I’m Nancy Drew, Is How I Did It

Yesterday’s post has generated an interesting conversation on Facebook, so I’m going to write a little post here about how I did the research. [Also, for the record: I’m blurring a lot of stuff for now because some of these people are still alive, and just reasons. But I have the info, and I’m relatively confident in my assertions and will note when that’s not the case.]

Here’s the card I had to start with.

The information I had for sure was:

  • The author’s initials (H.E.)
  • The author resided in Stevens Point in 1922
  • The recipient’s address, at a rural route and box number in a township in Wisconsin about 90 miles away from Stevens Point
  • The recipient’s marital status and a very, very vague guess at her name (it looked like her first name started with E and her last with either R or K)

Things I concluded that were probably, but not definitely, facts:

  • H.E. was old enough to have married and moved out
  • H.E. grew up in the place her mother continued to live and therefore would have been on older census/other records
  • H.E. had a sister named Marie

I started out learning about the rural route, where it was, and if it had any other names (they often do). I like Historic Map Works as a source for old maps, but in this case they didn’t help all that much. So it was off to the 1920 and 1910 Census data I went. I love Steve Morse’s Enumeration District tools — he’s done the world an incredible favor with that page, and I’ve used it more than once to solve family mysteries. (His other research tools are impressive, too.) Basically, you use city/state data to figure out which pages of the census cover your areas. It’s still a lot of needle-in-haystack digging, but it takes it down to one haystack instead of a field full of them.

1910 Census for Family K.

So this was the long slog part of the research. I just started guessing. I worked through the relevant enumeration districts in the 1920 census, looking for families with last names starting with R or K, mothers’ names starting with E, and possibly daughters with initials H.E. or named Marie. I didn’t find any. So I started comparing families in the area in 1920 to families in the area in 1910, thinking that maybe H.E. and Marie had moved out before 1920.

Every time I found a potential family, I did a quick family tree research session for them to see what I could find. For example, if I found Leon Rutabaga and his wife Emily living on Highway 6 in 1910 with daughters Harriett and Marie, I then tried to find marriage records for a Harriett Rutabaga to a man who lived in Stevens Point by 1922. It’s a complicated back-and-forth between census records, city directories (Stevens Point — not their rural township!), and even newspaper records.

Finally, I found them. I got lucky, and they lived in the exact same place in both 1910 and 1920, so I could determine that Louis K. and his wife Emma had four kids in the 1910 census, and only two in 1920 — Helen and Mary had moved out by then.

So then I had a last name to work with, and things really sped up. I quickly found Helen K.’s obituary, which was extremely helpful. And from there it was just a downhill Ancestry.com project to fill out the whole family history. This town and this era has a lot online, so I was even able to find a picture of little Mildred Marie.

Interesting side note: this picture also includes my great-aunt Jeannette. So that’s two postcards off eBay that ended up tying into my own family!

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