Why There Are No Leaves for Benjamin

[This followup is posted due to the number of behind the scenes email I have received regarding Benjamin and his leaves.]

I was not expecting any leaves for Benjamin Butler who was born about 1819 in New York State. And if there had been any leaves, I would have been surprised if they were actually references to the Benjamin I’m working on.

Benjamin is not one of those easy ancestors to research–he didn’t leave behind a large number of records. He moved around a fair amount. To date, I don’t have specific locations, but research indicates that he spent some of his early years in New York State and Canada’s Ontario province. Then he just kept moving. As mentioned in the earlier post, Benjamin has been located in three census enumerations:

  • 1850 in Port Huron, St. Clair, Michigan
  • 1870 in Soap Creek Township, Davis, Iowa
  • 1880 in Drywood, Vernon, Missouri

He also spent time in Nebraska and Kansas–just not in a year or not in a place where a census enumerator cared to venture. Research has been done in those locations from his census enumerations, but it has not located any solid clues as to Benjamin’s origins. Benjamin had the wisdom to be born in a state and time period when vital records were not kept. He also had a minimum of personal and real property on his death, so no extensive probate was necessary. People who have little property tend to leave fewer records and Benjamin’s financial status seems to be consistent throughout his life (or at least his life from 1850 forward). Benjamin did not serve in the military and had no obituary. His propensity to move around and his somewhat common name does not make him any easier to research.

He likely has numerous descendants based on the fact that he had a sizeable number of children (at least eight). Unfortunately there are not many of us researching him. It’s possible that many of his descendants have not even traced their lineage back to him, given that it’s not easy to connect back to him. My own connection to him is through a series of records that suggest his relationship to Florence Ellen (Butler) Sargent, my own great-great-grandmother, who disappeared in the 1880s leaving behind no direct evidence of her father’s name.

The leaves at Ancestry.com find, for the most part, things that are relatively easy to find, tree entries for the individual,  items users have connected to their tree entries for a person of the same name, and hits obtained through sheer craziness. Once in a while a hit is the right person in the wrong place, but not very often. I’ve already spent more time that I care to admit searching for Benjamin in the 1860 census–it’s doubtful that Ancestry.com‘s leaf will find him, but it’s possible.

Benjamin is one of those people who will have to be researched the old-fashioned way. Modern indexes and finding aids will be used, but it’s going to be slow and methodical.

He’s not a point and click ancestor waiting to be plucked off the branch like a newly minted leaf.


Note: I am well aware of the limitations of the automatic searches at Ancestry.com. Part of the reason we write about them is to encourage people to get beyond them.


One thought on “Why There Are No Leaves for Benjamin

  1. I bet he’s hanging out with my great grandfather, Daniel Dimmit Ward. No parents. Possibly b. 1804 in Prince Edward Island. Was back and forth between Canada and Port Huron between 1846 and 1851. He was in Ralls Co., MO in 1860. I’ve long wondered if he was evading the law or changed his name or was using his father’s name, step father’s name, mother’s name or what! Apparently all he had was kids. No property records, no agriculture records. Nothing. I can trace him by census and his kids’ baptismal records but he has no records before 1835 when he married for the first time. There are several of us looking for him.

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