In Defense of Descent from Farmers

I’ve been thinking about this post for some time.

There was a post on a genealogy mailing list a while back that indicated several celebrities were not asked to be on WDYTYA because they descended from generation of farmer after farmer. Woe to them—poor fools. The post was essentially based upon rumor (I think), but it got me to thinking. The stories they use on WDYTYA are rarely about “common” people. The stories are always something “dramatic,” either an involvement, a cause, a war, someone leaving his current family and starting a new one, etc. The ancestors they use for stories on WDYTYA are never homesteaders toiling on the Nebraska prairie, Ohio pioneers breaking the sod in 1810, or Mississippi farmers living a hardscrabble life in apparent anonymity.

As if there’s no drama in everyday life and as if all “farm” ancestors are boring.

As the descendant of generations of farmers–and having been raised on one myself–I take exception to the thought that’s it somehow boring to descend from generation after generation of farmers. I’ve made something of a genealogical career writing about these “common” ancestors, the vast majority of whom were farmers of both the male and female persuasion. I’ve never been ashamed of where I was born, where I was raised, or who my ancestors were.

There’s the farmer who returned to his native Germany in his sixties and, based upon land records and a little reasoning skills, set three of his sons up in farming before he left. Not many people leave their entire family in the United States in 1869 to return to Europe.

There’s the farmwife who stayed on the Nebraska homestead during the week while her husband worked on the railroad. She and four children under the age of seven home alone on the prairie during the week living in a soddie. There’s a story in their homestead records.

There’s the farmer in Colonial Virginia who brought alcohol to an election and was censured by the Virginia house in the 1740s.

There’s the farmer who probably never owned more than 80 acres in his life who when he died left it mortgaged. The widow owned a small house and lot in the nearby town. The judge declared the home “worthless” simply so it wouldn’t be sold to pay the mortgage and she’d have some place to live. That farmer forty years earlier was working as the hired man for his future mother-in-law and in 1902 testified in her Civil War pension application about the work he did, what he was paid, and the operation of his mother-in-law’s farm–in vivid detail with several others.

There’s the Maryland farmer whose farm was confiscated during the American Revolution because the owner was a British subject and the farmer’s lifetime lease made no matter. The land was sold by the Maryland Assembly to pay debts regardless of protests raised by the farmers on the land.

There’s the Kentucky farmer who was arrested in the 1820s for threatening to murder one of his neighbors.

There’s the German immigrant farmer who in his sixties learned to read English–he was already literate in German but decided it was time to take up the new language.

There’s my own grandfather (another farmer) who, in the depths of the Depression when times were hard and money scarce, sold hog houses he had built to help his younger sister pay her college tuition so she could get her teaching certificate. This is the same man who refused to purchase a TV and soda as a “waste” of money. Of course the flip side of this is that in the 1950s he spent several thousand dollars on a bull at a sale and when he brought the animal home and told Grandma what it cost she “had a fit.”

Oh, and when I said “Woe to them—poor fools,” I was referring to the producers of the show and not those with generation after generation of “boring ancestors.” Sometimes we see in others what’s really in ourselves.

And that’s probably enough…I’ve got to get back to work…


Can You Find the Typographical Error and Getting the Date

This image comes from page 216 of Probate Journal 44 from Hancock County, Illinois’ Circuit Clerk’s Office and was obtained on FamilySearch.

There is a typographical error in this document.

This probate journal is from the December 1917 term of the County Court–18 December 1917. This date is not on the image and the page itself does not make it clear what date this order was made. I had to view a few pages before this one in order to find the precise date of the order. When making digital copies make certain that all relevent information is obtained.

The typographical error is fairly easy to catch. Any transcription of this item should not make any corrections. The Latin sic, in backets, can be used to indicate the error and a comment can be added if deemed necessary.


Using the Revolutionary War Pension and Warrant Index at FamilySearch

FamilySearch has the full-name index to “United States Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Applications, 1800-1900” online on their site. This database is an index only and does not link directly to the images at FamilySearch. The index was created by and FamilySearch links (apparently) to the images at and those are available by subscription. The images of the applications are on FamilySearch. They just are not linked to the index. A little work will allow the user to use the index on FamilySearch and find the actual image of the record.

James Abby appears in the application file for James Walker of Connecticut. Viewing the “Document Information” (click the arrow to see it) provides the GS film number, Affiliate Publication Number (M804-which in this case is the NARA micofilm publication number), Digital Folder Number, and the Image Number. Clicking on the film number takes you to a list of names on that film (apparently pulling up an index of the names on that roll and that roll only) and does not apparently take one easily to the image.

There is a workaround. One just needs to get to the actual images of the microfilm on the FamilySearch site. I did this by searching the catalog for the microfilm’s actual entry in the card catalog (not the entry for the database of names) as I wanted the images.

It was easily located and I checked the “series” reference to make certain that I had the correct item and not some other derivative item made from the applications (such as another book or finding aid, etc.).

The roll can be found by the GS film number (97274) or the actual veteran’s name (James Walker) and see what roll his file appeared on. Then clicking on the camera icon pulled up the “roll” that I needed.

Then I entered in the image number in the box and upon navigating the image, the desired name was located.

The link to search the database and then view the images are:


Weir Sulky Plow

The 1886 estate inventory of Andrew Trask in Mercer County, Illinois, contained a detail that is not always included: the manufacturer of several of the pieces of farm equipment. Modifiers of this type make it possible for the researcher to learn a little more about the item in question.

A “Weir Sulkey[sic] plow” was valued at $10 and was one of a handful of items in the Trask estate for which a little more background information could be obtained. 

A search on GenealogyBank located several references to the Weir company, one of which is shown below. This article appeared in the Daily Inter Ocean and included brief summary of the Weir Plow Company based in Monmouth, Illinois. Given the proximity of Monmouth to Mercer County, Illinois, it seems pretty reasonable that this is the company that manufactured the sulky plow that was inventoried among Andrew’s items.

A sulky plow is one that has an actual seat for the user instead of requiring the user to walk behind it. Weir patented the plow in 1877 as evidenced by the illustration contained in his patent application that was obtained on Google Patents:

W. S. Weir, Sulkey-Plow, Patent No. 190,652 Patented May-8, 1877;
digital image from Google Patents ( obtained 18 November 2014

I knew what a plow was, but wasn’t quite certain what a “sulkey-plow” was until I started doing a little searching. And I got a history lesson besides.


Some Research Suggestions

Here are some research suggestions to remember as your research progresses:

  • Use contemporary [to the problem] maps
  • Cite sources
  • Avoid using record transcriptions
  • Determine a record’s likely informant
  • Question the reliability of the likely informant
  • Ask “how did this record get to me from its original location?”
  • Question (respectfully) the conclusions of others
  • List the assumptions that have been made
  • Reorganize the information in a different way?
  • Do other record sources have copies of the same record?

Not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but enough to keep me busy!


Making A Chronology

Order is good. I took a little time to organize the materials in John Ufkes’ cancelled homestead application file from the National Archives.

  • 19 August 1871 John Ufkes filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen in Hancock County, Illinois. The copy of the declaration contained in his homestead application file is dated the same day.
  • 4 September 1871 John pays $13.80 to enter his claim for the northeast quarter of section 4 in township 3 range 15 in Franklin County, Nebraska. The property was 151.87 acres and the claim was entered in the Lowell, Nebraska, land office.
  • 20 November 1873 William Briggs claims John Ufkes has abandoned his claim.
  • 29 Dec 1873 Is the summons date on which John Ufkes is to appear if he wants to defend his claim. Ufkes does not appear and on this date the claim is cancelled by the Register.
  • 17 Jan 1874 The publisher of the Adams County Gazette says that for four weeks in November and December of 1873 he published notice for John Ufkes to appear at the hearing on 29 December.

Doing this is more than a simple exercise. Fully analyzing this information requires me to put it into a complete chronology of John’s life. Two other dates are crucial here–John’s immigration in March of 1869 and his marriage in Hancock County, Illinois, on 3 March 1874. John is known to have been in Adams and Hancock Counties in Illinois shortly after his arrival in the United States (staying with family).

Based upon the dates in his homestead file, John should be in Illinois in the 1870 census. To date, despite numerous searches, he has not been located in that record. Based upon the homestead application, he was in Nebraska on 4 September 1872, but how long he had been there and how long he stayed after that date is debatable. On 20 Nov 1873, Briggs claims John had abandonded his homestead–probably indicating John had been away from it for some time, perhaps all of 1873.

Family tradition was that John thought Nebraska was “too wild” and not a place to raise a family. His sister and her husband moved to Franklin County, Nebraska, shortly after the 1880 census. John returned to Hancock County, Illinois, where he married and remained for the remainder of his life (except for a few years when he farmed near Golden, Adams County, Illinois).


From Squire to Prince

From Squire to Prince; Being a History of the Rise of the House of Cirksena (published in 1901) is one of the books I discovered on The House of Cirksena is a history of the Counts of Ostfriesland and was written by Walter Phelps Dodge.Like other books on, it can be downloaded as a text file or as a PDF file. The image on this blog post comes from the PDF file.


Paying for Two Coffins in 1862

It always pays to read the entire probate case file.

This is part of a claim allowed to Philip Smith in 1865 that is contained in the estate case file for William Smith of Mercer County, Illinois.

N. B. Partridge states that in August of 1862 Philip Smith paid him $10.00 for “making two coffins for Wm. Smith & wife.”

The fact that the claim didn’t get paid until 1865 does not seem highly unusual. However, there are two aspects of this claim and payment that are interesting:

  • Philip Smith has paid the “coffin bill.”
  • The “coffin bill” is for coffins for William Smith and his wife.

Philip Smith is mentioned in other documents in this case file, but his relationship to William Smith and his wife is never stated. It would seem reasonable to conclude that Philip Smith is related to William Smith and his wife based upon the fact that Philip paid for their coffins himself. It’s not unusual for someone to request reimbursement from the estate for an expense of this type. It would be unusual for someone related to the Smiths to pay for their coffins on the hope that they would eventually be reimbursed.

The payment by Philip is suggestive of a relationship. The specific nature of that relationship cannot be surmised solely from what is in this document.
William Smith and his wife most likely died reasonably close to each other–time wise that is. Just how close cannot be surmised based upon this reference. The wife of William is not named in the estate case file and no “relinquishment of first right to administer the estate” for her is included either. This is suggestive of her dying before the start of the administration of the estate in January of 1862. However it is possible that a relinquishment was simply not filed. What is sure is that the wife of William Smith was deceased by August of 1862 when Philip paid for both coffins.

Like most records during this era, the clues here are suggestive and require further research.


Ekke’s Not Native Born

“…that I am over 21 twenty One year of age native born citizen of the United States.”

Even though the writing was not the neatest, it was relatively easy to transcribe. Ekke Behrens indicated in an affidavit of 2 November 1886 that he was a native born citizen of the United States. There is just one problem.

Ekke was not a “native born citizen” of the United States. Census and other records indicate he was born in Germany and his homestead application even includes a naturalization record to prove his citizenship.

This is the only document in the entire homestead application for Ekke that uses the phrase “native born.” It seems likely that the use of the phrase was simply an error.

Which is why one never wants to look at only one piece of information or record. Any one record can be wrong.

Source: This affidavit was obtained in Ekke Behrens’ completed homestead file for the northwest quarter of section 8 in township 15 North 47 West in Cheyenne County, Nebraska.


The Flu, Guardianships, and Court Records

I discovered a court case that was appealed to the Illinois State Supreme Court while searching on Google books. I have included part of the summary here in this post. The parents died within ten days of each other in 1920. I am not certain what they died from, but will have to add getting death certificates to my list of things to do. The mother is a first cousin of my great-grandfather Trautvetter.

They weren’t the only ones in this family to die at a young age with young children. My great-grandfather Trautvetter’s own sister and her husband died during the 1918 flu epidemic and their children were raised by family members after the parents died.

Have you considered if the 1918 flu or other epidemics impacted your family members? Leaving minor children with no parents created a problem and in some cases those problems might have resulted in court or other records.

Another great-grandfather had a sister and brother-in-law who died during the flu. Now I’ll have to get on that and research that family as well.

The image in this post was from:

Reports of Cases at Law and in Chancery Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Illinois
By the Illinois Supreme Court
Published by Supreme Court, State of Illinois, 1921
Item notes: v. 297
Original from Harvard University
Digitized Aug 15, 2007
located on