Finding An Ancestor's Name

Sometimes a relative can be hard to locate or find information about.  This is even more true when you are looking for the name of an ancestor that has been dead for nearly a century.  As this can sometimes be a daunting task, some people might like to see how someone might stumble through the search process.


Finding An Ancestor's Name


I thought that some people might find it informative to follow me as I search for the first name of  my 3x Great Grand Father.  My Great Great Grandfather's name was Paul Kerstetter; this is something I know.  It is well defined and I have a stack of pictures showing the clear lineage.  Paul's father is not so clear.  I have an obituary which states that my 3x Great Grandfather is named Daniel Kerstetter:

Paul Kerstetter was born in 1884 in Penn Township in Centre County in Pennsylvania.  If this were true, he should be located in the 1890 Penn Township Census.  There is no Census found for 1890 with Emanuel or Paul Kerstetter.  According to, "The Eleventh Census of the United States (1890) was destroyed/damaged by fire, at the Commerce Dept. in 1921."

Within an 1890 local census directory, I found only one Daniel Kerstetter, without wife Catherine, Paul, or any known siblings:

Previous to discovering the name Daniel, I had understood my 3x Great Grandfather to be named Emanuel, as referenced in the 1900 Census:

Again, Emanuel Kerstetter was referenced in the 1910 Census.  This was after Paul moved out, but the wife and siblings are the ones that are expected:

Additionally, I have the wedding record for Paul's sister Kathryn Kerstetter, with the Father of the Bride listed by the name Emanuel:

So why is there a Daniel on the Obituary, but nowhere else?  What this means is that I do not have a clear picture of the correct first name.  I am tempted to believe that Daniel and Emanuel are the same person, and that someone heard the name wrong when they were doing either the Censuses or Paul's Obituary.  Emanuel and Daniel do sound very similar.  However, the way to show that is what happened and which one is correct has proved difficult.

It seems to me that the best way to prove the name of Paul Kerstetter's father is to find a birth certificate or to find a baptismal record.  These were not able to be located with a quick search on or  Looking to the state records has not been helpful.  According to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (, there are no records of births kept at the state prior to 1893.  Since Paul was born in 1884, I would need to go to county records, newspapers, or church registers for this information.

I checked the PA State Archives website for any of Centre County's records (  The only thing that they have on hand that might remotely be helpful is the Index to Register's and Orphans' Court Dockets, 1800-1949 which is held in microfiche.  This would be a challenge in terms of time and resources to review with a very low probability of finding anything.  I will move past that and come back in the future if I need to.  I checked the Centre County government website directly, but found nothing of use.  They kept trying to redirect me back to the state portal that I had already checked.

My next stop would be the Pennsylvania Room with the Centre County Library (  They had been able to help me before when I was looking for obituaries; maybe they would have something on births and baptisms.  They do have a partial index of all Centre County Births, 1893-1905, which would not cover Paul's birth date.  There are Newspapers listed on Microfilm, but nothing that is scanned in.  This reminds me to jump back to Ancestry and Family Search to check for newspaper records from the birth date in 1884.  This also yields nothing as there are no scans or even microfilms of Centre County newspapers. 

I did find some broad microfilm indexes in Family Search for Centre County church records.  Since I am not even sure what church Emanuel/Daniel might have attended, that seems like a temporary dead end.  I might eventually need to start having large swaths of records pulled to try to find something, but I am not prepared to do that quite yet.  Looking back at the newspaper problem, I decide to check Google Books and to see if there might possibly be anything there.  Nope, both of these resources have lots of information, but none of it is for the time and location that I am looking for.

Taking more of a shotgun approach next, I try all of my sources again, but looking for any reference to Emanuel or Daniel Kerstetter to see if any are good matches.  Along the Coburn and Milheim Turnpike, I found that Emanuel is still listed in the 1920 Census, living with wife Catherine and daughter Elizabeth:

There were additional Census references found to a Daniel Kerstetter, but none of the dates or siblings matched.  The only real connection found so far of Paul Kerstetter to Daniel is the obituary.  However, there have been multiple links to Emanuel through dates, location, and other relationships. This leads me to feel fairly confident that Emanuel Kerstetter is the correct name for Paul's father.

Okay, let's go back to the top.  Assuming that I cannot easily obtain the Birth or Baptismal records for Paul, I decide to get a little more creative.  Perhaps I can find a death record for Emanuel that will lead me to some bit of solid proof.  This is how I came to find the death certificate for Emanuel Kerstetter which matches the death date that my family believed to be for Emanuel/Daniel:

I then thought that maybe I could check his wife Catherine's death certificate.  Sure enough, I found it.  Paul is listed on the certificate as an informant, but Emanuel's name is not listed.  In my search for an obituary, I stumbled upon this little gem:  It lists a father, John Kersteter, in Centre County as having several sons, including an Emanuel and a Daniel.  As I have seen the Kerstetter name spelled differently in the past, this passes the smell test.

Even though I could not find some documents, I think I have seen enough to say with high accuracy that the name of Paul's father was Emanuel.  I think that the mix up between Emanuel and Daniel was either due to the names sounding similar to the person that completed Paul's obituary; or due to the Uncle being named Daniel.  Unless other evidence comes forward in the future to the contrary, I feel confident moving forward with Emanuel Kerstetter being my 3x Great Grandfather as a genealogical fact.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post.  If you have any suggestions for future posts covering the topics of genealogy or history, please let me know.  Have a great week!