Pros Share Family Research Tips in “Genealogy Roadshow: St. Louis”

By Diane Haddad

I was excited to see that last night’s “Genealogy Roadshow” was in St. Louis, my old college stomping grounds (wish I knew at the time that a couple of my Depenbrock relatives had moved there). I recognized the St. Louis Public Library, where filming took place, and the downtown area, and of course the iconic Gateway Arch.

If you have ancestors there, here are the St. Louis library’s online genealogy resources, and you might want our St. Louis genealogy research guide.

In telling the show’s guests more about their family mysteries, hosts D. Joshua Taylor, Mary Tedesco and Kenyatta Berry revealed several genealogy research tips:

  • Always look at page two of the passenger list. Page two helped Tedesco elaborate upon the first guest’s family legend about her great-grandmother, who supposedly immigrated as a mail-order bride but spurned the intended groom when she arrived and ran off with another man.

    Later passenger lists span two pages side-by-side, and when you search them online, you initially see the left-hand page listing the names. Use the arrows in the site’s image viewer to flip to the second page, which contains details such as who paid the person’s passage (in this case, the great-grandmother’s brother), the name of a relative back at home, and the final US destination.

  • Even when a family legend isn’t accurate, it came from somewhere. When you’re trying to determine if the story is plausible, look for relatives in the right place and time. In researching a young woman’s fabled relationship to Blackbeard, Taylor traced her tree back and found relatives along the Carolina coast involved in seafaring trades in the early 1700s. (Although he didn’t find a relationship, the relatives’ presence in the right places and time means they could’ve had some encounter or other connection to the pirate.)
  • Relatives often stuck together. A little girl and her mother found out from a great-uncle’s obituary that a great-great-grandmother’s maiden name was Ingalls. How cool would it be to be related to Laura Ingalls Wilder? Berry used censuses and land records to trace the great-grandmother’s line to a James L. Ingalls, who filed a land claim in South Dakota two years before Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family arrived there. Earlier, James L. lived in Iowa not far from Lansford Ingalls, whose son Charles was the famous author’s father. Although she didn’t find records showing a relationship, Berry said the circumstantial evidence points to one.

As we saw in this segment, it’s common to refer to any long-ago family member as an ancestor, but technically, only people you descend from—parents, grandparents, great-grandparents—are ancestors, so Laura Ingalls Wilder would be the little girl’s relative.

  • Family research is full of surprises, and you can’t assume based on a person’s appearance. A woman, who appeared to be of European descent and had identified as such her entire life, discovered a census reference to her mysterious grandfather as “colored,” and a then similar notation on her mother’s birth certificate. Her mother, who had died recently when the show was filmed, and who also appeared Caucasian, had wanted her secret kept until her death. Berry showed the woman additional census records indicating the mother and grandfather had African heritage. She explained how “passing” for white meant cutting off ties with one’s African-American roots—but it also could make life easier during that time. What an awful choice to have to make.

Watch the full “Genealogy Roadshow” in St. Louis espisode online here.

Learn Taylor’s expert research strategies for investigating family mysteries in our on-demand webinar 10 Essential Tricks from Genealogy Roadshow, available in Family Tree Shop.