we left the Smith family at the poor farm (see
article here). Their entries on the poor house register hinted at
their relationship, but like most records more questions were raised
than were answered. This week we learn that there was more to the Smith
family than their time spent at the poor farm.
farm was only the beginning of our research. An exhaustive search of
birth, marriage, death, census, probate, and court records for Mercer
County, Illinois, was necessary to determine the family structure as
accurately as possible. Noticeably lacking from the entries were any
male members of the Smith family. This included Philip Smith, father of
all the Smith children. While he was not admitted to the poor farm,
Philip was the connection that the two women, Sarah Smith and Nancy
Kile shared with all eight Smith children. But it did not begin at the
In 1860, Philip Smith and Sarah McIntosh married in Mercer County. The
couple eventually had several children, including the four young girls
who were later admitted with Sarah Smith to the county poor farm. By
approximately 1864, Philip had met Nancy Kile. This relationship also
resulted in Smith children, including the ones who were admitted with
Nancy Kile to the poor farm in 1875. In 1870, Philip, both women and
all the children are enumerated in one household in Keithsburg, Mercer
County, Illinois. The census enumeration lists the children
"separately" as does the poor house register, hinting that there are
children for Sarah and children for Nancy.
records on Philip's children indicate he had children with Sarah and
with Nancy. The only contemporary record clearly showing that Philip
and Nancy were the parents of a child is a birth certificate for their
daughter Jenny, where they are listed by name as the parents. Their
relationship is also evidenced by an 1873 court case where they are
jointly charged on a morals charge and serve jail time.
What Was Helpful In
Solving This Case?
This family structure was not ironed out in five minutes. The
difficulty was in determining which female was the mother of what
children. There were several things that were helpful in this situation.
Court and estate records were particularly helpful in this case,
although one typically does not think of residents of the poor farm as
leaving behind many other types of records. As mentioned, court records
indicate Philip and Nancy had a relationship. Court records involving
the settlement of the estate of Nancy Kile's father were also helpful
in determining which Smith children were alive in 1899 when that estate
Census work was an integral part of this problem. Many of the children
were not living with their parents in 1880. Fortunately most of them
were enumerated with the last name of Smith in the 1880 census, the
first one after their departure from the poor farm. They could have
easily been enumerated with the last name of their adopted family. When
performing my census work, I found it helpful to list for each census
year of each child's name, approximate year of birth, approximate age,
and potential nicknames. Organizing my online searches of the census
Keep in mind that for much of American history, adoptions and name
changes were informal. While none of the Smith children were legally
adopted, at least one occasionally used the surname of her adopted
parents as her own. Philip and Nancy's daughter, Jenny, used Smith and
Kile as her maiden name. She is also listed in some records as having
the maiden name of Brownson, the last name of the family who raised her.
After the family left the poor farm, they spread out around the county.
Maps of all the areas involved were especially necessary as I continued
to trace the children through census, vital, and other records.
Keeping a timeline in mind is always an excellent genealogical tool,
especially when the family structure challenges the researcher.
Remaining constantly aware of the order in which events took place (and
not the order in which I found them) is crucial.
I was hesitant to perform data entry as the research progressed. In the
early stages of the research I was uncertain which woman was the mother
of what children. (Sometimes my opinion would change from day to day.) Compounding the issue was
the fact that there was another Philip Smith marriage in Mercer County
in 1855 to Nancy Jane Ferguson. Was it the same Philip Smith? Some of
the records on the known Philip Smith's older children seem to indicate
that Sarah was not their mother and that this Nancy (not Nancy Kile)
might have been the mother of some of his older children. I found it
easiest to analyze each child separately while trying to reach a
conclusion about who was the mother of what children. Vital records and
census were used in my attempts to assign children to the correct
relationship. I found it easiest to perform this analysis on paper
before entering any of the family structure into my database.
Not Jump to Conclusions
In a situation like this, it is very easy to jump to conclusions before
all the research has been conducted. It can also be tempting to make
assumptions and operate under those assumptions. Incorrect assumptions
can make a frustrating research situation even more so.
One Last Thing
There's one last detail that was not immediately discovered. Sarah
Smith's maiden name was not McIntosh; she was a widow when she married.
Sarah McIntosh Smith's maiden name was Kile and she had known Philip's
friend Nancy Kile long before either of them ever knew Philip Smith.
Sarah Smith and Nancy Kile had more in common than their relationship
with Philip Smith--they were also sisters. One never knows what lingers
under the stone until one turns it over.
want to view the atypical 1870 census entry for the Smith family can do so here.
Join Michael at the Allen County Library
Michael will be the trip genealogist for the eighth annual Family
History Research Trip to the Allen County Public Library, sponsored by
the St. Charles County, Missouri, Genealogical Society. The trip will
include morning presentations (before the library opens), pre-trip
planning assistance, on-site assistance, and more. It is not necessary
to live in the St. Charles area to be a part of our group. More
information is available
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 email@example.com or
visit his website at: www.rootdig.com/,
but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.