Harman Updegraff & Margaret Miller

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library

1850′s Pennsylvania Freight Locomotive (Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library)

Two things I can tell you about my ancestors: there are a lot of Margarets and a lot of accidental deaths.

Harman Alexander Updegraff was born 28 August 1821* in Somerset County, Pennsylvania to Harmon Updegraff and Rachel Howard.  He was a farmer in his early years and later became a conductor of a freight train of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Updegraff Residence

Updegraff Residence

Harman’s wife, Margaret Miller, was born 15 February 1820 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.  The two were married in March of 1845* and had eight children.  They lived in downtown Johnstown near the Baltimore & Ohio station, on Washington Street.

The Adams Sentinel and General Advertiser, 5 Dec 1860, p. 1

The Adams Sentinel and General Advertiser, 5 Dec 1860, p. 1

On November 29, 1860 while working somewhere between Derry and Latrobe, Harman fell from his train onto the tracks and was killed. He was only 39 years old and left his five young children and newly pregnant wife (two of their children had passed years earlier).  Harman was buried at the Levergood Cemetery but was later exhumed and interred in Grand View Cemetery.

As Margaret’s children grew up and got married, she permanently moved in with her daughter Margaret Angelina Williams. Her son William had moved to Harrisburg, George to Chicago, and Henry to New Castle, but James and Margaret Angelina stayed in Johnstown.  She was a member of the Trinity Lutheran Church and survived the Great Johnstown Flood in 1889.

On March 11, 1898 Margaret set off to walk from her daughter’s house to her son’s a short distance away.  Her daughter was concerned about her walking by herself, but she insisted that she did not need help as she had just walked from the train station the day before by herself. Just minutes after leaving the house, Margaret was struck by a Pacific Express Train, 37 years after her husband’s tragic death.  She was buried with her husband in Grandview Cemetery.

Johnstown Daily Tribune, 11 March 1898

Johnstown Daily Tribune, 11 March 1898

Source List

Aged Lady Killed by a Train.” Undated clipping, ca. 1898, from unidentified newspaper.

“Killed on the Railroad.” The Adams Sentinel and General Advertiser, 5 December 1860. Digital images, http://newspaperarchive.com/adams-sentinel : 2012.

“Updegraff.” The Johnstown Daily Tribune, 11 March 1898.

Grandview Cemetery.  Internment file, database. http://grandviewjohnstownpa.com/interment-search.php : 2012.

Pennsylvania. Cambria County. 1850 – 1880 U.S. census, population schedules. Digital images. Ancestry.com. http://www.ancestry.com : 2012.

Pennsylvania. Cambria County. Death Certificate. Clerk of Orphans Court, Johnstown.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [LDS].  “Pedigree Resource File,” database.  FamilySearch.  http://www.familysearch.org : 2012.

*Note: Harman’s exact birth and marriage date came from the Pedigree Resource File.

Related Posts:

Loretta (Zillifro) Hutchinson & Oscar Hutchinson

Margaret (Davis) Updegraff

Updegraff Page

Genealogy in Politics

Facts and evidence are a fundamental part of genealogy. Without these, genealogy would be nothing more than folklore (and Ancestry member tree hints).

Unfortunately, facts and evidence are not always as important in politics. What happens when politics and genealogy collide?

A couple months ago there was some attention on Senator Marco Rubio’s family history. The Huffington Post reports:

In a campaign ad last year, he said: “As the son of exiles, I understand what it means to lose the gift of freedom.” Rubio’s biography on his Senate website previously said he was “born in Miami to Cuban-born parents who come to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover.” It has been changed to say Rubio “was born in Miami in 1971 to Cuban exiles who first arrived in the United States in 1956.”

We now know that Rubio’s family left Cuba three years before Fidel Castro took over; technically his parents were not exiles, they were immigrants.

Rubio was born 15 years after his family immigrated to America. I can easily imagine the stories told to a young Rubio; parents unable to live in their home country, came to America for a better life, still maintaining their Cuban culture. How many of us were raised with certain assumptions about who we are only to find in our research varying info? In addition, the Cuban-exile community in Florida didn’t see anything wrong with Rubio’s statements.

So, Rubio gets a pass. What about Elizabeth Warren, claiming to be of Native American heritage? Her opponent, Senator Scott Brown has accused Warren of lying about her heritage and receiving an unfair advantage in her hiring at The University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard. Both schools have said it was not a factor in her hiring and the Native American heritage was only revealed afterwards. I believe the schools, why not? But Brown has been very persistant in his attacks on Warren’s heritage claims.

Here’s what Warren had to say:

“When I was a little girl, I learned about my family’s heritage the same way everyone else does — from my parents and grandparents.

My mother, grandmother, and aunts were open about my family’s Native American heritage, and I never had any reason to doubt them. What kid asks their grandparents for legal documentation to go along with their family stories? What kid asks their mother for proof in how she describes herself?”

I can relate to that (except I am that kid that asks their mother for proof!).  Warren is obviously not an official member of any tribe and she is strictly relying on family lore and secondary sources. Quite a few tribes have come forward, each with different takes on Warren’s claims, positive and negative. I’ve watched enough of Henry Louis Gates’ PBS specials to know that one’s self identity can vary greatly with actual heritage and DNA. Who am I to judge?

I will say that it is a bit alarming when politicians come forth with their family heritages with little to no actual evidence (or care of finding any such evidence), and they use it in a way that is supposed to make them more qualified for the position. No one’s heritage makes them more or less qualified for public office. Maybe all this attention will create some jobs for genealogists (a campaign genealogist!). Genealogists are extremely detail and fact oriented, people that politicians (and journalists) could use more often.

What do you think? Should politicians refrain from retelling their embellished family lore? Should they be more diligent about digging up their own history? I’m trying to think of how I would weave my own family history into a stump speech.

The Original Catherine

Grandma Kate

I was named after my Grandma Kate, born Katherine Irene Murphy. She passed away before I was born, but I’ve always felt a special connection with her.

Grandma Kate was named after her aunt, Katherine Murphy-Arnaut, who died unexpectedly at 29 years old.

Katherine Murphy-Arnaut (right)

I was pretty excited to find that Katherine Murphy-Arnaut’s grandmother was also named Catherine! (spelled with a “C” instead)

I didn’t think I would learn much about Catherine Aspery, after all, she is my 3rd great grandmother who spent very little of her life in America, was likely very poor, and whose married name was incredibly common: Murphy.

After exchanging info with some other Aspery-Murphy descendants and a serendipitous visit to the Pennsylvania State Archives and Library, I was able to make some interesting conclusions (don’t ever understimate the importance of your 3rd and 4th cousins!).

Catherine Aspery was born in Erdington, Shropshire County, United Kingdom May 1844 to Henry Aspery and Sarah Perchase. She was raised in Escomb, Durham County (Northern England) with her six siblings: William, Henry, John, Thomas, Sarah and Phoebe.

Catherine married William Murphy around 1872 and they had eight children, six of which I know: William, Harry, John, James, May and Sarah. Her children’s names resemble closely with her siblings’; I wouldn’t be surprised if the two missing children were named Thomas and Phoebe!

Her husband, William worked at the ironworks in Witton Park. He had moved there from Ireland in search of work.  But, after a significant industrial boom and years of poor working conditions, the Witton Park ironworks had gone into a serious decline and closed by the 1880′s.

Catherine and William immigrated to America in 1892 and settled in Sharon, Mercer County, Pennsylvania. Some of Catherine’s siblings had already come to Pennsylvania many years earlier. Their son William arrived in Sharon one year earlier (1891), most likely to arrange a housing situation before the rest of his family arrived. The Murphy family lived at 86 Sharpsville Street.

The Sharon Eagle, Wednesday, January 29, 1902

Catherine passed away on 21 January 1902 from “liver troubles,” having been ill for three weeks. She was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery managed by the Sacred Heart Church. She left her husband and eight children.

I really look forward to finding more about Catherine, her husband, and children.

Relationship: Catherine Aspery –> James Joseph Murphy –> Elizabeth Murphy –> Katherine Murphy –> Barbara Updegraff –> Me

(Note: Is it a “C” or a “K”?  Almost all of Catherine Aspery’s records, multiple census, birth and death certificates list her name as Catherine – except for the obituary above)

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 familysearch.org.

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.  :)

Using Inferential Genealogy for Catherine Aspery

Earlier this year, I attended the Fairfax Genealogical Society Spring Conference and there were two lectures by Thomas W. Jones that were particularly helpful: “Using ‘Correlation’ to Reveal Facts that No Record States” and “Inferential Genealogy: Deducing Ancestors’ Identities Indirectly.”

I learned that I was not doing nearly enough to get past my brick walls.

Leaving the conference with fresh ideas and enthusiasm, I decided tackle the Catherine Aspery-Murphy family line.

Catherine Aspery

In a nutshell, Catherine was the wife of John William Murphy; mother to William, Harry M, John, James Joseph, May, Sarah T and four additional unknown children.  She was born about May 1854 in England and arrived in America in 1892 with husband and children. They moved to Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

Most of what I know is from the 1900 census and I hate only using one record for her birth year.  Catherine’s maiden name comes from three of her children’s death certificates all with independent sources.  Her own death certificate has not been located and I suspect she died between 1900 and 1906 (the year death certificates were required in PA).

Reasonably Exhaustive Search

As the Genealogical Proof Standard states, we must “search beyond the person, family, event, or record of most-direct impact on the project.” So, I’m going to investigate all the other Aspery families in England and the Mercer County area.  I can do this because the name Aspery is not very common. This method probably wouldn’t work for my Murphy relatives!

A quick search for Asperys in the 1861 U.K. census on Ancestry.com & FamilySearch.org comes up with 150-200 Aspery hits.  A search for Asperys in the 1900 U.S. census on HeritageQuest comes up with less than 20 hits and most of them are in the same area as “my” Catherine Aspery-Murphy. One of them must be a sibling or cousin!

I’ve started a spreadsheet with possible relatives (about 30 long now, some overlapping) and will keep it growing and ruling out those that don’t match. So far there are no obvious connections to Catherine.

I’m interested to hear if anyone has a best practice or recommendation on deducing ancestors’ identities indirectly? Any thoughts on this strategy?

Perspectives on Poverty and Genealogy

I love statistics and all the fun charts and graphs you can make. I also love TED Talks. You can imagine my delight when watching Hans Rosling’s New Insights on Poverty, when he inserts his grandparents into the data set while comparing past and present economic situations around the world. Genealogy adding context to economic data? Yes please!

Here’s how it works. Gapminder has compiled an incredible amount of historical data from around the world on various topics such as life expectancy, education, energy consumption, GDP, population growth, etc. Click here to view a chart of life expectancy and income per person (inflation-adjusted). On this particular chart, the data goes back to the year 1800 and if you click “play,” you’ll see some incredible patterns unfold.  Not much happens in the 1800′s, but around 1910 things start to really take off. On the right bar, you can click on a particular country to see their journey to increased life expectancy and income.

Inspired by Mr. Rosling’s example, I thought I would give some context to the world my ancestors were born into.

My Great Grandfather, John William Updegraff, who was born in 1889 in the United States, was born into similar conditions (life expectancy/income) as present day Swaziland.

Using the same reasoning, my Grandfather, Robert Lee Updegraff was born in South Africa and my Mother in Trinidad and Tobago. Myself, born in 1983, similar to present day United Arab Emirates.

I would have gone back to my 2nd Great Grandfather Henry Updegraff, who was born in 1855, but there are no present day countries represented in the data with similar life expectancy and income.

It’s interesting to note the consistent and significant increase of life expectancy among each generation in the United States.

Looking at my Dad’s family, all born in Austria, I ran into a couple issues.  In comparing child mortality with income per person (inflation-adjusted), I couldn’t find a similar present day equivalent to the world that my Great Grandfather Kilian Pirolt (1874 Austria) was born into. Furthermore, my Grandfather Johann Pirolt (1906 Austria) and my Father (1944 Austria), were both born into similar conditions; thanks to WW2 there was little improvement among the two generations.  In fact, in 1945, Austria reverted back to the 1860 income rate and 1914 child mortality rate.  It took nearly 5 years for them to get back on a consistent track of improvement.

I encourage everyone to check out the gapminder website and enter in the countries and dates your ancestors were born.  The data will give you a better understanding of the conditions of and improvements made from one generation to the next.

I Must Confess

1.  I was a little disappointed when my DNA results said this.  No Asian, no African.*

2.  I’ve never identified with the Irish culture, gasp.*

3.  I’m so bored hearing about famous people’s colonial roots.  Megan Smolenyak has a whole chapter on this in her new book Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing.

4.  Since doing genealogy I’ve realized that my own K-12 history education was appalling.  To think of all those wasted hours learning of half-truths and sugar coated nonsense and all the great things we did not learn about…

5.  I have an indian princess in my family.  Her name was Rebecca and she was of the Seneca tribe.  Unfortunately, she died in childbirth and her husband remarried an evil woman who treated the step-child horribly.  It’s highly unlikely, actually 100% unlikely, but I’d love to find out how the story started in the first place.

6.  I haven’t found a single family member in the 1940 census.

*A 5% African and/or Asian would have been quite the mystery and pretty fun to solve. There was a brief “oh shucks” moment seeing there wouldn’t be any scandals in our DNA. Plus it squashed my indian princess rumor. Regarding Irish culture, what can I say, I feel more American, Austrian, English, Welsh, Dutch, and German than I feel Irish, *shrugs*.

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