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The Lawless Family of Peoria

We have some Lawless ancestors. Not that they were lawbreakers, but that was their name. These Irish immigrants settled in Peoria, Illinois, that quintessential American city.

My group arrived in New York in 1849 and was enumerated in Peoria in 1850. Three other Lawless families already lived there.

Were my people related to the others? It is tempting to assume so, but so far I have not been able to discern a kinship.

My family, as listed on the census record, almost matches their passenger arrival list (one daughter died in the interim):

  1. Thomas Lawless     46
  2. Margaret        50 on the ship record, 25 on the census
  3. Jane            21
  4. Peter            18
  5. Catherine        16 (died in 1849)
  6. James            16
  7. Bridget            15
  8. Rose            10
  9. Thomas            8
  10. Patrick            6
  11. Betsy            4
  12. Michael            3
  13. John            1/12

The other Lawless families were headed by men I believe to be father and sons:

  1. James Lawless        51
  2. Margaret        48
  3. John            21
  4. Jane            17
  5. Ellen            12

     

  6. Thomas Lawless    32
  7. Margaret        24
  8. Ann            2
  9. Elizabeth        0
  10. Thomas O’Brien        21

     

  11. Patrick            30
  12. Sarah            25
  13. Joan            7
  14. Thomas            4
  15. Jno            0

Except for Patrick’s family, the Lawlesses lived quite close to one another in Peoria in dwellings 1968, 1969, and 1971. The Thomas Lawless who arrived in the U.S. in 1849 must have headed to Peoria to join the other Lawless families there.

Were Thomas (46) and James (51) brothers? With an age difference of just 5 years, this seems possible. I have yet to find any documentation naming the parents of either man.

Public family trees name various parents for James, who immigrated as a young man in 1828. One tree suggests different parents for Thomas although no one seems to have done much research on him.

Much work remains to decipher this family relationship. Not only will I need to study unfamiliar Irish records, but the duplication of names presents an additional challenge. Did you notice that these four families have four males named Thomas? And that nearly every wife is named Margaret? Other names are repeated, too—Jane, Elizabeth/Betsy, James, John, Patrick.

This seems a messy bunch to sort out, and I will be satisfied when I have it all untangled.

Irish Jane

Now that the new year has begun, a new research project beckons.

For the first time, I will attempt to document the lives of some of my Irish ancestors. First up, Jane Lawless (d. 1853).

I learned Jane’s name from my great-grandfather’s marriage license. She was his mother. Further investigation reveals her marriage to Daniel Ryan at Peoria, IL in 1851. Daniel’s Civil War pension file confirms this and gives me the year of her death.

Jane’s name, if she is indeed the same person, appears on only one U. S. census record, 1850. At that time, she lived in the Peoria household of the man I presume was her father, Thomas Lawless, along with several other children. As we know, the 1850 census does not spell out family relationships, so I need some other evidence that Thomas was the father of Jane.

I located an 1849 ship passenger list from Ireland showing a Lawless family that looks much like the one on the 1850 census. Jane and several other children sailed on the Home with Thomas Lawless, but again no family relationships are specified.

Find A Grave records for Thomas and some of the other members of his household tell me the family originated in County Louth, Ireland. That County has a baptism record for Jane Lawless, born to Thomas Lawless and Bridget Hamill in 1826.

Is Jane, daughter of Thomas and Bridget, the same Jane who sailed to America in 1849, and the same Jane who married Daniel Ryan in 1851? A birth year conflict remains to be resolved. The baptized baby Jane was born in 1826. The ship passenger Jane was 20 years old in 1849 with an implied birth year of 1829. The young woman on the census was 21, again with an implied birth year of 1829.

I need some more information about Jane before I can make the claim that all these records refer to the same person. I have found no death information for Jane other than a mention in her husband’s pension application file. She died long before the state of Illinois began keeping death records. I plan to check whether there are any county-level records. Jane has no FindAGrave memorial, so I need to look for a church death record and a burial record for her. One of these could provide more information about her.

The Thomas Lawless I believe to be my Jane’s father outlived her. Perhaps he left a will that mentioned her son. That would link the generations together.

Thomas passed away in LaSalle County, Illinois in 1870. Family Search has the LaSalle county probate records digitized, but they are locked. Earlier this week I submitted a lookup request to find out whether Thomas Lawless had an estate that was probated.

Once I have exhausted these research ideas for Jane, my next step will be to document the lives of all the people I believe to be Thomas’ children and Jane’s siblings. One of them may have left behind more clues that can knit this family together better.

Before I take off and try to do research on a family in County Louth, I want to make sure I have the right one.

 

Thanksgiving Plans Change

We thought this year would be different.

We have two grown sons and their families who live nearby, and we anticipated spending Thanksgiving with some of them.

Then a couple of people developed coughs earlier this week. Covid tests came back positive.

We are thankful that all the unwell seem to be recovering at home without complications.

But the Thanksgiving family gathering has had to be cancelled. Each nuclear family will eat the festive meal separately.

Those of us who can do so will meet for a Zoom call with the extended family in the afternoon. We did this last year when no one could meet in person. Now again this year it is the only option for the locals to visit one another.

Despite the change in plans, my husband/tech advisor and I will enjoy the holiday. Zooming with the relatives and eating a delicious turkey dinner together does not sound so bad.

At least I am not trying to fly anywhere.

 

 

Benjamin Dunbar of Halifax, MA

The Dunbar family in Massachusetts was my ancestral line. The last head of my family to live there was Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831). I have documented his adult life, and now I want to know more about his birth family.

Ann Theopold Chaplin, in The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts (1992), gives us the bare outline. His father, also named Benjamin, was born in 1749, and he died before 1779. His son and namesake Benjamin probably had no memory of him. There was one other child, a younger brother named Hosea. The mother was named Hannah. This family lived at Halifax.

I have learned that Hosea eventually moved to Vermont where he married Rachel White. They settled first in upstate New York and then went on to Lenawee County, Michigan.

In the meantime, my ancestor Benjamin E. Dunbar had gone to Cape Cod where he married Rhoda Hall and set up a saltworks. Shortly before he died, he moved his family to Summit County, Ohio. His widow and three of his daughters (Susannah Cutting, Olive Riddle, and Laura Fuller) later settled three counties away from Hosea’s family in St. Joseph County, Michigan.

None of this sheds any light on the life of the senior Benjamin Dunbar of Halifax.

Chaplin’s book tells us that he was married twice, and Hannah was the second wife. The first was Ruth Pratt whom he married 4 March 1772 at Halifax. I decided to begin my quest for details about Benjamin Dunbar by searching for information about her.

This week I was unable to identify her in any other Massachusetts records although an online search turned up four possibilities:

  1. Ruth Pratt born 24 November 1740 at Bridgewater to David and Ann Pratt. This Ruth probably was the same Ruth who married Obadiah Bates on 27 May 1762 at Bridgewater.
  2. Ruth Pratt born 13 May 1742 at Middleboro to Phineas and Sarah Pratt. This Ruth married John Rickard on 24 May 1764.
  3. Ruth Prat born 1 October 1745 at Plymouth to William Prat and Mary Young. The family tree posted on Ancestry.com for this family says they relocated to North Carolina while Ruth was still a child.
  4. Ruth Pratt b. 1752 at East Bridgewater, d. Dec. 1775 at Halifax. Several family trees on Ancestry claim this is the woman who married Benjamin E. Dunbar, but none provide any sources. Still, these dates are new information not provided in Chaplin’s book, and this Ruth matches the person I seek.

I think I can rule out the first three women as the wife of my Benjamin. Perhaps I can find some corroborating evidence in the Bridgewater and Halifax records showing that Ruth #4 was Benjamin’s first wife. I do not want to take the word of an unsourced, online family tree.

Finding information about women, particularly during Colonial times, presents a challenge. I may not be able to find anything more about Ruth Pratt. Yet a thorough research on Benjamin requires that I look at all the people in his life.

Hosea Dunbar, a FAN of Benjamin E. Dunbar

Hosea Dunbar (1777-1849) was my ancestor Benjamin E. Dunbar’s younger brother. I have been filling out a Family Group Sheet for Hosea in the hopes of learning more about the greater Dunbar family. Good genealogical research practices tell us to search for members of an ancestor’s FAN club, meaning their family, associates, and neighbors.

Our Dunbar family history, Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chaplin (1992), gave me some of Hosea’s basic information, but it is incomplete and somewhat inaccurate. This genealogy told me that Hosea’s family migrated from Vermont to New York and then on to Michigan.

FindAGrave.com provides the death information for Hosea, his wife Rachel, and all but one of their children. It also names the children’s spouses.

More can be done on this family. Hosea was married in Vermont and some of the children were born there. I should be able to find a Vermont marriage record and birth registrations for them.

I may also be able to locate marriage records for any children married in Michigan, although the older ones may have married in New York. I have heard that New York research is difficult, so that may be a dead end.

The family eventually settled in Lenawee County, Michigan, arriving by 1840. There ought to be a county history, and perhaps the Dunbars are mentioned therein. If I am lucky, I can find one online.

All this means that I have more to do on Hosea’s family before I move on to other Dunbar family members and associates. My research subject for this year is my own ancestor, Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831). To fully understand his life, I must first finish learning about his FAN Hosea.

Changing Focus from Ohio to Massachusetts

Back in December I set the goal of documenting the lives of my ancestral couple Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) and Rhoda Hall (1784-1850). These people began their married life on Cape Cod, and they relocated to Stow, Ohio shortly before Benjamin’s death.

I have spent my research time so far this year learning about their twelve children. Although I have gathered a lot of information about most of them, nothing sheds much light on the lives of the parents.

This is not a problem in Rhoda’s case. I already know quite a bit about her. She was a Mayflower descendant, and I used her lineage to gain membership into the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Now I need to look more closely at Benjamin’s life. I begin with a couple of questions:

  1. When he was a young man, Benjamin purchased Chatham, MA land from Fear Dunbar Ryder. Since all the Massachusetts Dunbars descended from the immigrant Robert Dunbar of Hingham, MA (1630-1693), Benjamin and Fear must have been related. What was the relationship?
  2. Who was Benjamin’s mother? Online trees claim she was Hannah Latham. If that is true, this may be another Mayflower line for us, and we would also have a common ancestor with Princess Diana. On the other hand, the heavily researched The Descendants of
    Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts
    (1630-1693) by Ann Theopold Chaplin (1992) claims that Benjamin’s mother was Hannah Hathaway.

Research for the post-Revolution generation presents challenges. U. S. census records do not name everyone in the household until 1850. Many New England family names were repeated from generation to generation, and it is difficult to sort people out. In the case of Benjamin and Rhoda, the Barnstable County, MA courthouse experienced a catastrophic fire in 1827 that destroyed the land records.

Over the years, whenever I ran across a record pertaining to Chatham or the Dunbars, I would take a copy and file it away for future use. I am eager to make my way through this deep pile of resources to see what I can find about Benjamin Dunbar and his parents. After I see what I have already collected, I can determine where I need to look next.

New Year, New Project

A new year will arrive in a few hours. With it will come the time for me to begin a new genealogy research project.

Each year I target an ancestor to learn more about. At the end of the year, I send my findings around to my extended family. Maybe someone will preserve what I have learned for their own descendants.

In 2021 I will try to find more information on my third great-grandfather, Benjamin E. Dunbar. He was a salt maker on Cape Cod for many years.

Benjamin is listed in the Dunbar family genealogy, The Descendants of Robert Dunbar of Hingham, Massachusetts by Ann Theopold Chaplin.

From this and other sources, I have already collected enough documentation relating to his life to create a short timeline:

    1776 Born in Halifax, Massachusetts

    1805 Married Rhoda Hall at Chatham, Massachusetts

    1814 Served in the War of 1812 as a private in the Massachusetts militia in the defense of Eastham

    1831 Died at Stow, Ohio

Benjamin Dunbar was just 55 when he died. He had recently sold his saltworks and relocated to Ohio. He left a widow and twelve children.

I have a few questions about his life that I would like to answer this year:

  1. Who was his mother? The Dunbar book says she was Hannah Hathaway, but online sources claim a different Hannah was his mother.
  2. Who were his siblings? The Dunbar book says he had a younger brother, Hosea Dunbar. Their father died when the boys were toddlers. Did Hannah re-marry? Did Benjamin have half-siblings?
  3. Did he leave any male line descendants? He had three sons, Daniel H., Benjamin S., and Moses. I have found no records on Daniel or Moses after 1843 when the Dunbar land in Ohio was partitioned. Benjamin S. lived until at least 1880 and is buried in an unmarked grave near his parents in Stow, but I know little about his life.
  4. Has anyone discovered Benjamin’s Dunbar roots in Scotland? When the Dunbar book was written in 1992, no birth family had been found for the patriarch Robert although family tradition claimed he was born in the 1630’s in Morayshire. Dunbar researchers at the time concluded that Robert had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Dunbar (1650) or the Battle of Worcestor (1651) and deported to the colonies. Is there any more recent scholarship on this man?

After a year of studying my Snow family in New England, I am ready to turn the page and look at a new family. I can apply much of what I learned in 2020 about New England research to this new project.

The Dunbars should provide an interesting subject. After all, my distant cousin the philosopher Henry David Thoreau belonged to this family. His mother was Cynthia Dunbar.

 

    

    

I Take My Turn Offering a Norwegian Genealogy Class

Last weekend I led a discussion for our Sons of Norway genealogy study group. Earlier this year, we had a planning meeting to schedule topics for the months ahead, and I drew April. This approach frees up our leader, my own husband/tech advisor, to work on other things. No one must do too much if we each take responsibility for an occasional program.

My topic was organizing genealogical research. I am no expert at this, as you would see if you peeked into my office. I thought about it awhile, and I realized I could not do a formal presentation on this subject. I have no expertise to offer.

Instead, I decided to lead a discussion where all participants could share what they know. We could learn from one another and take away any good tips offered.

I did some background research and located a couple of books on organizing your genealogy research. From these, I prepared an outline to guide the discussion. I made copies to distribute to everyone who attended.

I was pleasantly surprised when ten people gathered for our meeting. This is more than we have had in a long time. We even had a couple of visitors.

We had a lively discussion with most people confessing that their records could use better organization. We were all reassured to learn that no best way to organize exists. Systems used by the group members included paper systems in file folders and notebooks, spreadsheets, and digitized records. Most everyone uses a genealogy software program to keep track of family groups. We talked about the pros and cons of each system for filing documents and maintaining research calendars.

I circulated the reference books and copies of some paper organizational helps like family group sheets and research logs. I also showed the notebook I keep on my Norwegian ancestors and explained how I have it organized.

The best tip I gleaned from this meeting was that I do not have to take the time to reorganize everything I have collected. If I want a new system, say a digital one, I can begin with materials I am using for my research today. Once I identify a consistent file-naming system, I can then go back and scan older items as I refer to them. Eventually, it will all get done without me trying to do it all at once.

I think we had a very successful genealogy session. Several people in the group had requested this topic, and the discussion format seemed well-received. A wise genealogist told me once that if you offer a good program, they will come.

In case anyone is interested, we looked at these books on genealogy organization, both available at my local library:

  1. Smith, Drew. Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for Every Researcher
  2. Scott, Kerry. How to Use Evernote for Genealogy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Organize your Research and Boost your Genealogy Productivity

DNA Test Results Arrive

Several months ago, I resolved to take a DNA test for genealogical purposes. I purchased both an autosomal test and a mitochondrial test from Family Tree DNA. After performing the cheek swabs and mailing in the samples, I received my results earlier this summer.

Since then, I have spent a bit of time reviewing my report. My ethnicity results varied some from what I expected:

What I Thought                          What the Test Said

44% English and Scots Irish    38% British Isles

25% Finnish                                 30% Finland

25% Norwegian                           21% Scandinavia

6% German                                   9% Iberia

—-                                                  2% East Europe

What am I to make of this? It seems my maternal line matches pretty well with the heritage I anticipated. My mom was half Norwegian, half Finn, and 51% of my ethnic origin lies in Scandinavia and Finland.

The disparity appears to come from my dad’s side. The family said he was primarily English and Scots Irish with the exception of a German great-grandmother. My heritage shows plenty of British but no German on this test. Surprisingly, I do have a sizable connection to Iberia (Spain and Portugal). I also have a bit of eastern European that the FamilyTreeDNA map shows centered in eastern Poland and western Ukraine.

Where would I get Iberian and eastern European ancestors when my family does not know of any? Could some of it be Germans from Russia? Black Irish?

My dad does have an unidentified grandfather who would have contributed, on average, 12.5% of my DNA. Perhaps all or part of this 11% Iberian and Eastern European comes from him. I wish I could find a DNA match that would help me explain this part of my heritage.

Unfortunately, nearly all my closest matches on Family Tree DNA are Finnish, so they must be my mother’s relatives. So far, no one leaps out of the list as a good prospect for deciphering my mystery lines on my father’s side.

I plan to keep working to understand the DNA data and to contact matches that might help me. As more people submit test results, perhaps a closer match will become available for comparison. In the meantime, I am participating in a DNA class through the Colorado Genealogical Society, and I am reading a couple of books on DNA testing. When that DNA match arrives someday, I want to be able to recognize and interpret it.

Sherman Serendipity

I happened upon a treasure the other day. While contemplating the next step in my Sherman family research, for some reason I looked into a desk drawer that I had not opened in a while. There I found a folder marked “Sherman.” I had forgotten all about it.

It contained several Sherman-related documents I have collected over the years. I had tossed them in the folder awaiting a time when I could focus on the Shermans. Surprisingly, some of the papers were documents I had just been considering seeking as a next step in my research. What a find! (not to mention the opportunity to clean out something from the desk drawer).

First I turned my attention to a Civil War Widow’s pension file. It pertains to my ancestor Thomas Sherman’s brother-in-law, John Alvey. I learned the following from this file:

  1. Private John Alvey’s widow Evaline (Thomas’ older sister) filed for a pension in 1867, and she began receiving $8 per month. The pension continued until her death in 1922—a period of 55 years.
  2. The discrepancy on the 1851 Alvey marriage record between her name Evaline Sherman and the recorded name Emeline Shearer was explained as an Estill County, KY scrivener’s error.
  3. Pvt. John Alvey enlisted as a Union volunteer in August, 1862 at Hendersonville, KY. He served in the 8th Kentucky cavalry.
  4. Pvt. John Alvey died of diphtheria in January 1863 in a hospital at Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
  5. When Evaline filed for the pension, both she and two sisters who served as witnesses (Elizabeth Sherman Glover and Gilla Sherman Cobb) had moved from Kentucky to Williamsburgh, Indiana.
  6. Evaline and John Alvey’s only child, Roena, was born December 25, 1852.

Finding this Sherman folder just when I needed it becomes another example of that genealogy serendipity I experience every so often. Other genealogists talk about it, too. It is almost as if our ancestors want to be found, and they nudge us in the right direction. I cannot wait to see what else I find in this long-forgotten folder.