Clark House Historian reader Lisa Stearns writes:
I am doing a bit of research on my family and my great grandmother was born in Mequon in 7/21/1882 and I believe she was one of 11 children. Would you be able to direct me to anywhere in the area that may have records of schools, churches, etc. that they were members of? I think they lived on the East side of Mequon. My great grandmother’s name was Anna Becker and her parents were Nic Becker and Elizabeth (Barth) Becker
Thanks for reading the blog, Lisa. Yes, I’d be happy to guide you to some good information and sources for local research. And since there may be other readers with similar interests, I though I’d write a few posts on how to get started on Mequon area research, using Lisa’s ancestor as a local example.
First of all, a few disclosures. My Mequon expertise, such as it is, is centered around researching the Clark and Turck families and their neighbors during their time in this part of the world, from roughly the 1830s through the early 1860s. After that time both families dispersed from Ozaukee county, although many remained nearby in Washington and Milwaukee counties for many more years. But as Clark House historian, I am interested in developing the full history of the house and its place in the community from the early days to the present, so these posts will outline how I would start my own research on Lisa’s and other Mequon-area questions.
Also, I’ve never lived in or near Mequon, so I lack that kind of deep familiarity with the land and its history and people. And although I’ve visited several times over the last few years, I have not yet spent enough time in the local records repositories such as the county court house or the local historical societies. This is a gap I intend to fill, because many of the best records—especially local records—are not on the internet. So, as always, I encourage readers to help me fill in the gaps in my knowledge of local sources and information—and correct any errors—by leaving a reply below, or clicking on the Contact link. Now on to the search.
Lisa has started the process by gathering a number of relevant and helpful bits of information about her great grandmother. This is a vital first step, and I encourage anyone with interest in history and genealogy to start writing down all the facts, legends, rumors and half-remembered bits of family or local lore that you can. And talk to your relatives and older friends. Sometimes even those suffering from substantial memory impairment can remember distant events and people with surprising clarity. Find out as much as you can and write it down. That’s step one.
Step two: check everything and keep detailed notes of your researches. Every date, name, location and event gets checked using as many sources as possible. In some ways this is a never-ending process, but eventually it will pay many rewards. Along the way you will discover which sources tend to be more accurate, and which less so, remembering that no source is guaranteed to be 100% reliable. Keep track of where you found each bit of information; if you can’t find that source again, you won’t be able to judge its accuracy over time or demonstrate to others the accuracy of your findings. And always, always, remember: Just because it’s on the internet does not make it true.
Where to begin? My first stop is almost always the U.S. federal census. Mandated by the Constitution, the census has been enumerated every ten years since 1790. Several of the links in this blog’s sidebar provide indexed images to some or all of the surviving federal censuses through 1940, the most recent census available due to privacy restrictions. Ancestry.com has all the available federal census population schedules, and many more databases, but requires a paid subscription (and many public libraries subscribe to Ancestry and provide it free to their patrons). Familysearch.org is a free service of the Church Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and has all the federal population schedules and a number of state census schedules, including the Wisconsin decennial state census population schedules from 1855 through 1895. I use both sites regularly. Each has its quirks—including some wildly incorrect indexing—but the vast amount of data and source images available at both is invaluable.
Since Anna Becker was born in 1882, her first appearance would be expected on the 1890 federal census. Unfortunately, the 1890 census and its trove of data on U.S. citizens and immigrants is almost completely lost to us. It’s a long, sad tale of fire, its aftermath, and years of bureaucratic bungling. Click here for the official detailed explanation from NARA.
So the first surviving federal census that would include Anna Becker would be the 1900 census. Since we believe Anna was born on July 21, 1882, and the federal census of 1900 counted those residents who were alive as of June 1, 1900 (i.e. before her 18th birthday), we will expect the census to show her as a 17 year old female, living in Ozaukee county. After searching the indexes for “Anna Becker” in Ozaukee county with no luck, I widened the search for just the surname “Becker” in the same place and there she is, on line 34, Annie Becker, just below her father Nic. Becker and mother Elizabeth (lines 32 and 33):
Click the image to open a new window with a larger view of the document. We’ll take a closer look at this census page in Finding Your Mequon Roots (part 2) and see how much we can discover about Annie, her parents, and their lives circa 1900.