Guerrilla Genealogy: Hunting Down Wedding Guests

Guerrilla Genealogy: Hunting Down Wedding Guests

by Kerry Scott on 26 August 2013

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Do you have a branch of your family that resembles a tangle of Christmas tree lights?

I do. One of my great-grandmothers, Severina Elizabeth Nelson, was a Norwegian from Freeborn County, Minnesota. If you’re familiar with that part of Minnesota, you know that pretty much everyone around there is Norwegian (or Danish). Either way, there are patronyms. If you’re a genealogist, patronyms are not your friends.

This particular grandma brings additional challenges. Her mother died when she was four, and her dad died when she was a teenager. Her two brothers had only one child between then, and that child died as a young woman. That means there aren’t a lot of people left to provide clues on my grandma’s family.

Fortunately, I do have one secret weapon: A wedding guest list. This grandmother got married in 1913, and she had one of those books where the wedding guests sign their names. I know not everyone signed it, because the number of people in the photos exceeds the number of people in the book…but it’s a great start. The groom’s line is well-documented, so the unknown folks are all possible relatives of my grandmother. For that reason, I’ve decided to research every single person on this list, to see whether any of might be relatives of my grandma. I’m also going to try to locate pictures of each person, so I can identify as many people as possible in the wedding photos.

I’ve seen baby books and wedding shower books with lists of people who gave gifts, funeral guest books, and other lists of people connected to a particular event. Have you ever used a resource like this to help find family connections? 

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Here’s the part where I submit the names of the guests to the Google Gods. If you’ve found this post because you searched for one of these names, please contact me. I have photos and info to share, and we might be cousins, so yay!

  • Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Nelson [Allert Nelson and Ferol Cora Wright Nelson]
  • Mabelle Ruden [later Mabel Seliger]
  • Edward Scheiber
  • Gladys Scheiber
  • F. Scheiber Jr. [Frank J. H. Scheiber]
  • Evelyn Vasataka [child's handwriting---others on the list are spelled Vasatka]
  • Irma L. Scheiber
  • Viola M. Scheiber [later Viola Dall]
  • Lu Scheiber [Luella Woolery Scheiber]
  • Kathryn Bieloh
  • A. V. Scheiber [Albert Valentine Scheiber]
  • Mary L. Scheiber [Mary Leonora Holthusen Scheiber]
  • Kitty Scheiber
  • Martha Erickson [later Martha Swanson]
  • Fred W. Scheiber
  • M. C. Ness [Martin C. Ness]
  • Wilda Ness [Wilda Nelson Ness]
  • Mrs. C. Vasatka
  • Mr. L. K. Grisbach
  • Mrs. L. K. Grisbach
  • O. A. Vasatka
  • Maud Haney
  • Nina Wright [later Nina Lauby]
  • Edie E. Vasatka
  • Miss M. Grisbach
  • Miss Lena Vollrath [later Lena Korp]
  • Mrs. Malshaw
  • Adele Malshaw
  • Mr. George Korp
  • Mr. M. Rosengren
  • Miss Carrie Oakland
  • Mr. and Mrs. William Vasatka
  • Mrs. B. R. Christy
  • Genevieve Christy
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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Banai Lynn Feldstein August 26, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Awesome! One of my earliest sources was the gift list from my parents’ wedding. It was written by my mom with dates when she received the gifts (it didn’t list the gifts, as I copied it) and has their addresses. I had to figure out who everyone was and how they were all related too.

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Mary Trogg August 26, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I used an old address book to research my husband’s family. It took over a year but I found that almost everyone in the book was a relative of his grandfather. I’m in the process of adding the findings to the website.

Good luck with the research. Too bad my Freeborn people don’t match yours.

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Gen X Alogy August 26, 2013 at 4:47 pm

My Grandmother gave me an enormous wooden key which her father made and which was signed by every guest at her 21st birthday party. I have had no troubles finding out about her line, but I have looked into all the names on the key to make sure I know where they fit in. Some are friends, but most are cousins etc. It’s been very helpful for working out which branches of the family were in touch, when people started relationships etc (there are a number of future husbands/wives of cousins on the key).

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Jennifer Sepulvado August 26, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I had a similar situation. My grandma had the wedding guest list of her parents’ wedding. Her dad never told her much about his side of the family and both of his parents died before she was born. Her mom’s side was well documented. I was able to connect her dad to his parents via one of the guests and a distant cousin who posted about the parents on a message board.

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Greta Koehl August 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm

I found my half-brother’s old baby book and it took me into a whole series of adventures in researching the family of his father (my mother’s first husband). Ultimately I got into contact with the sister of the first husband’s nephews – my mother had helped raise the two boys when tragic family circumstances left no one else to care for them. This sister (my brother’s cousin) had been raised separately from the boys and only got back into touch with them when they were all adults; I was able to provide her with many pictures of the boys, and some of the older relatives in the family, that she had never seen. You just never know….

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Christine Clark August 26, 2013 at 7:21 pm

My 97 year Grandfather passed away in December 2012. I’m using the guestbooks from his parent’s wakes and funerals as a genealogy source. Unfortunately some names seem to be in there by proxy e.g. a German sister in law who probably didn’t make the trip but sent a memorial donation or paid for a mass.

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Erin August 26, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Fantastic post! I hope some of these names help you fill in your tree.

I recently was able to break though a huge brick wall in my tree based in large part on a list of people who brought presents when my husband’s uncle was born. The list was in the back of his baby book, and enabled me to discover the identity of his grandmother. I hope you have success, too!

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Rondina Muncy August 27, 2013 at 11:00 am

Absolutely. I used my Norwegian grandmother’s funeral book as a starting place for interviewing anyone still living in her small town. It paid off big-time. The family dynamics in that household played out before me.

I have also gone one-step further. When my mother died, she was living by herself. I was worried that with no one there, the house would be robbed. I drove away that day with ALL the family pictures. I don’t know how I had the presence of mind to do the following and I had never even considered working on the family genealogy—I sorted through hundreds of photos before the funeral, pulling every one that could not be identified. I took them to the funeral where I expected maybe ten people to be. The whole town showed up to my surprise. At the church hall afterwards, we pushed tables together and passed the pictures around. I ended up with only a handful of unidentified photos and a wonderful memory of these relatives and strangers that cared enough to attend the service and help me. I became friends with many and would visit them until they all passed away.

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Debi Austen August 27, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Oh, you’ve given me a great idea! I’m just getting ready to do a blog post based on my parents’ wedding albums that I just inherited after my mother died. I’m going to pay close attention to the wedding list!

I’ve spent some time researching some of my grandmother’s classmates from the 1915 time period and have actually connected with the great granddaughter of one of her friends. We’re not sure how it was that they became friends because they lived in cities 20 miles apart (which was a whole lot farther than 20 miles these days) but it’s something I’ll continue to research.

Thanks for the perfect timing of your post. Good luck – I hope you find some good information!

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Elizabeth H. August 28, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I can’t help you with your names, but click on my name which I linked to my specific blog post about piecing together family members at my grandparents’ 1931 small wedding from the signatures in the guest book.

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Cynthia Shenette September 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I do this all the time. I post names that I come across in items that relate to my ancestors, and I’ve made some amazing connections. Just recently I was contacted by a relative of my mother’s maid of honor. I posted the about the estate where my great-grandparents met in Poland, and a descendant of the count and countess who owned the estate contacted me. People who simply Googled their ancestors’ names have contacted me and identified people in my photos and sent me information I did not have. Quite amazing really. I hope you do a follow-up post regarding any success stories you have.

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Kerry Scott September 12, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I will definitely do a follow-up post!

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Kathleen O'Hara Naylor September 11, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I have not used any resources like this, though I’d love to if I could find them. I am, however, cracking up at the thought of someone, someday, using my wedding guest book to research the family. There’s the young cousin who signed every single page, most of them with the phrase “First to sign!!” and some hearts. The friend who signed his girlfriend’s name to the message “Thanks for the beer!” (Not recognizing their respective handwriting, I doubt our descendants will get the joke.) I’m not sure they’d have much luck piecing together family trees, but they’d sure learn some interesting things about our family and friends.

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Kerry Scott September 12, 2013 at 2:35 pm

They’ll know that your friends and family were funny and had a great time at your wedding. That’s good info for anyone, I think.

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