Whether you descend from one of these surnames or are just interested in genealogical adventures and stories of discovery, welcome!
Eleventh Hour Wife
While scouring records for clues on Ancestry.com, I stumbled upon a document containing a familiar name: Martin C. Welch in Lucas County, Ohio. Lucas County claimed scads of Welches, as did Ottawa County next door. Many of these Welches descended from my 4x great-grandfather named Martin C. Welch. But something about this newly found record didn’t make sense: it declared the marriage of one Martin C. Welch to Dorothy Wiesters.
Well, my Martin married Jane Sanford, so....I dropped the online document into my digital “shoebox” as an item of interest for further investigation later. Indeed it was an odd coincidence that someone of the exact same name lived in the same Northern Ohio region as my forefather did, before he retired in Central Ohio. But after thousands of research hours over the years, never have I come across Wiesters among Welches. Besides, according to the recorded marriage date, if this were my Martin, he’d have been about 74 years old—only 6.5 years away from the grave. This has to be a different Martin Welch, I thought. Besides, not all Welches in Ohio came from my Martin, and there were certainly other Martin Welches.
Months later, I pulled out that record again to see what I could hack. I set up a separate family tree to test theories and then entered into the Ancestry.com search field: Dorothy Wiesters. Off. Way off! None of the search results resembled the likeness of the Dorothy at hand. How can that be? I asked myself. Indeed, how can that be? It’s a question I’ve been learning to ask, when things don’t add up. It’s a question that falls between “You can’t trust the accuracy of sources 100%” and “What if...?”
What if the artificial intelligence that speedily digitizes and transcribes documents for Ancestry.com misread the handwriting in the document. Might Dorothy’s surname be something close to but different than “Wiesters?”
The marriage record was tightly packed with line after line of names, dates, and officiants. I spotted Martin and Dorothy in the lineup and noted that the a.i. had actually transcribed his spelling as “Marten” but was clearly “Martin” to my eyes, and if that’s the case, what else might give way? I studied the record-taker’s handwriting and noticed how loosely his lowercase “n” was throughout the page. Might “Wiesters” easily be interpreted as something else? Every capital W was consistent, but after the obvious “i” after it in the surname, the letters “es” looked a lot more consistent with how the scribe wrote the letter “n”. “Winters?”
On my trial-tree, I added a spouse to Dorothy with the surname Winters. Enter search field: Dorothy Winters with results narrowed down to Lucas and Ottawa Counties. Voila! Bunches of results for a William and Dorothy Winters in Lucas County popped up. Let’s go with it. After entering William Winters as Dorothy’s other spouse, I was able to nail down where they were, when, and with whom—their children. As I entered data into my trial-tree, one child’s name especially stood out: Sanford. Oh? Martin Welch’s wife’s maiden name was Sanford. This was striking to me, because oftentimes I have found that a child’s first or middle name is the same as his mother’s maiden name or other family member. Case in point, my Martin’s first son, Garrison, was a family name: not only was his maternal uncle named Garrison, but also, it was his maternal grandmother’s maiden name.
My Martin’s wife’s name was Jane Sanford, and Dorothy Winters had a son named Sanford... Might her maiden name have been Sanford? I hunted for marriage records between Dorothy and William. Hmph! Nothing yet.... One by one, I dug into each of their children, because sometimes the children’s marriage or death records will reveal parents’ full names, including maiden names. Bingo! Sanford! Other Ancestry.com members’ family trees then revealed research or recorded personal knowledge of the same Winters family, including a Dorothy, whose father’s name was Matthew Sanford and mother, Catherine Garrison. Cha-ching! What’s more, all the Winters in this ancestry originally came from the exact same town in New Jersey as my Welches.
I pulled out my full family tree. Matthew Sanford. Twelve children. One named Dolly. A nickname? Oh! It seems I’ve got a husband recorded here... William Winters!
I literally gasped. It seemed that I was the first person in a hundred years—the first one to record it on Ancestry.com at least—to realize that our Martin C. Welch had had one last hurrah before he died in 1888! Jane had died in May, 1880, and a year and one month later, Martin had married Jane’s widowed sister, Dorothy. As unlikely and even impossible as it seemed at first, all the evidence lined up.
I wondered if their union were an economic decision, or perhaps to accommodate the loneliness of old-age living, or even a marriage of youthful passion and companionship between an elderly pair. Whether she was buried as Dorothy Winters or Dorothy Welch, I have yet to discover, but Martin and Jane are together without her at Havens Corners cemetery in Franklin County near Columbus. No matter the case, I like to imagine that the thrill of this discovery was small indication of what they allowed themselves to feel about their shared lives to the very end.