Neil Armstrong: Researching Twentieth-Century Ancestors
If you have few living relatives to share their memories, you may have to begin your online genealogy search practically from square one — with your parents or grandparents. Since many very recent records are not online, this can often be quite a challenge. But if one of your problems is that your close relatives are deceased, death records are a good place to begin.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong was born on 5 August 1930 to Stephen and Viola Engel Armstrong. A search at GenealogyBank.com for Viola Armstrong turns up two obituaries that reveal that she was 83 when she died on 21 May 1990 at the Dorothy Love Retirement Community in Sidney, Ohio. From them, you can also learn that Neil's father, Stephen K. Armstrong, died 3 February 1990 at age 82. Viola was buried in Greenlawn Cemetery.
There are also several obituaries at GenealogyBank for Stephen Arm-strong. They state that Stephen was an examiner and administrator for the state of Ohio for forty years, and that he was a native of St. Marys, Ohio. He also died at the Dorothy Love Retirement Center in Sidney. Using Stephen's name and date of death, it is easy to find him in the Social Security Death Index, which provides his date of birth — 26 August 1907.
The SSDI entry at Ancestry.com actually provides additional information on Stephen, provided by his daughter, June L. Hoffman as “customer contributed content.” From this you learn that his middle name was Koenig. June also provides his parents' names (Willis Armstrong and Laura Mary Louise Koenig), confirms the date of birth, and lists the maiden name and birth date of Viola (Engel) Armstrong (born 7 May 1907) and the date of their marriage (7 October 1929). She also lists the names of their children: Neil Alden Armstrong, June Louise Armstrong (Hoffman), and Dean Alan Armstrong.
Connect with Other Researchers
The comment contributed by June Hoffman, sister of Neil Armstrong, seems to express an interest on her part in her family history, so you might want to Google “june hoffman” +armstrong. This brings up a genealogy page, Ancestors of Robert William OWEN, with a posted e-mail that appears to have been sent by Jayne Hoffman, daughter of June Hoffman under the notes entry for Anna Elizabeth ENGEL. From it, you learn a little more about the family of Viola Louise Engel.
My grandmother is Viola Engel Armstrong who married Stephen Armstrong. Her father was Martin Engel who married Caroline Katter (her nickname was Callie). Martin and Caroline only had one child, my grandmother Viola, who is the mother of Neil Armstrong and my mother June Hoffman Armstrong, also Dean Armstrong. Martin Engel died when my Grandmother was two. He had many brothers and sisters….
Caroline (Callie) then married William Korspeter and then had no children. I would be happy to correspond with anyone researching this line.
… My grandmother, Viola, had a very extensive record of her family. I am always happy to find out more about my family. Thanks. — Jayne
A Google search on “viola engel armstrong” then turns up a book titled First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen in Google Books that includes quite a bit of family history. Sources for specific facts are not cited in the book, but there is an extensive bibliography of sources at the end. Much of the family history information also appears to have come from family members and research commissioned by Viola Armstrong, based on comments made in the acknowledgments section. Now you have even more facts — names, dates, land purchases, and so on — to follow up in original records.
Look at Every Column in the Census
Now, most people don't have ancestors famous enough to already have their genealogy published, so ignore this extensive information for the purposes of this example and next turn to the census. A quick search for Stephen Armstrong in the 1930 census at Ancestry.com doesn't find him (because his name is spelled Steven), but a search for Viola Armstrong in Ohio finds the young couple living with Stephen's parents, Willis J. and Laura M. Armstrong in Noble, Auglaize County, Ohio, along with Stephen's sister, Mary.
The 1920 census is even easier. A search for stephen armstrong born 1907 +/− 2 brings up a single result, where you'll meet yet another sibling — older sister Grace Armstrong, born about 1898. In 1910, the family is still in Auglaize County, Ohio: father, Willis; mother, Laura M.; and children, Stephen K. (two), Mary B. (six months), Bernice (nineteen), Guy (eighteen), Raymond (fourteen), and Grace (twelve). This is listed as a second marriage for Willis Armstrong, which explains the ten-year gap between Grace and Stephen. The census also tells you that this is a first marriage for Laura, that she and Willis have been married for five years, and that she's had two children and both are still living.
In the 1900 census you'll uncover the name of Willis's first wife, Lillie Armstrong. According to the census, she and Willis have been married for thirteen years and have five children: Muriel, Vernice, Guy, Raymond, and Gracie. Also living with them is Martha Armstrong, born November 1831 in Ohio, listed as the mother of Willis Armstrong. Additional information on her shows that her parents were both born in Kentucky, and that she has borne five children, with three still living.
An online search on Ancestry.com for willis armstrong in Ohio turns up a marriage between Willis Armstrong and Lillie Brewer on 25 October 1887 in Auglaize County, Ohio, which matches up nicely with the information from the census.
Follow Up on Every Piece of New Information
The Ohio Death Certificate Index from the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) only covers the years 1913 to 1935, too recent to find a listing for Lillie Armstrong, who likely died sometime between 1900 (where she appears in the census) and 1905 (when Willis remarried); deaths were not recorded in Ohio at the state level until the end of 1908.
A search for Armstrong deaths in Auglaize County, however, turns up a Mary B. Armstrong who died 26 October 1933 and a Willis J. Armstrong who died 16 August 1930. It's likely that Willis J. Armstrong is the man you're looking for, and Mary B. could be Stephen's sister. To be certain, you'll have to check the original death certificates, which FamilySearch happens to have online for free.
Sure enough, Mary Barbara Armstrong (a nurse), daughter of Willis J. Armstrong and Laura Koenig, died in Auglaize County, Ohio, on 26 October 1933. The death certificate for Willis J. Armstrong is there as well, listing his spouse as Laura Armstrong and his parents as Stephen Armstrong and Martha Watkins.
Remember the online information on the Armstrong family supplied by Neil's sister, June Hoffman? From it you learned that Neil's mother was Laura Mary Louise Koenig, a fact further corroborated by the death certificate for Mary B. Armstrong. With an approximate date of birth, it fairly easy to locate Laura Koeing in the 1880 census for Noble, Auglaize County, Ohio, with a Soundex search. Her parents are listed as Jacob Koeing, born in Wurttemberg, and Barbara Koeing, born in Ohio. There are also two older siblings listed: John, age twelve, and Rosa, age nine.
Locating this family in the 1900 census index takes a little more work; a straight Soundex search for both Laura Koenig and Jacob Koenig turns up no matches in Ohio. Assuming that the family remained in Auglaize County since Laura married there about 1905, try a first-name only search for jacob living in Auglaize County, Ohio, and born in Germany. The family name Koenig turns out to be misindexed as Loesing, with Laura misindexed as James. There is also an additional son, J. T. Koenig, born about June 1880, just after the 1880 census.
This takes the Armstrong line back to 1900, past the stumbling block of knowing little about the family. Similar research for Neil's mother, Viola, can also get her family back to 1900 online with little trouble. In the 1920 U.S. census for Washington, Auglaize County, Ohio, a 12-year-old Viola Engel is listed as the stepdaughter of William Korspeter and his wife, Caroline Korspeter. In 1910, Viola and her mother, Callie Engel, are living with Callie's parents, Fred W. and Mary M. Katter. Fred is listed as a naturalized citizen who was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1865. Mary is listed as having been born in Ohio. In 1900, Fred W. Ketter and wife Mary M. are in Auglaize County, Ohio, with children Henry B., Fred C., Benjamin H., and Callie M. Ketter.
Don't Neglect Newspapers
A search for the Engel surname in Auglaize County, Ohio, in the Google News Archive turns up an obituary in the Lima News for Mrs. William (Caroline Matilda) Korspeter, age 82, who died of a heart condition in Lima, Ohio. With the information it contains, you can confirm previously known facts, as well as learn of her birth on 6 February 1888 near Moulton, Ohio, to Frederick and Maria Katterheinrich Katter. She first married 9 October 1905 to Martin Engel, who died in 1909. On 7 October 1916 she married again, to William Korspeter, who died 10 April 1969. A variety of survivors are also listed, including her brother Frederick Katter. She was to be buried in Greenlawn Cemetery.
With all of this information, and families that were firmly entrenched in Auglaize County, Ohio, for quite some time, it shouldn't be hard to continue further back in Neil Armstrong's family tree.