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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 1/4/2006

Christmas Brick Wall Follow-up

Thanks to all the readers who tried to help Santa with my Christmas present. Your suggestions, comments, search results, and encouragement were very much appreciated. This week we follow up on the "My Christmas Present" article by discussing some of the suggestions that were sent.

Finding My Own Stuff
Part of the problem with this family is that I have been searching for Ellen for over twenty years. I have submitted information on her to many places. As a result, some searches of online databases result in "hits" for information I originally submitted. There is no way around this if we hope to promote our own research problems. However, those of us who are stuck keep posting messages and submitting what we know in hopes that eventually we are contacted by a relative who knows more than we do.

For those of you who missed my last column, in a nutshell I am looking for information on an Ellen (Butler) Sargent, who lived with her husband Ira William Sargent in Warsaw, Illinois, in 1880 and was born ca. 1856 in Missouri. She had two children, Ida and Ella. That pretty much sums up what I know about her. Readers submitted at least two potential Ellens.

An Ellen Butler Gets Married

Several readers sent in an entry from the Illinois State Marriage Index:

Ellen Sargent married H. S. Chadwick in Adams Co, IL in 1887.

It seemed like a very promising lead given the name and year of marriage. Unfortunately when this Ellen Sargent Chadwick was further traced in later records, it became apparent that she was not the same Ellen Sargent who was living with Ira in 1880 and was the mother of Ida and Ella Sargent. However, she should not immediately be ignored either.

In the 1880 Adams County, Illinois census there is an Ellen Sargent listed, presumably the same one who later married H. S. Chadwick (and hopefully not the same one living with Ira Sargent about forty miles north in Warsaw!). In this 1880 enumeration, Ellen has children living in her household named Willie, Sarah and Alta. Willie most likely is a diminutive for the actual name of William. The 1880 census for these three children indicates their father (a Sargent) was born in Canada. Interestingly enough, this is where my Ellen Butler Sargent's husband was born. It may mean nothing or it may mean something. Research should continue on these children in attempt to learn the name of their father and to determine if there is any connection to my Ellen's husband, Ira William. Even though I wasn't technically working on Ira, it could be that learning more about him may result in more information on Ellen.

An Ellen Butler Lives in the Area
There is an Ellen Butler living in Lewis County, Missouri, in 1870, enumerated as age thirteen. The age is close enough to be consistent with the age of Ellen Butler Sargent in 1880 and within a reasonable distance as well. The 1870 Ellen Butler is enumerated as a thirteen year old, black, and living with her parents Strother and Hester Butler. Racial designations are not always accurate and can vary from one enumeration to another so that does not immediately eliminate the 1870 Ellen. What does seem to eliminate this Ellen Butler from consideration is the fact that in 1885 a twenty-eight year old Ellen Butler Dade of Monticello, Missouri, gives birth to a baby boy (located in the Missouri State Archives pre-1910 Birth Index). Monticello is listed as the post office address of the 1870 Ellen Butler. I will keep the information I have located on this Ellen in my files, but for now she does not seem to be a likely candidate.

But, But What if She Wasn't a Butler?
Several readers correctly indicated an additional possibility with regards to Ellen's maiden name of Butler. Ellen could have been married before her marriage to Ira Sargent and Butler might have been the surname of a previous husband of Ellen, instead of being her maiden name--just one more possibility. Another scenario is that her maiden name was something similar to Butler instead of actually being Butler. This brings us to Ellen Butts.

In 1870, there is an Ella Butts aged fourteen, born in Missouri, living in the household of an A. J. Butts in Vernon Township, Clark County, Missouri. In the 1860 census, there is an Ellen Butler, aged six living in the household of A. J. Butts in Alexandria, Missouri. A township map of Clark County, Missouri indicated that Vernon Township is fairly small and does contain the village of Alexandria. Alexandria is across the Mississippi River from Warsaw, Illinois, where my Ellen is enumerated in 1880. The geography is a good "match." The main concern with this entry is that the surname is not Butler, but it is similar (Remember that my knowledge of the surname Butler comes from information Ellen‘s daughters provided long after Ellen "disappeared," so it may not be entirely accurate). The birth place of A. J. Butts is Kentucky (remember my Ellen in 1880 said her parents were born in Michigan). However, I am hesitant to ignore this family simply based upon a place of birth obtained from one census enumeration. While the last name is different, it is reasonably similar.

One quick thing I did was to locate A. J. Butts in the 1880 census. Fortunately for me, there is not an unmarried daughter Ellen living in the household. My continued research on this Butts family will continue in the following fashion:

  • Search message boards for Clark County, Missouri and the Butts family for relevant postings and considering posting messages myself (via and if the message board postings are not directed to the county mailing lists, then I will consider subscribing a posting a message to the appropriate county mailing lists as well (via Those wishing to learn more about boards and posting can read Juliana's earlier article on being "energy efficient."
  • Locate probate or estate information for A. J. Butts. Records of A. J.'s estate (if available) would help in determining if there is a connection with my family. My search for this information should begin at the county level and these records also may have been microfilmed by either the Missouri State Archives or the Family History Library. Ancestry's Red Book or the Family History Library's Research Guide for Missouri would be helpful in learning more about local records in Missouri.
  • Locate an obituary for A. J. Butts.
  • If information on A. J. is unavailable or inconclusive, continue by searching for obituaries and other information on his likely children as enumerated in census records.

Important Reminders:

As various individuals and families are eliminated from consideration, retain that information. Keep the information located and also include a summary of why you think that person or family is not the right one. You may later realize your initial conclusion was incorrect, either because you have learned more about research or the family you are researching. It may be that someone who was not a brother or a sister was actually a cousin, an aunt or an uncle. At the very least, you do not want to re-search the same person several times anew only to reach the same conclusion.

If you do not have maps of the area where your ancestor lived, get them. Make copies. Use them. Highlight areas where your ancestor lived.

Expand My Circle
If the families I have located do not connect with mine, then I should continue expanding my research circle. So far, my radius has not gotten very large and I am still within a reasonable distance of where my family was known to have lived.

Change One Thing
If you knew that one "fact" about your ancestor was incorrect, would it change how you searched? If you are having difficulties locating a certain person in a certain record, cross off one thing you "know" about them and see if you would search differently. It might be possible that one thing you think is correct is not.

Hopefully we will have an update on Ellen in a future column. Unfortunately she is a work in progress and I don't already have the answer sitting in my files waiting for next week's deadline!

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 currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) He conducts seminars and lectures nationally 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.

Michael John Neill will be speaking at the following upcoming events:

  • Lee County Genealogy Workshop, Ft. Myers, Florida,
    28 January 2006
  • Genealogy Computing Workshops, Galesburg, Illinois,
    6-11 March 2006
  • Research Trip to Salt Lake City Utah,
    17-24 May 2006

Copyright 2005,

Michael's Other How to Genealogy Articles