Tag Archives: Hall

A Birthday Celebration

Several days after Nancy (Stilley) Hall of Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas celebrated her seventieth birthday on 19 June 1889, a large crowd of family members and friends gathered to honor her.1 A warm account of the affair was printed in the Gypsum Advocate:

A Birthday Social

Last Saturday evening about the time the Sun was taking its good night leave, and later on, a good many persons were seen wending their way toward the west part of the city. The residence of E. D. Hall seemed to be the objective point. After about seventy persons had gathered there, consisting of the aged, the middleaged [sic], youths and children Mrs. Nancy Hall was congratulated on having reached the alloted [sic] years of three score and ten. She is still blessed with reasonably good health and clearness of mind. Mrs. Hall came to this Valley 20 years ago when there were but few settlers in it. She was a widow with 8 children, but two of them boys, aged 9 and 15 years, viz E. D. and John Hall. She located on a quarter section 4 miles south of this city with but one or two settlers in sight. The five daughters that came with her to Kansas, now all married and in good and comfortable circumstances, to wit; Mrs. Wm. Stahl, Mrs. McCance, Mrs. Hoffman, Mrs. Gaultney, and Mrs. Geo. Miller were present and most all of their children. Mrs. H. has 8 children, 33 grandchildren and 4 Great grand children. The other portion of the assembly was composed of members of the baptist church of which Mrs. H. has long been a member, and neighbors and acquaintances. Elder Stitt made an address very appropriate to the time and occasion. Several suitabl [sic] gifts were made Mrs. Hall and presented by Mr. Amos, who alluded to the fact that they came mostly from dutiful and grateful children who knew and appreciated her best. Mrs. Hall very feelingly expressed her thanks and gratitude for the evidence and indications of respect that had been shown her. A bountiful supper was served by the daughters and grand daughters. The baptist chior [sic] furnished good music and singing. The occasion was a pleasant one and will long be remembered, as celebrating the 70th birthday of Mrs. Nancy Hall.2

Pioneer Mother Memorial (Kansas City, Kansas) by Chris Murphy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Nancy had indeed ventured from Illinois to Kansas in 1869 as a fifty-year-old widow, and in 1872, she filed for a one hundred and sixty acre homestead nestled against that of the expansive cattle ranch of author and historical figure Frank Wilkeson.3 With the help of her children, she settled into life as a Kansas pioneer at her home near Hobbs Creek, where she farmed crops including wheat, corn, and oats and looked out from her homestead upon a view of the rolling plains.4 She was likely a charter member of the First Baptist Church of Gypsum, the choir of which provided musical entertainment at her birthday celebration.5

Nancy died nine years later due to an accidental fall from a buggy.6 The Gypsum Advocate reported at that time that “Grandma Hall” was “a general favorite with young and old.”7

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

The Unexpected Witness: An Application of a Woman Homesteader

I was intrigued when I learned that one of my ancestors had homesteaded as a widowed woman on the Kansas frontier. After reviewing a copy of her homestead application, I was further intrigued to find that, as fascinating as her experience as a homesteader must have been, the application itself contained clues to another story.

When Nancy (Stilley) Hall of Washington County, Illinois ventured to Kansas in 1869 at the age of fifty, she had her mind set on land.1 She had lost three husbands and would not marry again; land would provide the stability needed on the frontier. The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed any head of household over the age of twenty-one to claim one hundred and sixty acres, and women—single, divorced, or widowed—were therefore eligible.2

By the summer of 1872, having become familiar with the area, Nancy chose to settle in Gypsum Township, Saline County, Kansas.3 There, she claimed her quarter section of land and dutifully filed her homestead application at the Salina Land Office.4

After reviewing a Saline county plat map courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society, I turned to Google Maps for a glimpse of Nancy’s former land, located along the winding Gypsum Creek:

Although just five years of residency were required for one to file the deed on a homestead, it was seven years before Nancy submitted her proof of residency.5 As was typical, this was provided in the form of testimony from Nancy as well as two witnesses.

On 27 May 1879, these two witnesses testified that Nancy Hall, by then sixty years of age, had resided upon this land for the past seven years and that she had made the necessary improvements thereon, including: “house stable granary well forest trees &c.”6 In addition, Nancy had cultivated fifty acres and had raised wheat, corn, and oats.7

Interestingly, the witnesses’ statements in their individual testimonies were so nearly identical that it begs the question of whether, despite the notation indicating that witness testimony must be taken separately, they might have testified at the same time. At the very least, they might have collaborated to ensure that their recollections matched.

But why might these witnesses have cared so much about providing flawless testimony?

The first witness, William Stahl, was Nancy’s son-in-law, who had married into the family in 1865.8 While he had claimed land of his own and did not share Nancy’s homestead, he still may have skirted the issue of his relationship to Nancy and his ties to the homestead when he stated that he had known Nancy for just ten years and that he had no interest in her claim.

The second witness, Elithan Davis Hall, was twenty-five years old and recently married.9 Notably, he was Nancy’s own son. However, when faced with the question, “Are you well acquainted with Nancy Hall the claimant in this case, and how long have you known her?” Elithan replied, “I am and have known her ten years.”10 Of course, Elithan had known his own mother for his entire life—not merely for the past decade! He also stated that he had no interest in her claim, when his labors certainly must have helped to bring the homestead to its success.

In fact, it seems quite likely that Nancy might have claimed the homestead with Elithan, her eldest son, in mind. Just eighteen in 1872, Elithan was not yet old enough to claim a homestead of his own—but he would certainly have been old enough to take the lead in clearing, tilling, and cultivating the land while his mother managed the household and gardens. Furthermore, unlike his younger siblings, Elithan would remain on the homestead after his marriage; as early as 1880, he was considered the head of household, with Nancy also residing in his home, and an 1884 plat map clearly named the residence on Nancy’s property as his own.11

While the witness statements provided by William Stahl and Elithan Davis Hall stretched the truth in terms of the particulars of their relationships to Nancy and her homestead, it seems unlikely that any truly nefarious deception was intended. Perhaps the guidelines were misunderstood, or perhaps no witnesses who were not also related to Nancy, whether by marriage or blood, were available to provide the statements. It seems possible that William and Elithan might have escorted Nancy to town and stepped in at the last minute in order to expedite the filing process.

Whatever the case, no obstacles were identified in this final paperwork, and the patent was successfully filed with the General Land Office on 29 April 1882.12

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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Y-DNA and the Hall Family of the Colonial Carolinas

When confronted with a common surname and the patchy records of the post-colonial south, it’s all too easy to despair that a family line might never be conclusively traced. This is the scenario I’ve grappled with for years when faced with the vague details of the lives of my presumed fifth-great-grandfather, Isaac Hall, and his son, Elithan Hall. Both spent the later years of their lives in Washington County, Illinois, where Isaac died in 1852 and Elithan died in 1860.1 Their earlier years, however, were spent further south; Isaac was allegedly born in 1776 in Anson County, North Carolina,2 while Elithan was said to have been born in 1813 in Tennessee.3

As in the case of another elusive male ancestor, I knew that Y-DNA would be key in determining the origins of the Hall family. Family Tree DNA explains that as the Y chromosome “is passed almost unchanged from father to son,” it can be useful in determining the origins of a surname and can establish connections with cousins who share the same chromosome.4 I am descended from a daughter of Elithan Hall, so I turned to a direct male-line descendant of one of his sons, who, fortunately, was willing to submit his DNA sample per my request.

The Y-DNA results were more extensive than the results I’d received when pursuing the Hammond surname; clearly, a number of Halls are curious about their origins! In the Hall Families DNA Project, my cousin now has a number of matches who share the Y-DNA haplogroup E-M96 and trace their origins to the border region of colonial North Carolina and South Carolina. An e-mail exchange with several matches reinforced the idea that both DNA and the faint paper trail pointed to a connection.

Anson_County_North_Carolina

Anson County, North Carolina; Wikipedia, Public Domain. At the time of the birth of Isaac Hall in 1776, Anson County encompassed portions of several surrounding counties.

Although little is known about Isaac Hall’s early years in Anson County, North Carolina, I managed to uncover his affidavit for the Revolutionary War pension of one John Hall, who, like Isaac, also migrated from North Carolina to Illinois with a stopover in Tennessee. When called upon to provide an affidavit in 1847, Isaac, then seventy-one, recalled John’s return from the army “with his camp clothing on to wit a black ragged and greedy garment.”5 He also stated that he was present at John’s marriage, which took place around 1784.6 Both of these events occurred when Isaac was still a child, leading me to believe that the shared Hall surname between the men was no coincidence—surely they were related in some way, whether John was Isaac’s older brother, uncle, or perhaps a cousin. I was intrigued to see that a descendant of the same John Hall appeared as a match on Family Tree DNA, but at that point still wasn’t quite sure what to do with so much new information.

It was timely, then, when in February I learned that I was to be the recipient of a DNA analysis by Legacy Tree Genealogists, a prize generously provided for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy’s 2016 Tagline Contest. (I had shared that SLIG was “the perfect way to kick off the year on a genealogical high note,” and in more ways than one, it certainly was!) It took me no time at all to decide that the Hall family DNA would be ideal for the analysis, and the project was undertaken by genetic genealogist Paul Woodbury.

From the completed report, which I could hardly wait to receive, I was introduced to the concept of STRs, or “short tandem repeats,” a type of genetic mutation. According to the report, “Occasional mutations that are introduced in the Y-DNA help to distinguish different lineages, some of which are ethnically and geographically specific.”7 It was noted that my cousin’s DNA sample might share a mutation in particular with several other Hall DNA samples, suggesting a potential recent common ancestor who might be uncovered through recommended further, higher-level testing.8 In addition, by reviewing the lines of descent of other matches, Hall family roots in the Carolinas were confirmed along with suggested distant origins in the British Isles.9

The report also included a review of key matches and further suggestions to pursue the identity of the father of Isaac Hall.10 With so many new ideas and leads to follow, I look forward to learning more about how best to interpret and apply this wealth of information to the Hall family while attending the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree this week!

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Goodly Bit of Romance

The newspaper headline must have brought a few chuckles: “OLD FOLKS HAVE ROMANCE.” The story continued, “Romance is not all reserved for young people, as the marriage of Isaac N. Holman, aged 70, of Decatur, Neb., to Mrs. Sarah E. Fenton, aged 51, of Springdale, in Sioux City, will testify. […] This is the third marriage for each of the contracting parties. Both are well along the avenue of life and to them the marriage represents good judgment as well as a goodly bit of romance. They have known each other a long time and the mutual admiration they have entertained has grown gradually until the marriage yesterday placed its happy seal upon their growing affection.” Following their marriage on 24 August 1908 at the home of the Reverend W. H. Montgomery of the Haddock Methodist Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, the couple was to visit Omaha. They would settle in Decatur, Burt County, Nebraska, where Holman, “said to be quite well to do,” made his home.1

That evening, their story appeared in another Sioux City newspaper: “LOOKING FOR LAND HE FINDS HELPMATE.” This version of the story was written with a level of flowery detail that, while entertaining, I don’t quite trust:

“I.N. Holman, a wealthy retired farmer of Decatur, Neb., came to Sioux City several months ago on a land deal. At the office of a real estate dealer he met a charming black-eyed widow, Mrs. Sarah E. Fenton, who had chanced in there on business. When they were introduced, he immediately lost all interest in Sioux City property or any property for that matter, and devoted all his time to the widow. Holman is 70 years old, and he pressed his suit with such ardor that before he returned to Decatur he had made a contract for something which he wouldn’t trade for all the farms in Iowa, namely the attractive widow. Today he returned to close the deal, which he says is the best he ever made. A license was issued this afternoon, the bride giving her age as 51. They will be married this evening and after a two weeks’ wedding trip will make their home at Decatur. “Maybe people think we’re foolish,” said the bride, blushing like a school girl, “but we don’t, we’re too happy.”2

This is far from the whole story. First, there are, in fact, two stories presented by these competing news articles. Did the couple meet at the land office, or had they been acquainted for years? This we may never know for sure; it seems unlikely, but not impossible, that the couple had crossed paths before meeting in Sioux City. Second, the “attractive widow” most likely did not have the black eyes of Bess the landlord’s daughter, charming as the description may be.3 And was she even a widow? Well, yes and no. Her first husband, George W. Fenton, died tragically in 1880 when accidentally shot by her brother-in-law.4 Her second husband, however, was still alive and well at the time of her third marriage; Sarah had divorced John Hoffman in 1902 citing his drunkenness and death threats.5 However, it would have been far from unusual for a woman to claim widowhood over divorce.

SarahEHall

Sarah Ellen (Hall) Fenton Hoffman Holman Eklof, Iowa or Nebraska, ca. 1908; digital image 2001, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015.

Finally, would Isaac and Sarah live happily ever after? Unfortunately not. Isaac was granted a divorce from Sarah in 1914;6 a probate petition filed by his son the previous year, while suggesting that Isaac “indulged in intoxicating liquors to excess” and was “changeable, forgetful, and stubborn,” also stated that “the amount of money demanded from him by his current wife annoyed him considerable.”7 Oh dear. Isaac did not remarry before his death in 1922,8 but Sarah would marry – and divorce – once more.9 She resumed the use of the Holman name and at the time of her death in 1930, she was referenced as the widow of Isaac Newton Holman. Her short-lived marriage to this “wealthy landowner” was, perhaps, her one claim to local fame and financial stability.10

Lesson learned? Never assume. I had assumed that because this was the couple’s third marriage, and because they married in a community with a population greater than thirty thousand, that no mention would be made of their marriage in the local newspaper. In fact, I didn’t bother to check until their names turned up in the Findmypast database featuring a newspaper from across the state, and then learned that more than one version of the story existed. As it turns out, you never know what details of your ancestor’s experience might have made a compelling story deemed worthy of reprint!

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Proud Owners of a New Piano

You never know what might have made the news a century ago. In Iowa, for example, news might have been made when someone acquired a piano. Although mail-order catalogues like Sears, Roebuck & Company made owning a piano more affordable than ever thanks to convenient financing options,1 such a substantial purchase was still of great interest to those in rural communities and small towns across America.

These were the years before Victrolas became widespread.2 Pianos were a ready source of music and entertainment, and people of all ages might have enjoyed gathering at the home of a friend or family member with a piano for an evening of playing and singing.

pianoloc

“A Pleasant Evening at Home,” Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Prints & Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/90709337 : accessed 5 August 2015).

In the northwestern corner of Iowa, The Sibley Gazette reported on 24 May 1900:

John Hoffman and family are the proud owners of a new piano.3

And in the northeastern corner of the state, The Guttenberg Press reported on 25 June 1909:

Miss Roselyn Thoma is the happy and proud possessor of a new piano.4

John Hoffman was the second husband of Sarah Ellen Hall; married since 1883, they would undergo a tumultuous divorce in 1902. At the turn of the century, however, they were still married with a twenty-year-old daughter and a sixteen-year-old son at home.5 Their acquisition of a piano adds a bit of brightness to what was painted in their divorce proceedings as a rather dim time. Although Sarah led a difficult life, her granddaughter remembered that she had loved fine things; this piano was likely a prized possession.6 As she was said to be a religious woman, perhaps she enjoyed hymns played on the piano either by herself or her children.

Roselyn Thoma was the daughter of Fred and Matilda (Hammond) Thoma and was seventeen years of age in 1909.7 She was the last of four surviving children still at home, her younger sister having been lost to a diphtheria outbreak three years prior.8 Perhaps it was with a newfound appreciation to seize the moment that her parents supported such an extravagance for their daughter, or perhaps the same inheritance that had recently spurred them to purchase a farm made the purchase of a piano possible as well.9 Roselyn would marry two years later, and one can imagine that her piano might have accompanied her to her new home.10

Whether the Hoffman and Thoma families enjoyed idyllic moments crowded around their pianos à la Little Women or not, it is clear that the addition of a piano to a household in their humble Midwestern communities was worthy of note – and pride. However, even in these rural areas, it would be only a matter of time before new forms of entertainment overtook the novelty of owning a piano.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Tombstone Tuesday: Nancy Stilley

Nancy Stilley was raised on the Illinois frontier, and died a pioneer in Kansas. From what little I know about her life, she’s a perfect example of a “Fearless Female” whose story should be shared in honor of National Women’s History Month.

nancy_stilley_hall

Grave of Nancy (Stilley) Holman Edwards Hall (1819-1898), Gypsum Cemetery, Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas, image date unknown, privately held by V.S.H. [personal information withheld], 2014.

According to her obituary, Nancy Stilley was born 19 June 1819 in Franklin County, Illinois.1 It’s likely that she never attended school,2 although she was said to have joined the Baptist church at the age of thirteen.3 Records suggest that she may have married as many as three times. Her first marriage took place in 1836; she married Thomas Holman of Hamilton County, Illinois.4 Her second marriage took place in 1843; she married Joseph Edwards of Washington County, Illinois.5 Her third and final marriage took place in 1847; she married Elithan Hall of Washington County, Illinois.6 This marriage, too, was short-lived. After her husband’s death in May of 1860,7 Nancy, still just forty years old, was left a widow with nine children at home.8 This time, she did not remarry.

Although it must have been difficult, Nancy seems to have managed her household and farm through the tumultuous years of the Civil War. Following the settlement of her husband’s estate in 1868,9 she relocated to Kansas with her children, including those who now had families of their own.10

By 1870, Nancy had settled in Solomon, Saline County, Kansas, where she held a respectable amount of real estate worth $1100 and personal property worth $600.11 Four children, between the ages of twelve and sixteen, were at home.12 Nancy was to remain in Kansas for the remainder of her life, eventually joining the household of her eldest son.13 She lived to the age of seventy-nine, her death the result of an unfortunate accident during what was likely a routine visit to her children and grandchildren:

“Last Friday morning, October 21, 1898, Mrs. T. G. McCance hitched a team to a buggy for the purpose of driving her mother, Mrs. Nancy Hall, to the residence of her son, E. L. McCance. Just as the ladies started the team suddenly turned the vehicle enough to throw the occupants to the ground. Mrs. Hall struck the ground with sufficient force to tear the flesh from one side of the face, break the cheek bone and inflict internal injuries, from which she died in a few hours.”14

Nancy was buried two days later, her burial attended “by a large number of friends and relatives,” in the Gypsum Cemetery in Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas.15

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The FAN Principle: Finding Family in Southern Illinois

Isaac_Hall_Probate01

Washington County, Illinois, Isaac Hall probate file, Box 22, County Court; Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

Of course, it would have been too easy if Isaac Hall of Washington County, Illinois had named all of his surviving children in his last will and testament. Although probate records can be excellent resources for genealogists, they don’t always provide all of the details that one would hope. When Isaac dictated his wishes to two witnesses in January of 1852, he stated only that his “eldest son,” Jonathan Hall, was to receive all of his lands, goods, and chattels.1 He named this same son as the sole executor of his estate. Isaac made his mark, and went on to live less than two months more; his will was filed on 15 March 1852.2

Fortunately, there are other resources that provide clues as to who at least some of the other children of Isaac Hall may have been. Among them is the 1850 U.S. census for District 20, Washington County, Illinois, which counts three Hall households in a row. In the first lived Elathan Hall, thirty-seven, a farmer from Tennessee.3 In the second lived Isaac Hall, forty-five, also a farmer from Tennessee.4 In the third lived Jonathan Hall, fifty, a farmer who was a native of North Carolina,5 as was the only other adult male resident of the household, Isaac Hall, seventy-four.6 Although relationships between members of a household were not recorded in the 1850 census, based on the information provided, it seems logical to assume that the senior Isaac was Jonathan’s father, and that they were, in fact, the same Isaac and Jonathan of the aforementioned probate record. Their living arrangement suggests why Isaac may have felt so indebted to his eldest son when it came time to pen his will. Perhaps he had spent many years in the care of his son’s family.

And what of the younger Isaac Hall and Elathan Hall who lived next door, or, rather, on neighboring farms? No, they had not been born in North Carolina – but Tennessee falls between North Carolina and southern Illinois, making it a likely stop for a family that may have gradually migrated west. The thirteen-year age span between Jonathan, the younger Isaac, and Elithan suggests a possible sibling relationship. An exploration of additional records indicates that these families were closely linked for decades.

This is a perfect example of the importance of Cluster Research, also called the FAN Principle – an awareness of an ancestor’s Friends, Associates, and Neighbors – explored by Elizabeth Shown Mills.7 I should note that my dad stressed the importance of this principle to me in my research long before we knew that it had a name! How have you used the FAN Principle in your research?

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Drunkenness, Death Threats, and a Divorce Petition

On the 5th of February 1902, Sarah Ellen (Hall) Hoffman of Ashton, Osceola County, Iowa, who was then forty-four years old, signed her name to a petition that she sincerely hoped would grant her a divorce. John Hoffman was her second husband; her first husband had died of an accidental gunshot wound, and it was now eighteen years since she had remarried. As detailed in the statement of facts prepared for the court by her attorney, O. J. Clark, this marriage was now in shambles.1

It was established that the plaintiff and the defendant had lived together since the time of their marriage – except recently, as “the defendant has been away from home considerable.”2 It was added, “At times he will work and earn money, but will not use any of his earnings to or for the support of the family, but will stay at home most of the time helping to eat up what the plaintiff and children earn.”3 Then, the chilling details of their marriage spilled forth:

“That the plaintiff has always conducted herself toward the defendant as a loving and dutiful wife, but that the defendant, disregarding his duties towards your petitioner, has always been abusive and ugly towards her, and of late years has become brutally coarse, violent and vulgar towards your petitioner, often calling her the most vile names in the presence of her children and so does without any cause therefore, often striking, kicking and otherwise abusing your petitioner, without cause, often leaving black and blue marks on the person of your petitioner for weeks at a time as the result thereof. That at times the defendant, without cause, threatens to kill your petitioner, threatens to put a hole through your petitioner’s body, threatens to cut her heart out and to kill your petitioner with a knife. That on one occasion said defendant attempted to carry out his threat of killing your petitioner with a butcher knife, and attacked her therewith, when her daughter in attempting to prevent defendant’s harming your petitioner, received the blow with the knife herself on the hand, cutting the cord to one of her fingers off and otherwise injuring her hand, so that she has very little use of said finger, and thus, to that extent has made her a cripple for life. That the threats thus made, the kicking and striking are of very frequent occurrence when he is at home, that he sleeps with his clothes on, and at times in the night will begin his abuse of your petitioner without cause, and threaten to kill her with his knife, and will begin to open and shut his knife so that the plaintiff can hear it click and thus frighten her and worry her all night at a time.”4

OsceolaCountyIowaDivorce1902

Osceola County, Iowa, Circuit Court File 3036, Sarah E. Hoffman v. John Hoffman, for “Petition in Equity,” 20 March 1902; Clerk of District Court, Sibley. The surname Hoffman appeared in this text as Huffman, but in some instances the “u” was overwritten with an “o.” Thus, I have transcribed the name as Hoffman.

In recent years, the defendant had become “addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors, and is an habitual drunkard, which habit he has acquired since their said marriage.”5 The statement continued, “That the plaintiff’s health has become undermined and broken, and if this treatment continues her health will give out entirely and she fears she will die there from – if the defendant does not in fact kill her outright.”6 It’s truly appalling to think what my third great-grandmother must have endured, and it’s to her credit that she had the strength to initiate a divorce at this time.

It would be interesting to learn what grounds for divorce were required in Iowa in 1902; apparently, in this case, habitual drunkenness, horrific abuse, and failure to provide support were sufficient. The divorce was granted in March of that year, at which time Sarah received custody of the couple’s teenage son, possession of the kitchen and household furniture, a return to her former name, and, most importantly, a chance for a better life.7

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A Sad Accident: The Death of George W. Fenton

George W. Fenton of Saline County, Kansas, was a young father of three when he was accidentally shot and killed by his brother-in-law on 9 October 1880.1

MarriageRecordGeorgeFentonSarahHall

Saline County, Kansas, “Marriage Affidavits, 1873-1879,” p. 43-44, George W. Fenton and Sarah Hall marriage, 11 June 1873; digital images, FamilySearch, “Kansas, County Marriages, 1855-1911,” (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 18 September 2013).

George, the American-born son of English immigrants, was raised in Ohio and Illinois and was orphaned around the age of ten. He ventured to Kansas as a young man, no doubt seeking opportunity and adventure on this new frontier. In 1873, at the age of twenty-two, George married Sarah Ellen Hall, who was barely sixteen, though she claimed to be a year older.2 They settled near her mother and siblings by Gypsum Creek in Saline County, Kansas, and it was there that they raised three daughters: Minnie Bell, Alpha Doretta, and Anna Leota Fenton.3

The tenth of October 1880 was a Saturday. Farm chores were put aside for the afternoon, as George, Sarah, and their young daughters gathered at Sarah’s mother’s home with a crowd of neighbors and kin. Perhaps they were celebrating a successful harvest, or perhaps it was simply a good time to enjoy the early autumn weather, to catch up, and to let the children play.

Also in attendance that afternoon was Sarah’s elder brother, Elithan Davis “Bud” Hall, who fell between Sarah and George in age, and no doubt thought well of George as he, as Sarah’s oldest living male relative, had granted permission for their marriage seven years before.4 He and George were talking of hunting when he reached for the double-barreled shotgun behind the door, teasing his nieces Bell, six, and Alpha, four, that he was going to shoot their dog. His niece Leota, at seven months old, was still too young to play along, as was Bud’s own daughter, Gracie, just over a year.5 As Bud raised his shotgun in jest, however, presuming it to be unloaded, it discharged – sending a bullet straight above George’s heart.6

George was mortally wounded, and lived only an hour more on that fateful October afternoon. His death was ruled purely accidental at the inquest held two days later, when five witnesses testified in front of a jury. The Salina Herald headlined the incident as a “Sad Accident,” and added, “The thing to be condemned [is] the careless handling of firearms.”6 The Journal (Salina), detailed, “Hall is nearly distracted over the result of his carelessness. The brothers-in-law were the best of friends – no trouble ever having occurred between them.” The frequency of such accidents was noted with sorrow, and it was questioned, “Will people never learn better?”7

George W. Fenton was buried at McQuary’s Graveyard on Gypsum Creek.8



SOURCES
1 Saline County, Kansas, Coroner’s Records, “Fenton, George,” filed 10 October 1880; database, Smoky Valley Genealogical Society, “Saline County, Kansas Coroner’s Records” (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~kssvgs/ : accessed 18 September 2013).
2 Saline County, Kansas, “Marriage Affidavits, 1873-1879,” p. 43-44, George W. Fenton and Sarah Hall marriage, 11 June 1873; digital images, FamilySearch, “Kansas, County Marriages, 1855-1911,” (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 18 September 2013).
3 1880 U.S. census, Saline County, Kansas, population schedule, Eureka Township, enumeration district (ED) 300, p. 204 (stamped), dwelling 102, family 110, George W. Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 September 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 396.
4 Saline County, Kansas, “Marriage Affidavits, 1873-1879,” p. 43-44, George W. Fenton and Sarah Hall marriage (1873).
5 1880 U.S. census, Saline County, Kansas, population schedule, Gypsum Township, enumeration district (ED) 300, p. 12 (handwritten), dwelling 82, family 90, Elithan D. Hall; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 September 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 396.
6 “Sad Accident,” The Salina Herald (Salina, Kansas), 16 October 1880, copy of newspaper clipping privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
7 “A Sad Accident, The Journal (Salina, Kansas), 14 October 1880, copy of newspaper clipping privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
8 “Sad Accident,” The Salina Herald (Salina, Kansas), 16 October 1880.

When Did He Die? Clues From a Probate File

This year was the first that I attended the NGS Family History Conference, and I never could have imagined how much I would learn from each and every lecture that I attended there. I was always left with the urge to rush back to my hotel room to open up my laptop and try out a new research trick, or to look at a record in a different way. One of the many inspiring lectures that gave me some food for thought was the Helen F. M. Leary Distinguished Lecture, “Trousers, Beds, Black Domestic, Tacks, and Housekeeping Bills: ‘Trivial Details’ Can Solve Research Problems,” by Elizabeth Shown Mills.1

This lecture stressed attention to detail, in particular the information and significant dates that could be gleaned from probate records and household bills. For example, a doctor clearly wouldn’t continue to attend and bill a patient after they had died, and the purchase of items needed for a burial, including a coffin or, less obviously, a new suit of clothes, could also suggest a date of death.2 When contemplating this, I immediately thought of my ancestor Elithan Hall of Washington County, Illinois; details of his life are few and far between, but I did possess a copy of his probate file.

Within the probate file for Elithan Hall was a petition that stated that he had died on an unspecified date in March of 1859. This petition was not created until 1866, but seemed to be the most reliable document referencing the date of his death.3 After attending Elizabeth Shown Mills’ lecture, however, I recalled that the probate file had included quite a few miscellaneous bills. I wondered if one might suggest a more specific date of death, and I could hardly wait to reexamine the contents of the file to see whether I had overlooked any details before.

Washington County, Illinois, Ellerton Hall probate file, Box 34, County Court; Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

Washington County, Illinois, Ellerton Hall probate file, Box 34, County Court; Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

As it turns out, I most certainly had. To be honest, the facts became almost embarrassingly obvious! Within the probate file was a doctor bill, which stated, “1860: From April 26th to May 5th for Medical Attendance during his last sickness.”4 There was another bill as well, signed by a different man: “From January 27th 1860, To May 9th 1860, To Sundries including burial expenses.”5

Last sickness? Burial expenses? From these seemingly minor details, I realized that Elithan Hall had likely lived more than a year longer than the date on the petition, which I had blindly accepted although it was created more than five years after the fact. In reality, Elithan Hall likely died in Washington County, Illinois, on 5-6 May 1860, and was buried no later than 9 May 1860.

What surprising clues have you found in a probate file?



SOURCES
1 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Trousers, Beds, Black Domestic, Tacks, and Housekeeping Bills: ‘Trivial Details’ Can Solve Research Problems,” National Genealogical Society Family History Conference: Las Vegas, 2013.
2 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Trousers, Beds, Black Domestic, Tacks, and Housekeeping Bills.”
3 Washington County, Illinois, Ellerton Hall probate file, Box 34, County Court; Illinois State Archives, Springfield. Ellerton was a variation of the name Elithan.
4 Washington Co., Ill., Ellerton Hall probate file.
5 Washington Co., Ill., Ellerton Hall probate file.