Ancestor sleuthing–the case of the three Anna Todds

…and how a visit to a cemetery solved a mystery

I’ve recently finished writing a book based on the signatures in my great-times-three Aunt Mary’s autograph album. These albums were a little like high school yearbooks in the 1800s. Friends and family wrote something on a page, often a little poem, and signed their names. It’s been a fascinating way to learn about the community around Aunt Mary and her family.

One of the signatures was by Anna Todd.

TODD Anna PSed

I’m grateful that she wrote “Phila” on her page, which narrowed my search for her in Philadelphia. Signatures in the autograph album are primarily from the Hazleton, Pennsylvania area.

I’ve researched all the signatures in the album, and was pleasantly surprised that I was able to figure out the identities of most of the signers. I primarily used,, Find a, and One thing I learned early on was that researching people in Philadelphia was a lot harder because of the much larger population compared to Hazleton.

Because Anna signed her page in 1882, I started by looking through Federal census records for 1880 and 1870–the Federal census records for 1890 were nearly all destroyed in a fire. I then expanded my search to death certificates, marriage records, and newspaper mentions.

My research eventually narrowed down to three Anna Todds.

The first one was a schoolteacher, then a principal of a girl’s school in Philadelphia. I found several articles about her in Philadelphia newspapers. In at least two of them, another signer of Mary’s autograph album was mentioned as well–Martha Callan. I was about to stop my research here, but I wasn’t absolutely certain this was my Anna Todd, in part because she was called “M. Anna Todd” in the articles.

I moved on, and found Anna Todd married to Henry Todd in Philadelphia. Her age was about right for being a signer of the album, but information I was finding seemed even more contradictory than usual–when you’re researching ancestors, you get used to the fact that name spellings, ages, etc. are often not consistent.

I found Annie S. and Henry Todd in Philadelphia in 1880 on the Federal census. The “S” middle initial made it more likely that this was the right Anna–the middle initial of the Anna of the autograph album looks like it might be an “S”. Annie was 37 years old in 1880, Henry was a 44 year old iron manufacturer, and they had a 7 year old daughter, Annie M.

Knowing there was a 20 year gap forward in the census, I went back to 1870 and found Henry, age 33, working at an iron foundry, Anna age 26 and William, who was 3 months old. I wondered why there was no William with Henry and Anna on the 1880 census. Then I found a record in a marriage register for Annie Snyder Thompson and Henry Todd dated 1876. Wait a minute–if they were married in 1876, what about William, born in 1870?

I jumped forward to the 1900 Federal census and found Henry, now 63 years old, living with 38 year old Henry Jr. and his wife, as well as a 19 year old daughter named Edith, born in December 1880. Anna was nowhere to be found.

A form filled out by an undertaker for Anna S. Todd, wife of Henry Todd, states that she died of heart disease in 1897, and is buried at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Then I found the Find a page that showed Henry Todd and his wife, Anna Margaret Todd, who died in 1873. And that they’re buried at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Now I was getting really confused. And where was William? How did Henry Jr. just pop up in his thirties? And what about Edith?

My husband and I went to Philadelphia last year to search the cemeteries where some of the signers of Mary’s album are buried. We found “Anna S. Thompson, wife of Henry Todd”, buried near her mother Anna M. Thompson, as well as Henry Todd with “Anna Margaret, wife of Henry Todd” in another part of the cemetery.

THOMPSON Anna and Henry Todd new PSed

That explains one mystery–Henry married two different Annas.

Another mystery was solved by Henry and Anna’s headstone. There was a third name on it–William, who was born and died in 1870.

As to Henry Jr., I’m not sure why he didn’t know up on the census in his father’s household for 1870 and 1880. They were wealthy, so maybe he was away at school.

Henry Sr.’s daughter Anna Margaret got married in 1900. A newspaper notice says that Miss Anna Margaret Webb, daughter of Henry Todd, married George Masters.

As for Edith, her death certificate identifies her mother as Anna S. Thompson.

So, between records searches and a cemetery search, I figured out that Henry Todd and Anna Webb were married first, and had three children that we know of: Henry Jr., Anna Margaret, and William. After Anna (Webb) Todd died in 1873, Henry married Anna (Thompson) Todd in 1876 and they had one daughter, Edith.

As to who is the correct Anna Todd of the autograph album, it is indeed Anna S. Thompson Todd–two of her sisters also signed the autograph album.

The fun and frustration of ancestor hunting is that you often have to dig up a lot of information before you have enough to put all the puzzle pieces together. A lot of it will end up being redundant, and some of your research will lead to dead ends or the wrong person. I have files on my computer full of way more information than is seen here about Henry and his Annas. But in the end, I was able to figure out which Anna Todd is my Anna Todd.

One of the most important things I’ve learned along the way with ancestor hunting is that persistence pays off.

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