Thursday, July 9, 2020

Start from Scratch on Multiple Sites For Family Mysteries

Marriage record of John Slatter & Louisa A. Hexter
Transcription on Find My Past, image on Family Search
I've long wondered where and when my husband's great-grandfather John Slatter remarried, to second wife Louisa. Periodically I've gone over my searches using the big genealogy sites and on Ohio sites, as well as newspaper sites.

Still, I had only three main clues: (1) 1894/5 Cleveland city directories showing the couple at John's home address and partners in his wallpaper cleaning business, (2) the brief 1895 Cleveland obit for Louisa, which listed her age, home address, and included the note "Cincinnati papers please copy," and (3) Louisa M Slatter sharing a headstone with John Slatter in Cleveland, Ohio.

Starting from Scratch on Multiple Sites

Knowing each genealogy site features its own search algorithms, its own transcriptions, and its own collections, I began this research again from scratch.

This time, I did my first search on Find My Past (I have access to North American records, thanks to my membership at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society). I searched only for John Slatter, estimated birth year, birth place, residence in Cleveland, and wife's name of Louisa. To narrow the search, I focused on birth-marriage-death records.

On the first page of marriage results, I found a transcribed marriage license from Allegheny county, Pennsylvania, for a 52-year-old man named John Slatter, born in England. The bride was 41-year-old Louisa A. Hexter born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Image was available on Family Search.

I quickly switched to Family Search and began the search from scratch, adding what I found at Find My Past. The marriage license was the first result (see top of post). After checking the transcription, I clicked to see the actual document. The details clinched it: this was indeed hubby's great-grandfather!

John Slatter, a fresco cleaner, had been married before but "marriage was dissolved by the death of his wife." (First wife Mary Shehen Slatter had died 18 months earlier, in a London-area insane asylum.)

Louisa Hexter, no occupation, had previously been married but was now widowed. Louisa's birth year of 1849 is what I would have expected, given her age at death. Her birthplace was Cincinnati, which matches the clue from her obit ("Cincinnati papers please copy").

Finally, I redid the search from scratch on Ancestry, where I again found the Pennsylvania county marriage records and the image showing John and Louisa's 1890 marriage. The license solved the "where and when" mystery, but raised one more question.

Wait . . . Where?!

John and Louisa received their marriage license and were wed on the same day, by Alderman Gripp, on October 20, 1890, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Wait, where? Bride and groom lived in Cleveland. I would not have thought to search in Pennsylvania, even though it borders Ohio.

Pittsburgh, it turns out, was a Gretna Green, where marriages could take place immediately and at reasonable cost. The city was an easy train trip from Cleveland, where John and Louisa lived.

Thanks to searching from scratch on multiple genealogical resources, I solved this long-standing family mystery.


The #52Ancestors prompt for week 28 is "multiple."


  1. Excellent sleuthing. Today, it crossed my mind to begin a new search for clues about my husband's ancestress Mary (MNU) Broadway who married in Knox County, TN in 1803. She is a long-enduring brick wall. A clean start, like yours, might uncover new tidbits.

  2. Good work, Marian, a bit like buses in Ireland, nothing for ages, then they turn up in threes. :-)

  3. Well done! It’s a good reminder that just because you didn’t find something one day doesn’t mean you won’t find it later.

  4. Are you aware of the Cuyahoga County death register entry 9:64 #25622 for Louis Slatter (female) on 24 Feb 1895 (image 69)? It is viewable on FamilySearch here:

    Some how-to sources say that Ohio's death records didn't begin until 1908, which is when it began issuing certificates at the STATE level. But its counties were required to begin keeping birth and death registers in 1867, and FamilySearch has them. Probably some cities began before 1867. Check the FamilySearch wiki and catalog. Of course, compliance is always spotty at the beginning of such records.

    1. TY so much, Marian! I had seen this a while back, and it is definitely the Louisa Hexter Slatter married to John Slatter in my hubby's tree. Sadly, the county record has no new news except for the diagnosis of Bright's disease. No parents' names, no detail except it says Louisa was born in Germany, which I don't know is correct. I really appreciate your ideas and will take a much closer look at FamilySearch's wiki in case there are more clues to her background. Thanks again!!

  5. Dear Linda, Dara, Wendy, and Marian--Many thanks for reading and leaving me your comments and suggestions. Take good care!

  6. Well done! Gives me the idea to check Pittsburgh for some missing marriage licenses...

  7. I'm impressed! I have to admit, you have been more dogged than I might have been. Maybe that is what I need to move my line back farther . . .