An Instant to Realize “Instant Instander” Was In a Different Hand

29 August 1860 letter from Samuel K. Casey, Warden of Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet, Illinois, to Illinois Governor John Wood, Lawrence Knaeble, Illinois Governor’s pardons, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, Illinois.

This 1860 letter from Samuel Casey, warden at the Illinois prison in Joliet, was written to attest to the behavior of Lawrence Knaeble since his incarceration. Knaeble was sentenced to a seven year term according to the Scott’s letter. The charge, according to what Casey writes in this letter, was murder.

There is also a notation, clearly written in a different hand, in the lower-left hand corner of the letter. That notation is “Issue Instanter,” and most likely is an indication to issue a pardon immediately. It is the only direct statement ordering the pardon that is contained in the pardon file for Knaeble. The rest of the material in his file is supportive documentation and correspondence.

My transcription of the letter should clearly indicate that “Issue Instanter” is in a different handwriting than that used by Casey to write the letter. To not do so would seem to indicate that Casey was ordering the issuance of the pardon.

I also would not take Casey’s reference to Knaeble as being convicted on murder charges as authoritative. Knaeble’s trail was in Hancock County, Illinois, a significant distance from Joliet. Casey’s knowledge of the charge likely came from what he was told or had read. Because of that, Casey’s knowledge of the charge being a murder one is secondary. It does not mean that Casey was wrong, but that search of local court records is warranted. There likely is more information in the case packet besides the specific nature of the charges against Knaeble.

My transcription of a document should always reference different handwriting styles.


Moon People

We all have them: someone who appears to have lived on Earth for only a few years. They arrived as an adult from the moon, appeared in a few earthly records, and then vanished.  They leave no other apparent trace except for mention in records in a short, narrow time frame.

Moon People

Barbara (Siefert) Bieger Fennan Haase Haase has two such moon people in her life. One of them was supposedly her “husband.”

Barbara was apparently “married” to a “non-legal” husband in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, by the spring of 1856.  At that time, her husband, George Fennan, appears as guardian for her children in county court records. His Germanic signature appears on two documents in the guardianship records, one of which is on a letter asking to be relieved from his duties a short time after being appointed guardian. He appears in no other local records.

The second moon person is Lawrence Knaeble. He was apparently a tenant in an apartment attached to Barbara’s tavern in Warsaw in May of 1858 when he shoots an overly aggressive and drunk William Donahue who was a patron of Barbara’s tavern. Knaeble was convicted on a manslaughter charge but was pardoned by the Illinois governor before serving his entire sentence. His only appearance in local records is his criminal conviction by a Hancock County court.

The moon people matter because there might be something on them that leads me to more information on Barbara. She’s a German native whose origins have been difficult to research.

I need to write up and organize what I have on Fennan and Knaeble. Fennan is known to have left the local area–or at least refers to his departure in his letter requesting he be relieved of his guardianship duties. It’s possible that Knaeble never returned to Hancock County after his pardon. It’s also possible that neither of the men knew Barbara before they met in Warsaw and that there is no “clue” about her origins to be gleaned from information on them.

But I won’t know if I don’t look.

Unless I look on the moon. Maybe that’s where all the answers I cannot find are located.



Do They All Live in the Middle of Nowhere?

I asked a colleague to recommend a researcher in a specific area that’s too far for me to travel to and a little outside my area of expertise.  He wasn’t able to give me the name of a researcher and, because we occasionally share attempts to be funny with each other, he included the following in his response:

Apparently your family has a long history of living in the middle of nowhere.

He was joking and occasionally likes to remind me that I live in the middle of nowhere and he does not. But his comment got me thinking about something that I had realized but never verbalized.

The majority of my direct-line ancestors did live in the middle of nowhere or at least somewhere fairly rural.

I won’t bore readers with a lengthy discussion of where my various families are from or where they settled, but will briefly summarize. My maternal ancestors all hail from a rural area of northern Germany where they had lived for generations. They settled in rural areas of Illinois and Nebraska in the mid-19th century. My paternal ancestors have been “rural dwellers” in the United States since at least the mid-18th century (for those who were in the United States). My paternal mid-19th century immigrants came from rural areas of Europe as well. We just are not city dwellers.

Except for a set of 3rd great-grandparents who spent two years in Cincinnati.

What changed for your ancestors when they moved from one place to another? What stayed the same (or relatively close)? For many of mine their occupation and way of life stayed the same. Some of their neighbors also stayed the same–if not initially, at least after a few years some of their former neighbors were their neighbors again. Thinking about what did and did not change for your migrating ancestors when they moved may at the very least give you some insight into their life in their new location. Determining what might have changed and what might have not changed may require learning more about the area and the time period than you currently know.

It may even cause you to let go of some assumptions you had about your ancestor and their life.

And that may help you solve your research problem.

Or maybe not.

If you don’t do it, you will never know.




How Has It Been Updated?

FamilySearch is indicating that it’s 1860 census has been “last updated” on 24 March 2017.

The question is “how?”

I realize that FamilySearch provides access to a vast quantity of information at no charge. I appreciate that. I just wish that I had some inkling of how this database has been updated? There’s several ways it could have been updated and it makes me wonder

  • Have images been improved?
  • Have missing images been included?
  • Were there areas that were not originally included in the index?
  • Has the index been “improved,” had alternate interpretations added, etc.?

What sort of update has been done determines whether I need search the database again or not. It is something I would like to know. is guilty of the same sin of omission. With it is a bigger problem as I am paying for their service.

Is the 1860 census “new and improved” in a way that I need to perform all those searches for Benjamin Butler over again? Do I need to see if there were any 1860 enumerations that were difficult to read? I don’t know what I need to do if all I know is that a database has been updated. DNA Test Arrived and Terms & Conditions

The DNA submission kit has arrived. 

Before I send back the sample, it would be a good idea for me to review the terms and conditions I agreed to before I ordered the test. I need to read through those terms and conditions again and determine if I am comfortable with them. I suggest everyone read them more than once. has two sets of terms and conditions–one for the DNA part of their site and one for the genealogy data part of their site:

You must agree to the DNA terms and conditions before receiving the DNA kit. Although one can always change one’s mind after the kit has been received and simply not submit it–if that is your preference.

I Finally Purchased the Chicago Manual of Style

How much it will help my writing is yet to be determined and I probably should not admit to it publicly, but I finally took the plunge and purchased The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition. I have a reasonably firm grasp of the English language and grammar, but a printed reference will be nice to have.

I don’t think the typical genealogist needs to have it. I also don’t think a genealogist’s analysis of a problem is invalid if a few comma splices have been sprinkled in their argument. If their argument falls due to a few grammar errors, then it was not that strong of an argument in the first place. I’ve probably spliced a few commas myself upon occasion. But there are times when I do want to know  the “correct” way to do something and TCMoS  is one place to find out. And my personal preference is to have a printed book over an electronic resource.

This doesn’t replace Evidence Explained–not by a long shot.  Evidence Explained has templates for the citation of genealogical references not covered in TCMoS. Evidence Explained also has a nice discussion of the research process and evidence analysis and, in the discussion of specific citations, provides a broad background on the specific item being discussed.

So watch out comma splices, I’m getting prepared!



From Whence It Came?

Determining the origin of pieces of information that have been shared and reproduced endlessly can be difficult. Sometimes it is seemingly impossible. It is made even worse when using compiled materials that do not cite sources or provide any references as to where they obtained material.

One can find a seemingly endless set of sources providing the information underlined in red in the illustration, which is:

  • Samuel Sargent died on 2 April 1841–apparently in Potsdam, New York.
  • Sarah (Gypsom/Gibson), wife of Samuel, died on 4 February 1847.
  • Clark Sargent removed to Buckton, Illinois, and died in 1847.

There are other histories that provide the same information. There are numerous online trees that include the same information. Records on Clark Sargent and his wife Mary (Dingman) Sargent in Winnebago County, Illinois, where he lived at least the last half of the 1840s, suggest that 1847 is a reasonable year of death. I have been unable to verify the dates of death for Samuel and Sarah, his parents.

The reference to “Buckton” in the 1881 history of Marlborough, New Hampshire, is actually helpful for tracking this information because it probably is incorrect. Buckton is likely a mangled reference to Rockton, Illinois. Rockton is located in Winnebago County, where Clark lived. There is a Bucktown in Illinois, but the town is near Danville, Illinois, a distance from where Clark lived and someplace where there is no evidence that he lived (although it is possible he went there and died). This 1881 publication is the earliest publication date for an item containing the information on Samuel, Sarah, and Clark summarized in the three bulleted items.

Because of that, at this point, I am considering this reference the earliest reference for the information. I’m not citing all the other print and online publications that include this information. Repetition of a fact by others does not make it any more reliable. There may be an item published earlier that contains the same information. If that is the case, then I’ll have to revise my “earliest reference” comment.

I’d really like to document the information with sources whose validity and probable informant is a little easier to determine. I cannot tell where the information obtained in this 1881 publication was located. I’m not saying the 1881 history as shown here is incorrect–just that I have no way of “checking” t for reasonableness based upon likely informant, how they probably came to know the information. etc. The book has a great deal of information and any one piece of it could be wrong.

It is noted that that publication of the book is not that long after the events took place and it is possible that a family member of Clark’s provided the information.

This may be the earliest document I have for these dates. It may also end up being the only “source” of these dates that I have.

The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy & the “Ethnic Mix” Results

To get me up to speed, I’ve purchased The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine Bettinger. It’s another book to add to my reading list, but I do want to make good use of the results of the DNA test I’m having done.

In response to a some emails that I have received behind the scenes, I do know that:

  • DNA won’t solve every question I have
  • DNA may ask more questions than it answers
  • Every “submitter” to the database does not answer inquiries
  • Paper records still matter

My real reason for taking the test (as mentioned in the earlier post) is to make some connection to my elusive Irish forebears. My great-great-grandparents, the Irish immigrants, have been researched extensively in the area where the settled and while the father could be traced to a specific location in Ireland the mother could not. Any other information or conclusions that reached will just be an additional benefit.

The “ethnic mix” part of the test is not something in which I have a particular interest. I realize that others are interested in these results. I am not. The results go back to a time where I will not be able to trace specific individuals. I like to have a name of a person that somehow connects to me. While I sometimes am not able to locate very much information, I have enough specific people I can find information on, learn about, study, etc. I don’t need to occupy myself with a time where everyone is nameless. Others are and that is fine. Others are interested in the ethnic mix results and that’s fine as well.

But it’s perfectly fine to not be interested in those results as well.

So the mention here of the ethnic mix results of my test will be minimal as I only write here about what interests me.

As usual, your opinion and your mileage may vary.

An 1805 Property Tax Reminds and Asks Questions

The FamilySearch database  contains more than the vital records that were extracted to make the index to these records. There are tax lists, election results, tax levies, road surveys, and a variety of other record documenting town business. A search for Samuel Sargent when querying the database brought no results.

A manual scan of the town records for Marlborough located property tax record entry for Samuel Sargent “invoice[d] for 1805.” The only records that were indexed were the records of vital events. Always scan the originals.

The images being used were not even of the original records.

In this case, the digital images on FamilySearch were created from a microfilmed copy of a handwritten transcription of the original records. The style of the handwriting and the consistency of the handwriting make this apparent. The transcriptionist also included the page number from the original volume (that’s the “4” on the left hand side of the first image shown in this post and also why the headings appear at the bottom of this page–that’s where page four starts). Samuel and John Serjeant must have appeared on the bottom two lines of page three of the original record book.

I need to determine what the headings exactly stand for so that they are interpreted correctly. Rotating the images made them easier to read.

My citation to these records needs to clearly indicate that I am using the FamilySearch database that includes these records (titled “New Hampshire, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1636-1947“). I think it needs to include a parenthetical comment indicating the records for Marlborough appear to be transcriptions of the original book. That comment should not indicate all the New Hampshire town records in this collection appear to be transcripts because not all the records have been viewed. It should only refer to those records used.

2.5 Pews in the Local Baptist Church

[Note: these church pews were written about on the old blog, but we’ve updated the post]

Estate inventories can provide a wide variety of clues about the deceased.

Sometimes they even reference church membership. Upon his death in 1819, Samuel Sargent owned two and a half pews in the “Baptist Meetinghouse.” One pew was in the gallery and the remaining pews were on the floor. The gallery pew was valued at $7, the full pew on the floor was valued at $12, and the half pew on the floor was valued at $5. Samuel is styled as “of Marlborough” throughout the packet of estate papers, so it is assumed that the church to which the inventory refers is in Marlborough. That assumption may be incorrect.

The listing of church pews may surprise those whose ancestors lived outside New England. It’s definitely not something one usually encounters in the South or the Midwestern United States.

Two and half pews in the local Baptist church seems a fair amount of room, but maybe not. After all, Sargent did have a fairly large family and the size of the church is not known. Context matters.

There may be more in your ancestor’s estate settlement than you think.