family history, Sutliff

Sutliff Family

I’ve been doing a little more digging into my Sutliff family line. Now that I know where my ancestors fit into the family genealogical book: A History of the American and puritanical family of Sutliff or Sutliffe, from literally stumbling upon an old newspaper article listing my third great-grandfather’s brother (read more about that here) I wanted to see what else I might find about my very thin branches of that line. If you’ve read any of my past FTF posts, you know I’m a major lover of the census records. You can find so much more than just your ancestors name within those records. Many list occupations, places of birth, number of children born/living, years of marriages, as well as can be used to track other relatives. Extended families tended to live close to one another in those days, and census records are a great place to locate those family members.

So I began by doing a census search for William Sutliff’s (my third great grandfather) father, Seth Sutliff. Beyond finding his name within the pages of the Sutliff family book, I know nothing else about him. Where was he born? Where did he live? What was his life like?

Entering in the few terms I found within the Sutliff book brought me few results. So I did a broader search. I removed the location of birth and ran a new search. And I received my results. Ancestry tends to give results in chronological order with the newest dates first so this is a mystery in reverse!

First, was the 1870 Federal census which listed Seth, age 75, living in Johnstown, Fulton, New York with his daughter Mary and her husband, Harvey Steele (confirmed by Sutliff family book which listed Mary as marrying a Steele) and their children: William Steele, age 16; and Stephen, age 12.

Fun Fact: Johnstown, NY was the birthplace of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a prominent women’s rights activist!

1870 census
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I had some difficulty in locating them in the 1860 Federal census on Ancestry. Because I knew they had lived in the area in 1855 (which you’ll read about below) and in 1870, it felt safe for me to assume that the families had remained Johnstown, Fulton County, New York throughout the taking of the 1860 census. However, names are easily misspelled, and I assumed that was my trouble. I decided to try a different mode of research, using instead the MyHeritage search feature. And with that, I was able to locate both the Steele’s, name spelled as “Steets” and the Sutliff’s, named spelled Sttiffs. See what I mean about names being wrong? Once I had located what page they appeared on the census using MyHeritage, it was a simple matter of searching the database for the 1860 census of Johnstown and jumping to the correct page. Usually, Ancestry is pretty good about pulling up possibly hits, but there are times when I come across a name that’s different and can’t find anything. It’s always good to check in multiple locations if at all possible.

1860 census
Ignore Mr. Holmer’s name up there! I did just a quick search of the 1860 census for the area and zeroed in on page 213 photo captured from

As with the 1870 census, Seth and Lavina are living with the Steele’s. There’s an addition of a child, named Charles, age 12, who was not included in the 1870 census. Had Charles passed away? Or was he simply no longer living at home at the age of twenty-two?

Going back further, I found an 1855 census for the state of New York which listed Seth, age 58, living with his wife Lavina, age 50, and their son, William, age 19. I opened the actual census record to see what other information might be gleamed. One of the columns asked residents how long they had resided within the state. Seth answered fifty years, Lavina answered thirty years, but William answered only twelve years. How is that possible? The census also asked for their birth locations and Seth listed his as Fulton County, New York. Lavina listed Vermont, and William’s birth location is listed as Ohio. Had the family moved briefly to Ohio? Had they been visiting relatives? Where was William living for the first seven years of his life? With other relatives? Or was it simply an error on the part of the census taker?

1855 pg 1
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When I looked at the second page of this census book, I found Daniel, also a son of Seth and Lavina, living with his wife, Pheobe, as well as his sister Sarah (Sutliff) Lake, and her husband Joshua. Exciting! I now know Sarah’s married name! This census also listed Daniel’s occupation as a mason, a trade I know my third great-grandfather did, as well as his son. It’s entirely possible that my third great grandfather, William, might have apprenticed for his brother Daniel in order to learn the trade.

1855 pg 2
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The next record I opened: the 1850 Federal census, listed both Seth and Lavina living in Johnstown, Fulton, New York next door to Harvey and Mary Steele and their two-year old son, Charles.

1850 pg 1
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The census page ends with Charles’ name, so by clicking on the next page, I find Daniel, William, and Stephen, also listed as living within the Steele household.

1850 pg 2
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These three boys: Daniel, William, and Stephen, are Seth and Lavina’s children. However, when I take a closer look at the record, I see that both Seth and Lavina, and Harvey and Mary and the three boys are all listed under the same dwelling number. Does this mean they lived in a duplex? Or an apartment building where Seth and Lavina occupied one and Harvey and Mary and Mary’s brothers another?

Another record I discovered while searching Seth Sutliff was one for an Iowa marriage. Curious, I clicked it open to see what it might include. Apparently, after my third great grandmother, William’s wife, Jane G. Young Corbett passed away in 1894, he remarried. On 24 Jun 1895, in Grinnell, Poweshiek, Iowa, William wed Ninnette Meedham Holmshaw. They do not appear to have stayed together for very long. When I ran a search for a Ninnette Sutliff, I found nothing. I did, however, find a Minetta Holmshaw, age 42, living in Salt Lake City, Utah in the 1900 Federal census with her son, Harry, age 24. Within five years of the marriage to William, they had separated and she had reverted to using her previous married name.

So while I learned much from this latest census hunt, as always, there seems to be more questions. But that’s one of the things I love about genealogy. Each time I come close to solving a family mystery, another door or window opens and I can explore even further into my tree. It’s the best kind of puzzle.

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