Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sharing a Learning Experience

One of our informal mottos here at GeneaBlogie is "learn, share, enjoy." So I'd like to share a learning experience I had recently and I hope you enjoy it.

Our task is to track a relative throughout her life using available records. We are interested in Velma Mitchell, who's a cousin on the Bryant side of the family. Here's what we know about her to start with: she was born in either Nueces County or Aransas County, Texas, probably before 1920. We also know that she had two brothers, Pat, and J.B.

Let's start with the census records. We'll go to Aransas County first because it's alphabetically first. Our search of the 1930 census finds no one surnamed Mitchell in Aransas County. But in the 1920 census, we find the family of Worth Mitchell, which includes his wife Alidelia, and three children. ["Aliadelia" is probably a misspelling that should be "Aldelia." This would be Aldelia "Allie" Bryant, daughter of Guy and Maria Bryant]. And we see the sons Pat and J.B. The entry for the first child, a daughter, appears to say "Z. Velma." Her age is given as nine years old, which would mean she was born in about 1911. Given that, she probably does not appear on any earlier censuses. But let's have a look at the 1910 census for Aransas County in any event. And quickly we find no evidence of Velma or any other member of her immediate family on the 1910 census.

Okay so now we know she was born in about 1911, so by 1930, she would be 19 years old. At that time in our history there was a good chance that a 19 year old woman would be married and no longer living at home. This may pose a challenge because of the change in surname that accompanied marriage for women. So, how we proceed from here? Well, I would try to find marriage records. And fortunately, Aransas County marriage records are available at These records cover the years 1872 through 1999. We would focus on the years that she would likely have married: let's say 1929 and on. This can be a tedious task, but there in volume 6, is a marriage between Velma Mitchell and Steve Marlin Hunt. The marriage took place on October 24, 1939, before the Honorable Joe Smith, Justice of the Peace. But we're left with a little bit of a sense of unease about this. It seems to fit. On the other hand she would be 28 or perhaps even 29 years old at the time of this marriage. Was there an earlier marriage? Well, there doesn't seem to have been, at least not based on the records currently available to us.

We decide that despite some vague sense of unease, we've found a Velma Mitchell's married name and the name of her spouse. Now let's see where that takes us. We're beyond the 1930 so there no more census records available. But what we might do is go back over in the available census records and find Steve Hunt. We'll look in Aransas County, Nueces County, and San Patricio County to begin with. In San Patricio County, we find a Stephen Hunt, born 1914. So if this is a possibility except for one thing: if he's the groom this would have been an interracial marriage. Not likely in South Texas in 1939. But we don't find any other possibilities in any of the other counties. Our best assumption is that for some reason Steve Marlin Hunt simply does not appear in the available census records.

To continue tracking Velma Mitchell, perhaps Velma Hunt, we might check another available source: the Texas birth index. These records are available from 1903 through 1997. Here we find in 1944, in Nueces County, a female child born to Steve Marlin Hunt and Velma Mitchell. Now we're feeling more confident that we're on the right track. The child's name is Stevie Kaye Hunt, born July 31, 1944. [Yet there is still something that gives me some discomfort about this Hunt-Mitchell marriage.]

What to do next? Let's go to the other end, so to speak, and see if we can tell when Velma Mitchell [Hunt] died. For this purpose we use the Social Security Death Index. Not only might we learn when she died, but where she may have lived at the time of her death. To zero in on the right person, we make some assumptions at the outset; these may change depending upon what we find. The first assumption we make is that she continued to reside in Texas for most of her life. The SSDI has five "Velma Hunts" whose last residence was listed in Texas. Two of these women were born in 1900; one in 1909; one in 1914; and one in 1917. We can quickly eliminate those born in 1900. Let's focus on the ones with birth dates in 1909 and 1914. The Velma Hunt born in 1909 last resided, according to the Social Security Administration, in Dallas. She died in December 1979. Based on her birth date, she may be our most likely candidate. It's plausible that she could have moved from the Texas Gulf Coast to Dallas. But let's take a look at the 1914-born Velma Hunt. Her last listed residence was in San Antonio. It was very common for denizens of the Gulf area to migrate to San Antonio. That was the pattern followed by a number of members of the Bryant clan, including Velma Mitchell's aunt, Hattie Bryant.

The Velma Hunt who last lived in San Antonio had a middle initial of "B." That slightly lowers my confidence that we have the right person, but not by much. She passed away on September 11, 2004. Now to be certain about this we could at this point order the form SS-5 for this Velma Hunt. The form SS-5 is the application for Social Security card. It's filled out by the applicant, and contains information such as the date and place of birth and the parents' names. But that will cost is $27 and take about six weeks to receive. Perhaps we can figure this out in less time and with less expense than that. One way to do that is to track Velma's brothers.

Next: Remember, "There are no easy cases in genealogy."

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