George Herman Ruth: A Wealth of Records Online
To demonstrate the variety of records you can find to tell the story of a particular individual, let's turn to George Herman Ruth — better known as baseball legend Babe Ruth. Biographies state that he was born on 6 February 1896 in Baltimore to George and Kate Ruth, although some of his records waffle a bit on both the day (February 6 or 7) and the year (1894 or 1895). He was a Junior, so it's likely that his father was George Herman Ruth, Sr.
With this information you can fairly easily find George Ruth in the 1900, 1910, and 1930 U.S. censuses at Ancestry.com. The 1900 census finds him living in Baltimore, Maryland, with his parents. His mother is listed as having had three children by this time, but only one is still living — George. His father is listed as a “lightning rod agent,” which will provide an important clue when you look for him with his parents in the 1880 census. Incidentally, the 1900 census index at Ancestry.com takes you to image no. 29, but you'll actually have to scroll ahead four pages to image no. 33 to find him. This does happen sometimes with online records, so if you can't find the name you're looking for on the page you expect it, you should always examine several of the surrounding pages as well.
In 1910, George H. Ruth, Jr., appears to be enumerated twice. The first is with his parents and younger sister, Mary. George's uncle, William E. Ruth, age twenty-four, is also living with the family. George Jr. is listed again as a “pupil” at the St. Mary's Industrial School. The name and age fit, but you can also confirm this is most likely the same George Jr. because it corresponds with stories he told of his childhood, including several stints at St. Mary's school.
Try an Exact Name Search — You Might Get Lucky
An exact name search for george herman ruth in Ancestry.com turns up several matches, including both World War I and World War II draft registration records for the Babe. An exact name search isn't always successful (if genealogy was that easy all the time it wouldn't be as exciting), but sometimes you get lucky like this. From the World War I draft registration in 1917 you learn that George Herman Ruth was born 7 February 1894 in Baltimore, Maryland. He's married and lists his occupation as “baseball” for the “Boston American” team at “Fenway Park.” He describes himself as being of medium build, with brown eyes and “dark” hair. In 1942, George Herman Ruth again registered for the draft, this time for World War II. He appears to have filled out most of this card in his own hand, giving his birth date as 6 February 1895, his wife as “Clairr [sic] Ruth,” and also including his address and phone number.
Follow Up on Unusual Clues
Continuing back in the family tree using census records, George Ruth, Sr. (Babe's father), is listed in the 1880 federal census (remember that most of the 1890 census was destroyed) in Baltimore, Maryland, living with his parents, John and Mary Ruth. John is listed as a “lightning rod maker” in this and other census records, as is his son, George Sr. Looks like that might be a family occupation. Since it seems such an unusual choice of jobs, it might be worth a quick Google search for john ruth lightning rod. If you try it, you might be surprised to find a page titled Lightning Rod Patents (www.rogerrussell.com/lightning/lightning2.htm), which lists a man named John Anthony Ruth who patented an “insulator for lightning rods” on 9 September 1884 (patent no. 305,020). Is this the same John A. Ruth? The next step is to search online for the actual patent. Google Patent Search (www.google.com/patents) is easy to use, but you can also search patents online at the U.S. Patent Office (www.uspto.gov). With the patent number from the previously mentioned Lightning Rod Patents web page, it is easy to find. It does confirm that this John Anthony Ruth resided in Baltimore City, which matches the man you're looking for.
Look for Multiple Sources of Information
From other online records you can learn even more about the family:
Although it is unusual to find entries prior to 1962 in the Social Security Death Index, Babe Ruth is in there, listed as being born 6 February 1895 and having died August 1948.
A newspaper search in NewspaperARCHIVE.com brings up a few articles on the death of Babe's father, who died in a fistfight with his brother-in-law Benjamin Sipes, outside of his tavern on 25 August 1918. Both he and Babe's mother, Catherine, who died on 11 August 1918, can also be found in the online Baltimore City death index at MDVitalRec (www.mdvitalrec.net).
Babe's paternal grandfather (John A. Ruth), uncle (John A. Ruth, Jr.), and father (George Ruth, Sr.) are all listed in an 1890 Baltimore city directory on Ancestry.com, working together in the occupation of “lightning rods.” Babe's maternal grandfather, Pius Schamberger, is also listed in the directory, along with his aunt, Annie Schamberger, a “dressmaker.”
Pius Schamberger immigrated to the United States in 1854 according to the 1900 census. Ancestry.com has a young man by that name of the right age arriving at the Port of New York on the ship North Wind, from the port of Le Havre, France, on 19 December 1854. He's listed as a French farmer, but so is every other passenger on the ship, including the infants, so you might take this with a grain of salt.