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Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category

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.

On Vacation

For the first time in a very long time, I did no genealogy this week.

We went to the mountains to hike and to visit the hot springs, but we did not do research. We did not visit sites associated with our families.

Instead, we relaxed in beautiful southern Wyoming!

Reeds on the Kentucky Tax List

Tax records, when available, can provide year-by-year clues and insight into families in early America. This week I looked for the Reeds on Shelby County, Kentucky lists from 1792-1815.

I found many residents with this name and its variants Reed, Reid, Read, and Ried. They were clustered on different waterways in the county.

Some lived on lands along Clear Creek, Brashears Creek, and Bullskin Creek. I do not know whether they are related to me or not.

My own known group lived along Elk Creek. Caleb Reed (1756-abt 1832) had a place there. Others included his brother Joshua and sons Thomas and Caleb C. I also found David and Barnett. I do not know the relationship between the last two and Caleb’s family. Perhaps they were additional brothers to Caleb and Joshua.

I learned some interesting information about the Reed family from the tax lists:

  1. My ancestor Caleb had more livestock than the others did. He always had at least 4 horses and sometimes as many as eight. The others had 2-3. In the early years, when cattle were included on the tax list, he had over a dozen. The others had fewer.
  2. Caleb possessed a larger farm than the other relatives had. He was taxed in some years for 350 acres compared to 89 for his brother Joshua.
  3. The tax lists confirm the age of Caleb’s son Thomas. Family records say this son was born in 1783. In 1799, a male 16-21 appears in Caleb’s household. The new 16-year-old must have been Thomas.
  4. The tax lists provide a clue to the age of Caleb’s son Caleb C. Reed. Other records offer conflicting information for his birth year. According to the 1820 census, he was born about 1775, long before his father was married. The 1810 census for Caleb’s household includes a son who may have been Caleb C. who was born much later, 1784-94. The 1804 tax list includes an additional male 16-21, perhaps Caleb C. If he turned 16 that year, he was born about 1788, the same date range as the youth on the 1810 census. This would place him between two other known children, Abigail (1785) and John (1794). Assigning a birth year of 1788 makes sense for Caleb C. given the evidence of the 1804 tax list, the 1810 census, and the sibling birth years. The 1820 census must have misattributed his age.
  5. Caleb’s eldest daughter Sarah (Sally) married Thomas Johns in 1799. He appears on the tax list for the first time that year. His last entry is in 1808. He was not in Shelby County in 1810. The tax list provides a more precise year for the family moving away.
  6. Caleb’s second daughter Rachel married Augustine Elliott in 1801. He regularly paid taxes from 1802 until his death in 1808. The following year, Rachel began paying the tax.
  7. Caleb’s youngest daughter Elizabeth married Jonah Harris in 1814. He appears on the tax list for the first time the prior year, in 1813 and again in 1814. I did not find him on the 1815 list. Either he was missed or the family had moved away by then. They do not appear on the 1820 census for Shelby County.
  8. In 1810, Caleb again had a male 16-21 in his household. If his son Caleb C. Reed was born in 1788, he was over 21 that year. The new 16-21-year-old would have been Caleb’s youngest son, John who was born in 1794 according to family records.
  9. In the early years, the tax entries were listed by date paid. This changed in 1813 when the taxpayers were listed by militia group. The Reeds were listed in Reed’s Company of the 85th Regiment. Caleb had been a captain in the Corn Stalk Militia several years earlier, but I do not know whether he or someone else led the company in 1813.
  10. Joshua and Barnett Reed continued to appear on the tax list throughout the period. David last appeared in 1811 and was not replaced by a widow or possible son the following year. Perhaps he moved away.

Going through tax lists can be tedious. I took three sessions to view the years from 1792 to 1815. Yet I found the effort worthwhile, especially for a state where no census records exist for 1790 and 1800.

Two Young Widows

As I continue to do research on the life of my ancestor Thomas Reed (1783-1852), I am finding it helpful to look at the lives of his collateral relatives. He had several sisters, and women can be difficult to trace. But two of these women were widowed young, and their husbands’ estate papers shed light on the Reed family:

  1. Rachel Reed Elliott (1781-1868). Rachel married Augustine Elliott in Shelby County, Kentucky about 1801. They had three children, Alfred (1802), Sarah (1803), and Ludwell (1807). Augustine passed away not long after Ludwell was born. Probate papers for him date from 1808, and Rachel was the Administratrix. My ancestor Thomas was named in the Settlement, receiving a gun. Material goods went to other Reed relatives as well. Rachel seems to have been a capable woman. She never remarried but moved on to Washington County, Indiana where she accumulated a large landholding. Her father Caleb Reed eventually moved in with her, and she cared for him until his death. She left sizable farms to each of her children.
  2. Abigail Reed Kirkham Shaw (1785-1854). Abigail first married John Kirkham, the brother of Thomas Reed’s wife, my ancestor Anne Kirkham Reed (1782-1869). John and Abigail married in Shelby County, Kentucky on Christmas Eve in 1804, but he did not live long. The couple had settled in Nelson County, Kentucky where he passed away before August 1807. Abigail’s father Caleb Reed served as Administrator of the estate. Again, the Reeds received household and farm goods. I have not determined Abigail’s whereabouts for the decade after her husband died. She remarried in Shelby County nearly ten years later in 1817. She and her new husband James Joseph Shaw had five children in Kentucky, Josiah (1817), Peter (1819), Caleb (1821), Mary (1824), and Rachel (1828) before moving to Harrison County, Indiana about 1830. There they developed an interest in Texas, and they moved to Fayette County, Texas about 1835. They were just in time for Joseph and the older sons to participate in the War of Texas Independence. The Shaws became prominent citizens in their county, and their son Josiah served in the Texas Legislature.

These sisters had close dealings with their Reed family while they all lived in Kentucky. The men served as witnesses and bondsmen for one another as needed. Thomas Reed’s name appears throughout the legal dealings of Augustine Elliott and John Kirkham.

Yet life in Kentucky must not have been to their liking because they all left the area between 1815-1830. Perhaps the exodus was due to the tangled land titles in this part of Kentucky.

Thomas went to Illinois in 1829, but no other Reeds went with them. Other early settlers in their area may have been related to Thomas’ mother.

More work remains to be done with his collateral relatives to sort out the family tree. Thomas’ grandmothers were surnamed Boyd and Carr, and numerous people with these names appear in the Illinois records. They were likely relatives of the Reeds.