Mar-Apr 2009

No More French Fries Please

This title is a reference to the difficulty I have had this past couple months trying to document the family of George A. French. Not since the early days of my research have I had such a problem, trying to sort out men who have the same name and nearly the same birthdate, and determine which one might be the REAL son of Gideon French.

Gideon French was born in 1856 in Oxford County, Ontario, grandson of Betsy Douglass Flewelling. Gideon left few traces and it was years before I discovered he did not die in his youth. I found a marriage record for Gideon and Altha Leech. After many census searches, I found them in the 1880 census in Midland, Michigan, and they had a two year old son, George A. French. I have not found Gideon and Altha in any other federal census, in the U.S. or in Canada.

So I tried to follow their son George. Perhaps his census records would give me a clue as to what happened to Gideon.

In the 1900 census, there was a George A. French, b. Dec. 1878, 21, boarding in a home in Detroit, MI. That seemed reasonable, to have moved as a young man from Midland to Detroit. But I needed proof. So I checked for a birth registration and found a George A. French, born in Oxford County, Ontario Dec. 3, 1878 to Gideon French and Altha Leach. Right! This must be Gideon’s son in Detroit in 1900.

So far, so good. But when I tried to follow George A. French, born 1878 in subsequent census records, I became very confused. There were at least two, maybe three, George Frenchs born in 1878, two even on the same date! One of them lived and died in Louisville, Kentucky. (When I first found this record in the census, I thought, hey, maybe I have a Douglass descendent living in KY where I live.) But it seemed like they had different wives in every census and different occupations.

George #1, to denote the one who I have a birth registration for, lived in Detroit for 30 some years, had a wife, Mary, who was born in Scotland and a daughter Brenta May.

George #2, also born in Canada, lived in Kentucky as of 1920, with wife, Martha, and step-son, Fred, both born in KY. His WWI draft registration has the exact same date of birth, Dec. 3, 1878. Only his death certificate says his father is Arthur!

George #3, on his WWI draft registration, was living in Cadillac, MI, but his birthdate was Jan. 21, 1877, and born in the U.S., not our man, but with a birthdate close enough to crop up on census searches and keep confusing the issue.

These records did not come all neatly composed as I have offered them to you, but with each new record I unearthed, I would have to analyze again and puzzle over which one referred to my George French. To confuse things even further, I finally found a marriage registration for George #1 (listing his parents Gidd French and Altha Leitch) to Barbara McMahon. None of my three Georges have a wife Barbara. And in the marriage registration, 1902, George #1 has occupation: underwriter but in the next three census reports he is a carpenter. George #2 is also an underwriter and then a draftsman for an oil refinery.

I finally think I have them sorted out but need some more documentation to be sure. Some of the information or clues that I got came from Family Trees on the internet. One has to be careful in taking that information as accurate if there is no citing of sources attached. Many people enjoy the search for family connections and will copy any family trees from the internet which seem to have some of the same people as theirs, but without doing any of their own checking for sources. One does not know where the information came from. It could simply have been copied from some other website or family tree. I have found errors in family trees on the internet, errors I can identify because I have documented a source.

Part of my time now is spent searching for documentation, so that others can know where I got my information. I currently have 4104 individuals on my Douglass database. Of those I have birthdates for 3152. All but 250 birthdates are documented. Some are very difficult because in the beginning of my genealogy research I was not aware of the importance of documenting and did not always record where I got the date. But little by little I am getting them documented.

Seydal, Don’t You Saddle My Sidle

Ready? Here we go again. In searching for Gideon, I never found him, as I wrote above, in a federal census after 1880. But, surprise, surprise, I found him in a Kansas State census in 1885. Gideon, Altha, George, age 6, and sister, Nella, 2. This immediately throws all of my neat analyzing into the hat again. Is the George in 1900 Detroit really George #1? Or could it be George #2?

Being a little tired of the quandary at this point, I concentrated on Nella. Until this record I did not even know George had a sister. I found a marriage registration for Nellie French (parents Gidian and Altha) to Frederick Sidle in Blenheim, Kent County, Ontario, July 4, 1899. So at some point Gideon, or at least his daughter, returned to Canada from Kansas.

Whereas French has pretty straightforward spelling and only becomes a problem if one is doing a general internet search, not just a family tree search, (in which case “French” pulls every reference to that word) “Sidle” has other problems. I could not believe how many different spellings one could find in the census for this family name. But I did find Fred and Nellie in the 1910 and 1920 census records in Presque Isle, Michigan. All eight of their children were born in MI, so they must have been there from 1900 on. But they are not in 1930 census, at least I cannot find them anywhere. I have checked out Seidl, Siddle, Seidel, and several other spellings but I really had to throw up my hands when I found them in the 1920 census listed as Fred and Nellie Saddle! In this case I am grateful to the Ancestry search engine which makes allowances for crazy spellings.


Sometimes the only way I can finally get documentation is to pay for it. Even that does not always work. I sent to Montana for a death certificate for Nina Flewelling. Nina lived to be nearly 80. Her husband and only daughter predeceased her, so information was given for her death certificate by her grandson and he did not know Nina’s parents’ names.

This is the same family as above: Flewelling.

Nina’s husband, John Flewelling, was Gideon French’s uncle. If you look at the genealogy chart for Betsy Douglass Flewelling, you find Gideon’s family at the top of the page, and if you scroll all the way to the bottom, there you will see John Flewelling, Betsy’s youngest son.

The Flewelling researchers in Canada have “assigned” John Flewelling to Betsy, but at this point there is no proof he is her son. At age 19, he was still in Canada, but in 1881, he married Nina Gilbert in Pine Run, Genesee County, Michigan. It was no surprise that he was in Michigan; several of his siblings had homesteaded there, but I was still wondering about his parentage. If John was born in 1852, Betsy would have been 46 when he was born, not impossible for that era, but reason for caution. I tried to access John’s marriage record in Michigan when I was there several years ago. There was a Flewelling/Gilbert marriage in the index, but when I looked for the record, it has been indexed wrong. No such marriage on the indicated page, nor in the indicated book! So I could not prove he was Betsy’s son.

John eventually went west and owned a silver and lead mine. I am sending for a death certificate for a John Flewelling who died 1935 in Sandpoint, Idaho and hope this settles the issue of parentage. His wife would have still been alive then and she should have known his parents’ names for his death certificate. One hopes anyway.

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