Friday, April 9, 2010

Small Breakthrough Day

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, but when you can't find someone in the census, just think of three things

Incorrect transcriptions/improper enumerations
Page by Searches

Hmmm, now that I've got that written down it doesn't sound all that great. But things are things that I've had thrown at me before which were preventing me from being able to take advantage of a family's census enumeration and it sucks. That's pretty much all I can say about it, having that gap in your timeline for one person is bad enough, but when it's for an entire family group it's more than just irksome. At least to me.

I've looked at finding "missing" families in the 1900 Chicago census previously and if you're at all interested in that, take a look here This time however, I was trying to find the William Williamson family of Liberty twp., Parke Co., IN. If you were thinking I wasn't going to have the assistance of some fancy handy dandy finding aid this time, you get the gold star. But I wasn't hanging by a single thread either.

The William Williamson family first appears in the 1850 Parke County schedule as such:

William-aged 25, born in IN, farmer, no real estate
Serdan [incorrect transcription of Susan]-aged 32, born in IN
Malinda-aged 5, born in IN
Sarah-aged 3, born in IN
Perry-aged 1, born in IN

William could not be found in 1860 and neither could any of the other family members no matter how I searched for them (with and without ages and/or birthplaces, no given names, etc.). I was able to find a Susan Williamson in the 1870 schedule in Parke County but the family group was very different. This time it was

Susan-aged 50, born in IN
Perry-aged 21, born in IN
Joseph-aged 19, born in IN
Louisa-aged 17, born in IN
Wister-aged 14, born in IN

Without the inclusion of Perry, I may not have thought to place such importance on this family. But I was almost positive this was the right family group. Susan is shown without William in this schedule but that still doesn't explain where the family was in 1860 and considering that if this is the same group as in 1850, William must have been alive long enough to father 3 more children before dying and it's possible that at least one of the two eldest children (Malinda or Sarah) could have been enumerated in 1860 with the younger children to further prove that this was in fact the right family. So I had to turn to neighbors. I went back to the 1850 census and wrote down the names of neighbors on the page that William and his family were on, as well as the page before and the page after. I was unable to find the family with the first two neighbors, but when I hit the third I saw a familiar name. One of the neighbors listed on the previous page was named Samuel McMasters, in fact, there were more than a couple of McMasters families all living in the same area, scattered on these pages surrounding William Williamson. The surname jumped out at me because I knew that William Williamson's son, Perry (my ancestor), married a woman named Susannah McMasters. So this was a family pocket and it was very likely that the Williamson's, regardless of whether William was dead or alive by 1860, were probably still living near the McMasters-they would have to be so that Perry could have time to meet and eventually marry Susannah. I was right. On page 94 (written), we see Samuel McMasters enumerated with his family but only two households up the page from him we see this:

First problem, it's super light. Even if I change the settings for the image (obtained through to normal, without the enhanced viewer, the writing is so faded it's hard to read. Which takes me to problem two. The indexer made an incorrect transcription because of an awful job done by the enumerator. He enumerated the family as being headed by Susan Wm Son and then presumed to ditto the rest of the surname as that of the family above, Higgins, and then dittoed the rest of the family as Higgins as well. So when the indexer went to transcribe the enumeration, they were seeing a very random set of names, letters, and ditto marks. It's clear that though that the enumerator was using an abbreviated form of Williamson, "Wm Son". Honestly, I don't see how I could have found this family if I hadn't just used the 1850 neighbors as a guide, or by just going page by page. That's how messed up this enumeration and subsequent transcription sequence is.

In any event, this is definitely the right family and we can see what's been happening since 1850. Susan is shown as a "widow" so we can definitively say that William is dead. He was born around 1825, making it a fairly early death for him, so the option of divorce was also one that was in my head without the use of the 1860 census. Also, we can see the entire 1850 family, minus William, living with the three younger children shown in 1870 to prove that this is in fact the correct family group. Now we can place several events; William died between 1856 (when the youngest child could have been conceived) and 1860; if the two older daughters married, it was between 1860 and 1870 because both are no longer living with the family in 1870 (as an interesting side-note, these marriages do not appear to have been recorded in Parke County which means either they married elsewhere or they died prior to 1870. I'll need to do a bit more research to figure out what happened to them).

So now I can look into estate records for William Williamson's estate file. I would like to be able to pinpoint his death a little more and find out what was going on with his family at the time of his death. From the census records, it does not look like he was a land owner and he had very little personal property and several children to support. Dying at such a young age, was probably unexpected and it would be great to know what happened to him, as well as possibly locate any nearby siblings that could help me determine the next generation. This is a brand new line though and I'm not rushing through him to try to get to the next line backward. I would also like to do a little research into whether an obit is available for him which could answer some of these questions for me. That would be great! But I'm not holding my breath on that one, I don't have very good luck with obits for some reason. They just don't seem to have been all that important for my ancestors. But maybe I'll get lucky this time.

A final thing to think about is that I do not have a death date for William's widow, Susan, who disappears from the census records after 1870, and I have conflicting evidence as to her maiden name. All of the death records for her known children state that her "maiden" name was Garrison but there is no record of a Williamson-Garrison marriage prior to 1845 when their first known child was born; not just in Parke County, but in the entire state of IN. There is however, record of a William Williamson marrying a Susannah Roberts in 1843 in Parke County. This fits in perfectly since Malinda, their oldest known child, was born in 1845. Susan(nah) was also several years older than William which makes the possibility of her having previously been married more likely. If this is the case, that would mean that Garrison could have been her maiden name, as her children's death records unanimously state, and Roberts could have been her first married name. Again, more research will be necessary to confirm this.

So I've still got my work cut out for me with this family group but it was a great feeling to have a bit of a breakthrough with it today. And just another example of the importance of neighbors, page by page searches when necessary, and keeping in mind that people are not infallible and that they can make mistakes, both in the form of enumerations and in indexing/transcribing.

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