The Terrible Summer of 1897: Finding My Third-Great-Grandmother

By Allison Dolan

I’ve written before about my third-great-grandmother Elizabeth Teipel, who married Louis E. Thoss in 1876 and died sometime between the birth of their son, Henry, in 1894 and the 1900 census.

Our Conquer Your Research Obstacles Digital Pack is designed to help you with genealogy stumpers like mine—finding out when, where and why Elizabeth died.

A few months ago, my hope for an answer was revived by a mention of Elizabeth’s death in her mother’s will in connection with 1895 loan to Elizabeth’s husband. has digitized Kentucky death records covering this period. I searched for Elizabeth T*oss born 1857 in Ohio, with a death in 1895 plus or minus two years in Kentucky. I swear I’ve run this search before. I must’ve done something different and wonderful this time, or my mind was more open. When I narrowed the results to birth, marriage and death records, I saw:


Was Elisabeth Toss, who died Aug. 29, 1897, the same Elisibeth whose son Bernard died just over a month earlier, on July 23? And was she my Elizabeth?

Examining Bernard’s death certificate, I noted he died at age 10 from “overheating while convalescing from … ” followed by what looks like the beginning of “diphtheria” but runs off the page.

Elisabeth died at age 40—the right age to my relative—of “collapse,” with the predisposing condition “birth of hydrocephalus and rupture of …” which also runs off the page (as if the documents were trimmed during binding). The spaces for her parents’ names were blank.


But most interesting was the records’ identical place of death: “1230 Garrad Ave.” (I guessed this was Garrard, a local street.) Not an address I had for my third-great-grandparents. Nor did I have a Bernard as their son, a possible case of a child whose short life goes undiscovered due to the missing 1890 census.

Things were looking promising, but I had to do some work to find out whether Bernard and Elisabeth were my relatives:

  • Look for a record with the Thosses at 1230 Garrard in 1897. It wasn’t hard to do in’s city directories collection, although I had to find the 1897 directory and browse rather than search. They can’t have lived there very long, as directories for surrounding years list the family elsewhere. It’s hard to keep the Elizabeths, Edwards and Louises straight, so I’ve labeled them:

  • Search for Bernard’s baptismal record in the Kenton County Public Library‘s (KCPL) GenKY index. I ordered a copy of the record for “Thoss, Bern. Lud.” in volume 1887. The Latin record from St. Joseph Church showed Bernard’s birth on “die 26 Augusti” to “Ludovici Thoss et Elisabeth Teipel.”

  • Look for newspaper obituaries or death announcements for Bernard and Elisabeth. There was nothing in the largest local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer. I’d searched a few times for Thoss KCPL’s Northern Kentucky newspaper index, which includes the Kentucky Post, but this time I typed Toss. I ordered those records, too.

    I’ve also looked for a death and baptismal record for the infant born with hydrocephaly referenced in Elizabeth’s cause of death, who would have been the fourth child Elizabeth and Louis E. lost, but I didn’t find anything. That must have been an awful summer.

    My takeaways from this process?

    1. Search with alternate name spellings and wildcards.
    2. Don’t rely on the census alone to provide family members’ names.
    3. When one record lacks information that will answer your question, look for another.
    4. Look for another record even when one does supply the information you need.
    5. Don’t give up your search for answers (but setting it aside for awhile may help).

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