Speedy Justice and Hard to Find Search Terms in 1858

There were three capital cases in the Hancock County, Illinois, court in October of 1858. One I was searching for, but the newspaper mentioned three:

  • People vs. C. B. Shaw, murder.
  • People vs. Knaebel, murder.
  • People vs. Samuel Bradley and Mrs. Hardin, murder

The last one intrigued me because of the female defendant, but I’m trying to stay focused.

The Knaebel case is of personal interest as the victim was originally in the Warsaw, Illinois, tavern of Barbara (Siefert) Bieger, where he got drunk. The resulting fight got him removed from her tavern where he proceeded to become involved in an altercation with Knaebel who lived in a dwelling attached to Barbara’s tavern.

Knaebel was later pardoned by the Illinois Governor. The newspaper mentions the efficiency with which the judge was going to clear the docket–I wonder if that’s part of what eventually lead to Knaebel’s pardon before his sentence was up.

I was hoping to find a reference to the case or the pardon in the newspapers from Warsaw that are available in digital form. The microfilm is admittedly hard to read and the digital images are as well, particularly for the time frame of this murder. This reference was not located by searching for Knaeble’s name–it was found by searching for the word “murder” in newspapers from 1858. My searching for items has moved away from names during this time period and gone to keywords such as “murder,” “manslaughter,” etc. One is challenged when the images are difficult to machine read as these were.

They were meting out efficient justice in Hancock County in 1858. And I still can’t believe there were three open capital cases on the court docket.



Who Drove Grandma Around the Lake in 1959?

Mrs. Luella Barnett drove Mrs. Cecil Neill around the Carthage Lake in September of 1959. That’s what the clipping “Surprise Family Get-Together” says.

A reader wondered if the driver of the car was actually Luella Barnett’s husband and not her. Perhaps he was in the car and he just wasn’t mentioned. It was a good thought as newspapers aren’t always clear and newspapers aren’t always right.

It would be possible except for one thing: he was dead. Cecil Barnett (not to be confused with his brothers-in-law Cecil Neill or Cecil Trautvetter) died in the early 1950s. Luella Barnett was a widow at the time of this party.

The other women were not. They were all married in 1959. Even if I did not know when the deceased individuals in this notice died, the marital status is suggested by the way in which couples and married women are listed. The Warsaw Bulletin during this time (and much of it’s time in print) appears to have followed the convention of listing a woman as Mrs. John Smith as long as John is alive and listing a woman as Mrs. Imasingle Barnett when John is deceased or they are divorced.

Are there occasional exceptions to this rule? Obviously. There are exceptions to every rule. However as an initial working premise, I start with assuming Mrs. Husbandname Smith is married to her living husband if she is referred to as Mrs. Husbandname Smith in a document or record. I assume that Mrs. Ladiesname Smith is widowed or divorced if she is referred to as a document or record as that fashion.

I make a note of my conclusions and include the “Mrs. Husbandname Smith” or “Mrs. Ladiesname Smith” reference as my source. This is not done so much as to evaluate the source as it is to know why I concluded her spouse was living or not in the picture on a given date.

Like most references of this type, the relationships of the individuals (if any) are not given. That’s largely because most people who had an interest in the item and were reading it likely knew what those relationships already were. Those relationships were (based upon the order in which attendees were listed):

  • uncle and aunt
  • nephew and his wife
  • grand-nephew
  • brother and his wife
  • nephew and his wife
  • brother and wife
  • husband and self
  • two sons
  • oldest son’s fiance

Mrs. Luella Barnett is not listed as among attending, but obviously she was there. Mrs. Cecil Neill (Grandma) is specifically listed and that also seems obvious.

Grandma’s other sister is noticeably absent. She was still alive at the time and in good health, living near their brother Cecil. She did not drive, but was married and does appear in attendance at other family functions.

Grandma’s birthday is not mentioned, but it was September first. The day of Grandma’s surprise party was September the 6th.

Of course, there wasn’t anyone around to call Mrs. Cecil Neill “Grandma” in 1959. It would still be a few years before that would happen. And few called her “Ida” anyway.

She was “Idee.” Always “Idee.”

But Mrs. Idee Neill looks a little strange in print.

Overwhelmed by Warsaw Newspapers!

They threw my Grandma Neill a 49th birthday party!

Oh My Gott!

Grandma always said it when something surprised her and I can just hear her saying it as my Aunt Luella finished her drive around the lake and Grandma realized what was going on.

I said it when I first realized that the entire collection of extant newspapers for Warsaw, Illinois, had been digitized.

Now that I’ve played with the digital images of Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, newspapers  and the new for me has worn off, it is time to get organized in how I search and download these images. There is just too much there for me to have an unorganized approach to using the materials. Compounding the issue is that the site also includes newspapers from the county seat beginning roughly when the Warsaw paper ceased to exist. When “your people” have lived in the area since the 1840s it makes for a lot of references. Searches for some of my more unusual surnames of Rampley and Trautvetter bring about more results than I can ever hope to wade through(and many that really just aren’t going to be helpful). I can’t just type in some of my surnames and look at every reference like I can at other sites.

Like many small town newspapers, news from other nearby places is included. It’s not just my family who resided in Warsaw that are included in the papers. The paper included a fair amount of news from the southwestern portion of Hancock County, lllinois–which is where my paternal families lived from the moment they moved to the county. I’m going to have to develop a systematic approach once I have gotten beyond searching for specific individuals and specific events. I’m also going to have to create a database of items I have located so that I don’t pull up and save multiple copies of the same notice.

After all, birthday parties and reunions are going to show up repeatedly in my search results because they contain so many names.

But I don’t need to wade through every property tax list that was ever published in the newspaper.

We will be discussing some search techniques and results organization in future postings. Because sooner or later the newspapers for a few other ancestral hometowns will eventually make their way online and I hopefully will be fortunate enough to have the same problem.



Headed to Polo in 1906

“Joe Neal and daughter Jennie and Mrs. Harper and daughter Anna returned home last Friday after a two weeks visit with relatives in Polo, Mo.”

I’ve mentioned numerous times the little “visiting” references one often encounters in US newspapers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I’ve used them as examples in lectures, etc. For all those times, the reference did not provide me with a location or a relationship of which I was not already aware. At the very best, the “visiting” items I had located in small town newspaper had helped me narrow down a time frame when a person lived in a certain area, but there were never any previously unknown areas of residents or relatives. 

Until this clipping from the Warsaw Bulletin on 28 September 1906 was discovered. The Illinois newspaper contained “news” (such as it was) from several outlying locations, including the village of West Point, Illinois. My uncle Joe Neill had returned from a trip to Polo, Missouri.

Joe’s wife, Anne (Brice) Neill, was deceased by 1906 and is not mentioned. She was a sister to the “Mrs. Harper” that traveled with Joe Neill and his daughter Jennie. The unnamed relatives in Polo, Missouri, are likely connected to the Brice family. Had I not known the connection between Joe Neill and Mrs. Harper determining that would have been a good place to start following up on this lead.

The fact that the relatives are unnamed is suggestive that the relatives in Polo, Missouri, never lived near West Point. Why mention them by name is no one reading the newspaper would know who they were? It may be frustrating over one hundred years later, but it’s worth remembering that the newspaper in 1906 was not written for us in 2017.

And if I had been unable to locate how the Neills and the Harpers were connected to each other, I could have started my search for newspapers in the Polo, Missouri, area to see if there was any mention of the Neills and Harpers coming to visit.  That would have told me who they were visiting.

Loose Animals on the Trautvetter Farm in 1886

Michael Trautvetter’s livestock cost him an extra $15 in 1886.  Apparently they got off his property and were responsible for damaging some property on his neighbor’s farm.

Trautvetter’s expenses totaled more than $15. That was just how much was awarded to J. H. Ensminger for the damage to his property. There were legal fees added to the amount Trautvetter owed  the court when he lost the suit for “trespass and damage by stock” brought against him by J. H. Ensminger in 1886.

The Warsaw Bulletin devotes three lines to the livestock drama in its 29 October 1886 issue. The case was heard in Breckenridge.

But that’s not the county seat of Hancock County? No it’s not. In 1886 in Illinois, Justices of the Peace could hear civil cases under $200. That’s who heard this case the Justice of the Peace for Walker Township who apparently had his office in Breckenridge.

That’s also why I was unaware of this big livestock drama until recently. The records of many of these Justices of the Peace are no longer extant. The only reason I am aware of this suit between Trautvetter and Ensminger is because news of it made the local newspaper. My research into court records in Hancock County has concentrated on records of county-level courts which heard larger cases, probate cases and criminal cases. My not finding this case in the county records was simply because it was not heard there and is not contained among the records those courts.

It was not because I was unable to find it.

One has to know where to look to find the records. . Too bad these records are not extant. That packet of loose court papers would be interesting.

Unlike loose livestock.

Loose livestock are just irritating.

Newspaper Searches Locate an 1859 Court Case that was News to Me

Original Image

There’s several lessons here, not all of which have to do with court records.

The first image in this post was originally going to be the only one used to illustrate it. When I went to review the image to write the post I realized that there was a name missing: Barbara Bieger. It mattered because that was the name I was looking for.

There is a Barbara Fane mentioned and I think she is actually Barbara Bieger. This Barbara lived with her husband Peter Bieger in Warsaw, Illinois, from sometime in 1850 and remained there for the most part until her death in the early 20th century.   When I looked at the image there was no Bieger reference. I looked again as I know that Bieger was used as a search term in order to find the reference. I remembered thinking that Fane was a likely reference to Fennan, the last name of Barbara’s “husband” George Fennan with whom she had a relationship for at least part of 1856 shortly after Peter Bieger’s death and to whom she may never have actually been married.

But there was no Bieger on the image. Searching for it again (on the “Digital Archives” of the Warsaw, Illinois, Public Library website) I found the reference to Barbara Bieger that had brought me to the image.

There were two “Chancery Sales” listed in the 8 September 1859 Warsaw City Bulletin. In my haste to make the image I had only copied the first one. The second court case actually referred to defendant Barbara Fane as “Barbara Bieger or Fane.” The first two lessons in this post are fairly broad ones.

Lesson one: slow down.

Lesson two: it always helps to read other entries on the same page or adjacent pages when one item is located.

But there is more than that. I’ve been through the indexes to Hancock County Circuit Court records numerous times looking for court cases on Barbara, using all of her married names–whether those marriages were legal or not.

This case is not indexed in the defendants’ index to court records under Barbara’s name or the name of any defendant–except Carl Jung.

A little analysis of the records indicates that only the first defendant is listed in the index. That’s why I never came across this case while searching the index. Someday the court records may be available online and completely searchable, but that day is a long way off.

I’m not exactly certain why Barbara was being sued and I won’t know that until I look at the records. She did own real property in Warsaw in 1859 that her first husband purchased, but that is not the property referenced here. It is possible that her property bordered the property mentioned or that she had other financial dealing with some of the other defendants. She did run a tavern in Warsaw in the 1850s.

The sale ordering the decree was at the March 1859 term of the court. The sale was on 7 September.

And yes, the paper is dated 8 September. I double checked.

Publishing the notice after the fact does seem a little self-defeating. There should have been notices publicly posted elsewhere. The packet of court papers may address where those notices were posted.

But I never would have located this court case if I had not searched for her in the newspapers.

Recording Available for “Avoiding Fake Ancestors”

We’re excited to announce the release of the recorded version of  “Avoiding Fake Ancestors.”

There is no way to be entirely certain a tree is one hundred percent correct. Ever. Humans will make errors. However there are some ways to reduce the number of errors in your tree, creating a more accurate tree for future generations and reducing the chance you create more brick walls for yourself in the process. This presentation is aimed at those who have been researching their genealogy for a while and would not consider themselves experts but are no longer real beginners either.

Moon People–probably not your ancestors!

This discussion will concentrate on:

  • determining when to enter information into a database and when not to
  • the elements of proof and evidence–with suggested ways to learn more
  • responsible use of online trees for clues
  • avoiding common and not-so-common errors
  • why it is not the number of sources that matter
  • finding it on 1,000 trees does not make it true
  • additional ways to improve your research skills

This hour-long session can be ordered for download.  Download includes PDF handout and recorded media file.

Order now.

Paypal account not necessary–simply hit “checkout–Pay without a PayPal account.”

Doing All the Work When You Already Have the Answer

I understand why people want to trace their lineage as far back as they can as quickly as they can.  Skipping back as quickly as one can may hinder the development of adequate research skills.

On the one hand most of my maternal ancestors were relatively easy to trace in the United States. They were all immigrants from Ostfriesland, Germany, to the Midwest between the 1850s and 1880s. With the exception of one, the village of birth overseas was known by living family members. Genealogies had been published on several of the families. For the most part, church, census, and vital records in the United States made establishing parent-child relationships a simple matter of finding those records and reading them. I didn’t “have” to use other records to clearly establish the family connections. Researching the families in Ostfriesland was usually a matter of using the appropriate church records once the village was determined.

Researching my paternal lines was another matter entirely. Researching families in rural New York State before 1830, Virginia before 1800, Kentucky before 1830, Pennsylvania before 1850, and other areas can be more difficult due to type of records that are extant. It can be done, but it is not always as easy.

What helped me in those areas was that I completely, exhaustively, almost obsessively researched my maternal and paternal families in Illinois post 1850, even when I didn’t “need” the records to establish the relationships. It is easier to find land, court, probate, and other records when one already knows the relationships and the dates and places of vital events. Using those records provided me with a deeper understanding of those ancestors for whom I thought I knew everything. But it also provided me with something else:

a deeper understanding of the records

It was sort of working a math problem when the answer was in the back of the book so that I could check.

It’s a little easier to understand probate and court records when you already know all the family relationships, particularly those that are not stated. Land records that suggest relationships (but don’t state them) are easier to understand as well when the relationships and dates of events are known. It’s easier to see that a quit claim deed was frequently drawn up after the surviving parent died when you have all those death dates. My understanding of all those records was enhanced by my underlying knowledge of the families.

And that help me on those families where I didn’t already know the relationships.

Research in certain areas of the United States before vital records were kept can be difficult. The problem is compounded when certain records have been destroyed or lost. It makes the use of the remaining records even more important and the ability to understand and interpret those records crucial. Those records often don’t explain things as completely as we would like. For that reason it’s always advised to understand how records fit into the larger record keeping process and the legal process that generated many of those records.

A really good way to do that is to fully research a family or group of families that you already “know,” perhaps in a slightly later time period when there are more records. The legal structure will be the similar (although state statute can change), the organization of the records will be similar, and the way people behaved won’t be all that different. Fully researching that family will improve general research skills, improve one’s ability to understand and utilize materials that are found.

After all, if you’ve never really looked through and completely analyzed a series of post-1850 probate records, how well can you analyze ones from 1800? Of course there are differences, but there are similarities.If you’ve never completely analyzed all the deeds on an 1880 era ancestor, are you really prepared to completely analyze those for a 1790 ancestor?

And that might be what you’ll have to do for that Virginia relative who is giving you difficulties.

If you’re stuck on many of your relatives in areas or time periods where there not good vital records, consider fully and completely researching one or more of those families that you think you already have “done” in time period and location where there are better vital records. Find everything. Analyze everything. Interpret everything.

At the very least you’ll have a better understanding of those relatives that you think you already “know everything about.”

And there’s always the chance that you will have improved your research skills to help you with those that you don’t.



Locating Anna Lisa Eriksdotter…Err Sund

Death Entry for Anna Lisa Sund, died 23 July 1916, Tjarstad, Ostergotland, Sweden–church records.

She was born Anna Lisa Eriksdotter in Ostergotland, Sweden, in 1829. I was fairly certain she had died in Sweden as well, but I really was not entirely certain. Some of her children immigrated to the United States and some remained in Sweden, so it was always possible that she had immigrated. To be honest, I never tried to locate her death entry in the Swedish records, particularly years ago when my access to records solely via microfilm.  Without a date of death for her, I focused on other family members.

With Ancestry.com recently releasing or updating their “Sweden, Indexed Death Records, 1840-1942,” I decided to try and locate her again, using several variations of her first name and her last name of Eriksdotter.  Most of my Swedish research had been in the 19th century and the females I had researched were usually listed with their maiden name. Anna lived into the 20th century and my research approach needed to reflect that. She was listed under her husband’s surname of Sund.

Anna Sund was located in Ancestry.com‘s “Sweden, Indexed Death Records, 1840-1942” in the exact location where I expected her to be: Tjarstad. The index entry indicated 1829 year of birth. It probably was her. But I learned a long time ago that some Swedish names that I may think are unusual are exceedingly common. The index entry alone was not sufficient.

At the time of this writing her image was not loading in this database, but the index entry did indicate that an Anna Sund born in 1829 had died in Tjarstad in 1916. Since the index gave the year of death it was decided to manually search the online Swedish church records at Ancestry.com (published as “Sweden, Church Records, 1451-1943“). Working through one year of deaths would not be difficult.

And it was not.

There she was in the church records. The date of birth matched what I had from other records. The maiden name was the same and the 1897 death date for her husband, Anders Sund, matched what I had from other records. Anna lived longer than I thought–long enough to have great-grandchildren living in the United States.

Before I located this death record, I had assumed Anna died of some complication of childbirth in the 1850s or so. But now that I know she lived until 1916, I’m wondering:

are there pictures or her anywhere?

One discovery always leads to more questions.