Monday, May 7, 2012

Proving In-Laws without Direct Evidence (NGSQ)

If there's anything harder than finding parents without direct evidence, it's finding in-laws! That's the task addressed by Nancy Peters, CG (SM) in her article in the December issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Peters lived in Monroe County, New York, for most of the second half of the 19th century. There was no marriage record -- indeed, no document of any kind naming her parents -- and the records that did exist sometimes called her Gertrude, and other times Catherine.

Combining civil and church records with a knowledge of German culture and naming patterns resolved that last issue and showed that Conrad had just the one wife. And an 1847 baptismal record named the married parents as Conrad Peters and Gertrude Eberle. The Peters and Eberle families lived near one another and associated in church affairs and baptisms. In the Civil War, Conrad Peters and George Eberle served together in Company I of the 108th New York volunteer infantry, but George died at the notorious Andersonville prison in 1864.

George's parents were named in his 1843 baptism as Christopher Eberle and Catherina Kunz. In 1865 the federal government paid Catherine Peters a benefit due to heirs of deceased volunteer soldiers. George had never married and his parents were deceased at this time. Since New York law provided that siblings would inherit from those who died without a will, parents, or children, this payment strongly implied that Catherine was his sister and Christopher and Catherina therefore her parents.

Arguably, this might have been enough to establish Conrad Peters's in-laws, but the author found baptismal records for this Eberle family in Leimen, Waldhambach -- now better known as part of  the Palatinate. Christopher Eberle's handwritten signatures on documents there and in New York helped prove it was the same family, and the church record included a Gertrude born to the couple at the right time to be Mrs. Conrad Peters.

All the evidence now pointed the same way, except for one contradictory item. A surviving fragment of German civil records said that that baby Gertrude had died the same day! On closer examination, though, the civil recorder had probably miscopied a priest's note that referred to a burial record for an older man on the next line of the church register.

Note that this last conclusion was not made in a vacuum. Mistakes in records are always possible; what made it a probability in this case was the weight of all the other evidence linking the families and linking Gertrude Eberle to Conrad Peters.

Nancy Peters, "Using Indirect Evidence to Find In-Laws for Conrad Peters of Monroe County, New York," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 99 (December 2011): 281-93.

Harold Henderson, "Proving In-Laws without Direct Evidence," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 7 May 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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