Genealogical Lessons from Ira Sargent

If ever there was an ancestor who was full of genealogical lessons, it’s Ira Sargent.

Born in the early 1840s, probably near Darlington, Ontario, Canada, he was actually named William Ira Sargent. For quite some time early in my research I was unaware that Ira was his middle name and that his first name was William.

By the mid-1840s, Ira, his parents, and his sisters are living in Winnebago County, Illinois.

In the late 1840s Ira’s father either died or took off. A number of print genealogies repeat the same place and time frame for his death.  One cannot conclude that the date and place of death is correct merely because it was repeated numerous times. Ira’s daughter Emmar suggested in her own Civil War widow’s pension application that her father may have simply run off.

By 1850, Ira’s mother has married again and Ira and his siblings are enumerated in the 1850 census while living in Winnebago County, Illinois. They are enumerated with their step-father’s list name.  By 1860 Ira’s mother has died and they are living with their step-father in Christian County, Missouri. They are again enumerated with their step-father’s last name.

In the mid-1850s the family spent a few years in Union County, Iowa. Ira’s oldest sister married while the family lived there and she did not join them in Christian County, Missouri. When the Civil War heated up, Ira’s step-father (a native of Canada himself) took his two children (Ira’s half-siblings) and returned to Canada where he died.

Ira and his two younger sisters headed back to Union County, Iowa, where their married sister still lived. Eventually Ira and his younger sisters met their future spouses and married in or near Union County. Ira married Ellen Butler in 1870–a few months after the federal census in which he can’t be located was taken.

He married under the name of William I. Sargent.

By 1880, Ira and Ellen have made their way to Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, where they are enumerated in the census with their two small daughters.

By the mid-to-late 1880s, Ellen is out of the picture. Ira’s children are living with foster parents in southwestern Hancock County, Illinois. Ira married again in 1888 and has another daughter with his second wife. The first wife is rarely mentioned.

Ira works as a day laborer or farm hand until the early 1900s. From approximately 1906 until his death in 1916 he is institutionalized in various Illinois state hospitals. His relationship with his second wife and some of his children is apparently strained and he doesn’t pass on any family stories.

  • Ira is mentioned in the 1895 family genealogy as an unnamed son in his family’s portion of the text. Hard to find when you do not know the names of his parents.
  • Ira’s death certificate has no named parents.
  • Ira’s two marriage records provide no parental information.
  • Ira’s death notice in the local newspaper simply indicated that a county resident of the state hospital had died.
  • Ira had no tombstone. His body was donated to medical science by the hospital after his death.
  • Ira is enumerated with his step-father’s name in several records. Before the step-father’s name (Asa Landon) was known finding Ira was difficult.
  • Neither of Ira’s parents left a probate or estate record.
  • Ira is living in a different county in every census enumeration between 1850 and 1910. He cannot be located in 1870.

I’ve written about Ira before. While it was frustrating to not find him in certain records, his early life was in a constant state of flux and by around the age of ten both his parents were dead and he was living with his step-father. From what is known about his mother and father’s families it is apparent that none of them lived close enough to take Ira and or his siblings into their own home.

Your ancestor did not always intentionally to leave behind few details of his life. Sometimes that is just the way their life played out.

In a future post we’ll summarize how Ira was located.




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