It’s Complicated!

Week 36: #52 Ancestors – Exploration

By Eilene Lyon

On any given day, I can go on a major expedition—without leaving my desk. Family history is like that. You might be tempted to call it a “rabbit hole,” and it does involve many diverting side trips, but it is goal-oriented.

Unlike building a pedigree, as many in genealogy do, I work to uncover stories. How can we understand a person if we know nothing of their extended family? I decided to spend a day exploring the relations of The Putterer’s 2nd great-grandmother, Lucy (Keith) Lyon Rudd. The journey starts with her parents, Horace W. Keith and Sally Hill, then her siblings.

A pedigree focuses on parents and grandparents – the direct line of ancestry. It omits all those pesky multiple spouses and children. Very tidy. (

I began with Ancestry and Later I’ll venture to Family Search, Internet Archive, and other online repositories. As I built out the Keith line, I found men with multiple wives, women with multiple husbands.

A set of twins: Frances and Francis—really.

A woman with the delightful name of Ambrosia, whose first child was born out of wedlock, the second born after the death of her first husband, three children by husband two—and what the heck was her maiden name?

Ambrosia’s headstone gives her correct maiden name of Compton. However, some family trees suggest this was the name of a first husband. Others give her maiden name as Parker (her step-father). (Courtesy of JRebecca on Find a Grave)

There’s the divorcee who called herself a widow. A very common thing to do in the 1890–1910 period. You have to wonder if these women really thought they were fooling anyone.

Ella A. Brown declares herself the widow of Walter C. Her ex-brother-in-law, Elmer Brown, is listed a few lines further down. What did he think of his brother being declared dead in the 1901 Syracuse City Directory? (

A girl named Frankie who went by three different surnames, though she never married in her too-brief 27 years on this earth.

Several men named Horace, not necessarily related to one another.

Horace Keith’s short (half-page) will, written 17 years prior to his death and never modified. Though it divides his estate equally between his surviving wife, Julia, and children, one decided to contest it anyway. (Verifying that bit is on the back burner at the moment).

Horace Keith’s will, written in December 1871. He died in December 1888. Click to enlarge. ( Wills and Administrations, 1792-1902; Author: New York. Surrogate’s Court (Otsego County); Probate Place: Otsego, New York)

Soon my browser has one person open on five different tabs, and I’m working on ten people at once. Yikes! You might find a clue you need on a different person’s page, so it helps to run parallel investigations. Ambrosia’s mother had a link to a Buckingham family history that gave (unsourced) birth and marriage dates for several people I was working on.

Excerpt from p. 280 of Chapman, F. W.. The Buckingham family, or, the descendants of Thomas Buckingham, one of the first settlers of Milford, Conn.. Hartford, Conn.: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1872. Ambrosia’s first marriage to Francis “Frank” Keeth [sic] is given. Note the age difference between Ambrosia and her half-sister, Mardula Parker. We’ll see Mardula again in a bit. (
For another example:

Ancestry hints and trees combined two different men named Walter C. Brown. The last record for him with his wife and daughter (pre-divorce) was an 1892 New York census. Walter, born in February 1865, worked as a clerk then.

Excerpt from 1892 New York Census. Walter C. Brown, clerk, with his wife, Ella (Compton) and daughter. They are living with Ella’s aunt, Mardula (Parker) Marble and husband. Ella’s aunt is only a year older than her. Ella was Ambrosia Compton’s first child, born out of wedlock, father unknown. (

After 1900, Walter #1 turned up in New Jersey, married to Clarissa. He sold insurance, and was born in February 1865. Walter #2, birth date uncertain, but like Walter #1 born in New York in the 1860s, moved to Georgia and married Ida. They moved around, north and south, and Walter #2 worked as a blacksmith/machinist for a railroad. Both men had mothers named Caroline Brown. Seems crazy to conflate the two, right?

To definitively determine that Walter #1 is the right guy, I had to look at his father, Horace Brown. Two transcribed obituaries provided the key information. First, Horace’s wife Caroline died in 1899. Walter #2’s mother, Caroline, was still alive in 1918. Second, the obituaries state that son Walter lives in New Jersey and even give the correct town. I could then confidently discard all the records for Walter #2 and proceed with completing the story for the right man.

(Note: Though Walter C. Brown came originally from tiny Otselic, New York, he appears to have no connection to the family of notorious Grace Mae Brown, murder victim. One of those side tunnels in the rabbit burrow!)

After a day sorting through problems such as this, it was clear that the Keith family will never be confined to a nice, neat chart. As I cooked up spaghetti for dinner, I looked down at the nest of noodles and thought, “Yep, that illustrates family history research quite nicely!”

Feature image: Photo by Malin Strandvall on Unsplash

Horace W. Keith on

63 thoughts on “It’s Complicated!

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  1. Aren’t all these questions fun and challenging? Then, later on, your brain might sort something out. It’s happened recently, when I wondered why a woman gave up her first child to her parents so readily when she married another man!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Her last name was Keith (her biological father, who died before she was born). Her step-father was Allen, who was the only father she knew. Her death record uses that surname. When her half-sister, Ella, got married, a newspaper article called her Frankie Buckingham, her maternal grandmother’s maiden name. Now, it’s possible the journalist made an error, but no one else in the article has that surname, so it seems likely she chose to use it for some reason.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You and I have the same motivation for doing genealogy! My dad’s cousin, who did genealogy so she could join the DAR, would not approve, but so what? Uncovering the story of my mom’s Uncle Bob, who ran off to Cuba with his second “wife,” leaving the first one behind in St. Louis, made my day!

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    1. My great- grandmother was like that – always wanting that DAR entree. I couldn’t care less (though I could join). It’s all about the stories for me. The juicier the better! The Cuba absconder sounds like a good one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have all the documentation from my great-great grandmother’s application and acceptance into the DAR. Have I joined? Um, no. I also have a handwritten account of her kidnapping by a relative because her mother was a bit of a harridan. Now, THAT, I intend to do something with!

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    1. Now you can see how I keep coming up with stories. Ambrosia needs one, and maybe Ella. Then, poor Horace Keith got short shrift here and Lucy, nothing at all. (Of course this really wasn’t a story about them.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Francis and Frances. That’s just mean. Lol. Twins already get stuck sharing possessions and often struggle with identity issues. And these two had to share a name, save for a single vowel? Lol. Wow.

    But I do love Ambrosia!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the headline, especially as you explained how divorcees fancy themselves as widows and then I understood the plate of noodles header image as I reached the very end. Interesting names they used back then – Ambrosia was different, as was naming twins Frances and Francis. It sounds like fascinating reading delving into these family members … all those tabs open and do you stop to write things down in Word in still another tab? Was the Putterer happy with your findings?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Linda. Yes, I keep my research notes open in Word to record the convoluted journey. My husband doesn’t care about his ancestry, really, but he enjoys the stories in my blog. This one was not so much about them as about my process. I do think I’ve uncovered some material for future stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes they are enjoyable, because you tell them in a “story” format Eileen. You don’t just rattle off names/dates – it is evident how much time goes into your research, plus adding the highlighted documents you are able to glean from Ancestry and other sites, plus the photos. Each post tells a tale.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Linda. I also appreciate the time that goes into your posts. You do the walk, take the photos, then tell us the story of your day and share the pictures with some clever descriptions. Very enjoyable!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you Eilene – I know for both of us it takes a while to compile those posts but we enjoy telling the story don’t we? I’ve had some fun things happen over the last few weeks on my walks which I will share down the road; they are quite different from my usual trek recaps.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I had planned my Grandparents Day post with a nod to you as I was going to include my great grandparents in my story – it was to revolve around them and the rigors of farm life for them and their nine kids. But I changed the topic with Queen Elizabeth’s passing – it is evergreen and will certainly keep until next year. I only have a handful of pictures of them.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I expect a lot of us do that – whether we admit it or not! I’m a big believer in the synergy of having many projects going, whether it’s reading a lot of books or working on various research threads.


    1. Now you understand a little bit more about my crazy research life.😂 Why anyone would give twins the same name…beyond me. How can I not be fascinated? It’s like reading a novel with half the pages missing.

      Liked by 1 person

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