From the Ancestry
My Christmas Present (I Hope!)
We all have our brick walls. If we didn't we wouldn't spend time reading how to articles on genealogy websites and e-zines (grin). In this last "Beyond the Index" column for 2005, I'll discuss my biggest brick wall in hopes that I'll get a genealogy Christmas present this year. I have been reasonably well-behaved, but I'm not holding my breath on getting an answer to this genealogical question for Christmas. However, perhaps my plan of attack will generate some ideas for you as you try to knock down some of your own brick walls.
I am doubtful an actual birth record for this child exists. The first (and only) documented record of Ellen's existence is an 1880 census enumeration in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois. She and her husband (William Ira Sargent) parted ways in the 1880s and she was never heard from again. Whether she left the family or died is not known. This is a family where there are more questions than answers.
How Accurate is My Information on Ellen?
Her maiden name may be not entirely correct either as it came from her children long after Ellen had apparently left the scene. On her daughters three separate marriage applications, Ellen's maiden name is listed as Butler, with variations of Florence Ellen provided as her given name. The consistency of the information the daughters provided does not mean they were correct--it just means that someone told them the same thing. Given how long they were around their mother, their knowledge of her is likely secondhand. This caveat about the accuracy of Ellen's maiden name does not mean that the maiden name I have for her is incorrect. It is just that the consistency of the last name does not automatically prove the name is right.
What Little I Know
What Should I Do?
Records of divorce have been searched in the same counties where marriage records have been accessed but the search is far from complete. So far I've had no luck. It just might be that my circle has not been drawn wide enough. Or it could be that Ellen never divorced Ira or even remarried.
If Ellen's mid-1880 departure was the result of her death, then there could be a record of that event as well. Illinois was recording deaths at the county level in the 1880s, but it was still early in the recording process and a death could easily have been overlooked and gone unrecorded, especially one far from the county seat. Given that the family moved frequently, records in bordering counties should be checked as well.
Death recording procedures in Missouri and Iowa should be learned to see if records were even being kept during this time period. There is a chance of a death notice or an obituary. Newspapers for the area would have to be manually searched between the 1880 census enumeration and Ira's second marriage in 1886. The most likely newspaper to carry her death notice (the one in Warsaw, Illinois) does not have any index to obituaries for this time period. It may be time for me to manually search this weekly paper for any mention of the family.
Regardless of what happened, Ellen's husband Ira married again in nearby Adams County, Illinois, in 1886. The marriage record provides no clue as to whether Ira was widowed or divorced at the time of his marriage. If Ellen were dead then a divorce would not have been necessary. It is also possible that Ellen was alive at the time of Ira's 1886 marriage, and that she and Ira just never bothered to get divorced.
My attempts to locate Ellen after her 1880 census enumeration have failed. It may be time to try and work on her life before the 1880 census enumeration. Here I have not had much luck concretely tying my 1880 Ellen to an earlier person of the same name. This has led me to wonder?
Is Her Maiden Name Really Butler?
The Family from which She Came
Get Off the Computer
And maybe I should ask myself some questions:
I also find that thinking about the research problem away from all my paper is an excellent idea as well. This allows me to brainstorm and just write down ideas that come to mind. Some may be immediately crossed off later as unrealistic, but the concept of thinking about our problem away from all the paper and all the forms (and the computer) may allow us to break out of a mold that may be adding to the problem.
Also writing about your problem (as I have this week about Ellen) may help you to solve your own problem or to see alternate search options that have not been considered.
Hopefully Santa gives me an answer to this dilemma for Christmas 2005. If so, you'll be certain to read about it early in 2006. If not, you'll see periodic updates as I continue my search for Ellen and her family.
Here's wishing all my regular readers a Happy Holidays and hoping that 2006 greets you with solutions to your own genealogical puzzles. Just remember that rarely does the answer fall directly into your lap!
Michael John Neill will be speaking at the following upcoming events:
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) www.fgs.org. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2005, MyFamily.com.