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from the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill 5/8/2002

More Born in Tiogeeeee . . . Follow Up

Last week's article on my paternal grandmother's place of birth generated a great deal of reader response. In brief, all primary data collected on Grandma's birth indicated she was born in Elderville, Wythe Township, Hancock County, Illinois. All records where Grandma was the informant indicated her birth in Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois.


The Metropolis of Elderville
There's not even a building in Elderville anymore. As several readers pointed out, Grandma really wasn't born in Elderville anyway. Grandma's birth was likely one of millions that took place on an outlying farm. Birth certificates for those born in rural areas are rarely specific enough to list an "exact" place of birth (such as: the birth took place in the southwest quarter of section five in Wythe Township). Elderville likely was the town nearest to where the family lived in 1910 (the year of Grandma's birth) or possibly their post office address at that time. In some cases, the doctor might not have remembered where the birth took place and might have "guessed" as best he could.

Where Are These Places?
Elderville and Tioga, Illinois, can both be located on Mapquest. Readers who perform such a search will see that we are talking about a rural area of the state.

Maps of any region where family members lived are always helpful. In this case, there is an online map showing the townships in Hancock County, Illinois. Tioga (where Grandma said she was born) is in Walker township, directly south of Wythe Township (listed on the "official" records for Grandma's birth). Tioga is about a mile north of the Hancock County-Adams County line. Thankfully in this case there's no debate about the county of birth. is another good place for locating places. Both villages can easily be located using the search interface.



At the 1:50,000 scale, the section numbers of the township are clearly shown in red. Readers who are familiar with the area or who took a look at the map may realize that there is not as much discrepancy between the two locations as one might think. Land and tax records for my grandmother's parents in 1910 should provide the exact location of their farm. This would not be proof of where Grandma was born, but if the farm is located in southern Wythe Township, it would even be closer to Tioga than the village of ELderville.

Did Grandma Mean She was Born "in" Tioga?
When Grandma said she was born "in Tioga," I never thought she meant in the town itself. And I never asked her "just exactly how close to Tioga?" she meant. Even if I had asked such a question, it might not have been possible for her to be specific. Just how close to Tioga Grandma meant I'm not certain. She might not have been either.

Did They Know Where They Were Living?
Obviously the family knew how to get to their home, but the names people sometimes use to refer to their residence may appear inconsistent. In some cases, they may refer to former names by which the location had been known. A certain area of a county, a township, or a city may be referred to by a former name or a nickname by some residents. As a result, this nickname for the location, perhaps known only to locals or "old-timers," may be used on various official records even though the place is no longer listed on any modern map.

Did They List A Nearby Large Town?
While not the case in Grandma's situation, some individuals may not give their actual place of birth. Instead, they may use the name of a nearby larger village or town, one more likely to be known by those not familiar with the area. I even do this myself. If someone from within ten or fifteen miles of where I live asks where I live, I'll give them the name of the town. If it's someone from within the state of Illinois, but outside our "local area" I'll tell them I live near Galesburg or a short distance from Moline, depending upon where I'm at. To others, I'll say two hours west of Chicago. It is easier than explaining the precise location to those not familiar with our local geography. I have several ancestors, especially those who were immigrants, who did the same thing on various records when listing their foreign place of birth or origin. Several listed their place of birth on some records not as the actual village in which they were born, but instead listed the county seat.

Grandma's Knowledge of Her Birth
Grandma is no longer living, so I can't ask her how she knew she was born in Tioga. Either her parents or another relative told her, or she just assumed it to be true. However she obtained the knowledge, she did not learn it from her own experience. If several different family members (old enough to reasonably have first hand knowledge of the event) had told her the same thing, one could lend more credence to the Tioga place of birth. Of course, the secondary nature of Grandma's knowledge of her place of birth does not necessarily mean the place of birth she listed was incorrect. Indicating that a clue or piece of information is secondary does not mean the information is incorrect. It just means her knowledge of her place of birth was not first hand. If Grandma were alive, I could ask her how she knew she was born at Tioga. If I had asked her how she knew, she could thought that I was getting "uppity" or a "little big for my britches" and left the question unanswered. One sometimes has to watch how far one pushes one's questions.

It is worth remembering that if my knowledge of an event is secondary there is always the possibility that the primary source (either a document or a person) was intentionally incorrect. I don't think Grandma lied about her place of birth or that the person who told her lied to her. But I have seen cases where secondary sources were intentionally wrong, frequently to obscure the facts or make it impossible to find out the "real story."

Born at A Relative's House?

An expectant mother may stay with relatives in the later stages of her pregnancy and give birth to the child at that location instead of her actual residence. While this is a possibility in this case, I have no evidence (either on paper or from family lore) to support the "birth at a neighbor's" theory. The father had relatives who lived closer to Tioga, but the mother did not. In this case, the primary paper evidence (the birth record, the christening record, and the family's known 1910 residence) are all consistent with a birth in Wythe Township.

Some will fault me, but I'm going with the Wythe Township as Grandma's place of birth unless I locate some other record to the contrary. My reasoning basically boils down to the fact that all the "original" sources are consistent. If they were not consistent the situation would be different. The Tioga information obtained from Grandma's marriage and death records will be clearly referenced in my notes. The upside to this situation is that all my work to "reconcile" the differences has lead me to more information on the family and their life around the time of Grandma's birth. And isn't that the goal of family history?

Is it a Big Deal in This Case?
Probably not. The names of Grandma's parents are not in question and the birth locations that I have are not all that different. In my case, Grandma's birth place is not a great genealogical mystery. Next week we'll look at my paternal grandmother's mother, born in 1874. This woman was born in Illinois, Iowa, or Missouri, depending upon which record one chooses to believe!


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 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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