Any genealogist ends up with them ~ those ancestors that seem to appear from nowhere....
Instead of my usual long-winded/detailed descriptions of one family, I'm going to summarize several cases of people appearing from nowhere, choosing cases that have some typical problems for those searching for their ancestors.
Feel free to share your biggest puzzlers ~ and frustration at the research methods that haven't resulted in more information.....
Some ancestors I've found lots of records from marriage on, through children, census returns, and death, but nothing definite before their marriage.
For example, Nancy Batchelder appears in Salem MA in 1810, marries Lincoln Stetson (whose ancestry was easily traceable back to Plymouth Colony), has three daughters (only one of whom lived to adulthood), and then dies in Salem in 1857. Her age is consistent in census and death records, always a nice plus ;-) On her marriage and death records, her father is named as John and she is supposedly from Billerica MA.
I've traced several other women named Nancy Batchelder to rule them out. I've looked extensively at lots of women born in nearby towns ~ anyone named Nancy, Ann, Hannah, or born near the dates working back from her supposed age at death. There's no John Batchelder or other possible family in Billerica (or other nearby towns) to put her in. She's not listed in the big late 19th century Batchelder family history.
Overall, Massachusetts records in the couple decades after the Revolutionary War are less good than before the war or after the War of 1812.
Around the same time (1815), John T. Sears appears just down the road in Danvers MA, where he also marries someone from an established local family, Betsy Wilkins. They have a couple children and then John T. dies at sea, with the death recorded in Marblehead. Unlike Nancy Batchelder, John T. Sears appears in the big Sears genealogy ~ but the author cautions that he stuck John T. in an almost random family, with no real evidence that he belonged there. Like with Nancy Batchelder, only one of John T.'s children had children, so there aren't that many people looking for him.
Years later, Betsy and John T.'s grandson would ask about John T.'s origins ~ which gets recorded in a second cousin's family history papers this way (hand-written note my addition Photoshopped in.....):
Occasionally, someone hides origins from more children..... a man showed up in Middletown CT, called himself Anthony Sizer, and said he was from the Azores ~ or maybe he was the son of a well-to-do French couple...... Again, he marries a woman from an established local family, Sarah Tryon, and they have a dozen children. His original name was supposedly de Zociura ~ which a distant cousin has been told by Portuguese speakers likely just means 'from the Azores.'
Mysterious appearances don't only happen in New England. I've got cases in Scotland as well, although many of these seem to lead back to Ireland, that genealogical black hole.
Edward James Arthur appears in records first in Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders, in 1867, when he marries Jane Keddie. He died in 1903, having spent much of his life at this pub across the street from his no longer extant house (he died after a little too much New Year's eve at another pub.....):
One other intriguing bit for Edward James Arthur. When he dies, the newspaper notice says "American papers please copy." Since I haven't found parents or siblings for him, I don't know who I should be looking for, or where in the US. The one person I know of in the family who immigrated to the US (his granddaughter, my grandmother) was a young school girl in Leith and twenty years away from her trip across the Atlantic.
He consistently says he was born in Ireland on various records (the 1871 census says Fermanagh). On his marriage record, he says his parents are Edward Arthur, a bookseller, likely still alive (as the record should say deceased if he isn't alive) and Mary Hood, also possibly still alive. I've found no trace of Edward the bookseller or Mary Hood in any other records ~ and having a family name that is also a first name makes searching less than easy.
Elizabeth Little, who married Edward Arthur, son of Edward James Arthur and grandson of Edward Arthur the bookseller (no, my family wasn't creative with names; Elizabeth Litttle's mother was also Elizabeth Little), has a different kind of dead end. On her birth record, instead of a father's name, says illegitimate. Turns out, that entry is not that uncommon in many Scottish mill towns of the mid to late 19th century ~ I've seen a couple parishes in the 1860s/1870s where 1/4 to 1/3 of the births have illegitimate instead of a father's name. [It was a little less common in th New England mill towns, but it was still not that unusual.....]
Church session records have no further details. The poor law records for that area aren't extant. Her three siblings have similar birth records. No father listed on her marriage or death records. Major dead end :-(
Shankendshiel, near Hawick, where Elizabeth Little was born in 1864:
Francis McGee was likely a famine immigrant ~ and too poor to make it to the US, so he settled in Edinburgh, where he was a fish hawker/costermonger. He married Helen Cassidy and they had seven children in fourteen years before Helen died. From the few records Francis appears in, he was likely born in either Donegal or Fermanagh. On his death record, his daughter says Francis's father's name was Bernard McGee, but no mother was listed.
Another family that I'd like to find is one I'm not descended from: the Callaghans, who moved between Dundee and Edinburgh. Thomas Callaghan and Mary McGhie were married in Dundee in 1844, where James Trainor and Mary Farrell are their witnesses. 1845 sees a baptism for their daughter Margaret, witnessed by James Trainor and Margeret Toal. In the 1851 census, listed as Thomas and Maria Kalican (yeah for searches of census records that let one play around with just entering first names and birthplaces!), they are still in Dundee with a son Thomas, although baby Margaret seems to have died already.
In 1855 (that magical year at the start of civil registration for births, when lots of questions were asked, including where the parents were married) Thomas and Mary have moved to Hastie's Close in Edinburgh, where they register the birth of their son James, whose birth record includes the details of the Dundee marriage (to connect the records for the families in two different cities), that Mary had given birth to two sons and a daughter who have died and that Mary was from Ireland ~ Fermanagh is listed.
I've found no other records of this family :-( Did they move back to Ireland? On to the US or Australia? Or die (and, if so, where are the records)? Or are further Scottish records hidden under an unpredictable spelling of their name?
I've tried every variation of such an easily differently spelled name that I could think of ~ and with not only C and K as the initial letter, but some others (like H) which could be misreadings of handwritten records.
So why would I want to trace them? Well, the same day that the Thomas Callaghan and Mary McGhie of Hastie's Close register wee James's birth, Francis McGhee and Helen Cassidy (yeah, them again....), also of Hastie's Close, register the birth of their daughter Catherine, born the same day as James. Coincidence? Or are Francis McGhee and Mary (McGhie) Callaghan related?