Ancestral Clues and Lessons: Annie (Murphy) Neill (about 1840-1897)

Annie (Murphy) Neill was born about 1840 in Ireland. She married Samuel Neill in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1864 and died in St. Albans Township, Hancock County, Illinois. From Annie, I learned:

  • Unfortunately some women leave behind few records. Annie only left behind a death certificate, marriage record, and census enumerations in 1870 and 1880.
  • Don’t forget to look for obituaries in all newspapers. While writing this post, I realized there’s a newspaper where I’ve not searched.
  • Watch out for snakes. Family tradition has it that she died as the result of lingering effects of a snakebite.

My ancestor table can be viewed on my site.


It Seems Like It Is Indirect Evidence to Me

There are many things listed in the mid-19th century inventory for the estate of Peter Bieger that the typical person would not have had on hand. At least not in the quantities that Peter Bieger had them.

Thirty-six gallons of alcohol seems to be a bit much for the typical person to have on hand. The inventory is suggestive of running a tavern combined with some type of general store.

The theoretical question is:

does this inventory provide direct evidence of Peter’s occupation or does it provide indirect evidence of his occupation?

Elizabeth Shown Mills in Evidence Explained  (page 25, 3rd edition) defines direct and indirect evidence as follows:

  • direct evidence “seems to directly answer the research question”
  • indirect evidence “does not directly address the research question but can be combined with other information to arrive at an answer or build a case.”

Which begs the question: What’s my research question?

The question would then have to be “What was Peter Bieger’s occupation?” There’s no record that flat-out directly states it. Peter is not listed in any extant United States census that provided occupational information and no other extant records explicitly state what his occupation was. It is the same problem that we have in certain areas of the United States before the 1850 census–no record states the occupation specifically.

And knowing the occupation can help us to distinguish between two individuals of the same name (at least sometimes) or it can help tell us if an ancestor was more susceptible to economic downturns and opportunities.

Would the probate inventory be direct or indirect evidence of Peter’s occupation? Part of me says it would be direct evidence, part of me says it is indirect evidence, and part of me says that it really doesn’t matter what type of evidence one calls it.

It also hinges on our narrowly one defines “direct evidence.” Mills defines it as “seems [my emphasis] to directly answer the research question.” Here’s where the mathematician in me isn’t too keen on the definition of “direct evidence.” I would like a definition that doesn’t hinge on “seems.” That’s pretty vague. What seems to you may not seem to to me and what seems to me may not seem to you. For me, I think I’ll tweak the definition of direct and indirect.

  • direct evidence–explicitly answers the research question
  • indirect evidence–does not explicitly answer the research question, but can be used with other evidence, legal statutes and practice, and logical reasoning to answer the question

To some that may seem like a tight definition and it is. There’s enough gray area in how records are interpreted and analyzed that my personal preference is to try and have definitions that are as tight as possible.

Now I can view the probate inventory as indirect evidence–because nowhere does it explicitly state Peter’s occupation. Indirectly it does. Classifying something as indirect does not mean it is wrong and classifying something as direct information does not mean it is right. Our analysis of information does that. The classification of information as direct or indirect simply reflects upon the type of statement the information made related to the research question under study.

It’s always worth it to think about the information you have located, how it answers your question, and how to use it to logically and clearly write up your conclusion and argument.

And I bet it can be done without ever using the phrase “direct evidence” or “indirect evidence.”

But at least you thought about it.




Ancestral Clues and Lessons: Samuel Neill (1838-1912)

This is part of a series of short posts focusing on what I have learned about research (or life in general) from an ancestor. These may or may not be entirely serious. We will leave up to the reader to decide–after all, research is about evaluation of evidence 😉 )

Samuel Neill (1838/1839 County Derry, Ireland–1912 St. Albans Township).

Lessons and reminders from researching Samuel:

  • Names can get spelled incorrectly.
  • Probate packets that you think are “missing” may “appear” when microfilm or digital images are made of the records.
  • Never assume that you know what’s wrong in the obituary and what is right.
  • Three out of your eight children can marry into the same family. Pay close attention to who your neighbors are when you settle into a new place. Close attention. They may end up being your grandchildren’s other set of grandparents.

My ancestor table can be viewed on my site.

17/18 Disabled in 1893

In 1893, Charles Hartsell filed another application for an increase in his Civil War pension for service in the 102nd Illinois Infantry based upon “heart problems” and wounds he received while in the service.

Hartsell has now moved to Shannon City, Iowa. His apparent examination by the surgeons for his pension increase was in Mt. Ayr, in Ringgold County. The fine print needs to be read so that the locations are not confused. Hartsell was living in Union County in in 1886 when he made an earlier request for an increase. Movements are one thing that can sometimes be determined by the seemingly repetitive surgeon’s certificate and affidavits.

It may be that one report contains more detail or is easier to read than another. This report discusses Hartsell’s gunshot wounds, difficulty with the arm which was shot, and his heart problems. The forty-nine year old was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds. He was determined by 17/18 disabled.

This report did not include a diagram indicating where Hartsell had been shot.

The original pension file is housed at the National Archives in Washington, DC.


Charles Hartsell 1/3 Disabled in 1886

Reading through medical reports and submissions in a United States Civil War Union pension case can be exceedingly tedious. Sometimes the amount of detail seems excessive, but one has to remember that these submissions were used to make decisions regarding whether a veteran was qualified for a pension and, if qualified, how much that allowance would be. It was in their best interest to provide as much detail as possible.

Sometimes those details can provide a better picture of our ancestor even if it does not answer direct genealogical questions. Other times seemingly offhand comments can result in major breakthroughs.

Forty-three year old Civil War veteran Charles Hartsell was applying for a pension increase in 1886. The resident of Creston, Iowa, was examined on 21 April 1886 in Creston, Iowa. The summary of his claim provides a few additional details about his military service.

The initial part of the certificate summarizes Hartsell’s military service, his justification for an increase, and physical condition.

Often time much of the information is repeated from one claim form to another, but it is always possible that additional details are given in a followup statement.

He makes the following statement upon which he bases his claim for At [—] South Carolina in Feby 1865 while on duty he received a G. S. Wd-of right arm, elbow and Shoulder. He states he contracted Pleurisy at Galitan Ten–in the winter of 1862&3, & has been afflicted with it ever since. He further states that the disability is increasing & claims an increase on the grounds that his pension is not enough in proportion to his suffering.

note: a later report refers to Camden, South Carolina for the location of the gunshot wounds.

The doctor summarizes Hartsell’s wounds (including 7 small [—] about 1/8th inch in diameter), but indicated that there was no evidence of pleurisy. The form included blank figures the doctor could use to indicate wounds and there are marks to indicate where Hartsell had injuries. It is indicated that Hartsell is 1/3 disabled in regards to being able to perform manual labor.

Medical reports can be used to track migration of a veteran pensioner as their address should be noted on each one. Ages may or may not be entirely consistent.

By 1893 things have changed for Charles.

That medical exam will be discussed in a future post.

These pension records are currently housed at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

A 1933 Death in Hanoi’s “Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1835-1974,” usually contains a one page form titled “Report of the Death of an American Citizen” or something very similarly named. That’s what was located for George Washington Drollette who died in Hanoi on 3 November 1933.

It’s always advised to maneuver forward and backward when any item of interest is located (in either paperbook, microfilm, or digital form) as there may be additional records. There was a three letter from the American  Consulate that preceded the actual report of Drollette’s death. It is actually referenced in the report at the very top where “Enclosure No. 1” is mentioned.

The letter, dated Saigon, 29 November 1933 provides more detail on Drollette, mentioning a wife in Hong Kong, a child somewhere in the United States and nieces and nephews in the Dannemora, New York area. Drollette’s employer, the Socony Vacuum Corporation, is also mentioned. Most of the information contained in the report and the letter is secondary information. Fortunately there are clues as to where the information was obtained in the letter and the report which is helpful, but the American Consul, Quincy F. Roberts, likely did not have any personal first handhand knowledge of the information.

Whether the cemetery still exists in which Drollette is buried is another matter entirely. A lot has happened in Hanoi since Drollette died.

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.