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?