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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 3/15/2006

Relating Relationships

Last week 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.

The poor 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 poor farm.

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.

Later vital 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.

  • Searching Completely
    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 was settled.
  • 1880 and Beyond?
    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 was necessary.
  • What Name?
    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.
  • Geography
    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.
  • Chronology
    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.
  • Delaying Data Entry
    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.
  • Do 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.

Readers who 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 here.

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.

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