Brick Wall Case Studies #30: Finding the parents of an adopted child born in the 1870s in Ohio

Emma was listed in the census in an adopted family and her marriage record listed her as having unknown parents. Birth records, studying the nearby families, and autosomal DNA evidence pointed to her biological family.

What We Knew

  • Emma Delphine Cocanour was listed in the 1880 census in the home of George Cocanower, listed as 7 years old, born in Ohio, and living as a servant in the household. She was living in Butler, Knox County, Ohio.
  • Emma Cocanour married George Yarman in 1889. On the marriage license application, it said that the whereabouts of her parents was unknown.
  • Emma was listed in the 1900 census with her husband and children as well as in the subsequent census records.
  • Emma's death certificate in 1946 listed her parents as unknown. Her birth date was listed as 28 June 1872.

Records We Located

  • An obituary was located for Emma D Yarman which named her foster sister as Mrs Anna Grimes of Detroit and Stewart Cocanour of Mansfield. Anna and Stewart were children of George Coconower with whom Emma was living in the 1880 census. This verified that Emma was not the biological daughter of the Cocanour family though she used the surname Cocanour.
  • An obituary was located for George Cocanour as well. His children were listed in detail, but Emma was not listed which gave further evidence that she was not George's biological daughter.
  • A search was made in the birth records of Richland County, Ohio, for a female child born on 28 June 1872. There were 4 entries for this date in the index, all with similar names including Emma Delphine Yarger, Emma D Yarger, Delphine E Yarger, and Emma Delphue. The parents on all 4 entries were listed as Jesse Yarger and E.M. Smith so it appears that the same record was recorded multiple times. The residence of the parents as Worthington Township.
  • In looking at the residents of Richland County, there was a Jesse Yarger of the right age. There was also an Esther Melissa Smith of the right age as well living in the same area. Jesse and Esther do not appear to have married but both of them were married a short time after Emma was born.
  • Autosomal DNA evidence showed that descendants of Emma were close matches to both the Jesse Yarger and Esther Melissa Smith families.


Emma Delphine Cocanower was the daughter of Jesse Yarger and Esther Melissa Smith. She was then adopted by the George Cocanower family. The sources we located are listed for Emma and her family members in the FamilySearch Family Tree, ID K6H4-M72.

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