Members of GenealogyBank are encouraged to use the "Ask the Genealogist" service to get tips and suggestions on where they should look next to get through their brick walls. Think of this as your on-call coach.
Your questions are answered by Thomas Jay Kemp, our Director of Genealogy Products. Tom has been working as a genealogy and local history librarian for about 50 years and is the author of over 35 books on genealogy and reference sources.
GenealogyBank members should look for the "Ask the Genealogist" button on the GenealogyBank homepage; just click on the button to submit your question, and Tom will get right to work helping you:
Here is an example Tom recently received:
Our second great-grandmother was Virginia Wise. We know that she lived with Hannah Stokes in 1850 and 1860 in Philadelphia, PA. She was born about 1842 and married William Howard Brooks in 1861 in Chester, PA. She wrote for the Baptist Journal under the name Daisy Dean. Our problem is that we can't establish her parentage or relationship to Hannah Stokes. She died of tuberculosis in Jacksonville, FL, in 1871 leaving one child, a daughter, Virginia Brooks—my grandfather's mother.
I don't know where Virginia was born so I don't know where to try to find a birth record. Also, I'm not sure I would find a birth record from 1842, as that birth date is approximate. Without her parents' names it is useless. We are guessing that Hannah Stokes was an aunt.
Can you help us solve this mystery?
For a starting point, you know that Virginia Wise was living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1850—let's find her census record. Free copies of the 1850 Census are provided by FamilySearch.org. Go to: http://bit.ly/mA7cjJ:
We'll fill in the only information we have, and see what turns up:
Aha! Here is the 1850 Census record for your ancestor:
I see that there were four women listed as living with 9-year-old Virginia Wise in the 1850 Census. The three Stokes women, all born in Pennsylvania, appear to be sisters. Any one of them could have been Virginia's mother, or another relative or family friend that took in Virginia. Lydia Randolph, the fourth woman in the household, was born in New Jersey.
Notice that they were living in Spring Garden, Philadelphia. There were a number of Stokes families living in that area in 1850. Since many of them were Quakers, you will want to look for Society of Friends records.
A check of the 1860 Census shows that Hannah and Mary Stokes were again listed as living with Virginia.
So, we have found them in the 1850 and 1860 Censuses.
Where are they in the 1870 Census?
Did the Stokes sisters move to Chester County, Penn., following Virginia's wedding to William in 1861? Did the sisters marry? When did they die? Did they go to Jacksonville, Florida, to assist Virginia (Wise) Brooks when she was combating the tuberculosis that killed her?
Let's turn to GenealogyBank's historical newspapers archive to find out more information about Virginia Wise, focusing on a major Philadelphia newspaper: the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Search on the surnames—Wise and Stokes—and sift through the returns looking for each of the Stokes sisters and for Virginia.
Here's something interesting. In the March 11, 1878, issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, we find an obituary for a Hannah Ann Stokes, who died in Philadelphia on March 7, 1878:
Using this clue, we can search for her death certificate. Free copies of death certificates are provided by FamilySearch.org; click here to access the death certificates search form for Philadelphia:
This search finds her death certificate:
Carefully record all this information—it could help fill out the larger picture of your family history, and might provide clues that could lead back to Virginia Wise.
As for Virginia herself, her birth in 1841 or 1842 is too early for the official birth records held by the Philadelphia City Archives:
So, look for church registers. A birth/baptism record for her will name her parents. Remember that various Protestant denominations baptize children at different ages. Therefore, be flexible in your search.
Check with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP). Concentrate on 1841 and 1842 church registers. See: http://www.hsp.org/node/2026 for more details:
Since Virginia later wrote for a Baptist journal, you might begin with Baptist church records.
Another search is to look for her marriage record in 1861 in Chester County. Does it give the names of her parents? The HSP has some Chester County church records.
Please keep me informed of your progress, and good luck with your searches!