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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill    1/12/2005

Finding Aunt Gertrude

This week we look at a twentieth-century problem and as such, have changed the names and places of the players.

She evaporated like so many people do. The last reference I had to Aunt Gertrude Hendricks was a 1920 census listing in Adams County, Illinois. She was enumerated as a twenty-seven-year-old housewife, and her family also included husband Charles, daughter Sandra (aged 14), daughter Petunia (aged 12), and son Eldon (aged 7). William and son Eldon were still in Adams County in the 1930 census enumeration, but Gertrude and the girls were not listed. While the girls could easily have been married and living under different last names, locating Gertrude was more problematic. Charles's 1930 marital status was married, not widowed and not divorced.

Where Was She?
Gertrude was on the back burner, figuratively speaking, for a few years. While searching court records for an entirely separate family two counties away, I happened upon an index reference on the bottom line of one page that nearly caused me to shout.

Gertrude Hendricks versus Charles Hendricks--divorce.

I nearly did the happy dance right there in the courthouse.

I quickly located the file. Gertrude and Charles had been married in Clark County, Missouri, in 1905. They had three children living at the time of the 1925 divorce: a daughter Petunia Noble living near Tioga, Illinois; another daughter (apparently Sandra) living near Wapello, Iowa; and a son (apparently Eldon) living with his father (address unknown). At the time of her divorce Gertrude was living in Keithsburg, Illinois. I now knew more about the family, but I had additional questions.

More 1930 Census Work
Armed with a last name, I located Petunia in the 1930 census, living in Hancock County, Illinois, with her husband Burton and three children. Extensive and creative searches in the 1930 census index for Gertrude did not reveal any potential matches. The real concern was that Gertrude had remarried by 1930. Without her second husband's last name, locating her would be nearly impossible. If fate had not intervened, my next steps would have been to focus on the daughter Petunia Noble and her family.

Open Eyes Open a Door
A posting on a completely unrelated message list indicated the sender lived in Wapello, Iowa. On a whim I emailed the person and briefly explained my problem and asked if she had any suggestions for searching family in the area. My message was brief and to the point. After an exchange of e-mails we discovered that the Hendricks daughters, Petunia and Sandra had married brothers. The marriages had both ended in divorce. Better yet, their husbands were both brothers of my e-mail correspondent's mother! She did not know what had happened to many of the family members but was able to provide me with some additional clues:

- Gertrude had married a Mr. Brownson after her divorce from Charles Hendricks.
- Gertrude had gone to live with a granddaughter Jennifer Cook in Connecticut and died there.
- Jennifer's husband, Mr. Cooke died in 1972.
- Jennifer had also been married to a Mr. Greenes who died in Hampton, Connecticut in 1979.
- Gertrude was still alive in September of 1979.

I now had more clues from which to work. Searches of the Connecticut Death Index, at revealed two matches that appeared to be connected to the granddaughter Jennifer.

According to the Connecticut Death Index, Willi A Greenes died June 1979 in Bartonville, Connecticut. His surviving spouse was listed as Jennifer. Edward A. Cook died in 1985 in New London, Connecticut. His surviving spouse was also listed as Jennifer. His address is listed as 32 Club Street, Bartonville, Connecticut.

It appeared I had located two deceased husbands of granddaughter Jennifer. I was excited.

A reverse phone directory search for the address located a Jennifer and Russell DeMoss currently living there. Perhaps Jennifer had married Russell after Mr. Greene's death. I am contacting her to see if she is the same Jennifer who was the granddaughter of Gertrude.

A search of the Social Security Death Index located a reference for Gertrude Brownson, born 1890 and died in March 1981, with a last residence of Hampton, Connecticut. Obtaining a copy of her SS-5 form (application for a social security number) is also on my to-do list. This form should provide her place of birth and the names of her parents. These forms are available from the Social Security Administration for any deceased person under the Freedom of Information Act. More information on obtaining these cards can be located at

Getting an Obituary
A message was posted to the New London County, Connecticut, message board requesting an obituary lookup for Gertrude. Approximately a month later, a respondent posted her death notice from a local paper. While the short obituary contained some errors it was a significant breakthrough. In brief:

Gertrude was born 1890 in Hancock County, Illinois, the daughter of Ira and Martha Butler Brownson. She lived in Illinois most of her life except the past five years spent with her granddaughter. She is survived by one son Eldon Hendricks of Beardstown, Illinois. Funeral services will be at the funeral home in Harris City, Illinois.

The obituary lists the last names of Gertrude's parents incorrectly, giving Gertrude's second married name as her maiden name. It is easy to see how such an error could happen, however Gertrude's maiden name was actually Butler.

Funeral Home Records
A little searching indicated the funeral home records had been published in book form by a local genealogical society. The society had no Web page that I could locate. However, I was not to be deterred. I posted a message to the appropriate county genealogy mailing list (via, asking if anyone had an e-mail contact for the society. A few days later I was in communication with the society and asked if I could purchase one of their books. The correspondent graciously offered to copy me the reference if one was all I needed. The funeral home book provided the following information:

Gertrude died 1981 in Westerly, Rhode Island, and was buried on the Stephen Schulmeyer lot in the Harris Cemetery near Harris City, Illinois. Gertrude's second husband had been Harry Brownson and her two daughters Sandra Noble and Petunia Schulmeyer predeceased her. It also provided her former residence in Illinois.

I had even more clues from which to work.

A Google Search
On a whim I went to and tried a search. My search terms were “eldon hendricks beardstown illinois.” On the first page of hits, I located a reference to burials in the Beardstown, Illinois, cemetery. The citation indicated Eldon Hendricks was born in 1912 and died in 1987. This year of birth was consistent with the census enumerations, and the year of death was consistent with him having survived his mother. There was an apparent reference to this same Eldon in the Social Security Death Index, indicating the same years of birth and death and a final residence of Auburn, Illinois.

Another Obituary
Auburn did not have a newspaper, but the town was located very near the state capitol of Springfield, which was the logical place to search. Since Eldon was buried in Beardstown and apparently lived there for some time, papers in that area were searched as well. One obituary was located in each paper. The Beardstown obituary indicated that Eldon was the son of Charles and Gertrude Brownson Hendricks. Gertrude's maiden name is incorrectly listed as Brownson, but the use of the Brownson name is understandable and all the other details match. The obituaries also provided the name of Eldon's children and their residences at the time of his death. Now I have even more searches to conduct.

For Eldon, it was imperative that I search for obituaries in the place where he died and in the place where he had lived. The second obituary contained details not listed in the first.

In future columns, we'll see just how I was (and was not) able to follow up on some of the leads obtained in my search for Gertrude.

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his website at, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2005,

 Used by the author on his website with permission

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