My great-great grandmother's name was Emily Ottaway. We never knew much about her. We knew she was born in England. We were pretty certain that her son, my Great Grandfather Emil, was named for her and that he was her only child with her husband Thomas Thomas. We know even less about him.
Emily and Thomas have haunted me since I began working on my family history. It seemed so unlikely that we had lost information about people who were so recent in our family history. It didn't help that most of my family is not particularly close and many of the older folks have already passed away. Resources can be hard to come by. It wasn't until a lot of fruitless searching and wrong turns that I finally found her.
Months ago I found an Emily Ottaway that I was sure was her. I found her family, her siblings, her parents. I just KNEW it was her. She was born in the right time frame. She just seemed right. Unfortunately, I could never find any immigration records for her. After much frustration, I decided to tackle things in another way. I looked up her name in A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames. there was a whole list of alternate spellings of her name including Ottway, Otway and Otewy. So I revised my searches and stumbled upon a lady named Emily Otterway. She married a Scottish gentleman by the name of Angus Arthur Sutherland. (Just saying that name makes me picture a burly ginger-haired man wearing a kilt and playing bagpipes on a breezy, heather covered hill. I fairly swoon when I consider it.) They had two children named Kenneth and Albert. Something about the name Sutherland tickled some vague recognition in my tiny brain, so I printed her information but I just tucked it away thinking that this was not my Grandmother since there was no mention of the first husband Thomas or her son Emil.
A few days later, I was sorting through some pages in my binder that contained some stories and things that my parents had told me about family members that I use as research helps. It was then that my brain finally landed upon the connection that it couldn't make a few days earlier. (I have teenagers. My brain is currently very overtaxed. Be nice to me.) My father and I were having a conversation with a friend who had married a man named Sutherland. Dad mentioned that he thought that Emily may have married a man named Sutherland.
I went back to the page I found for Emily Otterway and her husband Angus. Still nothing. So I Googled her sons. That was when I found it. An obituary for Kenneth Sutherland that mentioned his brother Emil Thomas. I did it! There she was! I was ecstatic! I think i may have danced a little bit, but if you ask me to perform said dance, I will deny that it ever happened.
I knew at that moment that I was the greatest genealogist that ever lived. It was only a matter of time before I was giving lectures on research. High on confidence, I went through my binder with my hard copies of family records and flipped past my grandfather's journal. Feeling incredibly confident, I scanned his journal to see if there was any mention of other family members that I had missed. Indeed there was mention of someone.
Yes, it had been there the whole time. Along with a discussion about how her son Albert would take her passing. Ok. So perhaps I was not the world's greatest genealogist. It was still a good moment, but had I been more careful to note connections and people in the conversations and records that I already had, I'd have found her so much sooner. I made this connection a little over a week ago and since then I've scratched the surface of her family and found more than 100 pages of documentation for her family. Still only one mention of Thomas Thomas, but it's more than I had before.
I've also begun going through the records I already have and made note of all of the connections and resolved to take notes ANYTIME I am having a discussion with a family member about our family history. Had either Dad or I made that connection before, we'd be much further ahead than we are today.