Tag Archives: Illinois

Military Monday: “Although he was on his Dieing Bed”

Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Color edited for clarity.

Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Image color edited for clarity.

As spring turned to summer in the year 1862, John Fenton of Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry lay dying in a hospital bed in Lebanon, Laclede County, Missouri. He had enlisted the previous autumn, eager to do his part for the Union, but in April, following the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, he was hospitalized with typhoid pneumonia.1

At the time of his enlistment, John, a native of Bole, Nottinghamshire, England, was a widower with four children at home in Pana, Christian County, Illinois.2 After his death on 7 June 1862, A. W. Bingham, a hospital steward, penned a sympathetic but hurried letter to John’s eldest daughter, Sarah Alice Fenton, informing her of her father’s passing:3

“Lebanon, MO
June 7th 1862

Miss Fenton

You will be of course Serprised in Receiving a letter from one that never beheld your face or eaven had the honor of knowing your nam but through one that is or has been Dear to you your Father, he was admitted in this Hospital on the 22d day of April Sinse then he has been leaberin under Tyford Pneumonia which at last terminated in his death, which was at 7 Oclock this evening June the 7th he was a long time dieing and told me he wished me to write to you and all for him to put your confidence in christ and he hoped to meet you in the world to come he talked of and would of liked very much to see you but when god comes there is no alternative but to resign our will so he done so and diese in piece, you must not take it hard for we as soldiers have no limited time for our lives and when we enlist in our Countrys call we make up our mind to meet death when god thinks proper to call us away, your Father requests me to tell you also to collect what money was due him and put it to as good use as you thought people he wished you to see to the small children and bring them up in his fear and love of God which no doubt you will and he felt satisfyed you would do so, remembering he was your Father although he was on his dieing bed.

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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.

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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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A Vintage Photo Strip

Long before photo booths gained popularity, Leonard Wiese of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois posed for this quaint series of photographs. Printed on a strip of flimsy paper, each individual photograph is about the size of a postage stamp. Leonard, the son of German immigrants Fred and Emma (Stübe) Wiese, was the youngest of five children,1 although an elder sister had died before he was born.2 He likely spent his early years at 46 Thomas Street,3 before his family moved to a new home, a large frame house, at 2502 North Neva Avenue.4 His father earned a living as a cigar maker, and must have done well in order to be able afford this home for his family.5

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Leonard Wiese, ca. 1905, Chicago, Cook, Illinois; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Leonard looks to be about five years old in these photographs, dating them to approximately 1905. His hair is parted sleekly to the side, and he wears a white collared shirt with a patterned necktie. In the first three photographs, he poses formally while sitting upright in a chair. He has the hint of a smile in one, and artfully places his hand behind his head in another. In the final two photographs, he sports a pint-sized sailor cap while leaning playfully over the back of a wooden chair. His neat hair and dress suggest that these photographs were planned, yet the poses and setting seem more informal than what I would typically expect from a studio.

My first inclination, given the photo strip format, was to think that these photographs came from some sort of early predecessor to a photo booth, as automated photo booths didn’t spring up until 1926. Could there have been some sort of inexpensive arcade studio popular twenty years before? I also wondered if they might have been taken with an early model of a Kodak Brownie camera; another possibility is that they were proofs from which larger prints could be ordered. What do you think? This photo strip could easily have been cut apart and the individual photographs shared with friends or relatives. However, left intact, it allows a glimpse into several moments in Leonard’s boyhood in Chicago more than a century ago.

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The FAN Principle: Finding Family in Southern Illinois

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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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A Chicago Couple

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Fred and Emma (Stube) Wiese, ca. 1900; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

This glimpse into a backyard garden at the turn of the twentieth century features Fred and Emma (Stube) Wiese of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Fred rests his hand on a trellis while Emma stands close by his side, her hand on her hip. Their arms barely brush together as they gaze directly at the camera.

Emma wears everyday attire in the form of a simple dark skirt and a collared shirtwaist. Her skirt is belted high, with an adornment of some kind at the center of the waistband. It looks to me like she could have been pregnant at the time that this photograph was taken, which seems entirely possible as she was pregnant no less than five times between 1887 and 1900.1

However, Emma’s sleeves are not nearly as full as those seen during much of the 1890s, nor are they as tight as those of the decade prior. Perhaps this suggests that the photograph dates closer to 1900,2 which is when her youngest child was born.3 She and her husband were both in their early thirties at this time, and I don’t feel that they could have been significantly younger in this photograph.4

Fred wears somewhat loose trousers and a collared shirt, set off by a buttoned vest and a checked bow tie. Most notably, he sports a full mustache, and what hair he has is cut short. With the exception of his pants, which typically would be more fitted, this, too, fits the time period.5

The photograph, pasted on an embossed white card, is clear and of good quality, despite the fact that it is a seemingly casual shot. Might it have been taken by a traveling photographer who passed through the neighborhood, offering his services? Fred and Emma are not dressed in their best, although their simple attire was certainly presentable enough for a photograph. Perhaps their urban garden was a source of pride, making it an ideal spot for the couple to pose together.

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Wedding Wednesday: Swell Times in Chicago

HelenLeonardWedding

Leonard and Helen (Nelson) Wiese, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, 1924; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

On the evening of 5 January 1924, Leonard John Christian Wiese and Helen Margaret Nelson were married in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.1 Leonard had been raised in Chicago, the son of German immigrants,2 whereas Helen had been raised in rural Yankton County, South Dakota, the daughter of Danish immigrants.3 The couple met when Leonard sought work in South Dakota, and he and Helen bonded over a shared love of music.4 Leonard and his bride-to-be then moved to Chicago, where they were wed in the home of Leonard’s widowed mother.5 Since Helen’s family was not able to be with them, she wrote a detailed letter home describing their wedding day:

My dear folks,

Now I think that this letter will have to be passed around so I won’t have to repeat all the details of the past few days. We are married! Yes. Now then I will endeavor to tell you the points which I think will be of interest to you.

My dress was very plain but everyone liked it. Dark brown brocaded silk with short sleeves and sort of a drape on the skirt. I have a new coat and hat and new satin shoes.

Well, there were eighteen grown people here. We were married at 9:30. Stanley Smith played the wedding march and Irene and I came from upstairs and met the other two in the room. After the ceremony, a shower of rice descended upon us and the best man and several of the others took advantage of the privilege of kissing the bride. So it was on the order of some of the weddings you read about!!!

Then we had dinner. Turkey, chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, corn relish, cranberries, dressing, Jello, coffee, etc. A huge wedding cake adorned the center of the table. This cake was made to order. You people are going to have some of it. I baked two angel food cakes and a sponge cake. That’s all I did in helping preparations.

I spent some time at the hairdresser’s! Oh, I looked real swell!!!

After supper we had music and some of the men played cards. Then after awhile we started the Victrola and we all danced.

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The Citizens of the Big Creek Settlement: From Reconstructed Census Records to a Legislative Petition

In September, I attended the Illinois State Genealogical Society’s free webinar, “’To the Honorable, the General Assembly’ – The Treasure Trove in Legislative Petitions,” presented by the always informative Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist.1

Judy’s advice about how and where to find legislative petitions was helpful, as was her point that one won’t often find an indexed list of the names of all of the signers of a given petition (darn!). Instead, she suggested, look specifically for petitions that were created where your ancestor lived, and that concerned a cause that your ancestor was likely to have cared about.2

It was also emphasized how handy petitions can be when they fall between a census year.3 In fact, the names of the signers on some petitions have also been used to reconstruct early census records. I recently noticed an instance of this when searching for my Stilley ancestors of southern Illinois on Ancestry.com. My search brought me to “U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820.”4

In one example, several men with the surname Stilley are listed as having resided at the Big Creek Settlement, Illinois Territory, in 1810. However, a closer look at the entry shows that the men were named on a petition dated 6 December 1812.5 This petition concerned the desire of the “poor Industrious Inhabitants, faithful Citizens of the United States” to acquire land west of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and a proposition for the sale of no more than 200 acres of said land to each male citizen over the age of eighteen, or each female head of household, for a cost of twelve and a half cents per acre. Allowing the inhabitants to acquire land, the petitioners continued, would further serve to “prevent Rebellions, remove animosities, Cement an union, and promote happiness” throughout the United States.6

Although, to my knowledge, none of these particular Stilleys were my direct ancestors, the presence of these names on the petition suggests to me that, at the very least, some of the extended family had started to settle in this western territory as early as 1812, perhaps paving the way for other members of the Stilley family to follow.



SOURCES
1 Judy G. Russell, “’To the Honorable, the General Assembly’ – The Treasure Trove in Legislative Petitions,” Illinois State Genealogical Society: ISGS Webinars, 2013.
2 Judy G. Russell, “’To the Honorable, the General Assembly’ – The Treasure Trove in Legislative Petitions.”
3 Judy G. Russell, “’To the Honorable, the General Assembly’ – The Treasure Trove in Legislative Petitions.”
4 “U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 December 2013); citing Territorial Papers of the United States, vol. 16, p. 274.
5 “U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 December 2013), entries for David Stilley, John Stilley, and Stephen Stilley, 1810, Big Creek Settlement, Illinois Territory; citing Territorial Papers of the United States, vol. 16, p. 274.
6 “To James Madison from the Citizens of the Big Creek Settlement, 6 December 1812 (Abstract),” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/03-05-02-0396 : accessed 3 December 2013); The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, vol. 5, 10 July 1812–7 February 1813, ed. J. C. A. Stagg, Martha J. King, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, Angela Kreider, and Jewel L. Spangler (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004), pp. 485–486.

Military Monday: A Civil War Compiled Service Record

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I thought I would share the Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) of my one and only direct ancestor who served in the Civil War, namely John Fenton of Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry.1

John Fenton, of Bole, Nottinghamshire, England,2 came to America with his wife and children before 1850.3 They settled first in Summit County, Ohio,4 and later lived in Montgomery County, Illinois. By the time the Civil War rolled around, John was a widower with four children between the ages of nine and eighteen: Sarah Alice, Harriet, John, and George W. Fenton.5

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On 14 September 1861, John enlisted as a Private in Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry in Pana, Christian, Illinois, for a term of three years. He was now forty-six years old – no longer a young man, he would have been nearly fifty before his term of service was complete. John stood at 5 feet 9 inches tall, and had a dark complexion, black hair, and hazel eyes.6

As of 1860, John had made his living as a farm laborer, boarding with three of his children in the household of another family.7 One of his daughters boarded with a family in the next county.8 Perhaps, being that John was apparently a horseman, a three-year stint in the cavalry seemed to be as good of an option as any in terms of bringing in steady pay. John’s daughters were old enough to look after their younger brothers, and perhaps – hopefully – there were friends or relatives willing to take them in while he served. The pension file submitted by his minor son, decades later, may answer some of these lingering questions.9

John’s service was relatively short lived. Soon after his enlistment, the Regiment made its way to Missouri; John spent time on prisoners’ guard in Rolla, and may have seen action at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas. In late April of 1862, John left the site of Pea Ridge with the train of wounded, arriving in the hospital in Lebanon, Laclede, Missouri. After a lingering illness, it was there that he died of typhoid fever on 7 July 1862 at the age of forty-seven.10 Although John was initially buried at Lebanon, his grave was likely unmarked and his body may since have been exhumed and reburied the National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri.11

How can you obtain your ancestor’s Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR)? I acquired John Fenton’s CMSR in person at the National Archives in 2011, when I still lived near Washington, D.C. It was a definitely an experience to be able to view and photograph the original document at my leisure; although the National Archives can seem intimidating, I was able to place my request without any problems and there were plenty of staff members and volunteers willing to point me in the right direction as needed. If you don’t find yourself there anytime soon, and if the CMSR that you seek isn’t available online or on microfilm at a local branch of the National Archives, you can still request a copy for a fee, using information located in indexes online. The online ordering system is easy to use – just be prepared to wait for your record to arrive in the mail!



SOURCES
1 Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
2 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
3 1850 U.S. census, Summit County, Ohio, population schedule, Stow, p. 931 (penned), dwelling 33, family 52, John Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M432, roll 732.
4 1850 U.S. census, Summit Co., Oh., pop. sch., Stow, p. 931 (penned), dwell. 33, fam. 52, John Fenton.
5 1860 U.S. census, Montgomery County, Illinois, population schedule, Audubon Post Office, p. 319 (penned), dwelling 2284, family 2287, John Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M653, roll 214.
6 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
7 1860 U.S. census, Montgomery Co., Ill., pop. sch., Audubon P.O., p. 319 (penned), dwell. 2284, fam. 2287, John Fenton.
8 1860 U.S. census, Christian County, Illinois, population schedule, Pana, p. 319 (penned), dwelling 574, family 5114, Harriet Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M653, roll 161.
9 “U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013); John Fenton (Co. M, 3rd Ill. Inf.) index card; imaged from General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, T288 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives [n.d.]), roll 150.
10 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
11 “Union Soldiers Buried at Lebanon, Missouri 1862-1865,” Judy’s Stuff (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~judysstuff/burials/Lebanon.htm : accessed 11 November 2013).

Tombstone Tuesday: Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe

Word traveled fast in the genealogical community yesterday when it was announced that Ancestry.com had acquired Find A Grave. (Yes, it will still be free.) Find A Grave has grown to be an invaluable database of gravestone images worldwide based on collaborative efforts by volunteers. Frequently, photographs, biographies, and obituaries are included alongside the gravestone images, and visitors can leave virtual tributes.

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Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 1 October 2013), photograph, Friedrieka Stube (1843-1891) and Ernst Stube (1839-1879), Memorial Nos. 67992191 and 67992204, Huntley Cemetery, Huntley, Illinois; photograph by Zavada Family, 2012.

Did you know that if there is not a photograph of your ancestor’s grave already online, you are able to put a request out to volunteers via Find A Grave? Thanks to a volunteer for the Huntley Cemetery of Huntley, McHenry County, Illinois, I was able to see the graves of my ancestors Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe from miles away.

My grandmother had visited their graves years ago and had made rubbings of the fading German inscriptions on the headstones. Unfortunately, the sandstone-like headstones were slowly but surely wearing away through the weather extremes of northern Illinois. I had no clear photographs of the graves, and hoped that someone might be able to confirm to me that they were still standing and at least somewhat legible. Thanks to the aforementioned volunteer, who very kindly gave permission for her photographs to be used for personal genealogical purposes online and made not one, but two trips to the Huntley Cemetery to photograph the graves of Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe, they are now documented on Find A Grave.1

Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe, originally of Friedrichshof, Ritteramt Gnoien, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany,2 arrived in New York in October of 1869.3 Their eldest daughter, Emma, my direct ancestor, was barely two years old at the time of their crossing; three more daughters, Lena, Minna, and Bertha, were later born in Illinois.4 The family lived in Chicago for a time, likely witnessing the Great Chicago Fire of 1871,5 before relocating to a farm near Huntley, McHenry County, Illinois. Later, it was recalled that, “Surrounding the cabin was a large garden space and a beautiful garden. All that remains is a pile of stones. It was located on what is now the Dieke farm directly across from the Harold Kunde farm on the Clanyard farm.”6

In 1879, ten years after his arrival in America, Ernst died at the age of forty.7 No death certificate could be located to provide details on what befell him.8 Shortly thereafter, Friederike relocated again to Chicago, where she supported her young daughters, ranging in age from two to twelve, as a seamstress.9 Life was surely difficult for this single mother of four; Friederike succumbed to typhoid fever in 1891, when she was forty-eight.10 She was buried beside her husband at the Huntley Cemetery.11

Do you have a Find A Grave success story?



SOURCES
1 Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 1 October 2013), photograph, Ernst Stube (1839-1879) and Friedrieka Stube (1843-1891), Memorial Nos. 67992204 and 67992191, Huntley Cemetery, Huntley, Illinois; photograph by Zavada Family.
2 Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, Census, 1867,” Friedrichshof, Ritteramt Gnoien, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, Ernst Stübe; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 October 2013), citing Mecklenburg-Schwerin (Großherzogtum), Volkszählungsamt, “Volkszählung am 3. Dezember 1867,” Landeshauptarchiv Schwerin, 5.12-3/20 Statistisches Landesamt (1851-1945).
3 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 October 2013), manifest, S.S. Silesia, Hamburg, Germany to New York, arriving 12 October 1869, Ernst Stübe; citing National Archives microfilm M237, roll 319.
4 1880 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, Enumeration District (ED) 144, p. 257-C (handwritten), dwelling 25, family 74, Ricka Stüve; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 October 2013), citing National Archives microfilm T9, roll 196.
5“U.S, City Directories, 1821-1989,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 October 2013), entry for Ernst Stube; citing “Chicago, Illinois City Directory, 1872 (Chicago: Richard Edwards, Publisher, 1872),” page number not cited.
6 Louise (née Nelson) Wiese to Phyllis (née Wiese) Adam, letter, 2 April 1964, providing information about the family tree; Adam Family; privately held [personal information withheld].
7 Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 1 October 2013), photograph, Ernst Stube (1839-1879), Memorial No. 67992204, Huntley Cemetery, Huntley, Illinois; photograph by Zavada Family.
8 McHenry County, Illinois, certification that record was not found, issued 19 July 2012, no death record located for Ernst Stube or Stuve who died 24 August 1879 in Huntley, search conducted from 1877-1905; County Clerk’s Office, Woodstock.
9 1880 U.S. census, Cook Co., Ill., pop. sch., Chicago, ED 144, p. 257-C, dwell. 25, fam. 74, Ricka Stüve.
10 Cook County, Illinois, death certificate no. 16007, “Friedricka Stube,” 3 May 1891; digital image, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 3 January 2012). Note: Images no longer available through FamilySearch.
11 Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 1 October 2013), photograph, Friedrieka Stube (1843-1891), Memorial No. 67992191, Huntley Cemetery, Huntley, Illinois; photograph by Zavada Family.

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.