Given Name(s) Last Name

from the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 5/15/2002

Born in the Tri-State Area—Literally

People tend to think I have researched all my dirt farming ancestors to the point where they are neat and clean and that all my lines have been traced back to the beginning of time. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Perhaps one of my biggest stumbling blocks centers on my great- grandmother, Ida May Sargent born somewhere in 1874, probably on 1 April. Information is relatively consistent in regards to her date of birth. It is her place of birth that is the problem. The problem is compounded by the fact that Ida was born at a time when civil registrations of births were not kept in any of the three states where she was possibly born.

Unfortunately I have no primary record for information on her place of birth and must rely on secondary information for information on Ida's place of birth. Many research problems are aggravated by such difficulties, especially as research progresses to earlier time periods. I would love to have a primary record of Ida's birth, but I'm not holding my breath. The earliest record I have that includes information in Ida's birth is her entry in the 1880 census, when she was approximately six years of age. This entry, which lists her as Martha instead of Ida May, indicates she was born in Iowa.

How Do I Know it is Her in the 1880 Census?
Since I wasn't there the day the 1880 census was taken, my conclusion has to be based on other records. I do, though, feel fairly confident I have the correct entry in the 1880 census for my great grandmother. In this case, it is more than just a gut feeling. There are several pieces of information obtained from other sources that allowed me to comfortably conclude the six-year-old Martha listed in the 1880 census is actually my Ida.


  • All information obtained on Ida, including official records and family sources, consistently indicate her parents were named Ira and Ellen Sargent.
  • Ida is known to have a younger sister by a few years named Ella or Ellen.
  • Court records for Ira Sargent in the early 1900s indicate he had a daughter Ida Trautvetter.
  • Ida is known to have lived in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, as a child.

    And I remember that nicknames are persistent problems in census records. I also remember that our ancestors may occasionally be listed by nicknames they never actually used (Just like I am frequently listed by a nickname [Mike] which I have never used in my entire life—it's a fine name but I do not choose to use it). I also know that our ancestors were not always asked to "check" their entries in various records and that such name variants can easily happen.

    As I tracked Ida through various other records, the places of birth were not as consistent as I had hoped. Her 1880 through 1920 census entries ( listed her as born in either Iowa or Missouri. The varying places of birth in the census, while frustrating, did not really concern or surprise me. Census records are frequently incorrect and one never knows who in the family actually gave the information to the census taker.

    So Where was Ida Born?
    I really wish I knew.

    Ida was born in many places, depending upon what record one chooses to believe:
  • Alexandria, Clark County, Missouri --- Her son John's 1937 death certificate.
  • Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois --- Her obituary and family sources.
  • Adams County, Illinois --- Ida's death certificate.
  • Iowa --- Ida's 1898 marriage to George Trautvetter.
  • Lima, Adams County, Illinois --- Ida's 1936 marriage to William Miller.

    Obviously I have a problem here. A person can only be born in physical location.

    Some analysis is necessary. The towns as not as inconsistent as one might think. This is an excellent situation where a map of the region is helpful. All the specific towns are located within close proximity of each other. Warsaw, Illinois, and Alexandria, Missouri, are across the Mississippi River from each other. Lima, Illinois, is approximately fifteen miles from Warsaw. The state of Iowa is in very close proximity as well (a visit to will confirm the relative proximity of these locations). These variant locations cannot be easily dismissed through place names changes, misspellings, or county line or boundary changes (The Mississippi does change course, but Alexandria has stayed in Missouri and Warsaw has stayed in Illinois). More work will have to be done to determine if there is an answer to this problem.

    My Theory on the Locations
    Obviously a person can only be born in one place, even if that place has had several names. My working theory is that these places likely had some significance to the family. Outright lies are possible as well. In this case, I use each new location as one more place to look for information fully cognizant that only one is Ida's real place of birth. Perhaps Ida lived in each of the places during her childhood. Perhaps one or both of Ida's parents lived in one of the places. Right now I just don't know.

    What was Going on in Their Minds?
    We do not know what went on in the mind of the informant when they were asked to provide information for a record. We also do not know exactly how the questioner posed the question either (did he really read it verbatim from the form?). Perhaps the informant interpreted the question as "where was your mother from" or "where was your mother's family from" instead of where was your mother actually born. The problem is that we cannot see or hear the actual interaction that took place between the person asking the question and the person providing the information. We only have the remaining document with the information it contains. And if the informant was not really certain of the answer, he might simply have guessed to shut the person up. After all, who would care in fifty years what the form said anyway?

    In later columns, we'll follow my work on the origins of Ida. Unfortunately as I write this I do not already have the answer lying neatly in a file folder. If the answer is available, it is in some record I have yet to discover.

    Ida's census entries can be viewed at:

    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.

    Copyright 2002, All rights reserved.

    Used by the author on his website with permission.

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