The Power of One Little Detail

 Which family would you rather see on your tree? 


Ethelyn Stephens Jones & her parents

Or this.

Ethelyn, parents, husband, sisters and their husbands

I wanted the whole family. But after extensive searching in,, and elsewhere, I had almost given up on having anything more than names and estimated dates for Ethelyn's parents, no records beyond her death certificate connecting them, or any other birth family. In other words, settling for the first image.

Then FamilySearch found the death certificate, which gave her exact date and place of birth along with the full names of her parents. Of course immediately I added the parent names and other information on both trees, Ancestry and FamilySearch Family Tree (FSFT). Birth and family information on death certificates is secondary information, and not always reliable. Still, names are clues, and the birthplace in the death certificate was close to what she stated in her marriage license application, and it was close to my guess of the actual place name, Mine La Mott, Madison County, Missouri. 

Here is Ethelyn's death certificate:

Ethelyn Stephens Jones Death Certificate [1]

The reason I say "of course" I added this information above, is that searching a database relies on search engine algorithms. Even a guess is better than nothing, because you are giving that algorithm something to search with. When you know a woman's birth surname, you can guess that that was also her father's surname, and that he was born about 20 years before she was. On Ancestry, use abt before estimated dates; on FamilySearch in the Family Tree, use about

I use both Ancestry and FSFT to research, because using one then the other allows each site to leverage each tiny fact to gather even more records from their database. We wrote about this before in The Power of Three.

FamilySearch was able to find Ethelyn's death certificate because I had listed her father's surname and guessed on his birth date. And because I added the full names of both parents once Ethelyn's death record was found, FamilySearch also found her sister Buelah, who also died in California. By coincidence, she also married a Jones, but so far no link between the two Jones families has been found. 

The best part of FamilySearch finding this death certificate, after getting over the joy of discovering that Ethelyn had family, was that this document listed not only the names of both parents, but also their birthplaces, and confirmed the name Mine La Mott as the birth place. Here is that second death certificate, for Buelah Stephens Jones:

Buelah Stephens Jones Death Certificate [2]

Once the information for Buelah was in the tree, FS began finding Missouri birth registers, which is amazingly early for Missouri. The reason I wanted to write this blog post though, is that I almost missed finding these wonderful records. In the past, FamilySearch added record hints in each person's profile as the system found possible matches to records. But now the hints are seen only in the tree view and I was not aware of this change. And those records don't always show up in a search, or on the first page of results.

 Here's what I mean by hints. See the blue boxes?

Example of how record hints show up in the tree view of FSFT, and what you see when you click the blue hint symbol

The record hint details can be quite detailed, sometimes even with an image of an original record, so you can accept or dismiss the hint right in the tree view or source linker. Here is an example I've not yet dealt with, since it involves clicking through a filmstrip with thousands of images:

Record hint detail view: there is a scroll bar, so be sure to view it all

I will put in the time to work on this record set because it is possible that the alias 'Kelly' is the surname of James Stephens' slaveholder. There is a Kelly listed as a slaveowner in Mine La Mott in 1860 and 1850, so I will search for his business papers, probate, etc. to see if James is mentioned by name.

The hints attached to Ethelyn's parents in the tree view led to discovering many more siblings, some of whose names remain unknown*. Ethelyn herself has not been found in a birth register, but I'm sure I found her on Ancestry in the 1880 US Census:

1880 US Census for ED 57, Saint Michael, Madison, Missouri. Jim Stevens, Martha Stevens, Ellen Stevens & boarder Arnarnt? Andony? age 17 and daughter Justina Andony, 6 months

I need to figure out who the lodgers are; possibly relatives of either James or Martha? Research is never done! So Ancestry found another record placing Ethelyn with both her parents, which makes me happy!

To sum up: 

  • Notice every detail in every record you find, and note it. Both Ancestry and FSFT allow the adding of facts; it is worth the work to add them
  • Every record you find, link all the people listed in the record
  • Every new fact you find, add to both FSFT, Ancestry and where ever else you keep a tree
  • Look at the tree view sometimes! It is a useful way to see if new hints have been found by the site
  • When you have a solid base of research, add the family to Wikitree

Have fun researching!


* The couple married 4 May 1873. First child in a record is Ellen/Ethylene in 1880. Amanda Ruth/Ruth Jane b. 1884 is 6th child per register. Harriet & Buelah are 9th & 10th in 1886. Next child in the records is Mattie b. 1890. So: Ethelyn could be child #4; babies 1 to 3 and 5. names and birth dates unknown. Between Amanda Ruth a.k.a Ruth Jane (#6) b. 1884 and the twins b. 1886, perhaps another pair of twins #7 and 8. Entire family can be seen at

1. Ethelyn Stephens Jones, 1962, "California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994", database with images, FamilySearch ( : 1 March 2021).

2. Buelah Jones, 1943, "California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994", database with images, FamilySearch ( : 1 March 2021).

Valorie Cowan Zimmerman


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