Sunday, May 16, 2021



Every now and then, I can't help but think of how unprecedented our times are, especially for genealogical research. This past week, as I was working on the wills of various Ijams ancestors of my mother-in-law—all, incidentally, filed in jurisdictions located at least 2,500 miles from my little pandemic bubble of isolation—it occurred to me how fast I was flying through the details, compared to how glacially slow the process would have seemed a generation ago.

In the past two weeks, I added 182 names to my mother-in-law's family tree, which now boasts a total of 20,912 individuals. And that wasn't all. I also put in the work to gain 137 names for my own family tree, making the total there 25,782.

That, however, wasn't the amazing part. It was when I jumped from website to website as needed, picking up a census record here, an obituary there, a will, a city directory to find the way home. All nearly jumped to my fingertips instantaneously, and were secured in their proper place in an organized virtual system.

I marvel to think how much time it would have taken, prior to the Internet, to accomplish the research sequence that took, for me this past week, maybe a couple hours of online digging. We don't have to crank through microfilm reels, fighting off the nausea that comes from trying to speed-read film while it is still moving past our eyes. (Hurry! The library is closing in fifteen minutes!)

Furthermore, we don't have to spend a day searching through one record set, only to find that we have nothing to show for eight hours' labor other than the answer to the question, "Was it here?" (No.)

Now, we can construct huge swaths of lineage in a matter of moments rather than months. That gives us the luxury of delving deeper into the stories behind those dates, places, and names. And with tools unforeseen in past generations, such as DNA testing, we can peer into the dark recesses of family secrets—if we have the fortitude to face the truth.

The truth of the matter—at least, for me—is that the farther I follow those details, and the more I work to assemble what seem to be random data points into a coherent story, the more I realize how frail and feeble the human condition can be. We—all of us—are so prone to mistakes, bad choices, dashed hopes, ill-advised schemes, that we can hardly hold our ancestors to task over their own foibles.

After all, with a little digging through the paper trail, we are able to lay bare such raw elements in past generations of our family. They certainly are there for us to stumble upon, and we know just how to do that.

Maybe remembering that, generations from now, our descendants will be able to sift through the data strewn behind our own lives' trajectory, will help us add kindness and empathy to the unfolding of our ancestors' stories, in whatever way it unravels before us.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Don't Blink


Don't look now, but I think a really great idea came and went in a micro-moment at Ancestry. And I hope it will come back.

I don't know about you, but when I set up my family tree on, I wanted to develop a "style sheet" to standardize those pesky little details like formats or abbreviations. Those who have been at this genealogy pursuit for decades might relate to one such device used long before the advent of computers: the tradition of writing surnames in all capital letters. Another one would be using the international date format of listing day before month and year, such as 15 May 2021.

While computer search capabilities may have rendered the all-caps tradition less necessary, I still recommend adopting a style sheet perspective. Once I put my tree on Ancestry, I chose to follow their recommendation of shortening the month to the first three letters only, making readouts less cumbersome, for example. But I still decided to spell out words like Saint instead of "St." or Mount instead of "Mt." Regardless of what I decided to make my "style," I wanted to be consistent in its use.

One of those style details was making sure to list, for any geographic reference, not only the city or state, but include both the county and the country. Our family's tree has become quite international, and I wanted to reflect that detail consistently. However, it becomes tedious, when encountering a digitized document to add to my tree, to have to go in to the entry and type in all those missing elements—particularly the county.

One day earlier this month, I noticed that I no longer needed to click with my mouse, then move my hands to the keyboard to type in the missing county. In fact, I didn't even need to add the first comma; just by clicking on the line of data, a drop-down menu gave me options, including my preferred format. Just like that!

Skipping straight to clickable choices is a detail I had come to appreciate at, where that same feature makes correcting details to my tree a streamlined process. Once I realized the same option was now operable at Ancestry, my speed picked up considerably, as I moved through my tasks adding relatives to my family tree. I didn't even have to touch the keyboard any more for those added documents. That same protocol even applied to dates I wanted to shortened to my preferred format—just click to choose the one I wanted.

There was, of course, one tiny catch: after clicking my chosen geographic format, the drop-down menu developed this inconvenient knack of dropping back down again. To move on to the next item, I learned to just click the mouse somewhere else on the page to get the drop-down line to simply go away. It was a minor annoyance, certainly not outweighed by the benefit gained by the new click-only improvement. I just figured someone coded something wrong, or forgot one step in the process of setting things up.

But then, poof! As unobtrusively as it had appeared, this little gem of an improvement went away. I blinked. I pinched myself. I checked to make sure I wasn't dreaming. But it was gone.

Did I really just imagine those moments when I was suddenly speeding through my family tree data?

Friday, May 14, 2021

A Generous Gift


Item: I give and bequeath to my niece Caroline Elizabeth Ijams daughter of [J.] H. Ijams four hundred dollars.


Isaac Ijams may have seemed generous—not to mention, practical—when he drew up his will in 1845, in bestowing upon his nephew William a horse with bridle and saddle, until we realize what he had granted to William's younger sister.

For Caroline Ijams, born about 1834, her uncle Isaac may have been not much more than a dim memory, for at his passing, she would only have been eleven or twelve years of age. Furthermore, in order for the amount to be given to her, Isaac's possessions would first have to be liquidated, then managed by a trustee—Isaac named another brother, Frederick, for this purpose—until his niece attained legal age to receive the gift. That four hundred dollar gift, however, would be the equivalent of granting your own niece fourteen thousand dollars in today's economy.

Within four years after Isaac's death, Caroline's parents had moved their household from the Ohio county where the extended Ijams family had settled to nearby Morgan County. It is there that Caroline likely met the man she eventually married. Though I can find no marriage record—yet—for Caroline Ijams and Dana F. Stone, together they made up a household in Iowa City, Iowa, by the time of the 1860 census. That they married back in Ohio is almost certain, as Dana could previously be found living in the same Morgan County, Ohio, where Caroline's parents had settled by 1850.

Dana and Caroline did not move to Iowa alone. In that same 1860 census, both her older brother and his wife and their parents were residing in the same city, in a household along with several others. While in 1860, Caroline's husband was listed as a "land agent," by the time of the draft leading up to the Civil War, Dana Stone was listed as a teacher—possibly at the same school which had been co-founded by his brother-in-law William Ijams.

Between that date and the time of his death, I can find little on either Dana Stone or his wife, Isaac Ijams' niece Caroline. Even the listing, online, of their burials is only by transcription from other records. It is only after Dana's 1882 death that I find any record of Caroline—but not in Iowa.

To find the rest of what little there is available concerning Caroline, we need to move from Iowa to Tennessee, not exactly a simple move to a nearby neighborhood. There, in a death register for the city of Knoxville, we find the November 29, 1884, entry for Caroline E. Stone, widow, reported to be about fifty two years of age. As we already know, she was listed as having been born in Ohio, but as for the mention of any relatives, there was none provided. The only other snippet of information given was under the heading for "Place of Death." There, in a miserable scrawl was what looked like the word "Union."

Fortunately, has several city directories for Knoxville in their digitized collection, but in the 1884 directory, I could find no entry for a Caroline Stone, nor even for a Dana Stone with any remark that she was his widow. I did, however, check one other entry in that same directory on a hunch: that there might have been an Ijams family member listed in the same volume. Sure enough, there was one entry under that surname, pointing to the same Union address where Caroline spent her last days.

It was for the widow of Caroline's brother Joseph.

Above images of Isaac Ijams' will and the Knoxville city directory courtesy of

Thursday, May 13, 2021

"A High-toned Christian Gentleman"


Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew Wm E. Ijams Son of [J]. H. Ijams one riding horse, bridle and saddle if living...


While William Edwin Ijams was not the first of his siblings mentioned in his uncle Isaac Ijams' will, he was the oldest, thus first, at least, in our review of the family. By the time his uncle Isaac drew up his will—signed by Isaac on 12 September 1845—William would have been not quite fifteen years of age.

I like to think that perhaps that gesture of kindness from an uncle contributed to the life story which unfolded for this nephew. It certainly echoed in the story of William's younger brother, as we'll see in a few days.

Born December 16, 1830, to Isaac's brother Joseph and his wife—likely an Ijams cousin—Mary Ann, William spent his early years in the same county in Ohio where his father and uncles had settled after leaving their home in Maryland. Before the time of the 1850 census, though, Joseph and his family had moved to Morgan County—a matter of only two counties to the east of Fairfield County, but enough of a distance, perhaps, for Isaac to be unsure whether his younger brother's son was still living.

From the Joseph Ijams family's residence in McConnelsville, at some point William entered school across the state border at a Pennsylvania institution which eventually became known as Washington and Jefferson College. From a biographical sketch published on the occasion of his graduating class' quarter-century reunion in 1877, we learn that William was considered "a high toned Christian gentleman...quiet and unobtrusive, yet sociable and genial" as well as "an excellent student." He had apparently entered the class in his junior year.

By the time of the 1860 census, William had married—to Elizabeth Culbertson in 1856—and relocated to Iowa City, along with his parents and younger brother, also named Joseph. There, William was listed as a teacher.

That detail, however, tells only part of the story, for William was in Iowa by at least 1854. During that earlier year, William had opened a private school in Iowa City for deaf students. Looking closely at the 1860 census, you can spot on the far right column the coding "D+D" for the two students lodging in the Ijams home, indicating they were deaf.

During that year of 1854, William presented his students at an Iowa Hall of Representatives assembly and, along with the politically active deaf advocate Edmund Booth, lobbied the state to establish a school for the deaf. Early the next year, the state established what is now known as the Iowa School for the Deaf, and William served as the school's superintendent for nine years.

Following that service, William turned his attention to the studies of theology, and was ordained a minister in 1865. He served as pastor at several locations, first in Presbyterian congregations, eventually accepting positions in Congregational churches. Though his ministry led him as far as California, he returned to serve in a congregation in Iowa City by 1879.

Even though William died childless in 1893, it is quite certain he bestowed a legacy through his service, as we'll see when we continue with the story of his younger siblings, particularly with the history of his brother Joseph next week.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Initial Assessment


It was the mention of what looked like "heirs of I. H. Ijams" in his brother Isaac's 1846 will that had me puzzled. Isaac, brother of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Sarah Howard Ijams Jackson, had no children of his own, but thanks to his success in life, was able to be generous with the descendants of his siblings. The catch was, other than Isaac himself, none of those siblings had a first name beginning with the letter "I."

To complicate matters, other than Isaac's youngest brother Frederick, all the other brothers—as well as their sister Sarah—had for their middle initial the letter "H," likely for Howard, their mother's maiden name. So who would that "I. H. Ijams" be?

Handwriting in the mid-1800s era in which Isaac Ijams drew up his will could be challenging to decipher. Stylistic throwbacks to a previous century—such as what looks like "fs" for the double consonant "ss"—still made their occasional appearance in government documents. Somewhere in all my rusty recollections about past handwriting quirks, I seem to remember—but of course can't find a source for—aberrations mentioned for capitals of the letters "I" versus "J." Sometimes, the descending portion of the "J" did not extend below the line of text, making it difficult to decipher which of the two letters was intended.

Even if that were so and Isaac meant by his will his brother with the initials as J. H. Ijams, we are still left with a dilemma. If that "I" in the initials for Isaac's brother were really a "J" then which brother did it signify? Isaac had two brothers possessing the initials "J. H."

The answer to this we determine by the fortunate (for us, at least) revelation that Isaac was thinking of his brother "J. H. Ijams" who had already died. Lest we go off on a mad chase of Ohio documents to determine which brother that might have been, Isaac also provided several items in his will concerning that brother's children. In fact, as we learn from the will, at least two of the three children were still minors, for whom his brother had appointed Isaac as trustee.

We had already learned from Isaac's father William's will that the two possible brothers would be John or Joseph. As it turns out, Joseph did have three children whose names match the "heirs of I. H. Ijams" listings in Isaac's will: William Edwin, Caroline Elizabeth, and Joseph Henry Harrison Ijams.

In confirming their relationship to the correct father, though, the effort led me through some fascinating details—which you know I couldn't simply observe and move past, without mentioning. So, starting with tomorrow's post, we'll revisit those life details, beginning with the eldest of Joseph Howard Ijams' children, his son William Edwin.


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"Fifty Dollars and no More"


After waxing eloquent about the "certainty of death and the uncertainty of the time thereof," William Ijams got straight to the point: of his belongings, whether real or personal property, his namesake son was to have nothing but "fifty dollars and no more." Likewise, the elder William stipulated a specific, limited amount for each of his grandsons—Henry and Richard—allowing us in that strictness at least a glimpse into the family structure of that son with whom he seemed less than pleased.

It is this will of William Ijams of Fairfield County, Ohio, which he signed on December 27, 1815, which supposedly represents a man whose headstone affirmed his death was in February of that same year. Besides this puzzle, William was the supposed father of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, Sarah Howard Ijams, wife of John Jay Jackson of neighboring Perry County.

While it is unfortunate that William Ijams' will, presented to the Court of Common Pleas in Fairfield County, Ohio, on March 9, 1816, referred to his daughters only as a nameless group—with "money divided equally among" them seeming to indicate more than two—the same instrument thankfully named each of his sons. Thus, we learn that, in addition to son William, the deceased also named—with a more generous gesture—sons John, Isaac, Joseph, and Frederick.

While William's son Isaac would have been in his mid twenties at the time when his father died, it is unlikely that the named witness to William's will—also named Isaac Ijams—would have been this same son. As there was another taxpayer by this name in the county at about that same time, it is possible that the younger Isaac was named after this other man, maybe William's own brother.

At any rate, thirty years later, we find another Ijams will, this time for Isaac, William's son. We can be fairly certain this Isaac was from the same Ijams family, despite the will being filed in neighboring Perry County. There are several reasons for this. For one, Perry County, having been formed of portions of Fairfield and neighboring counties in 1818, was not yet in existence when the elder William passed away. The old Ijams property may well have been close to what became the boundary between Fairfield and the new Perry County.

In addition, the listing of heirs in Isaac's will helps corroborate one of his brothers named in his father's will, while providing missing links to determine the identity of one of the other brothers. Brother F. R. Ijams from Isaac's will was most likely one and the same as son Frederick from William's will. However, due to the occasional writing quirks found during that time period, especially for the letter "J" versus "I," it is confusing to determine the true identity of those individuals listed in Isaac's will with initials which look like "I. H. Ijams." It makes more sense if that first initial was actually a "J" as Isaac had two brothers, both with a middle initial of "H"—John and Joseph. Fortunately, the will provides information on the "heirs of I. H. Ijams," to guide us.

Best part of Isaac's will was the naming of at least two of the previously unidentified daughters of William Ijams. One was referred to simply as Comfort Stevenson, which was obviously her married name. More to the point for my own research purposes, trying to confirm the parents of my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother Sarah Ijams Jackson, was the will's provision for "heirs of my sister Sarah Jackson, deceased." That she was, by Isaac's 1846 death, for the young mother had been dead since 1829. The naming of her husband, John Jackson, as one of Isaac's executors, helps confirm that connection.

Isaac's will, while helpful in some respects, provided other loose ends which may yet serve to tie family members together, especially if William's will, with its wishes to have his money "divided equally among"—rather than "between"—his daughters, indicated more than two women. There was mention in Isaac's testament of a nephew by the name of Isaac Turner—unless a nephew through Isaac's wife Elizabeth, a likely descendant of the unnamed third sister. And the will also brings up the name of Isaac H. Iliff, with no explanation of who he was or how he connected with the Ijams family.

Despite the discrepancies—no names for daughters in William's will, and confusing references to "I. H. Ijams" in Isaac's will—tomorrow, we'll begin piecing together the story of these other relatives, to find if they further confirm the likelihood that the elder Ijams' will represented that of Isaac's, and thus Sarah's, father.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Will Power


If the saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way" has been co-opted as the genealogist's reminder to study the provisions of our deceased ancestors' last testament, all the better if we can find two wills. For our unfortunate deceased young bride of John Jay Jackson, Sarah Howard Ijams, it may be a second family member's will that powers our way toward confirming the identity of her parents and siblings.

To recap, Sarah was my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother, a young mother who died not long after the birth of her fourth child in early 1829. Her parents were apparently some of the first settlers of the region in Fairfield County, before the earliest days of Ohio's statehood. Needless to say, given the time period, there was not an abundance of records, nor did women figure prominently in such documents during that era.

The catch, however, is to determine exactly whether her father was a man named William Ijams. It so turns out that the transcription from cemetery records of William's sunken headstone gives a date which conflicts with the date in which his will was drawn up and presented in court in Fairfield County. In other words, burial before signing will—an odd order of events.

Last week, we took a look at a will—though not digitized directly by any of the major genealogical companies, thankfully uploaded to by another Ijams researcher—presented on behalf of William Ijams' family in the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas on March 9, 1816. According to the document, William had signed his will in the presence of three witnesses on December 27, 1815. The question is: can we find a will of another family member which can corroborate the names listed in this William's will as the same individuals in the family of the William we've tentatively identified as father of Sarah—the father who supposedly died in February of 1815?

As it turns out, there is a will of another Ijams family member from neighboring Perry County, dated September 12, 1845. Perry County, carved from Fairfield County in 1818, is the same county in which Sarah's widower, John Jackson, remained and remarried after her death, raising a second family, not far from where the Ijams family had farmed in Fairfield County.

Before we look at the specifics spelled out in this second Ijams will—with the goal of comparing the details with the earlier will of William Ijams in Fairfield County—we need to get up to speed on some particulars concerning this second Ijams descendant. Isaac Howard Ijams had likely been born in Maryland, as had so many of the other migrating Ijams clan settling in Fairfield County. In 1817, he married a widow in nearby Muskingum County, Ohio, by the name of Elizabeth "Koons"—possibly Koonts—and thus took on responsibility for raising her orphaned son, Ephraim. Apparently, other than young stepson Ephraim, Isaac had no children of his own.

Thus, in his will almost thirty years later, Isaac's stipulations regarding Elizabeth and her son Ephraim took up a significant portion of the document, while concurrently assuring us by those contingencies that we are looking at the right Ijams family.

The condition noted, regarding Elizabeth, was that she was to inherit specific items, which she should, in turn, bequeath to her son Ephraim, provided  she was willing to follow additional stipulations.

...Item: I give and bequeath to my beloved wife Elizabeth one thousand dollars and one third of my household and kitchen furniture during her natural life and at her death whatever portion of the one thousand dollars and furniture above named may remain in her possession...
In other words, she could have the money he set aside for her, as well as the named items of property, to pass along to her son and his heirs in the future, as long as she "remain satisfied wherewith and shall surrender all her legal rights or claims to all the balance of my estate...."

With that said, Isaac then proceeded to name other members of his Ijams family—the very details which we were hoping to find. Tomorrow, we'll compare the list in Isaac's will with that of Ijams family members named in William Ijams' earlier will, and see where that leads us in sorting out our research questions.

Image above: Excerpt from the last will of Isaac H. Ijams, dated September 12, 1845, and presented in court in Perry County, Ohio, on February 5, 1846, by witnesses I. F. Dollison and Isaac Larimore; image courtesy

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