Documenting a Source that Isn’t

Last week I mentioned a sourcing “opportunity” I had. It could complicate citing the marriage of my great-grandfather Alfred Jacob Mueller’s parents on the timeline I am preparing about his life.

Scan_20160821 (2)

While drafting this post and attempting to document the aforementioned marriage, I relived the steps I took long ago to secure that marriage certificate; went through all the papers in my Mueller files and folders; reviewed every digitized document in the Mueller files on my hard drive and in Dropbox; and reread all the notes I created for Alfred and his parents in Family Tree Maker.

The whole time I was searching I had a nagging feeling I was wasting my time. I had the marriage certificate in my hands, but how would I recreate the way I had obtained it? I was 98% certain I no longer had any proof of the steps I had taken.

Let me explain.

Alfred’s mother Elizabeth [also known as Eliza and Elise] was a divorcée when she married Jacob Mueller. Her first husband’s surname was Bidenharn [sometimes spelled Biedenharn or even Biedenham]. Learning about Elizabeth’s previous marriage was invaluable in my search for her; with that information I was able to locate Eliza and Jacob in an index.

What now seems like a million years ago, I filled out this form and sent it to the Family History Library asking for a paper copy of the certificate. (This service is no longer available btw.) After three failed tries I finally received a photocopy, but it was so dark I couldn’t make out the names on the form.

So I tried another very old-fashioned route. I mailed a letter to IRAD (Illinois Regional Archives Depository):

2003 to IL RE Mueller-Biedenharn marriage cert

Notice how Jacob’s surname is spelled? The indexer must have seen the umlaut over the U and thought it was a line through one of the Ls. So instead of Müller, Jacob’s name was indexed as Mutler. My written request worked however. I received another more legible copy of the marriage certificate:

1874 11-28 MC Mueller, Jacob and Biedenharn, Eliza - Copy


Thirteen years after sending my requests to the Family History Library and to IRAD, one wouldn’t have to go to all that trouble to get a copy of this record. Today I looked at FamilySearch and found Jacob Muller and Eliza Bidenham in the index. And here they are on Ancestry:


1874 11-28 MC Mueller, Jacob and Biedenharn, Eliza index

Writing all this down was worthwhile. It helped me decide to use the Family History Library microfilm as my source, since that is where the record originated for me.

2016 09-01 Updated spreadsheet for AlfredIt was also helpful to see my updated timeline. It made me start thinking of other sources that could prove Jacob and Elise were Alfred’s parents. It seems only the 1900 census qualifies (the 1880 and 1910 don’t list relationships); Alfred’s parents are listed as unknown on his death certificate. Oh wait, there’s also Jacob’s will listing Alfred as his son and co-executor.

I’ll add those sources to Alfred’s spreadsheet before the next Timeline Tuesday.

Next up? Start pondering about what sources I might use to prove Alfred was born!

6 thoughts on “Documenting a Source that Isn’t

  1. I also enjoy reading about the research paths taken by others. And it drives me crazy when I can’t remember my own! So I try to write it down as I go and blog about it sooner rather than later so I don’t forget.

    Glad you found it!


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