A Divorce Appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court in 1877 and Why I Care

Reading legal documents can be difficult for some  genealogists who are not lawyers. They can occasionally be difficult to read for genealogists who are lawyers–especially if the documents are beyond a certain age. Reading information from appeals of court cases can be even more difficult as the appeal focuses on the technical reasons for the appeal and often does not include all the minute details of testimony that one finds in some court cases. With the digitization of many “reporters” summarizing decisions made by appellate courts, it is easier to find these materials than it was several years ago.

That does not relieve the user of understanding and interpreting the information correctly if it is going to be used in further research or as evidence in a research argument. The problem is: “how much of the legal maneuvering does the genealogist have to really understand?” Does one have to become a legal scholar and understand all the details of the case and any appeals?

It really depends on the case. I am hesitant to say that one has to have a detailed understanding of all the minutia involved in any appeal. It may be sufficient to know if the appeal was approved or denied and what the reason for that was, particularly if it involves the interpretation of any factual evidence involved in the case. Understanding procedural errors may not add much to the understanding of the individuals involved in the court case. It may not be necessary to understand every detail of the arguments put forth by both sides in the appeal or the details of the specific cases they cited in their argument and why those arguments were cited.

But the researcher will not know what’s relevant to their problem if they don’t muddle their way through the information. And it may take more than one time to do that.

Sometimes it can be difficult determining what the “real reason” was a court case was appealed. That’s because the “real reason” may not be the legal reason on which the appeal was based. And the real reason may not even be stated in the records or summary of the appeal. If a spouse appeals the amount of alimony the other spouse was awarded, a technical reason will usually be used. “I’m not giving them that much because I think they are a total (@#*$&” is not a legal justification.

That “real reason,” better termed the underlying motivation is usually what the researcher really wants to know–if they can. Sometimes that “real reason” is hidden in what the appellant is trying to have changed by their appeal. Sometimes that underlying motivation is obvious. Sometimes it is not.

And sometimes it requires understanding what the original verdict originally meant in the context of the law of the time. That’s not always known unless the law of the time is also read and understood.

The Supreme Court of Nebraska issued a ruling in October of 1877 regarding a divorce decree that was contested by Emma Oades. She was not really contesting the divorce. She was contesting some details of that divorce, particularly one detail on which the divorce was based.

In a future post, we’ll see what that detail was and why it mattered so much to Emma Oades. I would have missed an interesting lesson if I had ignored the appeal of her divorce as legal maneuvering.



No Date for Thomas Rampley’s Sale and Incorrect Book Titles

The final accounting for the estate of Thomas Rampley was located in the estate records of Coshocton County, Ohio. The final accounting was not submitted until the March 1829 term of the Court of Common Pleas. Between the sale in 1824 (where his wife purchased property) and the final accounting in 1829 administrator James Shores made annual petitions for “one more year” to finish things up. His requests were approved but no mention is made of any rationale for the delay. There is no date shown for the sale of chattel items in the final settlement of Thomas’ estate. All that is shown in the report is the total amount received from the sale ($262.74) and that the information is on “file” in the clerk’s office. Looking for the date in the final accounting was a valid approach, it just did not work in this case.

Images in this post were made from the digital images of the records at Ancestry.com as a part of their  “Ohio, Wills and Probate Records, 1786-1998” database. A part of the citation process was determining the title of the record volume in which the original materials were located. I do not like to cite Ancestry.com‘s image number unless it is completely un

A screen shot of the Ancestry.com navigational page for the “title page” image of the record book from which these materials were taken.

avoidable. Navigating backwards through the images located the cover of the record book. The volume title on the spine of the book was not quite what Ancestry.com indicated it was.

The title from the actual spine of the book was used in the crude citation that appears as a part of the first image in this post. The “title” Ancestry.com assigned to the record book was not used. Ancestry.com was cited as the publisher of the material as that is where the images were located.

A thorough view of the payments of the estate located a few other interesting items about the estate sale.

We will mention those in a future post.

An Undated Purchase of Pilgrim’s Progress in Ohio in 1823–Probably

Women were not frequent bidders at estate auctions in the early 1820s. There was only one woman who purchased items from the estate of Thomas J. Rampley in 1823: Christianna Rampley.

It was not unusual for widows to purchase items from their husband’s estate, particularly if husband died intestate. In some states, state statute gave a specific amount of property to the widow–even if there was a will. That award was usually very cleverly titled the “widow’s award.” Apparently there was no such award in Ohio in 1823. Reading contemporary statute would confirm this conclusion.

Christianna’s purchase of property at the sale would indicate she was alive on the date of the auction. In this case, she is known to have lived until at least 1830 (she’s in the census), but if I had no idea of her death date this record would have at least extended the amount of time she was known to have been alive. Determining the date of the auction was problematic. The list of sold items is recorded immediately after the estate inventory. Neither list of items is dated nor is there a date given indicating when the list of goods sold or inventory are recorded. A careful reading of the estate inventory mentions some debts with accrued interest through 22 August 1823. This allowed the inventory date to be inferred. It’s been assumed that the estate sale took place within a few months of the inventory.

To get a better fix on the date of the sale, a reading of all the references to the estate of Thomas J. Rampley in the probate record books is warranted. There may be an estate accounting that references the specific date of the sale.

Christianna purchased general household goods, including a bed, an oven, a stove pot, and a loom. She also bought the family’s bible and a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress. This suggests Christianna was literate.

The image used in this post was obtained from the Ancestry.com database “Ohio, Wills and Probate Records, 1786-1998.” The Ancestry.com images of these records are not all that crisp and appear (to my untrained eye) to be somewhat pixilated. It may be worth my while, for any images that are difficult to read, to view the actual records on microfilm at the Family History Library. Their microfilm is what was used to make the images at Ancestry.com and the microfilm may allow me to obtain a higher quality image. That’s why my citation needs to include the website used. Otherwise I have no idea where I got the image and that does not allow me to know if there may be another way to get a better image.


Pictures of Places of Employment on Ebay

“Grade School in Carthage IL Postcard,” Ebay item 232249535296, purchased 27 March 2017.

There are not many places besides the farm where my ancestors worked for any length of time. My mother is the only ancestor I have (in the last one hundred and fifty years at least) who had a non-farm job that could be referred to as long term employment. She spent most of her elementary teaching career at this school. It’s referred to as the “Grade School” on the early 20th century postcard, but for as long as I can remember it was “Lincoln School.”

A recent Ebay search for “carthage Illinois” located the postcard shown in the blog post. I was looking for photographs, letters, or perhaps postcards with writing on them when the familiar image came across my screen. Mom taught in at least three of the rooms during her career–the rooms on the left side on the top two floors and the lower floor on the right hand side. The north side of the building is the right hand side of the picture.

Locating the picture with its generic name reminded me that the names of many things change and that one should not always include the “correct” name of a building, location, etc. when conducting a search. Searches requiring the word Lincoln as part of the name (eg.  “Lincoln Elementary,” Lincoln Grade School,” etc.) would not have located the item.

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.

Ancestry.com is guilty of the same sin of omission. With Ancestry.com 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.


Ancestry.com DNA Test Arrived and Terms & Conditions

The Ancestry.com 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.

Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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.