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New Clues in Old Kentucky

This year I am focusing my research on my third great-grandparents, Thomas Reed (1783-1852) and Ann Kirkham (1782-1869).

The first step was to review and analyze all the material I have collected concerning their children. They had five who reached adulthood:

  1. Robertson Mitchell Reed (1808-1871).
  2. Eliza Reed McAlister Walton (1810-1886).
  3. Jane Reed Galbreath (1817-1899).
  4. Caleb Reed (1818-1903).
  5. William Reed (1822-1845).

To accomplish this task, I emptied my Reed bin of everything concerning Thomas and his children. I also pulled all the pertinent Reed folders from the genealogy filing cabinet I inherited from a Reed cousin.

Much of her material duplicated my own research, and I was able to discard many extra copies of documents. Then I made sure to enter all the evidence into my database.

In the filing cabinet, I found a few papers I had not seen before.

One was an 1817 Kentucky land conveyance to Thomas Reed and his two brothers Caleb and John. The grantor parties included a man named Robert Robertson. I know nothing of this man, but I have often wondered why Thomas named his eldest son Robertson. Was the Robert Robertson in the land transaction the inspiration for Robertson Reed’s name? Was he related to Reeds?

The other discovery I made concerned a childhood friend of Thomas’ son, Caleb. The friend’s name was Robert Boyd, and I learned they had known one another in Spencer County, Kentucky. The two of them relocated to Coles County, Illinois and eventually married Carter sisters.

Now I am wondering whether Caleb Reed and Robert Boyd were more closely related than just in-laws. Caleb’s maternal grandmother was Jane Boyd, so it is possible that Robert Boyd was a member of her family.

A Boyd researcher has told me that they have reached a brick wall with the Kentucky Boyds. This line is crying out for further research. Perhaps the Reed/Kirkham connection to the Boyds offers a valuable clue.

Reviewing Reed documents already in my possession has uncovered some interesting avenues for learning more about the Reed family. The Robertson and the Boyd affiliations might give me a better understanding of my Reed line.

Success With Cousin Bait

Genealogists use the term “cousin bait”. We post family information on websites and blogs hoping to attract the attention of distant, unknown cousins. We are interested in exchanging family information.

I have met several family historians this way. Earlier this week, a posting on this blog caught the interest of another collateral relative. He would like to work together to fill in a branch of our shared family tree.

We do not have a common ancestor, but one of his Boyd relatives married one of my Carter relatives. Robert Boyd (b. abt. 1817) married Nancy Carter (1818-1901) in Coles County, Illinois in 1840. Their two oldest sons, George and James, both died in the Civil War.

The man who contacted me has posted his information on the WikiTree website, which I also use. I will go there to see what additional information he has on the Robert Boyd family.

In turn, my online tree cites another cousin’s scrapbook containing a page with information about the Boyds. I will scan the page and forward it to the man who contacted me.

There is a possibility that the two us are related in a way other than the in-law relationship with the Carters. I have a Boyd ancestor in an earlier generation.

My 4th great-grandmother was named Jane Boyd. I know little about her and have never done any research on this Boyd line. I wonder whether they were connected to the other Boyd family. I plan to ask my new contact about this possibility.

This interesting message from someone with a shared interest in a surname reinforces my commitment to keep posting “cousin bait”. You never know when new family information will turn up.

It Runs in Families

This year I am focusing my research on my third great-grandparents, Thomas Reed (1783-1852) and Ann Kirkham (1782-1869). They were among the original settlers in Coles County, Illinois in 1829.

One of their closest neighboring families, the McAlisters, settled there about the same time. The eldest two of the Reed children married McAlister siblings.

Healthwise, these marriages did not turn out well. The McAlister family had a pattern of early death:

  1. Robertson Reed (1808-1871) married Nancy McAlister (1815-1853). This couple had five known children before Nancy died at age 37. All but one of their children died young, too, including Daniel at age 23, Nancy Jane at age 34, William Fred at age 30, and Mary E. at age 19. Nancy Jane was the only child from this marriage to wed, but both her children died in infancy. Robertson and Nancy (McAlister) Reed have no descendants.
  2. Eliza Reed (1810-1886) married John Mitchell McAlister (1812-1836). The had one daughter before he passed away around the age of 24. The daughter Susan Ann (1835-1856), along with her only child, died from complications of childbirth when Susan was 20 years old. Eliza (Reed) and John McAlister have no descendants.

These Reed siblings who married into the McAlister family experienced much heartache. Robertson Reed lost his wife and outlived his oldest son. Several of his other children died about the same time he did. Eliza Reed McAlister witnessed the deaths of both a young husband and their daughter.

Both Robertson and Eliza remarried after the deaths of their first spouses. Their second marriages produced more children who lived long lives.

And what of the McAlisters? I have not done much research on this family. Their name does not survive in Coles County. Perhaps they died out, or maybe the surviving family members moved away.

The Reeds and the McAlisters had become fast friends when they first settled in Illinois. They must have had high hopes when their children joined in marriage. Those dreams were dashed when the McAlister grandchildren did not survive. Death at a young age stalked their family.

Robertson Reed Family Unveiled

Caleb Reed (1818-1903) was my second great-grandfather. He had an older brother named Robertson Reed (1808-1871). The details of Robertson’s family have eluded Reed researchers over the years.

Turns out that the reason for including little of their information in the 1988 The Reeds of Ashmore by my distant cousin Michael Hayden is that Robertson left few, if any, descendants.

Robertson lived in Ashmore Township, Coles County, Illinois. He was married twice and had seven children:

  1. Daniel. The unsourced Reed history calls him Daniel T. Reed (1836-1859) and says he never married. Daniel was listed on the 1850 US census as a 14-year-old in his father’s household. In 1860, a Dan Reed was on the Coles County mortality schedule. Dan P. Reed, 23, of Pleasant Valley Township had died in March (1860?) of lung fever. Were Daniel T. and Dan P. the same person? There is a FindAGrave memorial for Daniel Reed who was buried in the Reed Cemetery, but it claims the child lived only 2 months in 1837. Although these records conflict, it does seen clear that Robertson’s son Daniel had no children.
  2. Nancy Jane. She (1838-1872) and her husband Hezekiah Ashmore remained in the Ashmore area and had seven children. Robertson Reed may have Ashmore descendants.
  3. Caleb Robertson. “R” (1841-1903) inherited his father’s land. He never married.
  4. William Fred. This son (1844-1875) left Ashmore and went to Texas to work. He died there having never married. His body was returned to Ashmore to be buried there.
  5. Mary E. This young woman (1852-1872) never married.
  6. Joseph Van. He (1857-1936) survived the San Francisco earthquake and settled in Eugene, Oregon. He had a step-daughter.
  7. Anna Belle. This daughter (1860-1927) proved tricky to trace. A county history claimed she married Skyler Glassco from a local family. Further research revealed that she had not married a Glassco but instead a Glasgow. Anna Belle and Schuyler Glasgow eventually settled in Texarkana, Texas and had at least three children. One, Clara Glasgow Ellis, is buried near where I live. Anna Belle may have had other descendants as well.

From this, we see that of Robertson Reed’s seven children, only two daughters had families. There were no Reed-surnamed descendants, only Ashmores and Glasgows.

If Robertson has descendants who are living today, they have not turned up as DNA matches to my father or me. I still do not know whether Robertson’s line has just daughtered out or has ended altogether.

The Reeds and a Natural Disaster

American Ancestors, the family history center for the New England Historic Genealogical Society, puts out a genealogy related survey every week. Not long ago they asked whether an ancestor had been involved in a natural disaster.

I answered “no” because I was not aware of anyone who had been so affected. This week I learned that I may have such a connection after all.

I have come across an intriguing obituary that mentions my grandfather’s second cousin, Margueritte Reed (1894-1985), and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Here is the backstory. Our common ancestor Thomas Reed (1783-1852) settled in Coles County, Illinois. I am descended from the second son, Caleb (1818-1903). Caleb’s older brother and Margueritte’s ancestor was Robertson Mitchell Reed (1808-1871).

Robertson was married twice and had two families. When the Reeds in Illinois attempted to put together a family history during the 1980’s, they could find little information on the second wife, Margaret Potts (1819-1871) and her children. No one seemed to know how many children there were or what became of them.

An article in The History of Coles County, Illinois (1876) claims Robertson and Margaret had 4 children: James W. (1857); Kate L. (1859); Joseph V. who married a Gould and went to Eugene, OR; and Anna Belle who married Schyler Glassco and went to Alabama. I decided to search again for the fate of these children, beginning with boys since they are easier to trace.

I found no record of James W. Reed born in 1857.

I did locate Joseph Van Reed, son of Margaret and Robertson Reed, who was born that same year. Could these sons, James and Joseph, be the same person? At least one Reed descendant thought Joseph was nicknamed James, but I have found no proof of this.

Leaving that question aside for now, I continued to look into the life of Joseph Reed.

Further investigation told me that Joseph left Coles County for New York where he perhaps married into the Gould family. A daughter Margueritte was born in New York City in 1894. Her obituary does not tell me her mother’s name.

By 1900, Joseph had removed to the west coast where he was working as a restaurant keeper in Portland and living in a boarding house. He had no wife or daughter with him, and the census listed him as a single man. Sometime later he returned to Coles County where he married Mamie C. Emerson in 1905.

Both his obituary and that of his daughter say the family (presumably Joseph, Mamie, and Margueritte) lived in San Francisco after the marriage. Margueritte’s article goes on to say the family left there after the 1906 quake to settle in Oregon.

The Joseph Reed family probably resided in San Francisco during the historic earthquake. I do not know how they were affected by it, but perhaps its aftermath was the reason they left the area and resettled in Oregon.

Did the Reeds in Illinois know of Joseph Van Reed’s time in San Francisco? The county history mentioned only that he went to Eugene, OR. By the 1980’s the Reed family members who remained in Illinois did not know even that much about their cousin Joseph.

My quest to learn the fate of Joseph V. Reed has given me an outline of his life and uncovered an interesting connection to a famous natural disaster.

Did Robertson Reed and Margaret Potts Have Sons?

Over thirty-five years ago, a distant cousin wrote a genealogy of my Reed family. The Reeds of Ashmore by Michael Hayden traced the descendants of Thomas Reed (1783-1853), an original settler in Coles County, Illinois in 1829.

I descend from Thomas’ middle son Caleb, but he had two other sons as well, Robertson and William.

Robertson Mitchell Reed (1808-1871) was married twice. The Reeds of Ashmore includes extensive information on the family from his first marriage to Nancy M. McAlister but not so much on that of his second wife Margaret Ann Potts. The family genealogists at the time had difficulty learning whether there were 2, 3 or even 4 children. They had no idea of what became of them.

This week I decided to revisit this question. I began by searching for Robertson’s sons from the second marriage, reportedly James W. Reed (b. 1857) and Joseph M. or Joseph M. V. Reed (b. abt. 1860). These names came from census records and other county histories.

I needed to look at sources that have come available since then. I turned to a different county history, the Find A Grave site,, and

A clue in the History of Coles County, Illinois (1876-1976) seems to have been overlooked by previous researchers. It reported two sons, James W., born 1857, and Joseph V. who married a Gould and went to Eugene, OR. This was only a starting point because other family information in this source is unreliable and needs independent verification.

I proceeded to uncover the following records:

  1. I located a grave for Joseph Van Reed (1857-1936) in Eugene, Oregon. The site linked to his wife Mamie Reed (1871-1907), buried in the same cemetery.
  2. Ancestry had an Oregon death certificate for this Joseph, and it states that he was born in Illinois. He was predeceased by his wife Mamie. The informant was Mrs. Clayton R. Jones.
  3. showed an obituary for Joseph V. Reed. It did not include information on his family other than a surviving daughter, Mrs. Clayton R. Jones of Portland.
  4. Ancestry also had a 1905 marriage record for Joseph V. Reed and Mamie Emerson. They were married in Coles County, Illinois. The record states that Joseph V. Reed was the son of Robertson Reed and Margaret Potts.

These sources make it clear that Robertson and Margaret had a son, Joseph Van Reed, born in 1857 who married Mamie Emerson in Coles County in 1905. The couple then relocated to Eugene, OR where they remained for the rest of their lives.

So far I have found no record of another son named James W. Reed.

The earlier Reed researchers had thought Robertson Reed had two sons, James (1857) and Joseph (1860). Now I know that Joseph was the boy born in 1857, the purported birth year of James. No census record lists a James in the Robertson Reed household.

I believe Robertson Reed had just one son with Margaret Potts. He was Joseph Van Reed who may have been married more than once. His surviving daughter was too old to be the daughter of Mamie Emerson. After Joseph’s marriage to Mamie, the family went to Oregon to seek their fortune in gold. When she died a short time later, Joseph and his daughter Margueritte lived out their lives in that state.

Courthouse Research for Your Genealogy

The genealogy societies in my area put on some terrific programs. The Highlands Ranch club came through with another one this week.

Dina Carson of Boulder, CO spoke on records one can find in courthouses and city halls.

I have visited many courthouses. My visits have been limited to stops at the courts and the Clerk and Recorder offices. I have collected vital records, divorces, guardianships, and land records during these visits.

Dina opened my eyes to many sources housed in these facilities that I had never thought about looking at.

She provided a page full of other city and courthouse offices that might hold records of interest. She suggested these:

  1. County commissioner
  2. Sheriff
  3. Assessor
  4. Agriculture
  5. Coroner
  6. Elections
  7. Parks and Open Space
  8. Public Health
  9. Treasurer
  10. Roads
  11. Surveyor
  12. Artwork
  13. Maps

I realized I could find additional information on some of my ancestors in these offices if I only looked.

For example, I wonder if my rural people would be mentioned in the agricultural records of their counties. I might be able to locate their livestock brands or see if they ever participated in a county fair. I know of one relative who did rodeo trick riding.

Another option for me would be to search sheriff’s records for some of my less law-abiding ancestors like those in Illinois who believed in homemade money.

This valuable program made me realize that I have endless research possibilities in local records.


Emptying the Reed Bin

Each year I select one family line for my research. When I run across material for other lines, I toss it into a stackable bin to be addressed later.

In the years since I last researched my Reed ancestors, their bin had started to overflow. I was eager to see what treasures were stored in there when I resumed the Reed research this year.

I began by sorting items by generation. Not only did I take papers from my own Reed bin, but I also pulled Reed research files compiled by a cousin. I found documents ranging for several generations back from my father:

  1. Earl Reed (1927-2017)
  2. Owen Herbert Reed (1896-1935)
  3. Samuel Harvey Reed (1845-1928)
  4. Joseph Caleb Reed (1818-1903)
  5. Thomas Reed (1783-1852)
  6. Caleb Reed (1756-abt. 1835)
  7. Thomas Reed (dates unknown)

Throughout January, I analyzed and filed the documents from my father’s and grandfather’s generations. I tossed duplicates from my cousin’s files.

As for the rest, I found several treasures including information about a cousin’s time at the Merchant Marine Academy and an uncle’s cattle brand used while he homesteaded in Wyoming.

My bin of papers included numerous research notes for my great-grandfather Samuel Harvey Reed. He lived in several states, and much more investigation into his activities could be done. But he is not my research subject this year, so I will move on from him for now.

This month I will turn to his father’s papers to see what I can file, what can be tossed, and what needs to wait until a later time.

Once I accomplish this, I can begin the research on my intended topic for this year, Thomas Reed (1783-1852). He was born in Fayette County, PA. The family relocated to Spencer County, KY where he raised his family. When land further north opened for settlement in the 1820’s, Thomas did not follow the rest of his family to Indiana. Instead, he moved with his wife and children to Coles County, Illinois.

That is where I will pick up the research on him and his life.


Genealogy societies operate thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers.

At this time of year, nominating committees convene to recruit people to fill vacant positions for the coming year. All are finding it increasingly difficult to find anyone willing to step into these jobs.

Among the local clubs I belong to, each one faces this problem:

  1. Colorado Genealogical Society. At a recent meeting, the chairman of their Nominating Committee gave an impassioned plea for volunteers. He told of three societies in Colorado that considered dissolving last year for lack of help. The club seeks a Vice President/Program Chairman and members for the 100th anniversary committee.
  2. Colorado Chapter of the Palatines to America. This German research group needs a President. Without a volunteer, it may fold.
  3. W.I.S.E. The group specializing in British Isles research (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and England) threatened to close down until someone stepped forward into the Vice President role. Someone just came forward to allow the society to continue for the next term.

All these groups offer so much support to Colorado genealogists. Serving on the Boards offers the opportunity to do something meaningful for the genealogy community and to make new friends. Service keeps the clubs going for the benefit of everyone interested in family history.

Volunteer today!

Emptying a Cousin’s File Cabinet

An old filing cabinet in my office has four drawers. They are crammed full of folders. They contain the lifetime genealogical research of my dad’s first cousin who began the work when she was 18 and died at ninety-three. Seventy-five years of loving, careful investigation and documentation. I face the job of reviewing it all and disposing of these papers in some way.

Our common ancestry is our Reed line, and much of the material in the cabinet pertains to that lineage. This cousin often sent me copies of her work, and I suspect I have duplicates of many of her documents in my own files.

Merging our work has seemed a monumental task, and I have put it off for a very long time. The cabinet continues to sit there, challenging me to do something with it.

As I have resolved to continue the Reed research this year, I decided to begin at last by pulling the Reed files from her cabinet for review.

The first folder included everything she had collected on her brother, Leslie H. Reed (1924-2008). It included so many treasures—his original birth and death certificates, newspaper clippings of accomplishments such a graduating from the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy, and his marriage record from Italy.

This week I verified that all this information has been entered into my own database. I made copies for my own records of any document I did not already have.

Now, the question arises of what to do with the originals. Should I return them to Leslie’s children who have no interest in genealogy? Should I add them to my archival box of Reed original documents?

I am still pondering this question.

In the meantime, the filing cabinet contains one fewer file folder.