The Case of the Disappearing Daughters, Part 1

Several years ago I developed a talk called “Grandpa’s Probate Solves the Case of the Disappearing Daughters,” based on what I learned from the probate records of David West (1823-1898).[1. FindAGrave ( : accessed 4 December 2017), entry for David West, Woodbury Cemetery, Lyle, Mower County, Minnesota, memorial #11904685.] The talk illustrates several methodological principles relating to reasonably exhaustive research–researching as completely as possible the records of an individual, researching individuals in all the locations where they are known or suspected to have lived, and researching the individual’s family members and associates. This latter principle is particularly important in researching women, even twentieth-century women.

Born in New York, David West was an early settler of Otranto, Iowa, just south of the Minnesota border. He married first Harriett A. Woodworth (1823-1868) and second Sylvina J. (maiden name unknown) (1835-1904). He and his first wife Harriett had three children, Charles Lawrence West (1846-1935), Janette (West) Galt (1849-1889), and James E. West (1853-1857).[2. Ibid. Sylvina’s name is variously spelled, appearing in different records as Sylvina, Sylphina, and other variants. I have chosen to refer to her as Sylvina, except when I am quoting or extracting from a record, in which case I have used the name variant that appears in the record.]

David’s daughter Janette West, in turn, married James M. Galt, a collateral relative of my husband’s grandmother Hazel (Galt) Mackin, in 1869. [3. “Minnesota, Marriages Index, 1849-1950;” database, Ancestry (, entry for James Galt and Nettie O. West (12 Sep 1869), citing FHL microfilm 1,321,618. This and all other Ancestry records cited were accessed 4 December 2017.] James and Janette had six children, Harriet “Hattie” (Galt) McLardy (1870-1953),[4. “Iowa, Marriage Records, 1880-1940;” database and images, Ancestry, entry for Douglas J. McLardy and Hattie Galt, 1892, citing Iowa Department of Public Health, Record Group 048, Iowa Marriage Records, 1880-1922, volume 366 (1892, Jasper-Polk); State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines. Also “Oregon Death Index, 1903-98,” database, Ancestry, entry for Hattie J. McLardy, 1953, Multnomah County.] Maud (Galt) Myhre (1872-1945),[5. Missouri, State Board of Health, death certificate 29817 (1945), Mrs. Maude Galt Myhre; digital image, “Missouri Death Certificates, 1910-1966,” Missouri Digital Heritage ( : accessed 4 December 2017).] Elton James Galt (1876-1952),[6. FindAGrave ( : accessed 4 December 2017), entry for Elton James Galt, Riverside Cemetery, Charles City, Floyd County, Iowa, memorial #73397332.] Lulu Aleen (Galt) Scanlon (1880-1904),[7. Mower County, Minnesota, death register B, p. 119, entry 19, Lulu Aleen Scanlon (1904); State Archives Microfilm 209, roll 14; Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.] Vivia (Galt) Anderson (1880-1905),[8. Mower County, Minnesota, death register B, p. 2, entry 7, Vivia Anderson (1905); State Archives Microfilm 209, roll 14; Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.], and Nellie Florence (Galt) Patterson Jamm Majors (1883-1947).[9. See The Case of the Disappearing Daughters, Part 2.]

As is not unusual for young women, James’ daughters serially disappeared from the census households where they grew up. Hattie (who always appeared in the census households of her grandfather David West), Maud, and Lulu (who always appeared in the census households of their father James Galt), disappeared after 1885.[10. For Hattie, see 1885 Iowa state census, Mitchell County, population schedule, Otranto, p. 447 (stamped), dwelling 54, family 54, for Hattie Galt in David West household; “Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925,” database and images, Ancestry. For Maud and Lulu, see Ibid., p. 446 (stamped), dwelling 52, family 52, for Maud and Lulu Galt in James Galt household.] Vivia disappeared after 1895,[11. 1895 Minnesota state census, Mower County, population schedule, Austin First Ward, p. 12 (penned), no dwelling numbers, family 102, for Vivia and Nellie Galt in James Galt household; “Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905,” database and images, Ancestry.] and Nellie disappeared after the 1900 census, in which she was enumerated in two places.[12. 1900 U.S. census, Mower County, Minnesota, population schedule, Austin, enumeration district (ED) 82, sheet 4B, dwelling 81, family 85, Nellie F. Galt, and Ibid., Stearns Co,, Minn., pop. sch., Crow Lake township, ED 145, sheet 4B, dw. 60, fam. 60, Nellie Galt; database and images, Ancestry.]

When a person disappears from census records and indexes, there are a number of possible reasons: the person may have died, may have left the country, or may appear under a different name (either because the name changed through marriage or, less commonly, name change, because the name was misheard or misspelled by the census enumerator, or because the indexer misread the census record). Less commonly, the person may have been missed in the census enumeration. Sometimes, missing women whose names changed between censuses can be found by searching census records using first name only, in combination with approximate age and place of birth. (This works best when the woman has a somewhat distinctive first name and birthplace, and when she remains in fairly close proximity to other family members.) Death, marriage, and cemetery records should also be investigated.

Even though the Galt daughters had reasonably distinctive first names, the first name/approximate age/birthplace method failed to turn up suitable candidates in census records. Unfortunately for me, in 2011 and 2012, when I was initially researching the James Galt family, online vital records information was much less available than it is today. Searching the cemetery records and Minnesota Historical Society death indexes available at the time failed to reveal records for the missing Galt daughters, except for a memorial stone at Woodbury Cemetery in Lyle, Minnesota, whose inscription read “J. M. Galt, Janette his wife, and Lulu and Vivia their daughters.”[13. FindAGrave ( : accessed 4 December 2017), entry with photo for James M. Galt, Woodbury Cemetery, Lyle, Mower County, Minnesota, memorial #36072842.] The fact that the stone records Lulu and Vivia under the name of Galt suggests (falsely, as it turns out) that the two died unmarried.[14. This is not the only misleading aspect of this stone–although James M. Galt’s name is recorded on the Woodbury stone, James is, in fact, buried in Hillside Cemetery, Minneapolis. See Minnesota, Division of Vital Statistics, death certificate 1939-MN-019735 (1939), James M. Galt. A visit to the records office at Hillside Cemetery, 2600 19th Avenue N.E., Minneapolis, Minnesota, confirmed that James is buried there in section D, row 12, grave 28, an unmarked grave. Hillside Cemetery, interment location card provided by cemetery office, James Galt; held by author in Galt family files.]

A visit to the Mitchell County courthouse in search of Galt vital records and probate records produced no death records, but it did produce two marriage records, and a probate file for James Galt’s father-in-law David West. The two marriage records were for J. M. Galt and Kate Kelley, who married in 1890 at Osage,[15. Mitchell County, Iowa, marriage record D : 193, J. M. Galt and Kate Kelley (1890); Mitchell County Recorder, Mitchell County courthouse, Osage.] and for D. J. McLardy and Hattie Galt, who married in 1892 at Otranto.[16. Mitchell County, Iowa, marriage record D : 271, D. J. McLardy and Hattie Galt (1892); Mitchell County Recorder, Mitchell County courthouse, Osage.]

The probate file proved to be of even more interest than the marriage records. It contained David West’s original will, letters testamentary, and probate documents from two stages of administration. The will, written 9 September 1897, granted a life estate in David’s real estate and personal property to his wife Sylvina, made cash bequests of $200 to his son Charles L. West and $100 to his granddaughter Hattie McLardy, and divided the residue of his estate between Charles L. West and “the heirs of Janet O. Galt my daughter.”[17. Mitchell County, Iowa, probate case files, no. 631, David West; Clerk of Court, Osage.]

Because Sylvina was living when David died, the estate was administered in two stages, before and after her death. The first stage, in 1898, registered the will and listed the heirs:

  • Principal Heirs: Widow Sylvina J. West, 64, Otranto Station, Iowa, and Son Charles L. West, 52, Austin, Minnesota.
  • Heirs of Daughter (deceased) Janette A. (sic) Galt: Hattie J. McLardy, 28, Towner, North Dak.; Maud J. Myhre, 26, Silver City, New Mexico; Elton J. Galt, 23, Otranto Station, Iowa; Lulu E. Galt, 19, Towner, North Dak.; Vivian L. Galt, 17, Austin, Minn.; Nellie F. Galt, 15, Austin, Minn.[18. Ibid., List of Heirs and Description of Real Estate, dated 13 July 1898.]

The listing of heirs showed that in 1898, when the list was compiled, all the daughters of James M. Galt and Janette West were living–even though four of them had disappeared from census records before David’s death. Two–Hattie and Maud–were married and had moved away from the northern Iowa/southern Minnesota area, while of the remaining three, who were still single, one was living in the same North Dakota town as her married sister and the other two were resident in Austin, Minnesota, the place where they had been enumerated in the 1895 Minnesota census.

The second stage of administration of David West’s estate was triggered by the widow Sylvina’s death in 1904. As part of this stage, the attorneys for the executor petitioned the District Court of Iowa in Mitchell County to sell David’s real estate, and filed a notice to David West’s heirs with the court. The notice listed the heirs as

Charles L. West
Hattie J. McLardy, D. J. McLardy her husband
Maud J. Myhre, O. G. Myhre her husband
Elton J. Galt, Maud Galt his wife
Lula (sic) A. Scanlon, deceased
James Scanlon, husband of Lula A. Scanlon, deceased
Vivian L. Anderson, Eugene Anderson, her husband
Nellie F. Patterson, Fred Patterson, her husband
J. M. Galt, husband of Janette A. Galt, deceased
Richard Scanlon, minor heir of Lula A. Scanton (sic).[19. Ibid., Notice of Petition to Sell Real Estate, dated 2 November 1904.]

This list shows that, by 1904, all of James Galt’s disappearing daughters had married, and one, Lulu, had died, leaving a husband and minor child. The married names provided in the probate record enabled me to track all but one disappearing daughter–Nellie–to the end of her life.

The search for Nellie proved inconclusive. FamilySearch‘s “Minnesota Marriages, 1849-1950” database provided an index entry for Nellie’s 1 April 1902 marriage to Fred Leroy Patterson in St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota.[20. “Minnesota Marriages, 1849-1950;” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 12 August 2011), entry for Fred Leroy Patterson and Nellie Florence Galt (1902).] In 1905, Fred L. and Nellie F. Patterson were enumerated at 408 Rice Street in St. Paul, where they had been resident for one year.[21. 1905 Minnesota state census, Ramsey County, population schedule, St. Paul Wards 9-11, sheet 28 (penned), no dwelling or family numbers, lines 20 and 21, for James L. Patterson and Nellie F. Patterson; “Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905,” database and images, Ancestry.] Fred was a telegraph operator. (Later in the research, this occupation helped distinguish Nellie’s Fred Patterson from other men with the same name.) The 1905 St. Paul city directory shows Fred L. Patterson at the Rice Street address and adds that he was an operator for Western Union Telegraph Co.[22. R. L. Polk & Co.’s St. Paul City Directory 1905 (St. Paul: R. L. Polk & Co., 1905), p. 1328; digital images, “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” Ancestry (, Minnesota > St. Paul > 1905 > St. Paul Minnesota, City Directory, 1905 > image 673.] In the 1906 directory, Fred had become traffic chief for Western Union and moved his residence to 16 The Minnesota, an apartment building.[23. R. L. Polk & Co.’s St. Paul City Directory 1906 (St. Paul: R. L. Polk & Co., 1906), p. 1423; Ibid., Minnesota > St. Paul > 1906 > St Paul, Minnesota, City Directory, 1906 > image 717.] The following year, Fred L. Patterson appeared as a telegraph operator living at 963 E. 6th.[24. R. L. Polk & Co.’s St. Paul City Directory 1907 (St. Paul: R. L. Polk & Co., 1907), p. 1463; Ibid., Minnesota > St. Paul > 1907 > St Paul, Minnesota, City Directory, 1907 > image 736.] In 1908, Fred L. Patterson’s directory entry indicates, “moved to Bay City, Mich.”[25. R. L. Polk & Co.’s St. Paul City Directory 1908 (St. Paul: R. L. Polk & Co., 1908), p. 1317; Ibid., Minnesota > St. Paul > 1908 > St Paul, Minnesota, City Directory, 1908 > image 581.]

I was unable to find either Fred or Nellie in 1910. The next trace of Fred occurred in 1918, when he registered for the World War I draft in Dallas, Texas, as Fred LeRoy Patterson, age 36, born 12 October 1881. Like the St. Paul Fred Leroy Patterson, this Fred was a telegraph operator, this time for Mackay Telegraph Company in Dallas. He listed as his nearest relative a wife, Florence Patterson.[26. “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918;” database and images, Ancestry ( : accessed 4 December 2017), card for Fred LeRoy Patterson, serial no. 74, Local Draft Board 3, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas, citing NARA microfilm publication M1509.] Might “Florence Patterson” have been Nellie Florence (Galt) Patterson, using her middle name? The 1920 census provided the answer. By 1920, Fred and Florence Patterson had moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. Their census record reveals that Fred was born in Minnesota and was a wire chief for a telegraph company (cementing his identity as the same Fred Patterson who moved from St. Paul to Bay City, Michigan, then to Dallas, and finally to Little Rock). Fred and Florence, who was born in Illinois about 1890 (and thus could not have been Nellie Galt using her middle name), had a three-year-old daughter born in Texas.[27. 1920 U.S. census, Pulaski County, Arkansas, pop. sch., Little Rock Ward 2, ED 121, sheet 17A, dwell. 463, fam. 985, Fred Patterson household; database and images, Ancestry.] Further records of this couple show that they moved back to Texas and raised their family there.

It’s clear that Nellie Galt married Fred Leroy Patterson in St. Paul in 1902, and that the couple lived in St. Paul in 1905. It’s not clear whether Nellie moved to Michigan with Fred in 1908, whether she remained in St. Paul, or whether she too moved to some other location. Stay tuned for the end of Nellie’s story, in The Case of the Disappearing Daughters, Part 2.

I’ll close by admitting that the search for James Galt’s disappearing daughters would have been different had I started looking today, thanks to options for searching vital records that weren’t available in 2011 and 2012. These are:

  • The Minnesota Official Marriage System (, a statewide index of Minnesota marriage records created by the Minnesota Association of County Officers. Searching MOMS for “Galt” brides locates index entries in Mower County for Maud Galt and “Claus” (actually Olaus) G. Myhrhre (sic) (1889) and Vivian Galt and Eugene Anderson (1899), as well as a Clay County index entry for Lulu Galt and James M. Scanlan (1900).
  • The “Minnesota, Marriages Index, 1849-1950,” Ancestry, citing an earlier FamilySearch index called “Minnesota Marriages, 1849-1950.” This index produced an entry for a marriage between Nellie Florence Galt and Fred Leroy Patterson on 1 April 1902, in St. Paul, Ramsey County, but no entries for the Mower and Clay County Galt marriages. Ancestry‘s Learn More information for this database indicates that it is extracted from more than 450,000 marriage records from Minnesota, but gives no indication of county coverage.
  • At FamilySearch, two databases provide marriage indexes (but not images) for Minnesota: “Minnesota Marriage Index, 1958-2001,” and “Minnesota Marriages, 1849-1950.” As at Ancestry, “Minnesota Marriages, 1849-1950” contains an entry for the marriage of Fred Leroy Patterson and Nellie Florence Galt.
  • Two Ancestry databases, “Iowa, Select Marriages Index, 1758-1996” and “Iowa, Marriage Records, 1880-1940,” have entries for the 1892 marriage of Hattie Galt and Douglas J. McLardy. The former is compiled from a FamilySearch database, and the latter is compiled from Iowa marriage records held at the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines.
  • For Iowa marriages, FamilySearch has three possible databases: “Iowa Marriages, 1809-1992,” which includes two entries for the marriage of Hattie Galt and Douglas J. McLardy, “Iowa, Church and Civil Marriages, 1837-1989,” which has no entry for that marriage, and “Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934,” which contains the same two entries as “Iowa Marriages.”

Had I had access to these databases when I started, I might have been tempted to stop with tracing the Galt girls and their husbands in census records rather than expanding my search to the probate records of James’ father-in-law. In not looking at David West’s probate, though, I would have missed valuable information about James Galt’s family and their peregrinations.