Tracing Your Roots: Using the Back Door

Sometimes you search for information about an ancestor and find oodles of information; sometimes you search for information and find…NOTHING?

How is that possible? Was she in the Witness Protection Program? If the person didn’t die young, there has to be SOMETHING. Census, will, land record, cemetery record, obituary, marriage record, ship log, family bible, something, anything.

I got stuck a while back researching my maternal great grandmother. I knew her name was Mary Howington. I knew she married John Patrick Burke. I knew she had 3 girls (one being my grandmother Ina Inez Burke), and 3 boys, and when I traveled to the cemetery, I found the headstone of a fourth boy who died as an infant.

I knew her in-laws, her children, when she was born, where she lived, when she married, when she died and where she is buried.  Why could I not find her parents? Her siblings? Her past? Her entire past could not simply vanish into thin air.

Her daughter (my grandmother), Ina Inez Burke, married Earl Culpepper. I was working on the Culpepper line when I read Earl’s mother’s obituary for the hundredth time (my other maternal great grandmother).

culpepper annie blanks culpepper obit

“November 16, 1961

Mrs. Annie Culpepper

Funeral arrangements were being completed today for Mrs. Annie Blanks Culpepper, 84 of Mobile, a former resident of the Martin community who died yesterday at Mobile.

Mrs. Culpepper was a member of the Duffee Baptist church and had been active in its various organizations until she suffered a broken hip three years ago.

Her two daughters are Mrs. Mae Howington of Meridian and Mrs. Aaron Spears of Enterprise. She is also survived by five sons…”

WOAH! Wait! Did that say Mae Howington? The only Mae I know is my grandpa’s little sister Zeffie Mae. Was Aunt Zeffie married into the same Howington family? How many Howington lines could there possibly be in the same town?

When I researched Aunt Zeffie, I found she was married to Milton Howington, who I remember as “Uncle Sug.” And when I researched Milton, I found his parents and siblings. His eldest sister was named Mary Howington and had the same birth and death date as MY Mary Howington. And then I found most of the siblings are buried in the same cemetery. I have photos of all of those headstone, but I didn’t know who they were. And then I found when Mary married John Patrick Burke, her sister married David Edmund Burke. Two Howington sisters married two Burke brothers.

After a year of searching, the mystery blew up full-force in less than five minutes. My “Uncle Sug” was my great grandma’s little brother. I didn’t know that. Now I have the male Howingtons traced back to 1750 in North Carolina, and the female line of the Howingtons traced back to 1550 in Wales. BAM!

I knew in the back of my mind that you can find leads if you trace siblings, but it was never cemented until that moment.  Since then, I have used that technique many times, and it ALWAYS works. If you get stuck, look at the siblings. It may take you back farther than you can imagine.

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