Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Down the rabbit hole...

It happens to us all. I know because I see all all of your facebook posts from time to time (lol). It's not just me, but I'll probably be the first to admit it. You get a kernel of something that smells like a lead and just keep following and following. Unfortunately, blindly following leads can end up with things exploding in your face.

I have a brick wall ancestor, just like everyone else. I have tried working on a game plan for breaking that wall but I live in a different state than that of my ancestor so it requires the long-distance method of ordering microfilm (when and where available) and relying on finding someone close to the scene who could help with locating necessary records. So inevitably, I put the problem on the back burner and tend to work on it sporadically over time. I haven't really looked at the state of things in quite some time but last week I found something that was very interesting to me. Someone on had "transcribed" a will for one William Hawkins of Guernsey County, OH who died in 1855 and the will named a daughter, Susan Braden, and a granddaughter, Mary Jane Braden. My brick wall ancestor is a woman named Mary Jane Braden and evidence suggests she was born in Ohio in March of 1838. That alone probably wouldn't be enough to draw most people in but the other teaser is that I have a document from one of her close family members identifying her as Mary Jane Hawkins and I've never been able to figure out why in the world the person used that name because he would have known from her own mouth what her maiden name had been. I have not been able to find a good candidate for Mary in the 1850 census yet and she was married in Indiana in 1855. She would have been 17 at the time of this marriage which doesn't exactly leave much room for her to have been married prior to the 1855 marriage and she didn't have another marriage after that one. So, the Hawkins document had always been a mystery.

So I started falling down the rabbit hole, chasing after Susannah Hawkins and Samuel Braden who were married in Guernsey County, OH in 1830 -- in my eyes, a good fit for a daughter to be born 8 years later. The Hawkins relative who had transcribed the will had found a Susan Braden who died in 1852 in nearby Richland County, OH and whose husband appeared to have been remarried in that county and then moved on to Noble County, Indiana with some of the children from his first marriage. Noble County isn't far from where my Mary Jane had her 1855 marriage so this would have accounted for Mary, who was born in Ohio, to be married in the Indiana border county. Things were really sounded great. Here's what I had found so far:

- an Ohio will bringing together a Mary Jane Braden and a Hawkins connection
- the same will offering parents for said granddaughter
- a same name couple found in a nearby county on Ohio census
- death of the mother, and the father remarries and moves to Indiana, near where the known 1855 marriage for my confirmed ancestor occurred

The clincher would be to find Samuel's probate in Noble County and see that he had a daughter named Mary Jane, and even better if it had her with her married name. This would have been the capper for my proof. Unfortunately, no probate file exists for Samuel in Noble County...but there was an obituary.


And that's where my bubble burst. This Noble County Samuel had indeed been the same Samuel from Ohio who married a Susannah who died in 1852. But it wasn't the Guernsey County Susannah Hawkins. It was a different Susannah, from Richland County, Ohio whom he married there in 1835. Either this is not the right Samuel, who married Susannah Hawkins in 1830, or this is the right Samuel and Susannah died less than 5 years after their marriage and Samuel would have to have moved to Richland County and met his future bride-to-be there very shortly thereafter. I'm not a fan of that last possibility but the number of Samuel Bradens to appear in the 1840 census (the first one after the Braden-Hawkins marriage in 1830) in Ohio make up a very short list and an even shorter list who were living in Guernsey -- 0 in fact. And going back to 1830, there were 0 then, too.

In any case, the bubble has been burst and I'm now pretty much back where I started. Well, with one exception. There was still a Mary Jane Braden from Ohio included in her grandfather Hawkins' 1855 will, which still brings together those two surnames that seem to surround my Mary Jane. Grandchildren were most often found in wills when one or both of the parents were dead and if her parents were dead, she could have gone anywhere; with a relative in another county or another state, or with a guardian. So I still have a lead to pursue here by finding Guernsey County, OH guardianship records, if they exist. If I can find a Mary Jane Braden listed with a guardian, I'll have a new name to look for as she should have been living with that person from the time of her parents death until, presumably, the time of her marriage. It's not much, but it's a lead afterall and that's something I didn't really have before.  I don't feel too badly about falling down this particular rabbit hole because in order to fully come up with a GPS-based conclusion you have to rule out all other possibilities before being able to say you have definitive proof for your conclusion. But I am a little down that it didn't work out. Everything seemed to fit so nicely at first. Truth be told, a little too easily and maybe that should have been my first warning. Life doesn't usually follow the easy path and people don't just fit right into slot all the time. This was my reminder.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Indexing Conundrum

I've been trying to work on a few leads for my Dellibac project lately (you can read more about that here or by clicking on the Dellibac tag) so I started a page by page search through for the Kankakee County, IL probate records for 1880-1881 to try and find an estate for Alexis Dellibac. Alexis, husband of Felicite nee Gaudreau, is thought by family members to have been the father of Moise, our current brick wall. None of this collection currently has an index, it's simply a browse page by page option, so as I was going through the pages I started to feel like I was wasting an opportunity to get at least a small part of the collection indexed since I had to go through them anyway. So I started writing down names and page numbers. Just a very simple index. I'm slightly more than halfway through the 1880-1881 book now but I'm finding some interesting things.

First, I'm finding some interesting things being recorded in the probate book. I think most of us have enough experience to know that probate books are not make up entirely of estates alone. The jurisdiction of the probate courts tends to vary from state to state, but usually they include at least estates and naturalizations but often you'll also see cases of insanity, adoption, and cases of moral charges, such as rape. All of these things have turned up in the book I'm currently looking at but a new one for me also turned up; Applications for a Certificate of Good Moral Character. Unfortunately, the two cases I've seen so far do not say what justifies the receipt of such a certificate, but apparently it involves someone nominating someone else to the court and presenting evidence that the presentation of the certificate is warranted. The court will then make a decision as whether or not they agree and if so, a certificate is awarded. I suspect we can find more information in the Illinois statutes, but so far I haven't been able to find an available version online to check. If I come across one though, I'll be sure to post any additional information that may be found.

The second issue I've encountered while going through this probate ledger is a much more common occurrence -- dealing with clerk handwriting. What do you do when the clerk's writing habits cannot help you to determine which letter is which while transcribing? Here's my example:

John Perry was nominated for a certificate of Good Moral Character by William Potter. As he appeared to the court, he gave his name with a middle initial. But is it an "H" or an "N"?


Based upon other names I've seen in the ledger, this looked like how the clerk wrote the letter "H" in the past.


But just a few pages back, I saw this:

It's clear that the clerk was not consistent in his writing habits. So using past examples to help determine whether John Perry's middle initial was "H" or "N" is going to be difficult. The "H" used for his middle initial is comparable to both the "H" used for the name Hamilton, as well as the "N" used for Northman. But the name Nathaniel is shown without the bottom loop so he has at least two ways of writing his upper case "N"s. So since John's Perry's initial is shown with that loop, I'm probably leaning more towards "H" as his middle initial. I even checked for John in Kankakee County in the 1870 and 1880 censuses on The only John Perry enumerated in Kankakee Co. in 1880 is a one year old child living with his grandparents. In 1870, there is an adult John Perry in Kankakee County, but no middle initial is shown. Thwarted again, lol!

But what are your thoughts?

[* "Illinois, Probate Records, 1819-1970," images, Familysearch ( accessed 2 July 2013), Kankakee [County], 1880-1881, volume 8, page 339 (stamped). From Kankakee County Clerk's Office, Kankakee.
**"Illinois, Probate Records, 1819-1970," images, Familysearch ( accessed 2 July 2013), Kankakee [County], 1880-1881, volume 8, page 315 (stamped). From Kankakee County Clerk's Office, Kankakee.
***"Illinois, Probate Records, 1819-1970," images, Familysearch ( accessed 2 July 2013), Kankakee [County], 1880-1881, volume 8, page 317 (stamped). From Kankakee County Clerk's Office, Kankakee.]