Given Name(s) Last Name

From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 7/23/2003

Crossing the State Line

Drivers who cross the state line are subject to slightly different laws, of which they must be aware. Genealogists who attempt to cross the state lines with their ancestors hundreds of years after the fact must also be aware. Chase your ancestors too fast in a new state and you won't get arrested, but you might get "busted" for shoddy genealogy methods and hasty research.

1840-1860 Federal census records for Levi Rhodes indicate an approximate birth of about 1795 in Tennessee. Levi is known to have migrated to Missouri and possibly Iowa based upon various census enumerations through 1870. The eventual goal was to trace Levi back into Tennessee and hopefully to locate earlier generations of the family. However research in the more recent areas of residence should be completed before an attempt is made to work on earlier eras in the family's life.

While census records are occasionally erroneous, they at least provide a starting point. Levi was located in Missouri in 1840 through 1850. While the entries are in three different counties, the following methods of analysis allowed us to be reasonably certain we have the same person.

  • A search of statewide census indexes for Levi Rhodes and reasonable spelling variants.
  • An actual viewing of all Levi Rhodes census entries to compare and contrast them with other records.
  • Use of maps and county boundary histories to determine the plausibility of any moves between census enumerations.

    Levi was located in the following federal censuses:

    1860 Macon County, Missouri
    1850 Scotland County, Missouri
    1840 Lewis County, Missouri

    Grab the First Levi?
    Not quite. Our analysis was easier as the name combination was not overly common. However, entries for other Levi Rhodes were analyzed in order to eliminate them from the list of possibilities.

    Clues to Moving
    By its nature, the 1840 census did not provide the migration clues obtained from the later census records. The post-1840 enumerations, given their inclusion of all of the family members, their ages, and places of birth, are more helpful in a variety of ways. Based upon the 1850 and 1860 data, the family likely moved from Tennessee to Missouri between 1832 and 1836. Given that this year span was obtained from census ages and places of births, it is subject to revision based upon what is located in other records.

    Where is Levi in 1830?
    Based upon the enumerations already located for Levi, our search for him begins in Tennessee in 1840. Fortunately, there was only one Levi Rhodes in Tennessee in 1830—a listing in Hawkins County. Our search was conducted using Soundex—we did not just search for Rhodes spelled that exact way. After all, we did not want to eliminate possible spellings of Roads, Rodes, etc.

    Does this mean we just assume we have the right guy?

    No, it does not. We need to make certain this entry's information fits into the information we have already located for Levi.

    So we compare the 1830 enumeration of a Levi in Hawkins County, Tennessee, with the enumerations for the known Levi. The ages and number of children were consistent with Levi's known Missouri census enumerations. The ages of the oldest male in the household (presumably Levi) and oldest female in the household (presumably his wife) were also consistent with the Missouri enumerations. While this problem was more easily solved given the unusual nature of the name, one could not just immediately assume the Hawkins County, Tennessee, Levi was the same one who later appears in the various Missouri censuses.

    Oops—Where is Levi in 1870?

    I realized that I had not located Levi in the 1870 census. An entry that appears to be the Levi in question is for a Levi M. Rhodes enumerated in Van Buren County, Iowa, where some of Levi's grandchildren were born. Reference to a map indicates Van Buren County, Iowa, is in southeastern Iowa along the Iowa-Missouri border and not all that far from the Missouri counties where Levi is enumerated in 1840-1860 censuses. This middle initial will prove helpful later.

    Beginning Work in Tennessee
    While on a recent trip to the Allen County Public Library, I decided to see if I could locate any information on the Rhodes family in Hawkins County, Tennessee. The book, "Hawkins County, Tennessee Chancery Court Records 1825-1825," provided a reference to a Levi M. Rhodes. This was an exciting connection as the known Levi is enumerated as Levi M. Rhodes in 1870.

    Several references are made to a late 1820s lawsuit wherein Levi M. Rhodes is suing Samuel Rhodes, John and Elizabeth Wilfly, George Rhodes, Harry Rhodes, Thomas Rhodes, Wm. Rhodes, and Levi Rhodes. The book mentions when the case is heard before the court and when it is eventually dismissed. The precise reason Levi is suing the individuals is not mentioned.

    Why are they not mentioned? Is there an error in the book? Not in this case. The book I was using is apparently a transcription of the court journal indicating what cases are being heard at each session of the court. The first mention of the case is in the May 1828 term. The judge dismisses the case on 3 November 1829.

    What is Going on?
    Based simply on the references in the court journal, I'm tempted to say there was some type of disagreement over an estate or a piece of real property. That is usually what is happening when a court case involves a group of people and many have the same last name.

    I Made a Mistake and Learned a Lesson
    Also while at the Allen County Public Library, I located a book of land abstracts for the time Levi was in Hawkins County. When copying from printed books with an index, I am in the habit of copying the title page and the section of the index containing the names I want. I then use this index page as a guide when copying individual pages from the book. Upon returning home, I realized I had forgotten to copy the land abstract page containing a reference to Levi Rhodes. While I was highly irritated, I was glad I had copied the index page. If I had not, I might never have realized I neglected to copy a specific page out of the book. Next time I'll be certain to compare my copied pages with the copied index pages to make certain I have not omitted any pages from my copying.

    What Now?
    I'll have to get the references to Levi from the land record abstract book. I also need to learn about the court records in Hawkins County, Tennessee. After all, if the case is mentioned in the court journals, there were at one time loose papers regarding the case. Those papers will contain more information and may help me to learn why Levi was suing the other individuals, and if they were related.

    Here are a few reminders from our searches for Levi in Tennessee:

  • Don't just grab the first name that matches. Check all possible reasonable matches in the area and eliminate them systematically.

  • Make logical connections.

  • Fit as many pieces together as possible. Realize that some pieces may not fit, but make note of the fact that they do not fit.

  • Research the most recent era first.

  • Make certain you have copied everything you needed.

    Copyright 2003, Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the
    Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

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