As genealogist s, we are all too familiar with the infamous brick wall. When our family research reaches an impasse because we have been unable to locate a document with a scrap of information that will keep us moving forward, we often times throw up our hands and presume it must not exist.
I thought that way for a while. I was researching my GGGGrandfather James Stapleton. James married Maggie Coots in 1885 in Gagetown, Michigan. They immediately began having a family and within three years, they had James in 1886, Ellen in 1887 and Margaret in 1888. However, Maggie Coots Stapleton died giving birth to Margaret in 1888. Moving forward, I presumed that James probably remarried with the burden of raising three young children. Nowhere could I find evidence of James until he shows up living in Canada where his married children were living. What happened between 1888 and 1908?
I could not account for this family for 20 years. I had found a 1900 Michigan census for a James Stapleton married to Catherine and with two children James and Ellen. There were a whole lot of similarities but some major problems. First, Margaret the third child was missing. Now it is possible she died young. It is also possible James remarried Catherine, but I had yet to find a marriage certificate to prove that. As well, on the census James and Catherine are listed as being married for 15 years. This puts the marriage in 1885; I knew this could not be since I have a marriage certificate for James and Maggie in 1885. Therefore, for all these reasons, I initially disregarded this family as being mine.
Nearly 1 year, later two pieces of information came to my attention and I was able to answer some questions. First, I found a census for John and Teresa Coots, parents of the late Maggie Coots. On the census a young girl, Margaret born 1888, is living with them and is listed as adopted daughter. Next, I received a photo of the gravestone for Maggie Stapleton and on the very same headstone is Catherine second wife to James. Bingo! James has given the baby to the Grandparents to raise and James did remarry Catherine.
The census showing James and Catherine was indeed my family. However, this also tells me that James and or Catherine lied to the census taker. Yes, probably to protect the kids, they were young and probably didn’t know that Catherine was not their biological mother.
This is only one small example of the many lies and secrets our ancestors have orchestrated in the protection of their families. Although we have been forewarned many times that mistakes are made on documents when they are initially filled out or when they are transcribed, know one warns us of the secrets and lies. We cannot forget that some ancestors may have lied or kept secrets about their families. Some secrets through perseverance can ultimately be revealed. However, some secrets have been so well manipulated on paper that without a living relative, who knows, and is willing to reveal the truth, your family history may in fact be changed forever.