Tuesday’s Tip – Collateral Relatives

Burd crop_0001.jpgI have been thinking about William Burd lately. In an assignment for ProGen (peer study group) last month, William Burd was the key that unlocked a family for my second great-grandmother. I knew that my great-grandmother, Maine Swank Cubbage, was the daughter of Charles G. Schwenk/Swank and Marian Burd. Marian was born in Connecticut in 1854-5 and married Charles in 1871 in Allegheny County.[1] I had been unable to find any records for her prior to 1870.

This is where collateral relatives – siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews – can be helpful in opening some locked family doors. Census records for the Swank and Cubbage families included a William H. Burd. My grandfather mentioned that he shared a room with “Bill Burd” as a kid. Could William Burd be related to my second great-grandmother Marian Burd? Absolutely! (or this would be a very short and boring blog post!)

Burd crop schoolAccording to a birth register, William Burd born on 28 February 1894 in Natrona, Pennsylvania, although he consistently used 29 January 1894 as his birthdate.[2] I’ll come back to that date discrepancy shortly. By the time that Bill was six years old, he lived with his widowed Aunt Marian “Mary” (Burd) Swank, as an “adopted son” with her children, Maine and Charles.[3] For most of the next 30 years, Bill lived with Maine Swank, now married to Charles Cubbage, and their children.[4]

Charles and Maine had eight children, and Bill was about 10 years older than their oldest son, Lester. Over the years, Bill was recorded on various censuses as cousin, roomer and boarder. I found a photocopy of Bill’s school record and his photo (above) with some Cubbage memorabilia (I don’t know who had the original). Bill never married and spent most of his life with the Cubbage family in Swissvale and then Monessen. He lived with them when they lost two of their children (Leah in 1920 and George in 1921) and in Maine’s letter to her sister, she mentions how upset Bill was about George’s death, “Poor Bill is taking it awful hard. he don’t cry he just groans and that is worse.”

1942 burd obituary

Bill died of influenza and pneumonia at the Cubbage home in Monessen in 1942.[5] Bill’s obituary lists the Cubbage family as his own, with no mention of his birth parents or other Burds.[6] Bill worked for many years as a foreman at the Blast Furnace at Pittsburgh Steel.

Negative ScansSo how did he help me find my second great-grandmother’s family? For starters, “Burd” is often listed as “Bird” or “Byrd” and I was having problems determining which was our family and which was the correct spelling. In Bill’s death record, Lester Cubbage named Bill’s parents as Alexander Burd and Elizabeth Ryan. Obituaries helped me connect Alexander to his sister Marian Burd, and to four other siblings in Allegheny County. These siblings led me to confirm that their parents were Alexander Burd and Main Bingham. I’ll save them for another post.

So back to Bill Burd’s date of birth – the date that he used, 29 January 1894, was the date of his parent’s marriage, a month before the date of Bills’ birth in the county register.[7] I haven’t been able to locate much information about Alexander Burd and Lizzie Ryan. Alexander was widowed by 1900, but no death record has been located.

Much is still unknown about Bill Burd’s origin and parents, yet it appears that he was well taken care of by the Swank and Cubbage families. His presence in their families led me to his Burd family and opened the door to my third great grandparents, Alexander Burd and Main Bingham!

Have you ever used a collateral relative to help you find an ancestor?


[1] 1870 U.S. census, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, North Versailles Township (McKeesport Post Office), p. 20 (penned), dwelling 137, family137, Mary Bird in Isaac Mason household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 October 2019), citing National Archives microfilm publication M593. Also, Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, compiler, Marriage Returns, City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, 1870-1875, Volume 3, (Pittsburgh: The Society, 1999), 83.

[2] “Birth record index, 1893-1905, to births outside the city of Pittsburgh,” Birth index, A-G 1893-1905, p. 76, William Bird, digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 28 October 2019); citing Allegheny County Clerk of the Orphans’ Court, FHL microfilm 7902608, image 77 of 371.

[3] , 1900 U.S. census, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Pittsburgh Ward 22, Enumeration District (ED) 261, sheet 7-A, p. 270 (stamped), dwelling 102, family 114, William Burd in Mary A. Swank household; digital image, Ancestry.com (httpa://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 October 2019), citing National Archives microfilm publication T623, roll 1362.

[4] 1920 U.S. census, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Monessen Ward 2, Enumeration District (ED) 154, sheet 5-A, p. 207 (stamped), dwelling 48, family 89, William Burd in Charles A. Cubbage household; digital images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 October 2019), citing National Archives microfilm publication T625, roll 1666.

[5] Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate no. 16957 (1942), William Harrison Burd; Bureau of Vital Statistics, New Castle.

[6] “William Harrison Burd,” obituary, The Monessen Daily Independent (Monessen, PA), 19 February 1942, p. 3, col 6; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 October 2019).

[7] “Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950,” Marriages, v. 28, no. 17754, Ryan-Burd, 29 January 1894, digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 28 October 2019); citing Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh.