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Look Beyond the Index

At a recent genealogy meeting, the speaker reminded us that an index is only that. We do not stop there in our search for an ancestor. We follow up by viewing the original source.

I applied this concept as I did my research on the Reed family this year. My cousins had located our ancestor Caleb Reed’s name in an 1833 supporting affidavit for a Revolutionary War pension application. They made a copy of his statement.

Although this was not an index, I thought it best to follow the same advice to look at the original source and review the entire application file. I wondered what else might be in there to shed light on the life of my ancestor.

Revolutionary War pension applications can be found online at the subscription Fold3 database. I searched there for the applicant mentioned in Caleb’s affidavit, Joseph Young, who had served from Pennsylvania.

When I located his record, I found the affidavit executed by Caleb Reed. I also found affidavits signed by two of his siblings, Joshua Reed and Abigail Reed Stillwell.

These papers gave three different but similar recollections of their friend Joseph Young and his service. This unfortunate man had contracted smallpox at his military camp. Caleb’s father heard of this and sent him to bring Joseph back to Fayette County. Joseph was ill for months and lost an eye to the disease. The Reeds housed him during his ordeal.

Both Caleb and Joshua mentioned their father in their statements, but they did not name him. Abigail’s affidavit provides this crucial genealogical information when she refers to her father Thomas.

I would have missed out on this important evidence if I had stopped with the affidavit that my cousins had transcribed. Abigail, by including that detail of her father’s name, gives me the critical link between generations. It was well worth my time to read the entire 37-page application file.

So do not stop with an index or one piece of paper from an entire file. Locate the original source and look at everything available there.

The Shaws Appear in Court Records

Court order books can provide good family information for some lucky researchers. As I have combed the early 19th century books for Shelby County, Kentucky, I have come across a few gems. This week I viewed an affidavit taken from one Fanny Shaw.

I do not have Shaw ancestors, but a Reed daughter, Abigail, married Joseph Shaw on January 1, 1817. Fanny was Joseph’s mother.

The affidavit from the November 1820 court session does not state why she needed to have family information recorded in an official record. She refers to the heirs of her husband John, so perhaps the details were needed to settle his estate or transfer land titles.

This rich record provides much detail about the Shaw family at a time when family members were not listed by name on the U. S. census:

  1. John Shaw was born in England and arrived in America in 1784,
  2. John’s first wife was Jane Jones,
  3. John and Jane had 5 children, but only a son, also named John, survived,
  4. The younger John Shaw resided in Leesburg, Virginia in 1820,
  5. John Shaw and Fanny had four children who were John’s heirs: Joseph Shaw, Benjamin Shaw, Jesse Shaw, and Elizabeth Shaw Kester.

A Shaw descendant would be thrilled to find this document. Even I was excited to see it, and the Shaws were in-laws to my Reeds. Perhaps Abigail Reed Shaw benefited from an inheritance her husband received from John Shaw.

Other families, too, should look at the Shelby County Court Order books. They contain so much more than names of road overseers and tavern keepers. Several Revolutionary War veterans had their statements of service filed therein.

It takes a lot of time to learn the old handwriting scripts and go through the volumes. I think it is worth the effort in case one’s family had a reason to appear in court and provide some good biographical information.

The Shelby County Court Order books are available for viewing on the Family Search website.

Wrapping Up

Each year at the end of October, I wind up my annual research project and begin writing up my findings. That time has arrived for the work on Thomas Reed (1783-1852) and Ann Kirkham (1782-1869).

These ancestors settled in Illinois when their children were already well-grown. The local Reed descendants were proud of their heritage and preserved much of the genealogy from the time the family arrived there in 1829 until the present. Cousins had combed the records for every scrap of information, leaving little else for me to find.

Once they had gathered it up, one wrote a book about Thomas and his descendants. Michael Hayden published The Reeds of Ashmore in 1988.

His book did not address the Reed history before their arrival in Illinois. For earlier information on Thomas, I needed to look at records from Nelson, Shelby, and Spencer Counties, Kentucky.

There again, the cousins had located a lot. One passed all that research on to me.

A source I do not think they consulted was the county Court Order books. I spent hours this year reading them on the Family Search website. Thomas Reed did not appear there often, but I found that his father Caleb (1756-abt. 1835) certainly did.

Instead of spending my year gathering material on Thomas as I had expected to do, I kept adding to the pile of information about Caleb. This gave me insight into Kentucky life during the early years of its statehood when Thomas grew up there. Those events shaped him, even if he did not appear in the records much.

Armed with this information, next week I will begin my character sketch of Thomas Reed and his wife Ann. The information I found this year allows me to include his life in Kentucky in addition to his years in Illinois.

Verifying a Family Story

Caleb Robertson Reed (1841-1903) was my great-grandfather’s cousin. R, as he was known, never married. He had no descendants to remember him. That task fell to other Reeds.

My Reed branch has a family story about his death. Our version differs from that told by other cousins.

According to our tale, R fell ill while living in his lifelong hometown of Ashmore, Illinois. He sought treatment in St. Louis, MO but passed away there. His body was sent to Terre Haute, IN, a larger city not too far from Ashmore. His cousin Thomas Logan Reed (1860-1925) met the train and escorted his body back to Ashmore for burial. Thomas served as Executor of R’s estate.

While doing some family research, I looked at R’s Find A Grave memorial. The site claims he died at Terre Haute, not St. Louis. The relative who created the memorial had heard the other version of the family story.

Who had the correct information about where R had died? I decided to find out.

It proved simple enough. The Family Search website has the death register for St. Louis County available online. There I found a listing for C. R. Reed who died at the Mullanphy Hospital in St. Louis on December 30, 1903. There was a notation that the body was returned to Ashmore, Illinois for burial.

I will need to ask the person who manages R’s FindAGrave memorial to update his biography with the correct death information.

After that, the next step in R’s story is to resolve conflicting claims about whether he served in the Civil War. Some cousins say so….

A Kentucky Land Title Mess

Last week I wrote about my ancestor Thomas Reed’s land acquisitions in Illinois. Before he arrived there when he was in his mid-40’s, he had lived in Kentucky. He had land there, too.

Thomas was part of an extended family of Reeds in rural Shelby, later Spencer, County, Kentucky. All the men had farms.

Thomas’ ownership arrangement was unusual. He and his brothers Caleb and John together acquired an undivided tract of 311 acres in 1817. They were to pay for it in 4 installments, but payment terms were not specified.

Later court and land records state that the brothers proceeded to divide the land among themselves into unequal parcels. They never formalized this agreement.

Nature has a way of confounding these loose land titles. In subsequent years, Caleb Reed and the grantors all died. Somehow the men’s father became involved by “holding a bond” from a third party.

I have yet to figure out exactly what was going on here.

By the 1830’s, it became time to straighten out this mess. The father had moved to Indiana and transferred the bond to Thomas Reed. John and Thomas and their widowed sister-in-law wanted to leave Kentucky, too.

In order to sell the land, they needed to bring a court case to regularize the land title. The County Commissioners interviewed the parties and determined that the Reeds had fulfilled the terms of their deal to purchase the tract. The informal land division among the brothers had been fair.

The Court took the Commissioners’ recommendation and vested title in the Reeds. They turned around and sold their holdings to a neighbor.

This entire episode could have been avoided if the Reeds had signed and recorded appropriate documentation as they went along. I wonder how much it cost them to get a quiet title to the tract they had purchased.

It was interesting to note that the Reeds seemed to have been on good terms with one another all along. This would have been even messier if they had been fighting amongst themselves.


The Reeds Bought Land

Early settlers on newly opened American lands had a couple of options for acquiring their property. Some used bounty land warrants received as payment for military service. Others purchased land from the government. Thomas Reed used the second option.

My ancestor left Kentucky in December 1829 and took his family to Illinois. This part of the Northwest Territory had become a state eleven years earlier in 1818. Before Thomas’ arrival, most of the population was clustered in the southern part of Illinois, but Thomas pushed northeast to an area where settlement had begun only five years earlier.

He rejected the first site he had in mind because of rumors of the prevalence of milk sickness, the malady that took the life of Abraham Lincoln’s mother. He and his family settled instead in a wild area near present-day Ashmore, Illinois.

They were pioneer settlers. In 1830, Thomas received patents for three tracts of land. He purchased another ten parcels from the government over the following ten years.

He ended up owning over 1000 acres, or nearly two sections. His sons, Robertson and Caleb, purchased many of the fill-in parcels. The land was part prairie, and part timber, with a stream running through it. This part of Illinois became rich farmland, and the Reeds made a good living there.

I do not know how Thomas came by the money to purchase all this land. In Kentucky, he had owned some land jointly with his brothers, acquired with a mortgage. He was not wealthy then.

His father Caleb had owned 2-3 hundred acres in Kentucky, and he also worked on the side as an estate appraiser and an officer in the Kentucky militia. He passed away about 1832, and Thomas received only a watch from him. Thomas did not use inherited money to buy his land.

So where did he get it? Did his wife have money? Had his father given him money when he liquidated his Kentucky holdings in the early 1820’s? I do not know.

It took some money to settle on land the government offered for sale on the frontier of America. The price was not high because they wanted to encourage settlement. Yet people like the Reeds needed to have money from somewhere to take advantage of the deal. We do not know how Thomas Reed managed that.

The Reed Coat of Arms

My Reed family has enjoyed keeping and displaying a Coat of Arms. Although I suspected we have no entitlement to do this, I knew little of heraldry. I wanted to know more about the rules on this subject. Last week I attended an introductory webinar hosted by American Ancestors and learned that I was right.

The speaker began by telling us about the components of a coat of arms. These include:

  1. The blazon, a description of the heraldry image.
  2. The coat of arms, a heraldic design on a shield.
  3. The crest, a complementary design above the coat of arms.
  4. Impaling and quartering, ways to divide images on the shield to show descent from different families.

So, what about the Reed coat of arms? What customs govern whether we can use it?

That would depend on how we acquired it. The United States keeps no registry of heraldry. Any historic coat of arms for my family would have to come from England or Scotland.

The Reed coat of arms was not handed down through my family from our immigrant ancestors. More recent generations found the Reed image in genealogy books.

According to the webinar speaker, Nathaniel Lane Taylor, only known descendants or close collateral kin of the original armiger should use a particular coat of arms. There is no such thing as a same name coat of arms. I am pretty sure we are not entitled to use the Reed coat of arms under this standard.

Furthermore, Mr. Taylor pointed out that one cannot assume that the existence of a coat of arms for one’s surname would point to one’s true family. We must do the genealogical research to find that information.

I have no idea what Reed family first registered the Reed coat of arms or whether they were related to me. I have not yet crossed the pond with this family as I remain mired in colonial records. No Reed researchers related to me have yet identified a Reed forebear in England, Scotland, or Ireland.

As for the subject of heraldry, anyone interested in additional information can find it on the American Ancestors website under Signature Projects (



Where Were the Reeds?

The Reed family lived in Shelby County, Kentucky during the early 1800’s. My ancestor Thomas grew up there surrounded by other Reeds who I assume were his father Caleb’s extended family. Caleb often appeared in the county records, but the others did not. Who were they, and how were they related to Caleb? Why were they scarcely mentioned in the records?

Several Reeds settled along Elk Creek in the early 1790s—Caleb, Barnett, David, and Joshua. We know that Joshua was a brother to Caleb. We do not yet know the relationship between Caleb and Joshua and the other two men.

Caleb seemed the most prominent of these. He was a captain in the local militia, and he owned about 200 acres of land. He married a wealthy widow later in life. His name appeared often in the county records as he served in capacities such as appraiser of estates and executor of wills.

The remaining Reeds rarely appeared in the records although they lived near Caleb for over 25 years. They were on the tax lists until the War of 1812 period. About that time Joshua and David moved on to Indiana, but I do not know what became of Barnett.

As I make my way through the Shelby County Court Order Books, I do not find the names of the other three Reeds. They did not seem to get appointments as road overseers or militia officers. They were not in any estate records.

These men did own land. Barnett had 50 acres, and Joshua had 89 acres. David’s holdings varied with up to 150 acres.

Perhaps their farms required all their attention, and they did not find time to participate much in the greater community. Caleb’s son Thomas was said to be this way, and perhaps he mimicked his uncles. Thomas was described in a county history as a quiet, industrious man, attending strictly to his own affairs and never seeking official positions.

Any Reed man with this personality left little footprint behind for the genealogy researcher.


The New Genealogy Season Begins

The 2023-24 genealogy club season begins in September. Our local societies are giving us a lot to look forward to this month:

  1. Fjelldalen Slektforskningflubb: My husband/tech advisor, who serves as the leader of this Norwegian genealogy study group, already began the new year with a session on how Norwegian immigrants secured land in the United States.
  2. Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society: This group will start off with a help session for those who need assistance in getting organized or overcoming a brick wall.
  3. Colorado Genealogical Society: A local genealogist will speak on parish records.
  4. W.I.S.E.: This British Isles-focused group (get it? Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England) will hear a talk on Welsh legends.

Finally, just around the corner in October, the Colorado Chapter of Palatines to America will hold its fall seminar. The featured speaker will be Michael Lacopo. His topics will include German church records, the German immigrant experience, and more.

I cannot wait!

Treasure in the Court Order Books

My ancestor Thomas Reed (1783-1852) lived in Shelby County, Kentucky during his younger years. As I research his life there, I have been working my way through all the online county records available on the Family Search website. Shelby County Court Order books for the early 1800s are found there.

I began with 1804, the first book on the list. So far, I have not found Thomas Reed mentioned, but I have seen records of his father and his brother, both named Caleb Reed.

Many of the court orders are road entries. They tell us who was appointed to oversee the roads and the names of the landowners alongside whose property the roads pass. These are of little interest except to verify that a man resided at that place during that time.

Other court records offer more insight into a citizen’s life. I found some interesting information about Caleb Reed (1756-abt. 1832):

  1. Caleb served as Executor for a woman named Sarah White in 1806. I do not know who she was or how she was related to Caleb, but I believe she must have been a family member. Others mentioned in the record include Absalom Carr (Caleb’s wife at the time was a Carr), and Peter Van Dyke (Caleb later married Van Dyke’s widow). The Reeds, Whites, and Carrs had all migrated from Fayette County, Pennsylvania.
  2. Caleb and his son Caleb (abt. 1788-abt. 1828) both served as witnesses in an 1806 trial. The defendant Jeremiah Webb stood accused of felony stealing of corn. I do not know how the Reeds were connected to Webb.

Family Search does not have an online index to these Court Order Books. One must read them, page by page. It takes a long time.

The entries I have found about the Reeds so far will make it worth the time spent. The stories will add interesting color to my character sketches for these ancestors, and they provide clues for further research.