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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 8/2/2000

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Finding and Losing My Woman

A few "spare hours" while at the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana afforded me some time to work on one of my "oldest" problems: an ancestor whose only official existence is on an 1880 census.

Ellen Sargent is listed in the 1880 Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois Federal Census with her husband, Ira, and her two children. I have searched local records exhaustively. Since I had little on Ellen at home, I decided to start my search from scratch at the library.

I located the family again in the census and made a new copy. The microfilm I viewed was of a better quality than the film I had originally viewed. Ellen's entry indicates she was born ca. 1857 in Missouri, with parents born in Michigan. Ellen's daughters (per the census) were born in Iowa ca. 1874 and in Illinois ca. 1876. Marriage records on Ellen's daughters indicated her maiden name was Butler.

Too Many Butlers!
Ideally, I would locate Ellen with her family in the 1860 census, most likely in Missouri (assuming her age and birthplace from the 1880 census is correct). Missouri and Iowa are where the search should focus initially. Looking at every Butler family in Missouri and Iowa is not a quick process.

I decided to take another approach. The library had an index to the 1870 Missouri and Iowa censuses. These indexes listed the heads of household (and others living in the household with different surnames) along with the birthplace of the individuals listed in the index. I decided I would look at each entry where the individual listed indicated he (or she) was born in Michigan. Fortunately, there were not many Butlers with a Michigan birthplace listed in the 1870 Missouri or Iowa census indexes. Viewing the actual census entries did not locate any references to a possible Ellen born ca. 1857.

Suggestion: In my research log, I should indicate what families I looked at in the census, how they were chosen, and why I decided their entries did not warrant researching the families further. In this case, copies of the census pages were made because it saved time.

The 1870 Missouri and Iowa census indexes were also analyzed for Butlers with a first name of Ellen. I located a potential candidate in the 1870 Iowa Census Index. There was an Ella Butler, aged 13, born in Missouri. She was listed in the index as living in Monroe Township, Madison County, Iowa. The age and birthplace were an exact match to my Ellen—but the first name was a variant. While I was excited, I still had a long way to go.

I quickly located the census entry for Ella. The entry, dated 30 June 1870, listed:

    Erastus Comstock, aged 61, farm laborer, born Connecticut
    Frances Blush, aged 34, house keeper, born New York
    Sarah Blush, aged 12, at school, born Illinois
    Ella Butler, aged 13, at school, born Missouri
    Charles Blush, aged 4, born Kansas

The family structure was not clear, and there were several possibilities. For now, my working premise was that Erastus was the father of Frances and that Frances was the mother or stepmother of the children listed in the household.

The library had patron Internet access, so I quickly searched for Erastus Comstock at and in a few other major databases. I chose Erastus as my search term because I did not think the name was very common.

After a few minutes of searching, I hit on a Web page that appeared to list the descendants of the same Erastus Comstock. While the page could contain errors, I decided to use it as a starting point on researching this family.

The Web page for the family indicated that Erastus was born ca. 1810 and that his wife, Lucinda, died in 1861. It also indicated that this couple had a daughter, Frances, who was married to a Nathan Butler in 1854 and to a Daniel Blush in 1864. I was starting to see how this potentially fit in with the family in the census.

Of course, none of the individuals were born in Michigan like MY Ellen Butler had indicated her parents were. However, some of the info on the site indicated that the family had spent time in Wisconsin and Michigan. If my Ellen was this Ella, perhaps all the moving had confused about regarding her parents' origins.

Off to
Armed with the likely names of Frances' husbands, I decided to locate them in the census in an attempt to find further information on the family and, I hoped, to more concretely tie my Ellen into this family. From what I had learned about the family, it was clear that they had moved quite a bit. I was hurried (it was near the library's closing time) and decided that instead of looking in several statewide print census indexes, I would search the AIS Census Indexes using The wonderful thing about an account at is that you can access it anywhere you can access the Internet.

In less than five minutes, I had performed several searches for Nathan Butler (or Buttler, Butter, etc.) and Daniel Blush (and Plush). I could perform the search for ALL states at once instead of locating each index manually on the shelves and having to wait in the copy line or transcribe the entries by hand.

I simply printed out the results of my searches of the AIS census indexes for Nathan Butler and Daniel Plush and went off to the rolls of census microfilm. The printed pages were an excellent way to track my research, as I had a significant amount of my "research log" already printed out for me.

While the census indexes at were an excellent help, the individuals I located in the AIS Census indexes were not the ones I was looking for. I knew this based on family structure, ages, and birthplaces. However, the very nice thing about the pages I printed from the Web site was that my search terms were printed out on my pages. This allowed me to later re-analyze the pages and determine if I overlooked any possible variants, neglected to perform a Soundex-based search, etc. It was still no guarantee that I would find the correct people, but it made the tracking of my research easier and increased the chance that I would complete an accurate and complete research log when I got home.

Don't Put the Cart Ahead of the Horse
There was information on the Web site on earlier members of the Comstock family, but it was still too early in my research to spend time researching that family extensively. Locating a genealogy of the Comstock family could indicate whether or not the Ella in question was mine, but researching Erastus's parents and grandparents was premature at this point.

Nuckolls County, Nebraska?
Information on the Web page for Erastus indicated that many members of the family eventually settled in Nuckolls County, Nebraska. The Allen County Public Library had some state census records on microfilm, and fortunately, it had the 1885 census for Nebraska. I located the entry for Erastus Comstock in Elk Precinct. He was listed with Charlie and Lonora Blush, who were named as his grandchildren.

I went back to the terminal and quickly got to the USGenWeb page for Nuckolls County to see if it had any information that might help me in my search, i.e., marriage information. It did, but unfortunately, it indicated that Ella Butler married William Dudley in 1873. A quick scan of the information indicated that Charles Blush had also married in that county. It seemed like I had another dead end.

What Do I Still Need To Do?
To completely close the case, I need to follow up and make certain that Ella Butler Dudley did not become Ellen Sargent. The date of her marriage in Nebraska makes this very unlikely (my Ellen was having children with Ira Sargent in 1874). However, for complete closure, I should locate some information that indicates that Ella and William Dudley were living as wife and husband in 1880 when MY Ellen was living in Illinois with Ira Sargent. However, the library closed before I could search for William Dudley in the 1880 Nebraska Soundex.

I should also go back and slowly read over the material I collected, just in case I missed something in my hurry to learn more about my own Ellen Butler.

Points to Ponder

    1) Sometimes starting from scratch works—although this time it did not.

    2) Accessing information via the Internet may be helpful in places besides your home.

    3) Do not "hog" the computers in a remote library location—my searches were quick and to the point (practice searching at home if necessary, and do any searches you can at home before going to the library).

    4) The Web pages of other genealogists can be very helpful. I was extremely fortunate in this case that the page I found contained significant detail and appeared to be accurate, but this is not always the case. I used clues contained on the Web page in an attempt to learn more about the family, rather than simply trying to make my family fit into the Web page.

I was disappointed that I had not really located my Ellen. But the "rush" of the potential match was exciting nonetheless. Maybe next time . . .

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.

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Used by the author on his website with permission

Michael John Neill's articles from the Ancestry Daily News