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Preparation for My Next Research Trip

Both my Reed and Riddle ancestors lived in the Midwestern states during the 19th century. I have an upcoming trip to tour Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan to visit their locations and do some research in regional repositories. Preparing for a trip of this scale takes some preparation.

We are doing several things to get ready:

  1. I gave my husband/tech advisor a list of towns, farm locations, and research stops. He plotted out a route and schedule, taking into account the days and times various places will be open.
  2. I reviewed the online catalogs for the two libraries I want to visit. We will spend two days at the Allen County library in Ft. Wayne, IN and one day at the library in Akron, OH. I made a list of sources to see at each one. Doing this in advance will allow us to use the precious library time pulling materials and doing research instead of paging through a catalog.
  3. I prepared a timeline for each ancestor I plan to investigate. This lets us see at a glance what information is missing for that person.
  4. I formulated a list of focused research questions for these ancestors. We will focus our research on searching for clues to answer these questions. For example, who were the parents of John Davis Riddle (1821-1896)? Did Daniel Sherman (abt. 1800-aft. 1863) die in Indiana? Illinois? When?
  5. I placed these reference materials in folders, one for each research stop.

With so much information online these days, I already have a lot of information for all but brick wall ancestors. They will be the focus of research on this trip. I may not come home with any new information. These ancestors have been pesky about revealing their secrets so far.

Still, as one seasoned genealogist liked to say, “Until you look, you don’t know what you will find”. We are taking off to do some looking.

A Visit to a Stave Church

When I travel, whether I am on a research trip or not, I look for genealogy connections to the places I am visiting. This week we drove around the Black Hills of South Dakota. In Rapid City we stopped at a spot that linked us to our Norwegian heritage.

The Chapel in the Hills retreat ( is home to a spectacular Norwegian stave church. It was built in 1969 as an exact replica of the Borgund Stavkirke in Laerdal, Norway. I first visited this place as a girl shortly after its construction.

The original church building, one of Norway’s oldest and best-preserved, dates to the 12th century. It sits at the end of the longest fjord in Norway, the Sogn fjord. The builders at that time used the same construction techniques as those for Viking longboats. The church was built with a wood called malmfuru (a very hard type of fir) that is no longer available.

The South Dakota stave church was built instead with North American Douglas fir. It is called a stave church because it uses large wood pillars, or staves, to support the building. It sits on a foundation of flat stones. The wood is fastened with dowel pins, not nails. The only metal in the building consists of door hardware and locks. The structure is embellished with beautiful wood carvings.

From my first visit many years ago, I remembered only a church out in the woods. The site has grown since then. In addition to the church building, the chapel site now includes a meditation trail, an authentic grass-roofed house (stabbur) that serves as a gift shop, and a log cabin museum. The museum was built by a Norwegian prospector who arrived during the Black Hills gold rush. It displays antiques that were either brought from Norway or made by Norwegian settlers.

The Chapel in the Hills was conceived and built to expand the ministry of the Lutheran Vespers radio hour. Today it is a special ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Its mission is to provide a place of beauty and inspiration to both local residents and tourists. Church services and weddings take place there.

This wonderful site helps preserve the area’s Scandinavian faith and heritage. It was a joy to see it again

A Class in Irish Research

Yesterday I had the good fortune to listen in while Paul Milner, specialist in British genealogy, taught a Legacy webinar on Irish Immigration to North America.

I learned that the Irish came over in waves. My ancestors were in a couple of them. The Reeds and Kirkhams, I think, arrived sometime in the 1700’s. I do not know where they lived in Ireland or exactly when they arrived. They were here before the American Revolution, and Robert Kirkham served at Boonesborough during the war.

My Lawless and Ryan forebears came over during the Irish potato famine in the late 1840’s. The Lawless group has been easy to track. They left County Louth in 1849 and settled first in Peoria, Illinois.

The immigrant Daniel Ryan has been harder to follow. He was born around 1829 somewhere in Ireland.

I have tried to follow Mr. Milner’s advice and exhaust American records before attempting to jump the pond searching for Daniel. Documentation so far has been sparse:

  1. The Find A Grave website has a memorial for Daniel Ryan. He died in 1863 and is buried at the military cemetery in New Orleans.
  2. Daniel’s widow Bridget applied for a Civil War pension. The unit information led me to records of Daniel’s places and dates of enlistment and mustering in.
  3. This pension application also generated a thick file of family papers. It told me that Daniel had married twice—first to my 2nd great-grandmother Jane Lawless, and subsequently to Bridget. Each wife had one child.
  4. Information in the file pointed me to the Catholic Church records for Bridget’s home in the vicinity of Springfield, Illinois. Those Diocese records are available on Ancestry. I found the 1854 marriage record for Daniel and Bridget, the 1855 baptism record for their son James, and Bridget’s death record from 1896. The marriage record tells me that Daniel’s parents were Edmund Ryan and May Junk.
  5. The pension file also led me to the 1851 Peoria County marriage record for Daniel and Jane.

So that is what I have for Daniel: a FindAGrave memorial, a Civil War enlistment and pension file, two marriage records, and a son’s baptism record.

Other research avenues have led to dead ends:

  1. U. S. census records. I have not located Daniel on any census. With such a common name and little identifying material, he is hard to differentiate.
  2. Catholic parish records. Daniel’s dealings with my 2nd great-grandmother and their son took place in Peoria. That Catholic diocese does not open its records to the public, and they will not do lookups. The local parish church kept no copies of records.
  3. Immigration records. How many people named Daniel Ryan came to America during the potato famine? A lot! So far there is no way to know which Daniel is mine.
  4. Family trees on Ancestry and Family Search. No one has posted a tree that includes my Daniel Ryan.

I still have some clues to pursue:

  1. DNA. The ethnicity estimates on the testing sites get better and better. They pinpoint my dad’s Irish DNA to Limerick and Tipperary. That is where many of his Irish DNA matches live today. Daniel may have come from one of these counties. I learned from Mr. Milner that the eviction rate in Tipperary was particularly high.
  2. DNA, again. Every so often I run a DNA cluster report looking for Ryan family matches. I am working to build ancestor trees for these people to see if I can identify a birth family for Daniel.
  3. Ryan relatives in America. Daniel Ryan first appears in the American records when he married Jane Lawless at Peoria in 1851. Their son was baptized at the Kickapoo church the next year. Other Ryan families lived at Kickapoo during that time, and perhaps they were Daniel’s relatives. Mr. Milner told us that new immigrants usually joined their relatives. I can build trees for these other Ryans to see where Daniel might fit.

The webinar helped me think of additional ways to approach the research problem of Daniel Ryan’s origins. I try to tune into these specialized webinars whenever I can. I always learn something.

Mining the Past

No one can beat the Palatines to America organization for educating genealogists on the ins and outs of German research. I have learned so much at their twice-yearly seminars in Denver over the past twenty years. Now another great opportunity to learn from them is coming up next week.

The Colorado chapter of the Palatines will host a 3-day national conference in Denver on June 16-18. I am looking forward to all they have to offer at this conference:

  1. First up on Thursday will be a bus tour of local German heritage sites. This includes a stop for lunch at a German restaurant.
  2. On Friday, Daniel Jones, the German and Swiss research specialist at the Family History Library in Salt Lake, will speak on four topics. These will cover beginning Swiss research, tools for reading German documents, German military records, and a case study.
  3. Dr. Wolfgang Grams of Oldenburg, Germany will lecture on Saturday about German migration and German resources to be found in repositories and online.
  4. In between events, translation and research consultations will be available.
  5. Scheduled social times will be a Thursday evening no-host get acquainted event, and a Friday night cocktail hour and banquet.

We have never before attended a Palatines national convention. This one in our own back yard will give us the chance for an enjoyable long weekend coupled with the chance to add to our genealogical know-how.

A bonus will be meeting German researchers from other parts of the country. My husband/tech advisor and I took over as newsletter editors for the Colorado Chapter of Palatines earlier this year. We are already on the hunt for news and articles to print in this twice-yearly publication. Getting networked into the national organization will help us with this. Attending the national conference will be a great way to begin.

The theme for this year’s national conference is Mining the Past. I am hoping to find some nuggets of inspiration for our German research during the inviting conference ahead.

Mary C. Scott of Edgar County

We have a road trip coming up this summer, and I plan to visit some courthouses and repositories along the way. I am looking forward to a stop in Edgar County, Illinois to learn more about the life of my second great-grandfather, Thomas Sherman (1841-1912), who lived there in the 1870’s.

According to census records, Thomas was married three times. I descend from the first wife. She disappeared from the scene shortly after my great-grandmother Anna Sherman was born in 1865. Anna then lived with her paternal grandmother Rebecca Sherman until Thomas remarried in 1872.

This marriage to this second wife will be the focus of my courthouse visit in Edgar County. She had disappeared from our family lore. From previous research, I knew a bit about about her:

  1. Her name was Mary. She was listed as the wife of Thomas Sherman on the 1880 census for Edgar County.
  2. Thomas Sherman and Mary Scott were married in the Methodist Church in Edgar County in 1872. His residence was Logan P. O., Brouiletts Creek Township.
  3. Mary Scott Sherman was my great-grandmother’s stepmother during Anna’s coming of age. Anna became a devout Methodist, influenced perhaps by the woman who raised her.
  4. Mary had disappeared from Thomas’ life by September 1881 when he married his third wife, Alice Farris (1862-1931).

Thomas and Mary’s 12-year marriage produced no children. What had happened to her?

Hoping to find more about her and her family, I resumed the search last week in the Edgar County records that are found online:

  1. Because she had married Thomas in Edgar County in 1872, I hoped she had resided there in 1870. If she did, I should be able to find her there on the 1870 U. S. census. I located five women with that name in the county that year. Three of them I could eliminate because they were already married in both 1870 and 1880. That left Mary Scott of Elbridge who was married to John Scott by 1870 but was not listed in the county in 1880, and Mary C. Scott (b. abt. 1849) of Logan P. O. Brouiletts Creek Township who lived with her parents Harriet and Matthew R. Scott. The last Mary was a single woman residing in the same community with Thomas Sherman, and I hypothesized she was his bride in 1872.
  2. In 1873, a year after the marriage, Matthew R. Scott conveyed 10 acres of land in Edgar County to Mary Sherman. It seems likely that he granted this land to his daughter Mary who was now Mary Sherman.
  3. On 15 February 1894, Mary Caroline Scott (b. abt 1849) married Franklin Nathaniel Horsley in Edgar County. It was her second marriage.
  4. In 1900, Mary Horsley of Edgar County was living apart from her husband.
  5. By 1910 and 1920, Mary Scott was single and had resumed using her maiden name.
  6. Mary Caroline Scott (1849-1921) passed away in Bruiletts Township, Edgar County. She was buried in the Scott family cemetery.

This evidence seems to indicate that Mary Caroline Scott, daughter of Matthew R. Scott, married first Thomas Sherman and second Franklin Horsley. Did both marriages end in divorce?

I will stop in the Edgar County courthouse in hopes of finding out. Divorce records for the county are not online. The Handybook for Genealogists says that the County Clerk has divorce records, but it does not specify years. A courthouse visit will allow me to search for Mary Caroline Scott’s divorce records, if any, and any other court cases involving her.

Losing a Cousin

Last week we made the heavy-hearted trip back to our hometown to say farewell to a cousin on my husband/tech advisor’s side who passed away unexpectedly.

Linda Mullin Laeng (1953-2022) had lived a full and happy life before a sudden illness proved fatal.

She was one of a group of 10 cousins who grew up together in the same community. They have other cousins, too, but those lived far away. This local bunch knew one another best. Most of them, now in their 60s and 70s, gathered for her funeral service.

Linda had lived her early years in Wyoming, married later in life, and then moved to California with her husband. In recent years, after her husband died, she returned to Wyoming to care for her mother.

She thrived there. She and her mom attended Mass daily and breakfasted regularly with other family members. She joined a bowling league.

They entertained themselves by visiting casinos where Linda often hit the jackpot. She was a lucky gambler, having won the California State Lottery during her time there. The priest said he wished he had talked to her more often about tithing.

This extended family will miss her cheerful presence. We are saddened by the empty spot in the cousin group.

It felt too sudden and too soon to say good-bye. Linda, enjoy your wings.

Robert Kirkham and Boonesborough

This month I joined a new book club, just in time to read a selection I found both helpful and interesting. The Taking of Jemima Boone by Matthew Pearl tells the story of a pivotal event on the frontier during the early days of the Revolutionary War.

Jemima, of course, was the daughter of famous frontiersman Daniel Boone. One Sunday afternoon in 1775, she and a couple of friends left the protection of the fort to take a canoe ride on the Kentucky River. They were kidnapped by the Shawnee.

Their subsequent rescue, and the retaliatory events that followed, shaped the course of the war in the Ohio River valley. Pearl’s book describes the role of the Boones during this time and introduces the reader to all the other players involved.

I felt a particular connection to the war contributions of these pioneers of Kentucky because a member of my own family was there for part of that time.

Robert Kirkham (1754-1819), my 4th great-grandfather, served at Boonesborough during the war. His name appears on the roster of Capt. John Holder’s Company in 1779.

That spring, a militia force crossed the Ohio to attack the Shawnee village at Chillicothe. This operation was part of the tit-for-tat that took place in the years immediately following Jemima Boone’s kidnapping. I do not know whether my ancestor participated in this raid. The militia failed to take the village, but the attack served as a warning to Britain’s Indian allies to back off.

I had hoped the book would mention Robert Kirkham, but it did not. I did learn something about his commanding officer, John Holder.

Holder married Frances Callaway, one of the other girls who was kidnapped with Jemima Boone. Perhaps my ancestor heard firsthand accounts of that event from her or others in the rescue party.

Reading this book helped me understand the political situation my ancestor faced during his Revolutionary War service. I can add some colorful information to his life story.

Earlier this month I submitted a supplemental application to the DAR to document my descent from Robert Kirkham. Reading this book has made his life and my connection to him feel much more real.

Census Revisited

The release of the 1950 U. S. census has generated curiosity in the genealogical community about what it might reveal of our families. This new release also made me think of all the information available from census records created in prior decades. For those years, we have not only population schedules that give us family groups. We also have an assortment of special schedules available.

In the spring issue of The Mayflower Quarterly Magazine, I read an article by Dale H. Cook about these seldom-used federal census schedules. He highlighted the Industrial and Manufacturing Schedules found in 1820, 1850, and 1860.

My family always farmed, so I thought manufacturing schedules would be of little interest to me. I have never looked at them.

Then I remembered that my third great-grandfather Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) had owned a saltworks at Chatham, Barnstable County, Massachusetts. Would the 1820 manufacturing schedule tell me anything about that?

I located an image of the 1820 Barnstable County manufacturing schedule on Family Search. It was a hand-written narrative of the industries found in the county. These included small ropeworks and cotton spinning operations.

The main onshore industry was my family’s occupation of making salt from seawater. The schedule compiler explained the economics of the business. I learned that the owners were often retired seamen who worked alone. Family members were pressed into duty to cover the evaporation troughs when it rained. The saltworks were idle during the winter.

The manufacturing schedule does not provide details of specific businesses, nor does it list any owners names. From other sources I already knew where the Dunbar saltworks was located and how many feet of troughs the family had.

The manufacturing schedule did give information on how the business operated, how people got into it, and how important it was to the local economy. It was worth taking the time to look at this supplement to an early 1800’s census.


An Unexpected Find in the 1950 Census

Earlier this month the government released the 1950 U. S. census. Genealogists everywhere can look for themselves or their parents and grandparents on this newly available source. The My Heritage website let me know early on that they had indexed my home state of Wyoming.

So, what did I find?

  1. I searched first for my mother’s Bentsen family. My recollection of their whereabouts in the postwar years was hazy, and I wondered whether they resided in Wyoming or South Dakota in 1950. I learned they were living in Park County, Wyoming. My mom was a college student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie that year, but she was enumerated with her family. My grandfather owned an electrical shop where he and my grandmother both worked.
  2. I suspected that other relatives also lived in Wyoming at that time. I found them, too. My dad’s cousin Alta Reed was living and working in Cheyenne. Dad’s older sister Hazel Reed Barnes and her family lived on a ranch near Glendo, Wyoming.

Since looking up these families, I have learned that I need not wait for additional indexes to be compiled. The government’s website ( has an OCR search feature. I used that to look for my dad. I found a surprise.

He was enumerated with his mother and two of his brothers at the family home in Loveland, Colorado. The youngest brother Donald Reed was still in high school. Dad and his older brother Harold were working at the local sugar factory.

The sugar factory? I knew that Harold had always worked there, but I did not remember that my dad ever did. He had graduated from Loveland High School in 1945 and promptly joined the Navy. After being demobilized in 1946, he had bounced between college and work for the next eight years.

He was employed at various places during that time to earn enough money for school. He mentioned working at molybdenum mines in Colorado and Montana. He did railroad and telephone company work in Wyoming. When he was attending school for a semester, he would wash dishes in the dormitory dining hall.

But I did not recall that he had ever returned home to work at the sugar factory. Sugar beet farming was a big local industry when he grew up, and I knew he and his fellow high school students were pressed into harvest duty during the war years. But I did not expect to see him back living at home and working at the factory in 1950. Now I have another anecdote for his life story.

Some of my fellow genealogists have told me they do not plan to look at the 1950 census. They say that they already know where their families lived that year. I say, take a look at it anyway. You never know what you might find.

Progress on The Box

Several years ago, I acquired the genealogy library and research materials that had belonged to my father’s cousin. She lived to be 93 years old and had studied family history all her life. She had a lot of stuff.

I have filed most of it away in my own office. We purchased IKEA bookshelves for her 300+ books of genealogical records. We placed her voluminous research notebooks in another bookcase. We made room for her filing cabinet alongside ours. All is stored away, awaiting a good purging.

That left The Box. I have written about it before. It contained loose papers, in no particular order, on every conceivable ancestor. It sat in a corner of the room where it challenged me to deal with it every time I walked past.

I decided that 2022 was the year to empty it.

Some of the materials already had been organized into file folders. I went through each one, discarding old correspondence with vendors and then placing the folders in her file cabinet.

That left about 18″ of loose papers. At first, I thought I could avoid being overwhelmed by this stack if I just filed a couple of pages a day.

After a week or two, I realized this was unworkable. These pages included records our cousin had transcribed, family group sheets and trees she had built, and RootsWeb messages she had printed off. I needed a filing structure for this work.

I decided instead to do a rough sort by state, surname, or family tree. I made file folders for each category. Then, as I watched TV, I began sorting the stack of papers. I placed items in the new folders as I went along. I made room for these in her filing cabinet until I can figure out which records to keep and which to discard.

Now I am about halfway through what remained in the box. I can see the day when it no longer takes up floor and table space in my office.

When I am finished with this phase, it will be time to set up a schedule for the long overdue purging of my cousin’s records. She and I shared our paternal Reed line, and I plan to keep everything about them. I do not need her maternal Neal materials.

I can donate books about the areas where the Neals lived to the Denver Public Library or the Bemis Public Library in Littleton, Colorado. I am not sure yet what I can do with the Neal papers. Our cousin had no children, and her brother’s children did not seem interested in family history when they gave all this to me.

Perhaps as they grow older, they will change their minds. They will be my first stop when it is time to find a new home for their family records.

Once I finish up with The Box, I can move on to the next phase of slimming down all this research material. My husband/tech advisor will be happy to see me finally do it. It would be nice to reclaim some office space and enjoy a less cluttered look.