We all have missing persons in our family lines – those individuals who show up as children in a family group, maybe in a couple of censuses, then disappear. They can be the source of much frustration amd time-consuming research. But before giving up entirely, one really has to look for all the possible clues. Then, if nothing works, set the problem aside for a while and go on to something else. Later on, take another look and consider what new sources may have become available, or which old ones should perhaps be revisited.
These folks are usually single, so leave no evidence such as marriage records, and may not be remembered in anyone's will. A single woman may be found in a family member's household, and if her surname differs from that of the head, she is often indexed separately, and thus is easy to locate. [More about tracking lost females later]
But the single men are different. They had more opportunity to move about, and they did. Some set off for the gold rush in California (or Alaska, Oregon or even Australia), went to sea, enlisted in military service, or joined railroad-building crews.
For example, I was looking for a young man who was listed with his parents in the 1850 and 1860 censuses. Daniel Howard was my grandmother's brother, but no one in our family had ever spoken of him. Well, that was easy, once I realized he probably was in the Civil War. Sure enough, going through Civil War muster rolls for the state of Indiana, I found him. His military papers indicated he sustained a "minor" injury at the Battle of Shiloh (or Pittsburgh Landing, as it was called then), was hospitalized, and soon died – not from his wounds, but from cholera.
When I mentioned this to an aunt, she said, "Oh yes, I remember Mother saying she had a brother who went away to war and was not heard from again." Actually, his body was shipped home and is buried in the local cemetery in Rensselaer, Jasper County, Indiana.
The military records described his physical appearance in detail (necessary, since there were no dog tags for identification in those days), gave his age at enlistment, and listed his place of birth. When I figured out that "Montgomery, Indiana" was not the city of Montgomery, but the county, I had another piece of the puzzle. His family had moved to Jasper County after he was born, and this was my first clue as to their prior residence.
The fate of another young man still eludes me. His father died in the Civil War before he, Franklin Lee Parkison, was born, and his name and birth date are found in his mother's pension application. She left Indiana for Kansas, remarried there, and was widowed once again. But what of Frank? His mother's listing in the 1910 census indicates he, as one of her three children, was still living at that time.
The surname Parkison is fairly uncommon, but, too, it is easily misspelled, and I do find a Frank ParkiNson in later records who might actually be our man. But I am still looking for more definite proofs.
The fate of these lost boys – or men – continues to tug at us, but it is worth remembering that there are many ways to search for them. Ask yourself about each individual:
Was he of an age to fight in the Civil War (or other wars)?
Could his surname have been misspelled in some census records?
Was he still living when his mother was asked how many living children she had in 1900 or 1910?
Are there obituaries for siblings, parents or other relatives which might list him?
Are there probate records for any of these kin which might name him?
When you run out of ideas, sit back, take a deep breath, and move on to something else for a while.
Next time I'll try to give some hints about tracing lost girls and women.