The Mystery Box: A Descendant Genealogy
In October 2006, library volunteer Irene Candy was sorting through a box of donated items at the Worthington Library in Ohio, when she heard an odd noise. One of the books, a rather unremarkable Reader's Digest Condensed Book, rattled when she picked it up. When she opened it, she found to her surprise that the book was actually hollow and contained two compartments.
One compartment held a small notebook, purchased by John Seibert in the year 1815, and a wedding portrait of James and Elizabeth Seybert taken on their wedding day in 1854. The small book also contained a brief handwritten family tree, tracing the “Seybert or Seibert” family from the birth of Adam Seibert in 1785 to Fred S. Seibert in 1906.
The other compartment contained a small green tin with the name “R. B. Seybert” etched on the bottom. Inside was an apothecary scale that, according to the documentation found with it, dated from the late eighteenth century.
The library's community relations and development director, Lisa Fuller, set out on a quest to try and find the person who donated the items so that they might be returned. Stories about the “mystery book” appeared in the local media, and the library received several phone calls. No one, however could prove a direct connection to the family.
A newspaper article about the book and its interesting family items intrigued me. Why were the items stored in the fake book? How did they get to the library? Who was the couple in the wedding photo? I was compelled to try and find those family heirlooms a good home.
The First Goal: Identify the Family
Since my objective was to find a descendant of the couple in the wedding photo, I began by searching for the couple in the census. From the handwritten family tree I already had their names and birth dates — James Seibert (born November 30, 1826) and Elizabeth L. Seibert nee Book (born April 17, 1837), as well as the names of their children: Samuel W. (b. 1856), Elvia A. (b. 1859), Anna M. (b. 1866), Ethelda A. (b. 1861), and R. Bruce (b. 1873). From the wedding photo, taken in Waterloo, Pennsylvania, I also had a general location to begin my search.
With all of this detail, I thought I'd be able to quickly find the family in the 1860 census. Not exactly. Standard name searches of the 1870 census turned up nothing either. Jumping ahead to 1880, however, I found the family living in Williamsport, Lycoming County, PA — James and Elizabeth with sons Samuel and Bruce. With this information, I once again went back and tackled the 1870 census.
Using first names and ages only and limiting the search to Lycoming County, I finally managed to locate the family — with last name misindexed as Leibert — by searching for james (no last name) born 1826 +/− 5 years. This time the son Samuel was enumerated, along with daughters Elvira and Anna, so I felt more comfortable that I had the right family.
Since my goal was to work forward in time to a living descendant, I next searched for the family in the 1900 through 1930 census schedules. The oldest son, Samuel Seibert, was easy to locate. His parents were living with him and his wife Anna and their children in the 1900 census, and his mother (listed as a widow) was still with them in 1910. But where is the youngest son, Bruce? I felt certain that he was the R. B. Seibert on the apothecary tin, and was determined to try and track him down.
Newspapers Are an Excellent Source for Information
Searches for siebert pennsylvania and seybert pennsylvania in the Google News Archive brought up too many results to wade through, so I looked through my census results for some unusual family names to target. Beulah, the eldest daughter of son Samuel Seibert, seemed a good name and she didn't disappoint — well, except for the fact that her story was so sad. Several articles in the Altoona Mirror and the Williamsport Daily Gazette and Bulletin, found through a Google News Archive search of beulah seibert pennsylvania, and available online through my subscription to NewspaperArchive.com, told the story of her tragic death by fire:
Miss Beulah Seibert, the nurse at the Nason sanitarium Roaring Spring who was terribly burned yesterday morning by her dress taking fire from the furnace, died at 12:30 last night at that institution. She received every possible attention from the sanitarium staff, but was beyond chance of recovery. — From the Altoona Mirror, 6 January 1904
The funeral of Miss Beulah Seibert of Newberry who was fatally burned at Roaring Spring occurred yesterday afternoon from the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Seibert, the Rev J. R. Baker conducting the services…. Among those present from out of town were Mr. And Mrs. Schooley and the Misses Griggs of Montgomery; Miss Rice of Roaring Spring; R. Bruce Seibert of Pittsburg, and…. — From the Williamsport Daily Gazette and Bulletin
There is my missing son, R. Bruce Seibert, and a clue that he's living in Pittsburgh (which happened to be spelled Pittsburg back in 1904). With this information I continued the news search, looking for bruce seibert pittsburg and seibert williamsport gazette bulletin and found several other minor newspaper mentions, such as “Samuel Seibert and family of Newberry and Bruce Seibert and family of Pittsburg are camping at Sylvan Dell,” “Samuel Seibert of Diamond Street is recovering from an attack of asthma,” and “Miss Hannah Griggs of Montgomery spent Sunday with her sister, Mrs. Samuel Seibert on Diamond Street.” Oh, the things they found newsworthy to print back then!
World War I Draft Registration Cards to the Rescue
These records are a favorite for information on men born between 1873 and 1900 who lived in the U.S. during the 1917 to 1918 timeframe, because they cover almost this entire population. My Bruce Seybert, born on 21 June 1873 according to the handwritten family tree, was at the upper age limit, but I got lucky; an exact name search for Bruce Seybert in the World War I Draft Registration records at Ancestry.com turned him up as the only result.
I knew instantly that I had the correct man too, because not only did his birth date match up perfectly, but his full name was given as Robert Bruce Book Seybert — “Book” being his mother's maiden name identified in that little handwritten family tree. From the registration card, I learned that in September 1918 he was living in Canton, Stark County, Ohio; working as a traveling salesman; and his wife's name was Florence M. Seybert.
Now that I had additional information on my R. Bruce Seibert, it was time to return to the census. A search for him in Canton, Ohio, in 1920 (just two years after he registered for the draft) finds “Robert B. Seybert” living with his wife, Florence, and sons, James T., Robert S., and Fred S. in the household of his in-laws, Isack and Olive J. Truxell. Also listed is Lucetta Bishop, age eighty, mother-in-law of Isaac Truxell.
There's a lot of nice information in this census entry, as we learn both the maiden name of Bruce's wife and the maiden name of his wife's mother all at once! Using these additional names I was also able to go back and find the family living in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, PA, in 1910 (where they are mis-indexed as “Seyleit”), and forward to find them in Canton, OH, in 1930. The 1930 census also provides another clue — Robert Bruce's oldest son, James T. Seybert, has married (Katherine M.) and had children (Patricia Ann and James A.). Those kids, born between 1920 and 1930, are young enough that they may still be living!
Using Death Records
Now that I had the names of some possible living descendants, I needed to make a seventy-six-year jump, from 1930 to 2006. A lot could happen in that intervening time, so I jumped right into my favorite records for tracing twentieth-century ancestors — death records. The Social Security Death Index popped up a possible match for the oldest son, James T. Seybert, born 28 September 1901 and died 16 May 1990; social security number issued in Ohio. There was no information on his last residence, but a general search of Ancestry.com for “James T. Seybert” turned him up in the Michigan Death Index with Clinton, Macomb County, listed as his place of death. Incidentally, while searching the SSDI, I was also able to find entries for the youngest brother, Fred S. Seybert, and his wife Kathryn. The SSDI gave their last residence as Southern Pines, NC, and with this I was also able to locate Frederick Stearns Seybert and Kathyrn Himes Seybert in the North Carolina Death Index online at Ancestry.com.
Returning to the oldest son, James T. Seybert (since I knew the most about him and his children), I next tried searching for him at my favorite online obituary search sites. Nothing turned up, so the next step was an Internet search for macomb michigan obituaries. Boy, did I get lucky, because the results took me right to the Macomb County Obituary Index, hosted online by the Mount Clemens Public Library, where a search for surname “Seybert” turned up James T. Seybert, Sr. With the information from the index, reference librarian Kristy very kindly looked up the obituary for me, providing me with the names and locations of his children in 1990, including his oldest daughter, Patricia Ann Mair in Indiana. My seventy-six-year gap had now been reduced to sixteen.
At this point, I tried to locate Patricia Mair in the U.S. Public Records Index at Ancestry.com and found a Patricia Ann Mair of the correct age living in Michigan. But was she truly the descendant I'd been searching for? I got on the phone and soon confirmed that I had the correct Patricia, the granddaughter of Robert Bruce Seybert (the name etched on that green tin containing the apothecary scale), and the great-granddaughter of James and Elizabeth Seybert, the couple in the wedding photograph. Ms. Mair was overjoyed to learn that items relating to her family had been found and would be coming to her. How they ended up in a box of donated books remains a mystery, but at least they've now found a loving home.