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The Mystery of Alice McCurdy

Anyone who has spent years researching their family history will tell you to be prepared for hidden surprises. The lives of our ancestors were just as complicated back then as our lives are today. I think most of us tend to forget they were living breathing people until we start uncovering their lives through the paper trail they left behind. Even after 20 years of research, uncovering my family’s secrets, I must admit that one of my ancestors left me speechless and feeling a little lost last night.

My 2nd great grandmother Alice McCurdy had been a bit of a mystery to me for many years. I knew she existed, she appeared on my great grandfather’s death certificate and I was able to find a marriage certificate for her and my 2nd great grandfather, Melville Williams. However, it wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that some new documents emerged, which helped fill in some missing pieces to her story.

About a week ago I had stumbled upon her death certificate online. I felt like I had hit the jackpot with that discovery since she had been a difficult one to track. From the death certificate I learned she was only 34 when she passed away… the same age I am now. To make matters worse, she left behind a husband and three young children, one of which was my great grandfather Robert Henry Williams.

I had figured she had died young over the years since she didn’t appear in the 1900 census living with her husband, children and parents, Henry Martin McCrudy and Frances Abby Hinds. Given the situation, I figured her parents must have moved in to help Melville with the children. It wasn’t until I got this missing puzzle piece (Alice’s death record) that I was able to learn she died of “Phthisis”, commonly known as Tuberculosis or “consumption”.

As most of us know today tuberculosis was a horrible infectious disease. Many people died from it since it was easily spread by air through the coughs and sneezes of an affected person. Tuberculosis victims would end up weak and gaunt, coughing up blood while suffering from night sweats and extreme weight loss. In many cases, those who were kind enough to care for infected victims ended up coming down with the disease themselves. This was the case for my great grandfather, Percy Leslie’s 16-year-old sister who came down with it after caring for an elderly neighbor who suffered from it.

Learning that this was how my 2nd great grandmother died, I felt horrible. What a terrible thing for the family to witness and for Alice, what a horrible end. At the same time, I felt so fortunate that the disease did not spread to the rest of the family. Had it spread, I would not be here today. Learning her cause of death also made me think back on the many TB hospitals I have visited over the years and the awful stories that came out of them. Did Alice end up in one of these hospitals? That is now on my list of things to research next.

Just as I was finally getting over this new bit of news surrounding Alice’s death, researching her father Henry Martin McCurdy let me in on another family secret.

A few weeks ago I decided to go back through my family tree as an attempt to fill in missing information and just to clean it up. I began writing outlines for each family member, double checking all the details and making more of a story out of the information I had gathered. After finishing up on Alice, I moved on to her father last night. Going through Henry’s information I saw that he married Frances Abby Hinds on January 6, 1864 in Boston, Massachusetts. Skipping ahead to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census I found Henry (age 31) and Frances (age 30) living in Pittston, Maine. Recording all the information I could gather on Henry, I then moved on to the 1880 U.S. Federal Census where I noticed… something just doesn’t add up.

In the 1880 census my 2nd great grandmother Alice makes her first appearance, however I realized that it said she was 13 years old. “Well, this can’t be right…” I thought. If she was 13 in the 1880 census, she should have appeared in the 1870 census with her parents. Knowing that an age being off on a census isn’t that uncommon, I figured I would take a closer look… and there it was…


Alice was adopted. Just like that, in a matter of seconds everything I thought I knew about my McCurdy branch was wrong. Two little letters left me with a million questions and a sick feeling in my stomach.

Who is Alice? Where did she come from and who were her birth parents? Why did they give her up? The only time I have dealt with adoption in my family the child was adopted by another family member… could this be the case with Alice? Then at least part of the tree I had for her would still be correct. However this all made me wonder, how many ancestors do we have hiding in our trees that were adopted and we have no idea? Entire sections of our tree would be wrong when it comes to tracing bloodlines. If it weren’t for me deciding to clean up my tree and this one document pointing out the adoption, I would have never known.

While I am now left feeling blindsided and facing a new roadblock with Alice, I can’t help but also feel very appreciative towards Henry Martin McCrudy and Francis Abby Hinds. They not only took in my second great grandmother, they took in her children after she passed away. As I said, the 1900 census showed Henry and Frances living in the house of Alice’s husband but the 1910 census showed the kids still living with Frances (who was then widowed) with their father no where to be found.

Last night I learned that it doesn’t matter how long you have been into genealogy or how much you think you know about your family, there is always room to be surprised.



Have you dealt with adoption in your family tree? Any advice on breaking through the dead end? Are you currently battling that road block? Keep an eye out for updates on Alice’s story as I attempt to find the names of Alice’s birth parents.


  1. Superb research sometimes offers unexpected results.

    1. Sometimes its just a matter of taking a break and going back with a fresh pair of eyes. That and new info emerging… you never know where your branches might lead!

      1. I am tracing my family tree and I live in the same county as most of my previous ancestors have been born & died in England!! It to me ages to trace my 3 x grandfather and his Wife. Him cause is name is thomas collis and nearly every generation I come across has thomas in there name. She had married approximately 5 times and my 3 x grandfather was not the first. I found an infant on the english 1851 census down as a niece that fits and I found her on our 1861 census as a makin (even though when I clicked on it it was the correct Meakin) with mother and father also meakins but they married after she was born so I think she was born under her mothers maiden name and married her first husband under that name as well then reverted back to meakin to married husband number two!! Not sure if this was to commit bigamy or disappear or what but the details seem to fit!! So even though she has put Benjamin Meakin down as father on certificates I am unsure if he really is or not!!!!! Also, on many of the census’s for her she has written all different places of birth which has made it even harder. Have you any advice on making sure I’ve found the right person or how to trace someone really elusive??? Also, in your article you say 2 little letters clarified that Alice had been adopted but exactly how was that is their something on the birth certificate? How did you know and would we in england be able to find out in the same way?? These may sound like novice questions to you but I am still fairly new to this.

        1. Hey Debbie,

          It really comes down to cross referencing… making sure all the details in several records make sense and if they don’t provide enough information-looking for other documents that may have been missed that could help fill in the blanks. Names that run through family can be a real pain in the ass for this reason… hard to tell who is who esp. if cousins, etc. shared he same name (then it’s same name and same generation-one giant pain in the ass). Looking at the records-is it possible you are combining two separate people? I have done that before by accident-really had to go through the info, then trace both of their lives to be able to trace the right family. With Alice-I don’t have her birth certificate. I have been unable to locate it so far but I plan to make a trip to Maine soon to see if I can shake something loose. The record of birth I was able to find was a book on Maine genealogy for the area she lived in. Instead of listing her name, birth date and “daughter of” like everyone else listed, it read name, birth date and “wife of…” So that was another hint that something just wasn’t right. I could be wrong! Who knows! But I am thinking of contacting the Pittston town hall… everything I have found said she was born there so I plan to ask them if they have an Alice C. McCurdy with her known date of birth… If they don’t I will ask if they have an Alice C. listed on that birth date for that year OR a year range-two years before and after the birth year I have for her. I also plan to visit her cemetery. Cemeteries have caretakers… they usually keep records on the people buried in their cemetery. There may be a chance they have a record that could point me in the right direction. I have also written the probate courts in hopes of finding guardianship records… so far no luck and in those times it wasn’t always required. So, I just keep looking for angles I may have missed. As far as England… every country is different. Has all your search been done online? If so-not everything available is on line… yet. Id suggest reaching out to a town hall, local historical society, etc. and ask them for suggestions based on the info you have found so far. They may be able to point you in the right direction based on your location.

          Good Luck, Debbie!! Gotta love the ancestors that insist on being a major pain in the arse! lol I totally feel your pain with Alice.


  2. After working long and hard on my genealogy, I just stopped. I was hitting road block after, road block, after alias, after common names. After stumping the genealogist in Salt Lake City, I had reached the end of my rope. What I do have (which isn’t much) was long and complicated work, I would love to go back more but there just seems to be no openings in the road blocks I’ve come across.

    1. Hey Kara,
      Common names can be a real pain in the ass…being a Williams-I hear you. In fact, I know less about my Williams branch than I do any other. It is difficult sometimes but you just have to keep thinking of creative ways to possibly bust through dead ends. How far back have you gone and how long has your family been in the US that you are aware of?

      1. I made it to the 1800’s with one line. I was looking for a John Dawson…there were FIVE on one page! That was in Virginia (later WV). Another line I made it to the Civil War. That is where I ran into alias names. The genealogist at Salt Lake said the different paper work we found could be that he was a Martin serving as an Anderson or the other way around. There wasn’t enough information to confirm one way or the other. Then one line I traced to the port they left England and the ships name in the early 1900’s but they were from Poland, don’t know what city. Then there is another line that we traced back to the island Pag of Croatia (then Yugoslavia). That was also the early 1900’s. Then in the 1930’s my g-grandmother came from Budapest…her family was killed by the Nazis; records destroyed. They weren’t Jewish but educators; telling the truth of what Hitler was doing and what was going to happen. Every couple of years I’ll try and pick up where I left off. After about two or three weeks I’m nowhere and get discouraged and quit again.

  3. We adopted our daughter from Romania in 1991. It has been virtually impossible to get any information on her ancestry. We got what little we could when we were there in 1991 but that’s it. Their record-keeping is hard to navigate (at least for me).

    1. Hey Susan,
      Geez! I wouldn’t even know where to tell you to begin… dealing with adoption is completely new to me. It will be a challenge I’m sure and mines in the U.S. I can’t even imagine dealing with overseas. The adoption agency gave you nothing at all to go on?

      1. We went there ourselves and dealt with the Romanian government. This was back when adoptions first opened in Romania. We met her mother and spoke briefly but, the men in the family handled all the communication, or not. They were completely dismissive. We couldn’t even find our her father’s name. He had died and was therefore “not pertinent”. Even the volumes of papers we have from there basically say nothing. It’s been really frustrating!

  4. I’m at a roadblock too. My father’s side is so complicated and hard to research, as they are from Ireland. Most of the records were destroyed by the Four Courts Fire in 1922 so census records are not available. My dad’s siblings choose not to talk about the family for some reason so I’m out of luck there. I’ve come so far without any help and I want to keep going. Any ideas on where to look for information?

    1. Hey Kristina,
      Not really sure what to suggest since I don’t know what you have done already…There are more than census records kicking around though… what other records have you tried and when did your family come over to the US from Ireland?

      1. My dad’s father’s side immigrated to Canada in 1928. Some of my grandfather’s siblings moved to the US shortly after that which I do have some records for that. I’ve gotten Irish marriage certificates, the 1901/1911 Irish census records and their passenger lists from their immigration to Canada. It’s the earlier years that are stumping me, especially my GG grandmother. I know her year of birth, her father’s name and county of birth but when I do a birth record search, there is nothing for the county on record. There are a few for different counties but I have no way of confirming that. So frustrating! I think I need to plan a trip to PRONI or the National Archives.

  5. I think I am relieved that this is not one of our shared lines. I am back to time out of mind on so many of my lines but when I tried to work on my husband’s I hit three virtually unrecorded adoptions in about 4 generations. Talk about a road block! So many people took in nieces, nephews and even the neighbors kids and just brought them up. They were to busy doing the right thing to bother going into town and recording it. How we have changed over the years.

    1. Hey Kayce!
      Yes-adoption is a giant pain in the arse when researching… we’ve had it pretty easy with our Dyer line. Even then though-its like you said, it was nothing to take in a child… who knows how many people we think are figured out are really adopted… how many branches are we chasing that aren’t bloodlines? This is the first one I have found-so far. Hopefully I can figure her out. :/

  6. Hi Kris,
    Thanks for sharing the story about your Great-Great Grandmother. I can’t wait to hear more about her as you get more clues to her history. It’s sad how so many people died from TB before they found a cure in 1944. My paternal grandmother died from TB at the age of 37, leaving 3 children, the youngest of which was my father, who was 3 1/2 at the time. Then her eldest son died at the age of 32, from TB as well, in 1943. Only a year before they would find a cure. It’s amazing that the rest of the family did not contract the disease as well.
    I too am descended from the Williams family. My maternal Great Grandmother was a Williams. I have traced her line all the way back to 1070 in Denbighshire Wales. John Williams being the first to emigrate to the US in the 1600’s. He settled in Isle of Wight Virginia, where most of the Williams family lived for the next 250 years or so. I love genealogy so much and find it very addicting.
    You and I actually met at the Beyond Reality event at the Mount Washington Hotel in 2010. We miss seeing you on GHI, but I’m enjoying your ancestry work too. Good Luck with your research and let us know if you solve the mystery of Alice.
    Donna Bennett

  7. My brother and I are the adoptions in my family tree. I have my mom, dad, birth mother and birth fathers family trees to work out. Then his biological parents too. I live in a state where our records are sealed and I just happen to get lucky finding my birth parents.

    Good luck Kris and to everyone out there.

    1. Hey Andrea,
      You have got your work cut out for you! You are very lucky you were able to obtain your birth parents info. Any advice for others trying to figure it out? It is funny… I fell in love with the McCurdy name-has one hell of a history so I am hoping Alice was adopted from a family member. As I said above though-you feel like an ass throwing the adoptive families aside since they tech aren’t blood lines. However, it’s important and fun to know theirs too since… they played a large part in who you are-what “made” them? Not to mention it takes a good person(s) to open their home to a child. Alice’s parents did it twice, once with her and then with her three children. Forever grateful. Now just hoping I’ll have some luck with Alice… and still hope she is connected by family. Least then half my tree for her would still be right.

      Good luck to you too!!


  8. If you aren’t using the FamilySearch Wiki to help you find resources and research helps in your ancestral quest, you need to do so.

    For locations that typically don’t have a lot of available records, start your search at the country level then move down to the lower bodies politic. State, church and other records are included in the articles at the organizational level most appropriate to the resources.

    Here are a couple of examples:

    For places like Plymouth (city and county) Massachusetts there are a lot of articles related to research there. (Note: I’ve included the full display of the URL’s below rather than links on words:) or:

    For locations like Romania, there are fewer research articles but there are a lot of articles that help researchers find information and discover research resources, methods and tools that weren’t even on their radar. or:

    Good luck in your ancestral quests!

  9. Hi Kris, After years of research trying to find my Dad’s bio family, I finally turned to the Ancestry DNA test. I knew his birth surname which helped a bit. I am now in contact with 2 cousins i never knew I had! 🙂

    1. Hey Christina,
      That is fantastic! You are very lucky-even to just have the last name to start. I wish I had that much! The DNA kit can definitely be useful-have learned quite a bit from it! 🙂


  10. My great great great grandfather Ira Hall (1846-1904) was an illlegimate child and took his mother’s last name. Unless I find a specific court record where she sued the father (which happened in another branch of my tree in 1861), I know this is a roadblock that will never be answered.

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