At 12:30 last night I finally found the folks for whom I’d spent the last 10 years searching. As a bonus, I found full info on their kids as well. That’s a pretty neat trick, considering that until I found them I didn’t even know their names….

My great grandfather was Frank B. Mansfield, a person about whom we know surprisingly little. Born in Iowa circa 1868; died circa 1923. Was a farmer and had three kids (Violet, Gertrude, and Roy) with his wife Helen. The 1920 US Census for Boone Co., Nebraska does some butchering to names, places, and dates, but at least it lists the family as residents.

Growing up, Frank’s siblings were Milton, Alice, Sarah, John W., Laura, and Florence. Of these, only Milton married and had kids, and Milton’s kids never had children. That’s a lot of genealogical research dead ends, and something that’s almost always surprising when a family has as many as six kids. Frank’s line, of which I am a descendant, was the only Mansfield line which carried on. (UPDATE: Talked with Mom again and she says that she thinks some of the siblings did grow up, marry, and have kids. She didn’t have any specific info though and it was all news to me.)

The question of who Frank’s parents were has gnawed at me for, as I say, at least 10 years now in part because I couldn’t figure out how to approach the problem. I’d queried living family members, of course, but to no avail. With Frank dying circa 1923 at about 55 years old, there was nobody left that I could talk to about him, let alone about his parents. Frank’s father’s last name was obviously “Mansfield,” and I could speculate that he was probably born in the 1840s because people tended to start having kids in their early 20s back then. Other than that, I didn’t have any clues.

I’d looked at the 1880 US Census before, but my results were zippo, nada, zilch. Pouring over minute text on microfiche isn’t much fun, but it’s even less fun when you don’t find who you’re looking for. I mean, there were dozens of Frank Mansfields in the 1880 US Census. How come none of them were mine?

Like many genealogy problems, I found what I was looking for with an assist from the Mormons. As many of you may know, the 1880 US Census was recently made available online by the LDS Church who spent 17 years and 11.5 million hours of work to bring the project to fruition. That’s 50 million names and enough records to fill 56 CD-ROMs (which you can order for $49 if you’re so inclined). Since the 1890 US Census records were destroyed by fire, this is the last solid glimpse that genealogists and researchers have at this type of material in the 1800s.

So last night I was at the computer with Leister Production’s excellent Reunion 8.02 genealogy software on one screen and the 1880 US Census search forms on the other screen. Despite ability to search by all manner of criteria, I did not initially encounter success. I still couldn’t find my “Frank Mansfield” amongst the dozens who appeared. Could it be that he was somehow excluded from the 1880 Census?

It is not uncommon to get stumped in genealogy searches, and the key is almost always to search “around” what you’re trying to learn about. You can focus on a city or state, a point in time, or, in my case, siblings. Since I couldn’t get squat on Frank and even less about his parents—who I really wanted to learn about—I did a search for the next best thing: Frank’s younger brother Milton Mansfield. And do you know how many “Milton Mansfield” entries there are in the 1880 Census? One. One very important entry.

Turns out that Milton Mansfield was 10 years old in 1880 and that he was born in Iowa. More importantly his father was Wesley Mansfield, and—thank you LDS—a simple click of the Household link instantly gave me the full entry on the Mansfield household which included one “Franklin” (doh!) as the eldest son. Everything in the entry aligned perfectly with the family information I had, and in short order I was able to see that my great great grandfather Wesley Mansfield was born circa 1846 in Ohio, that on December 23 1866 in Appanoose, Iowa he married my great great grandmother Elizabeth Phillips who was born circa 1840 in Ohio.

Those you not into genealogy are probably bored stiff at this point, but perhaps everyone can appreciate just how good it feels to achieve something you’ve wanted for so long. Anyway, that’s why I almost called my mom at 12:30 last night and why I didn’t get to bed until 4 this morning.

Bret came down today and we popped over to the local cinema for the first showing of Star Trek Nemesis. It’s not a home run, but it’s a solid double. Lots of good philosophical ideas about identity, duality, and humanity. It’s a pretty good action flick as well, and easily recommended to Star Trek fans. I have some issues with the direction, and one scene that’s supposed to come off terrifying instead almost comes off as comedy. Speaking of which, there are some great intentionally comedic lines in Nemesis, which helps lighten things a good deal without violating character. Are you listening, George Lucas?