituary:

1878 - Birth: England, both parents also born in England (source: 1910 census)
1885 – Immigration to America (source: 1910 census)
1901 – Marriage to Margaret Richards: Mercer County, Pennsylvania (source: Margaret’s obituary)
1906 – Moved to Youngstown, Ohio (source: Margaret’s obituary, also the children born after 1906 are in Ohio)
1910 – Residence: Youngstown, Ward 2, South Champion Street
Living with wife Margaret and children  Pearl, Katherine, Elizabeth and James.
Occupation: Laborer, Odd Jobs (source: 1910 census)
1916 – Death (source: Margaret’s obituary)

Other details:  According to a note written on the back of an old photograph, James Joseph Murphy had a twin brother named John.  Also, James and Margaret had six total children: Pearl, Katherine, Elizabeth, James, Edward and Margaret.

Wish list for James Joseph Murphy:
1.  Exact birth date
2. Parents names, including mother’s maiden name
3.  1900 census
4. Death Certificate, or the exact death date
5. Obituary
6. Cemetery name

Is that so much to ask for?  These are the usual items I search for, but for James Joseph Murphy, they are particularly difficult to find.  I invite anyone to give it a try, you’d be surprised how many “other” James Joseph Murphys there were.  I’m still hoping for that distant cousin to suddenly come out with information they forgot they had…

Proceed to part 2 for details of my investigation.


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