Searching for Your Family History

Have you ever hit the “brick wall” while trying to find genealogical records on an ancestor? The farther back in history you search, the scarcer the documentation becomes.

I had the same dilemma when searching for Daniel Wakenight, who was born in 1792 in Maryland. The earliest record that was available on Ancestry.com was a marriage record, dated 1816, in Washington County, Maryland.

The few facts that I had collected on Daniel helped narrow down my search. I knew, from census records, that he was born in Maryland. I had also found a document, scanned onto Ancestry.com by Shirley Siems Terry, another family tree member, showing that Daniel was a devout Lutheran. The family had joined the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Boonsboro, Maryland in 1844.

Boonsboro Methodist Church Record

Sharon Strow, who created the website, “The Descendants of Daniel Wakenight,” supplied the following information:

“I was passed on the information from Sylvester Wakenight that we came from Germany and that the name was originally spelled Weichneicht. I have run across this name in several other incidences, but with the way records were kept way back it is hard to know what was a misspelling and what was a different name altogether. I have no doubt we are from Germany. The problem is finding Daniel’s father for lack of record keeping in the early years.”

Sharon then made this interesting observation about who Daniel’s father was:

“Philip Wakenight died in 1815 (who he is–speculation is he is Daniel Sr.’s father, but was he? When he died most of his estate was bought by Daniel and his Widow Wakenight, but that doesn’t really prove he was the father.”

I searched the US censuses for other Wakenights in the Boonsboro area and found one person of interest. On the 1810 census, there was a man named Philip Wegnicht, who lived in Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland. Hagerstown is 11 miles NNW of Boonsboro. On the 1800 census for Hagerstown, his surname was spelled Witnicht.

I felt sure that Philip and Daniel were related. The problem was in the transcription of the handwriting of the records. If the Wakenights were of German descent, they most likely still spoke their native language and had an accent that was hard for their English counterparts to understand. The transcriptionists would have written what they “heard,” which included spelling our name in a dozen or so different ways.

I studied the censuses again. Both documents had Philip’s age listed as “45 years and over”, which would have made him born at least in 1755.

The 1800 census included a female, aged 26 to 44, and a male and female under ten years of age. Daniel would have been eight years old.

1800 US Census for Philip Wakenight

On the 1810 census, Philip, a woman, and two girls under the age of ten years old were still living in Hagerstown. By 1810, Daniel would have been 18 years old. He may have been working away from home and living with another family at the time. The census lists only the head of household’s name, which is why Daniel’s name does not appear on this census.

1810 US Census for Philip Wakenight

I found an index of Philip’s obituary on the Washington County Free Library website, located in Hagerstown. I used their Obituary Locator 1790-2018, and they emailed a copy of it, free of charge. The article states that he was 62 years old when he died, which would have made him born in 1753. Here is a copy of the obituary from The Maryland Herald and Hager’s-town Weekly Advertiser (c. 1805 to 1826):

Philip Wakenight Obituary 22 Mar 1815

I then searched the 1820 census for Philip’s widow. I found a Catherine Weightneight, aged 45 years and over, and two females, aged 10 to 15, who were still living in Hagerstown at that time.

1820 US Census for Catherine Wakenight

As there were two daughters born to Philip, I decided to search for baptism records. I “lucked out” when I found ldsgenealogy.com, which is a directory website. On their site was a section for Maryland Birth Records, with one listing that I could access online and free of charge.

I clicked the link entitled Maryland Births and Christenings, 1650-1995 and found myself on FamilySearch.com. You will need to either sign in or create an account to access these collections.

I typed in the date range of 1800 to 1820, with the birthplace as Washington County, Maryland. I limited the parent’s names to Philip and Catherine, with no surname included. I pressed “enter,” and up popped 25 entries for baptisms.

The following two pages are what I found in this collection. If you click the link above and go to page 207 of 1016, you will see the title page, Records of St John’s Evangelical Church in Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland, Births and Baptisms, 1767 to 1900.

Polly born 5 JUL 1798 to Philip Wakenight

Female born 5 Oct 1804 to Philip Wakenight

As you will further notice, the transcriptionist used a typewriter to enter the information. Polly’s last name appears as Treithnecht and the Female’s name as Weidknecht on these records. Louise L Miller, who copied and presented these records, added this comment:

Mrs Louise L Miller Forward to Maryland Birth Records

Of note is her remarks about translating German into English and of each pastor’s penmanship. The handwritten surname for Polly was probably hard to decipher. Mrs. Miller typed the name as she perceived it, with a “Tr” instead of a “W” and a “th” instead of a “dk,” which would have spelled Weidknecht, like the other female’s entry.

The issue that I have with family tree websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.com is that you cannot view the actual document in some of their record collections. I would have loved to see Polly’s surname to verify that it was either a transcription error or difficulty in deciphering the penmanship. But, as it is, I had to use my best judgment and decided that both entries belonged to the same Philip Wakenight.

And, in regards to Catherine, the census records for 1800 to 1820 have established that she would have been born around 1775. If so, she would have been about 17 years old when Daniel was born in 1792, with Philip being 37 years of age. This fact, in itself, does not prove Catherine is Daniel’s mother. She may have been Philip’s second wife and Daniel’s stepmother.

I still have not been able to prove that Philip is Daniel’s father. Even though I found the baptism records on the two girls, there is no entry for Daniel in that particular collection of documents.

From my continued research on Philip Wakenight, I believe he moved from Northampton County, Pennsylvania before 1800. Another interesting fact is that Hagerstown is only about eight miles from the Maryland/Pennsylvania border. Could Daniel have been born in Pennsylvania instead of Maryland?

My search continues . . .

I hope I have given you some useful insights on tracking down your elusive ancestor. Sometimes you will find it necessary to leave your family tree website to gain new information that will help build your family tree.

If you have any questions or need help, please leave a message in the Comments Section of this page or on The Genealogy Insider’s Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of Shelly Arnold, public domain.