Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Matilda Tewksbury, Hidden in Plain Sight (Case C)

How well do you know your neighbors? Even if you are fairly well acquainted chances are that you are not related to them. Such was not the case a few generations ago. Except for the occasional lone wanderer, families had a tendency to stick together. This is very helpful when it comes to genealogical research.

However, sometimes a researcher will encounter a family or person that seems to disappear. Such was the case of Matilda Tewksbury. She could be clearly identified through 1880 but then nothing more was known about her until her supposed death in 1912. Where was she in those intervening years?

Locating the missing person's relatives often aids in the discovery of those individuals. This seemed to be the most logical step in finding Matilda. Her last piece of recognizable information was in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census where she was enumerated with her husband, Thomas Tewksbury, and their 7-year-old daughter, Nancy J. Tewksbury. They resided in Scipio Twp., Meigs Co., OH, page 2.

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Nothing more was known until we discovered the headstone that she shared with her husband, Thomas. It showed that he died in 1893 but that she survived until 1912. The search through the census abstracts for 1900 and 1910 failed to show anyone by her name in either Meigs or the neighboring county of Athens. Since Tewksbury is often either spelled wrong on the abstracts themselves or transcribed incorrectly in indices I unsuccessfully performed a visual search of Athens and Meigs counties in Ohio and a few counties in nearby West Virginia. (Note: the 1890 U.S.Census was almost completely destroyed by fire.)

Since state death records were standardized in Ohio on December 20, 1908 it seemed reasonable that Matilda's death certificate would be on file. One was not found at the Ohio Historical Society Archives Library. At this point I began to wonder if the date was wrong on the grave and that perhaps she had died prior to 1908.

I began to compile a list of her known relatives. Both of her parents were dead by 1880 but several of her sisters were married and living in the Meigs-Athens area. It was not known how many children Matilda had borne since Nancy J. was the only one listed on the 1880 census. There was plenty of time between then and Thomas' death in 1893 to have given birth to more.

This led to the possibility that she was enumerated incorrectly in future census years. Often a widowed mother living in the household of her married daughter was erroneously ascribed the surname of the household and not her own. In other words, if Mother Smith lives with Son-in-law Jones and Daughter Jones she might very well be named Mother Jones in the census. I did another visual search, but this time looking for anyone named Matilda. Again, this was unsuccessful. 

Matilda's living siblings were found in the 1900 census. None had a Matilda in their household or living next door.

Returning to the known daughter, Nancy J. it was discovered that she seemed to have disappear also. Obviously, genealogy is usually worked backward, meaning from child to parents. In this case, it was known that Nancy's middle initial stood for "Josephine" and that she had married by 1900. Thus began a search for her and her husband as well.

Josephine, her husband, and their family were found living north of Athens in Bearfield Township, Perry County, Ohio. When I glanced at the entry of the family living above them my eye was drawn to the name "Matilda."

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There were several crucial pieces of information to be gleaned from this abstract. First, Matilda had remarried. Second, she had given birth to only one child. That would be Nancy Josephine. And third, she, her daughter, and her daughter's family had moved from Meigs County sometime after 1893, which was when Thomas' death was recorded there.

I now began a search for a marriage record for Matilda Tewksbury and Charles Stoneburner; I also resumed my search for her death certificate under the name of Matilda Stoneburner. I was partly successful. The marriage search revealed that Mrs. "Tillie" Tewksbury married Charles C. Stoneburner on December 3, 1894 in Meigs County. But the search for her death record was again futile.

Knowing that Matilda had remarried once, I thought that perhaps she had done so again. Perry County records revealed that her second husband, Charles Stoneburner, had died February 28, 1902. I searched the marriage books for Perry, Meigs, and Athens counties and found record of a marriage between Matilda Stoneburner and W. B. Rickey on April 20, 1904 in Athens County. She and W.B. were enumerated there in the 1910 census. Their home was near the cemetery where her first husband, Thomas, was buried. Matilda had returned home.

From that point, it was easy to find that Matilda's death had taken place on April 21, 1912 in Athens County, Ohio and to order her death certificate. Her tombstone showed that she was the wife of Thomas Tewksbury but it omitted information to make it possible to trace her location during the years that she survived him.

The search for Matilda Tewksbury's death certificate illustrates several things:
  • it is important to pinpoint the whereabouts of the individual's family members if possible even if they are not in your direct ancestry line.
  • it is beneficial to begin at the last known location and make your way into the neighboring counties for information. Think of making concentric circles outward.
  • it shows that widows might remarry but still be buried by their first husband. This could cause a surname discrepancy between the headstone and death certificate.


  1. All genealogy comments should be sent to my new blog: Past Times are my Pastime


Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
Psalms 19:14 (KJV)