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Searching For A Needle

Research often feels like part ritual and part fate. The ritual tends to be repetitive in nature: ask a question, obtain a record, find the answer, evaluate the content, and repeat the process. Fate is much more unpredictable.

Sometimes a “cold read” search is the only option, especially in searching early records relating to females. A cold read has no index to assist you. It is turning the microfilm page by page, searching every name on every page for a clue, for an unknown name. It is time consuming. You do not know exactly who you are looking for, that specific name we so desire to know ahead of time is a ghost you hope appears. Cold reads challenge the researcher. Females provide challenges as well. They appear, they disappear and then they reappear with a different name.

Such is the case with Isabella DeMott. She was my challenge on my very first research trip to Salt Lake City years ago. My one quest and goal was simplistic in nature: to identify Isabella’s parents. The execution of that quest I knew would require patience, an open mind, and time. I had one week in Salt Lake City. While challenges are exciting… at the very same time, they are also…daunting.

Here is the background gathered about Isabella DeMott before the trip:

In 1850, John R. DeMott, age 32 years, was living with Isabella DeMott, age 57 years living in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey.[1]

There were two other females living in the same household: Margret A., age 20 and Catherine J., age 18 years. Although John was as an adult listed directly underneath Isabella and he was years older than the two females, it was doubtful that Isabella was his wife. Isabella was the head of household by virtue of being named first. So who was Isabella’s husband?

Tombstones offered more insight[2]:

Isabel, Richard G. DeMott

wife of Richard G. DeMott Who died Dec. 4, 1849

Died 20 February 1860

Aged 66 years, 6 mos. & 26 days

Richard’s death in 1849 explains why only Isabella was listed on the census in 1850.

There is no maiden name for Isabella inscribed on her gravestone. Cemetery records obtained did not list the deceased by family plot, instead the surnames were listed alphabetically. Not much help there.

Baptism records were next obtained for Isabella’s known children, most likely to be John R., Margaret and Catherine. The First Reformed Church in New Brunswick replied with the following information:[3]

Yes! Isabella’s maiden name from her marriage record: Van Nostrand.

Whenever you request records, almost always, a surprise arises. Although, the surprise at times can be disappointment in expecting information that was not there, this time it was a pleasant surprise. As John and Margaret’s births were expected to be included, Hannah and Sarah were surprises to learn as they were unknown additional children by Richard and Sarah.

Dutch names also offer challenges. Searches must be extended to name variations such as: Van Ostrand, Van Ordstrant, Van Nostrant, Van Nostrandt, etc. It’s simply, The Name Game.

Calculating Isabella’s age from her tombstone, she was probably born about July 1793. From the same church inquiry, there was no female Van Nostrand (or variant) baptized at the church in or after 1793. So no insight as to who Isabella’s parents were from church records. She could have been born anywhere from 1730 – 1775 with the lingering question, was Isabella even born in New Jersey?

Overall, not much to go on except a surname and location. In preparation for Salt Lake, the research plan lined up like this:

Goal: Determine the identity of the parents of Isabella Van Nostrand.

  • Isabella first appeared in New Brunswick, Middlesex County in 1821 (her marriage).

  • Focus on Van Nostrand surname records

  • Birth/baptism of Isabella about 1793, probably New Jersey

  • Search for death/probate/will information on parents who died after 1792, and in the range of 1792 to probably 1850

  • Start with Middlesex County records [Marriage location of Isabella in 1821.]

  • Parents possibly died in Middlesex County, New Jersey

  • Surrounding counties include: Mercer, Monmouth, Somerset and Union

  • Look for church baptism records 1730-1775 for parents

First choices were probate and church records. New Jersey has indexed and published their will books for this time period. But what given names of her mother and father to look for? I took a listing of all Van Nostrands (and variants) listed for the five counties above. Ready or not, off to Salt Lake City.

The first time I went through the doors of the Family History library in Salt Lake is an everlasting memory; the first floor just books on family genealogies. A whole entire floor dedicated to family histories [These are now gone, relocated downstairs.] But it was the second floor that was my destination. That is where the U.S. records were housed. I had done some legwork in FamilySearch’s card catalog to determine which film numbers I needed.

The plan was simple: read every single probate record of every single Van Nostrand (and variant) of anyone who died between 1793 – 1850, starting with the earlier years. It was a cold read. Time to settle in for the journey.

My first day was long and yielded no results. At some point you question, “Did I miss something?” But the reality was, I had only just begun and I had no idea who I was looking for. The second day, anticipation loomed.

I hit pay dirt. But I almost missed it.

Written on the bottom of a will, on page one, in very poor and faded condition but still legible…was my Isabella. From the will of Margaret Van Nostrandt in 1842[4]:

“Fifth I give I give & bequeath to my daughter Isabella, wife of Richard De-Mut her

heirs & assigns one hundred and fifty dollars –”

It was just one line in a document. The document was very hard to read. But - that was all that was needed. Just one line. Just those nine words. But there was more – a bonus!

In addition, the beginning of her will started with:

“In the name of God Amen. I Margaret Van Nostrandt of the city of New Brunswick

and state of New Jersey widow and relict of John Van Nostrandt…”

That was it. Victory. Not only did Margaret name her daughter, and identified Isabella’s husband as Richard DeMut [DeMott], she also named her deceased husband, John. This family was in the right geographic place, at the right time with the right names. Winner! Winner!

Found: Isabella’s parents.

That was a day when I knew that my ancestors led me to the answers. That was a day when patience and determination prevailed. That was a trip I never forgot.

Since then, has digitized these wills (non-indexed) and posted them online. To view a copy of Margaret Van Nostrandt's will (clearer version) click here, pg. 442-443. The document is very faded but you can adjust the lighting in “Tools” ribbon on top right:

Next Quest: Move on to find the probate of John Van Nostrandt. Move on to learn more about John and Margaret Van Nostrandt. Move on to learn Margaret’s maiden name.

And so it goes. The never-ending cycle of genealogical research. Finding answers always leads to asking more questions.



[1] 1850 U.S. census, population schedule, Middlesex County, New Jersey, New Brunswick, p625, p. 313(stamped), dwell. 73, fam. 96, Isabella Demott; image,, citing NARA microfilm series M432, Roll 455.

[2], image, memorials #51967256, Isabel DeMott(1793-1860) and #8049902 Richard G. DeMott (1792-1849) Three Mile Run Cemetery, New Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey; Tombstone photos by seekers and GGilmas.

[3] First Reformed Church, Letter of Correspondence from Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills to Shiel, 6 September 2006. First Reformed Church, 9 Bayard Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 08901.

[4] New Jersey Probate Records 1780-1930, Record of Wills, Middlesex County, #12147 L, Will of Margaret VanNostrandt, Written February 1835; codicil 16 February 1838; proved 1 August 1842, citing FHL #7528947.

#NewBrunswick #NewJersey

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