Friday, April 1, 2011


This is Elizabeth Briner, later Gerke, and even later, Farmer. She's my great grandmother, and as I've mentioned before, my mystery. I thought I had been making progress on my research. Then, last week, I decided to try Ancestry for the first time in ten years. She was born in 1874, so I decided to start with the familiar 1880 census, and I decided I was going to spend some time printing off census records.

The first thing I noticed: that particular page was in awful shape. It was very faded, and you could hardly read the names; it was the only page that really had this trouble. I magnified it to about 400% and got the surprise of my life.

The 1880 census is the first census I found in my earlier years as a researcher. It was a good price-free, and it had the info I needed. I had seen the index many, many times before, and in the back of my mind, I always questioned why her father was listed as born in Illinois. I figured it was a typo, because Anthony and Elizabeth (Handschuh) Briner were both from Germany. I never gave it much more thought.

Well, to my surprise, when I magnified the census record, it clearly showed that my grandmother was adopted. I was stunned. It had never been talked about, and no one ever gave any hint that someone else had been her parents.

I checked her marriage record and found she was born in Quincy, Illinois, not Stephenson in 1874. It made things more difficult, because I could not check 1870 census records for possible matches to her family. I went back to the 1880 census records to see if anyone else had been adopted at the time in the area. I found four other children, but only one matched with her information. Another girl, Mary, that lived near Elizabeth. Maybe a sister?

I feel bad for Elizabeth, because she seemingly lost her family. However, Anthony and Elizabeth Briner treated her like a daughter. I am grateful that she went to a good home. I am also frustrated. This isn't a little wall; there may not be any record anywhere of her birth parents. The aggravation I feel for possibly not knowing completely where I come from is well beyond high. One thing I will say, whether or not I find this information, is that I will go down every avenue to try and find my ancestors. I'm going to at least be able to say that I tried my best.

So a new mystery unfolds. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

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