Friday, November 29, 2013

Who is William Widley?

Over the past 20-some years, I entered information in my genealogy database program based on information in a source.  Often, the information was sparse, as is the case with William Widley.

As I "collected" Seaver people, I used the information in the manuscript by Jesse Montgomery Seaver, The Seaver Genealogy (Philadelphia, Pa.: the author, 1924).  One of the entries in the manuscript is for Mary Caroline Seaver, daughter of Silas Howe and Louisa (Reynolds) Seaver, born in 1849. Here is the entry in a transcription published by a Seaver researcher in 2000:

When Jesse Seaver wrote this manuscript in 1924, he relied on information obtained by corresponding with Seaver families all over the United States.  Of course, he provided absolutely no sources!  My guess is that the information about William Widley was obtained in this fashion based on family papers or letters sent to him by a descendant of Silas Howe and Louisa (Reynolds) Seaver.

I'm working in my genealogy database almost every day, trying to find information for persons that I need more information about, especially those for whom I know nothing.  Persons like William Widley.

I know that Mary Caroline Seaver (my 4th cousin, 4 times removed), daughter Silas Howe and Louisa (Reynolds) Seaver, was born on 24 December 1848 in Leominster, Worcester, Massachusetts.  The last record I have for her is in the 1860 U.S. Census when she, as Mary C. Seaver, was age 11 residing in Manchester, Bennington County, Vermont with her parents S.H. and Louisa Seaver.  I can't find an 1870 U.S. census record for her, or for her parents.  In the 1880 U.S. census, Mary C. is not in the Silas H. Seaver household in Manchester, Bennington County, Vermont.   I can't find a Marriage or Death record for Mary C. Seaver (or Caroline Seaver) in the Vermont vital record cards.  Of course, she might have married or died in another state.

I have two persons to search for - William Widley and Mary Caroline (Seaver) Widley.  One may lead me to the other and their life stories, or at least more information than I currently have.

1)  William Widley is in my Ancestry Member Tree with no birth, marriage or death data.  Here is his profile page:

I can click on the "Search records" link below the profile photo to have Ancestry perform a global search for the name.  I guessed that he might have been born in 1845 plus/minus 10 years (since he apparently married Mary who was born in 1848).  Here is the search box for my first search (with nothing checked as "Exact"):

I clicked on "Search" and had a list of over 6,000 matches:

I doubt that the first one is the right one - married in England to Mary Ann Harrison.  There are two Civil war Muster rolls entry for a William Widley born in about 1843 in Nova Scotia.  It turns out he was in the U.S. Colored Troops.  He might be the right guy, though!

There are a number of surname variations that could be searched - Wadley, Wedley, Woodley, Weedley, Widleigh, Wadleigh, Whidley, etc.  And some further afield like Widdle, Whiddle, Woodhall, Wardley, or Wardell.  I worked my way through the first 200 matches on the Ancestry match list without seeing someone with a Mary C. of about the right age.

I also looked through the 1870, 1880 and 1900 U.S. Census records, and the Vermont death records, and did not find a candidate William Widley, or any of the surname variations, although their were some who had other spousal names.

So I think I struck out on finding William Widley, at least in this first pass.  There is another tree with William Widley (born 1845) married to a Mary Adaline Seaver, daughter of Silas and Louisa Seaver; but it has no useful information besides a birth year that is probably an estimate.

2)  I also searched for Mary Widley on Ancestry, and since I knew her birth date and birth place, I had more information to search with.  Here's the Ancestry search form I used, with Wi*d*l* as the surname (not with an exact search):

There were only 47 matches, and I looked at every one of them, and did not see an entry that I could even consider as possible.

I also searched for Mary on, and had 123 results:

My judgment is that none of those apply to Mary Caroline (Seaver) Widley.  There is an entry in the FamilySearch Family Tree, but it has only the 1845 birth entry (probably submitted by the same person with the Ancestry Member Tree).

Searches on the website, on, and on Google for William and/or Mary or Caroline Widley (and wild card variations on AA) don't produce a possible match, either.

3)  My guess is that the name "Wm. Widley" in the Jesse Seaver manuscript is either spurious, a misunderstood name, or he died soon after he married Mary and is not listed in Find A Grave.   Mary C. (Seaver) ????? may be in the 1880 and 1900 U.S. census records with another husband.

So, I'm stuck here - I cannot find anything about "William Widley" or his wife, Mary Caroline (Seaver) "Widley" after 1860.

I will probably add much of this narrative to the Person notes in my database for William Widley so that if I look at this guy again, I can see that I tried to find him.  My database has hundreds (maybe thousands!) of persons like this that I know absolutely nothing about.  I can usually find at least an approximate birth date for about 90% of them, but can't find anything for the other 10%.

I guess my purpose in writing this post on a holiday weekend is to show that not every research problem can be easily solved with an online search.  There may be a published book, besides the Seaver Genealogy, that has information for this William Widley, or a probate or land record for him in some state.  I'll keep looking.

I am not asking for any help with this problem from my readers - I think that it's unsolvable with the information I have and don't want folks wasting their time searching online.

If you have suggestions as to where William and Mary Caroline (Seaver) Widley (or surname variants) might have resided, or for record collections to be searched, please let me know.

UPDATED: 30 November - changed title to Widley from Widdle.  Duh...title content check, aisle 6!

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


T said...

It's a small comfort to me to see that you have the same kind of dead ends I have. There are days when I could just scream! They have to be somewhere!

Kay said...

I know the screenshot shows it as Widley, but is there the possibility that it could be Whitley/Witley? I didn't see those among your possible variations.

- Kay

Geolover said...

I did not find Mary Caroline living with her asserted twin sister Martha in Rutland Co., VT for 1880 [Brazzallian], 1900 [Bigallion] or 1910 [Bizallion]. But since Martha outlived her husband (Eugene, d. 1902), dying in 1917 according to her findagrave memorial [], it seems possible that there could be an estate record -- perhaps a will where she bequeathed something to a sister or a niece/nephew. Martha was living with one of her children in 1910.

I did not find Martha and Eugene in 1870 either - they married in March, 1869 [Vermont, Vital Records, 1760-1954,]. Unfortunately it is not all that rare for entire neighborhoods to be missing from surviving US Census enumerations, or for individuals and/or households to be listed under wrong surnames.

Geolover said...

Er, take a look at the Wildy/Wilday/Wildey surname in Conewango Valley, Cattaraugus Co., NY, the one residence clue from the 1924 book.

What do you think about this 1880 US Census enumeration:

Randy Seaver said...

I knew that some readers couldn't resist thinking and looking for info.

I do think that the William Wildey family in Cattaraugus NY is a real possible. The later census records don't match Mary's age, but it's worth further research.


Randy Seaver said...

Kay, it could be almost anything with some or all or more of the letters in whatever order! Thanks for the alternates.

Geolover said...

With the family of William N. Wildey and Mary C. his wife of Chautauqua Co., NY there is a Civil War Pension File opportunity. He enl Aug. 11, 1862, Disch June 13, 1865, B Co., 112th NY Vol. Infy, cert. 355,382 (applied 22 Jun 1880). Widow Mary C. applied 17 Nov 1920, cert. W901,654. Since she was enumerated in the 1925 NY State Census, she had time before death to submit her proofs of marriage, etc.

Good hunting :D

Randy Seaver said...

Gelover, I completely missed the 1924 book reference to Conewango NY...dumb!

If this was my folks, I would definitely get the Civil war Pension File. for what I'm doing, I think that this is good enough to enter into my database.

Now I wonder if all of those kids are Mary Seaver's, or are they by an earlier wife? Mary was only 16 when the first child was born, and he was 26.

The CWPF would clear all of that up, I think.

Geolover said...

The 1880 folks besides Myrta and Oscar are all "boarders." Oscar was Mary's son. In 1900 she is reported to have one child living of one borne, and they are reported married 28 years (so ca. 1871/2). Thus Myrta, also dau. of William, was probably by a first marriage which should be reported in the pension file.

The Vet's Admin. Pension Payment Cards 1907-1933 report William's death Oct. 24, 1920 at Cherry Creek, NY

--and Mary's as Feb. 5, 1930

The pension file should verify whether this Mary C. was a Seaver and report where married -- as well as probably where and when she was born. The ages reported in Census reports would need resolution by better evidence if you were so inclined.

goneresearching said...

If they were in Cherry Creek, you definitely need to check out the digitized newspapers at

Search by exact name remember to also search "Wm Wildey" in addition to "William Wildey" also use "Cherry Creek" in the search to limit the search to that paper. Also search for Mary and Oscar too.

Good Luck.