A Lesson in Alternate Searching: When Ancestors Drop Off the Face of the Earth!

I’m in the process of putting together another “book” for one of my lines. When I do that, I go through and try to tie up any loose ends such as people in my database that seemed to “drop off the face of the earth”. This time the individual was one Charles Kieft b. 1829 in Braunton, Devon. I had found Charles in 1841 and 1851 UK census records. He was single and working on farms in Devon. Up until now I had found no further records for Charles.

I know that just because I’ve done one search for an individual that came up blank, doesn’t meant that another attempt won’t result in a new “find”. Sometimes it’s just a matter of new records being added to databases. Sometimes it seems as if some websites search engine will turn up different results at different times. I’ve had many situations where I did a search for an individual on Ancestry.com and nothing turns up, then the next time, entering the same information..there they are! It has also worked in the opposite way. I’ve found someone in a record, then go back to look at it again and can’t get it to show up in a search result for anything!

In the case of Charles, I found a marriage record for Charles Kieft and Susan Braund in Bideford, Devon in 1857. Charles had been working on a farm in Torrington, Devon in 1851 and that is not far from Bideford, so this seemed like a likely match. My next search was for Charles and Susan in 1861. I had no luck! I decided to search for just Susan instead of Charles. The name “Susan” was not as common as the name Charles so I thought this might narrow things down. I didn’t find Susan in 1861 on the first try, but I did find a marriage for a “Susan Kieft” and Samuel Martin in 1869 in Bideford. Since I have no “Susan Kiefts” as a “birthname” in my database, there was a good chance that this was Charles’ wife, now widow.

My next search was for Susan and Samuel Martin in the 1871 Census. I struck gold! Not only did I find the couple living in Northam, Devon, but there was also a Mary Ann Kieft, age 11, b. Bideford, living with them! So now I know that Charles was deceased and that he and Susan had a daughter!
1871 Census

This record also now gives me an age and birthplace for Susan Braund Kieft Martin. This is useful for future searches. I decided now to go back and search for Mary Ann Kieft (Kift). I found her in the 1881 Census with her mother and a new step brother. It seems that Susan had acquired a third husband! Susan Beer was living in Bristol, Gloucestershire with her son William Henry Beer, age 5, born Clifton, Bristol as well as Mary Ann Kieft now age 22. Susan is listed as “married” but the husband was not with the family.

My final searches solved the puzzle as to pinning down Charles death date. In earlier research I had discovered a Mary Kieft, age 2, b. Bideford, who was living with Charles sister, Eliza Kieft Mock, in Pilton, Devon in 1861. She was listed as “niece” but I could never place her with parents. I now knew who that Mary Ann Kieft belonged to! My assumption was that Charles was deceased at that point, but where was Susan? I did some more searches for Susan, made easier by the fact that I now had her birth year and birthplace. I finally found her working as nurse for a family in Northam, Devon. That location matches with where she and Samuel Martin lived in 1871. The big find was that Susan was listed as a “widow”.

This means that my brick wall concerning Charles Kieft was breached, at least somewhat. I now had a wife, a marriage date, a daughter and an approximate death year of c. 1860 based on daughter’s birth and fact that Susan was a widow in 1861.

There are a few lessons to be learned from this search. The first being – NEVER give up! Just because you didn’t find an individual in the first try doesn’t mean they won’t eventually show up. The second lesson is to broaden your search details. Try different surname spellings ( with this family I have to try Kieft, Keift, Kift, Keft etc), try searching for just a first name with birth date and birth year. I like to put in as much information as I know, then if that doesn’t work.. I keep removing things to see if alternate results show up.

I’m feeling very satisfied after this find since Charles was one of the last individuals in my Kieft family that had gone missing. I’m happy that I didn’t give up all hope of finding him!