You cannot do genealogy without putting on your detective cap. Persistence, collecting clues, researching, and thinking outside the box are similar steps in finding an answer.

I often heard my dad say, “One of the Klein kids was kidnapped in Cincinnati and never found.” Even as an adult, I didn’t pay attention to what he was saying, nor ask questions. In 1984 I began “doing genealogy.” Meaning I started a family tree, wrote letters to relatives and possible relatives, went to area courthouses, collected all the information that I could, but none of it was focused. As with many beginning genealogists, I thought that I had to gather it all.

I had two pages of my paternal Klein names, birth dates and places, and death dates handwritten by my great-grandmother. For years I read right past the “Kidnapped and never found” beside William E. Klein, my grandfather’s uncle.

About three years ago I thought about that notation. What did it mean, kidnapped? Expecting to find answers online, I checked,,, and Google. No William Klein that age or news of a kidnapped child in the Cincinnati area or across the Ohio River in Kentucky.

I looked again at the birth date (October 5, 1853) and realized there was a death date (September 29, 1856) as well. Why would there be a death date if he was kidnapped? How had I overlooked that bit of information? Did the family learn that he had died? I next looked for obituaries in the genealogy sources. Nothing.

With no one living to ask, I put on my detective cap. First I thought, why would a 3-year-old child be kidnapped? Ransom first comes to mind in a kidnapping. The parents were German immigrants, settling in the Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati in the mid-1840s. The father Johann was a cabinetmaker so he had a good trade but was, I am sure, not wealthy.

Now it meant thinking outside the box — every possible reason for the kidnapping. Did the father owe someone money for cabinet-building materials and did the collector of the debt take the little boy? Did someone want a child and took him? Did little William wander away, was found but couldn’t communicate who his parents were? Did he drown in the nearby Miami and Erie Canal that divided the largely working-class German settlement from the city? Did his older brother accidentally hurt him and he died? Did the parents sell him or give him to another family member or acquaintance? Did he die and they buried him at home?

The next question: Was it an error in the handwritten pages? Or is this family lore?

(To be continued)

“Genealogy is more than names and dates. It is learning the culture of the time your ancestors lived.”

Becky McCreary is a member of the Southern Arizona Genealogy Society. Contact her at or visit the society’s website at, where her columns are archived. The articles may not be reprinted without written permission of the author.