How Could I Miss That Clue for Agnes Anderson?

In the early part of December, I was prompted to define my brick walls in the Facebook group called the U.S. Midwest Genealogy Research Community. My family has roots in Central Ohio, and I have two family lines that stop short. I know many folks like to help other researchers with no thought of reward other than gratitude. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I posted two queries, and one brought me an early Christmas present.

On Dec 14, I posted a query about Agnes Anderson. She’s my maternal grandmother’s birth grandmother, the Grannie that I created this heritage scrapbook about. Interestingly, that day was the 3rd anniversary of burying my mother. Within a few short hours, several responses appeared and perhaps the women of my mother’s line were guiding me. They wanted to not only make a Merry Christmas but they wanted to turn a tender day into a blessed one.

Let’s review the query: “Agnes Anderson was born in Feb 1881 in Missouri. The possible location is Evansville, MO. Her father was born in Sweden (according to Census records), and her mother’s birth location is likely Missouri.

In 1900, Agnes was a servant in St. Louis at the age of 18.

In 1910, she was a single working woman in Newark, Ohio, She often works for a grocery store.

She purchased a home in Newark on 24 Mar 1920.

She died the day after her daughter was born 21 May 1920. As an unmarried woman with no family in Newark, Ohio, her daughter was placed for adoption. I know all about this daughter. I don’t know much about Agnes besides what I discovered in the 1900 and 1910 Census records. She died before the 1920 Census records.

I have traced her through the city directories in Newark as much as possible. I don’t know much about her in St. Louis or even Evansville.

The informant on her death record was a hospital worker, so I don’t know if I should believe the names of Wm Anderson and Amanda Sparks as her parents. I haven’t found anyone in Missouri with these names.”

Before I share the results of this query post, I’d like to tell you why I shared what I shared in my query. I was very intentional about the details.

Far too often people will say, “I’m looking for Bob Jones of Centerville, Utah in 1890.” Well, that’s great. What else do you know about him?

I didn’t write a brief query because I didn’t want to receive responses that said, “Did you look at birth records?” or “Did you try the 1900 census?”
My query covered the basics of what I knew and why I’m stuck. I have looked at death records, 
marriage records (Agnes never married), and census records (I’ve found all possible, darn the 1890s). I wanted to demonstrate that I have reviewed city directories as well. I gave all the information that I’ve discovered and the questions I still have. In short, I was inviting a set of eyes to look for the clues I was overlooking or find a resource that I haven’t reviewed yet.

My cynical, impatient side believed someone would direct me to a resource that I currently can’t access. My patient, optimistic side thought it couldn’t hurt to see what someone could come up with.
Seven minutes! Seven minutes after posting my query, Shelly said this “If you look at the bottom of the image of the death certificate, it says Informant R.P. Sparks, St. Louisville. Sounds like it could be a relative of her mother.”STOP THE PRESSES!

What? There is no informant named R P Sparks on Agnes death record. It looks like this.

“”Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (, Agnes Anderson, 22 May 1920; citing Death, Columbus, Franklin, Ohio, United States, source ID 1920 fn 1974, County courthouses, Ohio; FHL microfilm 2,032,688.

I went hunting and realized that there was indeed TWO death records for Agnes. The amazingly helpful Shelly (which is my mother’s sister’s name by the way, which is pretty cool) had discovered the second record.

As it turns out, I had attached this record to the FamilySearch Family Tree myself, but I thought everything was the same. How could I have missed this clue?

“Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch (,
Agnes Anderson, 22 May 1920; citing Columbus, Franklin, Ohio, reference fn 35939; FHL microfilm 1,991,133.

Here’s the second death record with the information Shelly was talking about. If you look in the lower left corner, there is the detail that I missed.

R P Sparks St Louisvlle

The detail that will lead to a crack in the brick wall of Agnes Anderson. The crack that has been waiting for some time, whistling a happy, little, patient tune.

Want to know something else that will have you picturing me smacking my hand against my forehead? This little nugget is in a past post. Yep. Right there in “What I Know About Agnes Anderson.” (It was shared in 2012 by the way.)

Once again, it pays to look at things again, and again, and again. And even the most ‘experienced’ genealogist miss things. So, if you think you’re immune this this happening to you, then just wait.

Anyway, I now have an answer as to whether to believe the names on this death record. Given that R P Sparks gave the names of Amanda Sparks as the mother on this document, there is a very, very good chance that he is a relative. Now I’m confident that the hospital worker didn’t just make up some names or attempt to recall what Agnes said as she died. There seems to have been family to provide the name of Agnes’s parents. It might be time to do some digging into this R P Sparks.

Just as I’m rubbing my sore head from the slap for the foolish mistake, Shelly posts more nuggets on the Facebook group. Nuggets that will completely blow my mind. Stay tuned.

This is the first in a multi-part series of posts on cracking through Agnes Anderson’s brick wall. Follow the story through the next three parts.

Have you missed cracks in your genealogy brick wall? #genealogy #familyhistory #researchtips

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.


  • Dana Leeds

    How exciting! And, it does help to both revisit the records we have AND to have a new pair of eyes look at our records. Or offer to help! I have never posted a "query" on FaceBook. I think I'll give that a try! Nice!

  • TexasLady

    Wonderful catch! As my husband's family is Swedish, I've worked with his father a bit on their genealogy. You may be familiar with the Swedish naming convention. If William Anderson was born in Sweden, then his father's first name was probably Anders. If Agnes had been born in Sweden her name would have been Agnes Williamsdoter. Etc. Good luck. BUT beware of name changes! My husband's family voluntarily changed their name from Johnson to Chalberg because their were too many sons of John living in the same area of Chicago and it was too confusing. Seriously – they made up a Swedish sounding name. Sigh.

  • Devon Noel Lee

    Dana… I hadn't posted before because my skeptical nature thought no one would discover anything new. My take away is that it doesn't hurt to share a question if someone is offering to help. You just never know what will pan out. I also thought how it's important to write a specific query. I think my specific query received much better results.

    The other thought I had was that it was just time. The right resources were easily accessible for Agnes's story to be uncovered. I'll be starting a series about my 3xs great grandfather Joseph Geissler and the resources just not be available in order to open his wall in the same way that Agnes's cracked open.

  • Brenda

    I had two separate “ Ah Ha ! “ moments that stand out in my years of research. My first was hiding in plain site on land records for my 2nd great-grandmother. She had transferred land , that was in her name , to her husband. I had been going nuts trying to learn who her parents were. Then one day I remembered that women generally didn’t own property back in the early 1800’s. With the help of a volunteer, in Muskingum County, Ohio , I learned the “ Who, How & Why ? “ of how Elizabeth PAXTON LePAGE ended up with property & who her parents were !!!

    The second “ Ah Ha “ moment was on my great-aunt’s death certificate. Her husband had passed on years earlier & I didn’t have anyone to ask about her property. Finally , I really studied her death certificate and noticed the “ Informants Name “ was no one in our family. On a whim I looked him up to see if he was still living at the address he had listed on the form. He was ! I immediately wrote a letter to him and sent along a stamped & self-addressed envelope. Time went by with no reply. Then one day I opened the mailbox to find a package. It included two Bibles ( my aunt’s & her husband’s ) , two old photos ( 1905 photo of my aunt & her twin brother , plus one of my aunt when she graduated from nursing school ), and a letter from the gentleman who mailed them to me. I hit the jackpot just by following the clue that had been staring me in the face.

    Never give up !

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