I am looking for the death record of Henry Morrison, born 1826/1829 in Pennsylvania, and living in Wheeling, West Virginia with wife & family at the time of the 1860 federal census (October).


I know that he died before 1864 as his widow is listed in the city directory as a widow by then.

There is one death record for a Henry Morrison in Wheeling, 1 Feb 1862, but his age is wrong and it states that he was unmarried (or maybe not?). http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_view2.aspx?FilmNumber=857521&ImageNumber=125 (kindly provided by a member of this site, below)

I have no evidence to suggest that he was in the Civil War on either side- the census states that he was a businessman in an iron foundry and family stories support this. There are no Civil War pension records for his widow either.

Any suggestions about how to find his 1860-1864 death record with such a common name?

  • 1
    Welcome to Genealogy & Family History at StackExchange! Please see also our tour (your question is fine by the way).
    – lejonet
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 14:04
  • 1
    This is similar to genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/12142/1006 but your question needs a US-centric answer. While you're waiting for an answer, maybe you could get some ideas from the answers there (considering how the same approaches could be done in the US).
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 20:36
  • Thanks lejonet and Jan - this is one of my toughest brick walls. I'll check out the older thread.
    – user5836
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 20:32
  • Can you add some links to the information you've already gathered -- preferably to records that aren't hidden behind a paywall? This allows everyone to look at what you have and suggest clues that you might have missed.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 7:52

2 Answers 2


When you're stuck, it's a good idea to start by reviewing all the things you've already found -- mine them for clues that will give you ideas for further research.

  1. Assemble all the information you already know (as you've done in writing the question). Make a timeline and work from the 'last seen' date forward in small increments, or work outward from other known facts to fill in gaps in the timeline.
  2. Start a list of sources you already have, and a list of which sources you'd like to look for. Mine is a spreadsheet which is based on the one Crista Cowan demonstrates in her video Genealogy Source Checklist.
  3. To get ideas of what record groups might yield useful information, consult checklists, such as Joanne Todd's Sources of Genealogical Information, or FamilySearch's United States Record Selection Table. Any guide which gives an overview of what records are available in your study area can be useful. Check local archives and County websites for guides to their collections, too. The FamilySearch wiki also has research guidance articles such as How to Find West Virginia Death Records. Since coverage for your research period is spotty, it may not be possible to find a death record in a collection which is labeled as "vital records" -- you may need to look in other types of records that don't immediately come to mind when you think of vital records.
  4. Start a Research Log to keep track of what record groups you'd like to search, and enter the records you plan to look for and the purpose for searching those records before you start your search. This makes it easier to fill out the rest of the log as you search.
  5. Consider what order of searching the record types makes sense to you. Always work from the known to the unknown, and consider which records will be most likely to yield information that will help you recognize that the record belongs to the person you are looking for.
  6. Use the context of each record group to your advantage. Don't just look for the records themselves -- see if the website you're searching on has research guides that explain how the records were created and how they are arranged.
  7. Use the information from the timeline you created earlier to gain awareness of how you can recognize a record that might belong to your ancestor apart from the place and name. When I get a hint, I start with the assumption that the record that is being offered me in a hint is not about my person, and look for identifying information that will tell me who the person was, so I can rule him out. I often try to identify the deceased by looking at probate records that will identify his survivors. I look at the probate collections at FamilySearch.org, findmypast, Ancestry, and other sites. I start with whatever information I can find online for free, then with the databases I currently have a subscription to, and then follow up with whatever I can access via free access periods. I do as much as I can to narrow the field by using the resources that are already paid for before I spend money on ordering certificates or copies of records that might not be my person.
  8. Consider consulting the work of people doing One-Place Studies in the areas where your family lived, or of people doing One-Name Studies on your surnames. They may have seen records that would lead you to the right person. Genealogical Societies or Historical Societies which are local to your research subject's area will have insight into the records that other researchers might miss. Don't neglect local histories or compiled genealogies that might mention your ancestor -- just be sure to follow up the leads to see if you can find primary sources that support the information you find in compiled or authored works.
  9. Are you searching all accessible forms of the record sets which are available to you? Not all sites which offer indexes have the same coverage, or display the same information for the same entries.
  10. Don't neglect newspaper research, and don't restrict it to the area where the deceased died. Check newspapers in areas where other relatives lived. Editors often needed to find material to fill the newspaper, so they put in whatever they could find that might be of interest to local readers. If you see "please copy" at the end of an article, that's a sign that ti might be picked up by other papers. Don't just look for death notices or obituaries, but also writeups about the funeral, and items from before your estimated death date that talk about your research subject being ill or going into the hospital. Look for details that will help disambiguate people with similar names. Context from general research can make it easier to see what details in a historical record might be significant. Start with
  11. Look at records and record sets in combination to get the most out of the information in the records.
  12. Use FAN Research (family plus friends, associates, and neighbors) wherever possible to distinguish same-name individuals. See QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle. Elizabeth Shown Mills' Quicksheets The Historical Biographer's Guide to the Research Process, The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Individual Problem Analysis, and The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle) can point us to research possibilities and methods of analysis we've missed.

Whether you keep a formal research log or a research journal, or both, be sure to write down some kind of summary of where you've searched and what you found -- including negative searches -- so you can review what you've already done.

You may not be able to find a record with information that directly answers your question. Use these references to get ideas about how you can answer the question using a combination of information from the sources you can find.


The Civil War era:

Newspaper research:


Other Resources:


Note that the death record you disregard has the age within 2 years of the range you list, and does not actually say he is unmarried. That line (188) in the West Virginia Vital Research Records is blank in that position. The ditto marks for unmarried stop in the line above, and a text entry 'unmarried' is listed in the line below, indicating a change in the data in that position. Unless you can show the existence to two Henry Morrisons in Wheeling at that time, I would consider it very likely that this is your ancestor's record.

  • Very good points! I do know that there was another Henry Morrison across the river at this time in Ohio, but I agree with your that the age is close enough. I am always hung up on the possibility that not all deaths were recorded, etc. I will investigate further.
    – user5836
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 0:08

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