family history

Finding Clues in Unlikely Places

Today I wanted to share a genealogical tip with you! I’ve been doing family research off and on for about the last five years, mostly self-taught. It was a passion that began as the realization struck me that I had lost nearly all of my grandparents without knowing what their early lives were like, or what they might have known about past generations. And in that instant, I had to know more. Luckily, my parents are able to answer my questions about my grandparents and great-grandparents, but for the most part, our information ended there.

However, one of my favorite things about the internet is the connectivity that is now available. I’ve been able to connect with many different cousins and learn so much about my ancestors and myself. And through sites like and, I was able to create a family tree for free and use the leaf hints as clues as to where to go. My local library (where I work!) has a subscription to access ancestry records in the building, so I was able to research and check records through our database. Our main library also has a fantastic genealogical collection (my dream library job!) with many different resources available for Omaha history. My mom and I spent many hours pouring over old directories. Bonus tip: directories are a literal gold mine of information. Not only do you get your ancestors address, you can also find what they did as an occupation, and sometimes a listing of people who also lived in the household. 

So it’s incredibly frustrating for me when I run into a genealogical brick wall. Especially on a family line that has been well researched with a published family history, “A History of the American and Puritanical Family of Sutliff or Sutliffe” (available online through Google books here). But I scoured that book cover to cover and was unable to move past my third great-grandfather, W.W. Sutliff. The oldest record I could find for him was a Civil War draft card and roll call. He seemed to appear from thin air before subsequently deserting the war and returning to Iowa.

It’s been such an odd family to research too. While there are Sutliff families that lived nearby (actually in Sutliff, Johnson County, Iowa) I had tried everything I could think of to find who W.W.’s parent’s might be. A little difficult, when all I have to go on are the initials, W.W. (I had no idea what those even stood for, I assumed William as it’s also his son’s name) and a possible birth date and location, but no verification that those were correct.

For the longest time, I just assumed that W.W. had abandoned his name just as he would abandon his post during the Civil War and his family later in life. So I listed as his parents as Sutliffs that lived nearby and who had children who were born around the same time as W.W. and I called it a day. I always knew I’d one day return and fix the possible errors, but I thought it would require locating W.W.’s death record before I could do so. I had exhausted all available options: searching through census records, and other available records through ancestry like military and marriage records with no luck.

Until I returned to the Anamosa Public Library online newspaper database to check dates and articles for my post about W.W.’s son, William Edward Sutliff, and to fact check for my WIP. (Side note: if you have any relatives who touched a toe in Jones County, Iowa, you HAVE to check out this site. They’ve done a fantastic job of compiling information and it’s a genealogist’s dream website. I wish all other counties, states, etc would take note of this and make something similiar.) I typed “Sutliff” (tip: use quotations around your search terms to narrow your results) into the search bar and received hundreds of hits. I began narrowing it down to the years that  I knew my Sutliff ancestors had lived in the area, and as I was scrolling through the listing of articles, my eyes were caught on a line dating from 27 January 1887: “Daniel E., a brother of W.W. Sutliff, Oxford Junction, was last fall elected sheriff of Fulton county, New York”

Wait, what?! I opened the newspaper, found the article, and devoured it. Here was the clue I had been looking for…for years! I opened, and entered “Daniel E. Sutliff, Fulton county, New York” into the search fields and waited. The results poured in. Through an 1850 census record, I was able to find Daniel living with his brothers William (my W.W.?!) and Stephen.

What’s more, I decided to test my luck and see if Daniel E. was listed in the Sutliff family book. I opened it up in Google docs, went to the index page and there he was. Daniel E. son of Seth and Alvina Sackett Sutliff, brother to Malinda, Mary, Sarah, Stephen, and William. I must have passed this William over countless times because 1. he has no birthdate listed, and 2. his birthplace would have been Connecticut or New York, not Ohio as I had listed in my tree. I back-tracked the generations through Seth I was able to trace my Sutliff line back to the beginning of the book, all the way to John Sutcliffe, Jr. who’s claim to fame was being Groom of the Bedchamber to King Charles I (I’m sure it was a much more prestigious career than it sounds. I’m hoping it was more like a valet and less like “Remover of Royal Shit”).

While I still want more verification, birth, marriage, or death records, I can at least rest a little easier knowing where my Sutliff line comes from. And it was all thanks to randomly stumbling upon a source that I hadn’t before thought to look.

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