Revelations from my recliner: Part Two

Little George Rohrbach
My father George Rohrbach

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a breakthrough in determining the parentage of my great-grandmother, Orella (Turnbull) Turnbull. While stuck in my recliner for several days with my foot elevated, I made another discovery, about Orella’s husband George.

For years I’ve been sporadically working at tracking down the Turnbulls. They are the only English family in my largely Finnish and Swiss ancestry, and it seems they should be much easier to trace.

About all I knew about George Turnbull was what I had gleaned from the 1880 and 1900 censuses, from birth and death certificates of his children, and from some notes from my father. George was born in England. He and Orella lived in her birthplace of Bellaire, Belmont County, Ohio — that’s where most of their children were born — but at the time of the 1900 census they were living in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. The 1900 census also told me that he was born in May 1857 and that he immigrated in 1870. I have not found immigration or naturalization records. Who did he come with, who were his parents, and where was he from?

On this recent armchair genealogical trek I pulled out a file folder labeled Turnbull, containing five-year-old printouts of the 1861 English census, with a page showing George Turnbull, age 5, of Pelton, Durham, who seemed promising — even though my George would have been 4 at the time of the 1861 census.

Sitting in my recliner, I looked again at all my notes and realized I’d been making a rookie mistake. I’d been weeding out the extraneous George Turnbulls by searching for one in Ohio; that’s where my family is from, and where all the family stories are centered. But there was Pennsylvania staring at me on the 1900 census. When I searched for George there, up came a death certificate. Correct birthdate. Husband of Orella. He died at Leet, Lawrence County, 20 December 1933. Son of (drumroll) Thomas and Elizabeth Turnbull.

I returned to the 1861 English census. The first hit: George Iwenbull [George Turnbull], age 4. Son of Thomas and Eliza of Ouston, Durham. Bingo? I think so.

Had I overlooked this entry previously because of the mis-transcription of the name, which someone had since corrected on Ancestry.com? Possibly. But the bigger lesson seems to be to really look at the data, and every bit of it, and from every which way. And then put it down for a while, and look at it again.

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About Penny Stratton

A veteran of the book publishing industry, Penny Stratton retired as NEHGS Publishing Director in June 2016; she continues to consult with the Society on publications projects. Among the more than 65 titles she managed at NEHGS are The Great Migration Directory, Elements of Genealogical Analysis, Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, and the award-winning Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts. She has written for American Ancestors magazine and is a regular poster on Vita Brevis. With Henry B. Hoff, Penny is coauthor of Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History; she is also the author of several Portable Genealogists on writing and publishing topics.

3 thoughts on “Revelations from my recliner: Part Two

  1. Good job! Yes, sometimes it is so important to put things down and to look at them again once the air has cleared. It is as if we get to close to these things to see them clearly. Congrats on this great discovery!

    J. Record

  2. Congratulations! Time away from a project can help, but also question everything. I finally questioned whether my 2nd great-grandmother Adeline Mann’s mother was indeed Adeline Tripp. Well, she was a Tripp, as family lore stated, but her name was Hannah. Breaking through that brick wall enabled me to follow the line back to seven Mayflower passengers! They were Francis and John Cooke, George Soule, Richard Warren, and William, Susanna, and Peregrine White. Imagine my surprise!

  3. My breakthrough researching my father’s direct patrilineal line came when I reread some family notes by one of my father’s sisters, looking for missed details (she wasn’t a very good genealogist, but she was very good at documenting details of the day-to-day lives of their multi-generation family– the same one I joined 2 generations later. I knew many of the people she named in her narrative, but the names in the list of generation were unfamiliar. It gradually dawned on me how the names in the narrative linked up to the names in the list of generations. There were so many recycled names that many of my relatives simply used their middle names, a variant, or a nickname. You’d think this would have occurred to me sooner, since it had taken me most of my life to grasp that the “Oliver” my grandmother referred to was her first husband, William O., who had left her a widow before the age of 40. Well, duh. In my family, there are several Williams in every generation, and have been for centuries, apparently. From that point on, I paid especial attention to recycled names and middle names, and latched on to any unusual name to use as a marker as I tracked my family. It is working. On this line. Many to go. Patience.

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