Friday, May 1, 2020

Finding "Clews" in Indiana

The one imperative, after staying the course to follow a research goal, is to avoid, at all costs, being lured down a rabbit hole. If you have known me for any length of time at all, you already know those bunny trails are my weakness. Therefore, I strengthen my resolve by reiterating my current research objective: to find a death certificate for a sibling of my second great-grandmother Rachel Riley Boothe. This, I needed to do for the sole purpose of confirming not only the names of her parents, but the location of their birth, as well. That detail had unfortunately been omitted from Rachel's own document.

Thus, after having come up with a blank for Rachel's sister Mary, our only recourse was to trace the line of Rachel's brother William F. Riley. The down side to that effort was my doubt regarding whether I had located the right William Riley in Washington County, Tennessee. Nevertheless, having found a marriage record for one man by that name in said county, I took the chance of following this William and his wife, Eliza Jane.

We've already followed them long enough to track them from Washington County to nearby Greene County in Tennessee. And then, suddenly and with no explanation that I can find, a family with the same exact details disappeared from any spot in Tennessee and were magically whisked to Putnam County, Indiana.

Well, almost exact. The three children's names were the same, and their ages exactly ten years older. Their places of birth matched previous records. The only difference was that Eliza Jane Riley had magically been transformed to Elizabeth Riley. Close enough, but still allowing for plenty of doubt.

Regardless, I decided to pursue this bird-in-hand. After all, what could go wrong? All I needed was to follow the chase, no matter where it led me, until I could locate a death certificate for William Riley.

Silly me. I lost my resolve when I clicked on child number one. William's oldest—a daughter he and his wife had named Mary, just like William's own oldest sister—had been born about 1854 in Tennessee, just as we had seen in previous census records. But when I went onto my account at Ancestry to build her profile, I was greeted by a multitude of those shaky-leaf announcements of hints about Mary's life. Somebody else had already been hard at work augmenting the hint collection.

Unlike the usual hints from the Ancestry service, Mary's hints were not the pedestrian census records or vital records we come to expect. Another subscriber to the service had decided to share the wealth from a linked newspaper archive and had posted several articles. One such article happened to include the name Mary Riley, with the title, "Riley vs. Bugg Paternity Suit."

I reminded myself that this was not part of my research plan.

If, realizing that I really am going to move away from that bait, you feel disappointed, you know exactly how I felt at leaving such a bombshell of a headline. But persevere, we must.

I moved on from Mary's life and list of confirming documents to the next of William's children. This brought me to the daughter he had likely named after his other sister, my second great-grandmother Rachel. William's daughter—her full name was Rachel Elizabeth—led a rather conventional life, it seemed. She married a man in Putnam County having the same given name as her own dad—William Froggett—and with this man, she raised five children, four of whom survived at least until the 1900 census was enumerated.

Perhaps the appearance of normalcy lulled me into taking a further look at this family constellation. After all, my habit is to chart all my ancestors' collateral lines, and the possibility of a DNA match from this line prompted me to start building out Rachel Elizabeth's own line. But there it was again: evidence of a zealous fellow Ancestry subscriber, wanting to share all the newspaper articles gleaned on the children of Rachel Elizabeth and William Froggett.

By the time I had gotten to Rachel's oldest son—also named William—I had already learned that he had been charged with larceny, horse thievery, and attempted murder. And not all at once.

Further, by 1900, this son had managed not one but two successful jail breaks. By the time of an undated newspaper clipping posted in the "hints" section, he had escaped with three other prisoners skillfully enough that officials were confessing to the media that after two weeks of searching, all they could manage to do was find "clews to the whereabouts" of only one or two of the four. Our William and one other turn out to have been "the most difficult of the four men to follow."

Unfortunately, the undated news clipping was from a service I don't subscribe to, so I tried to locate the article through the two services I do use—but with no results. I did, however, find other reports from across the state of Indiana on our recalcitrant William Froggett. He apparently had quite a reputation.

Pulling myself away from this pursuit—remember, it wasn't exactly my research goal—I moved down the list of children and away from research kamikazi. I moved on to another of the Froggett offspring. That didn't help. As it turned out, William Froggett's younger brother had a colorful past of his own. And yet, his was a story which was totally different than his big brother's tale. I may have had good intentions, but you know I can't just bypass this one without saying something... 


  1. Oh gosh, I would have spent a month researching the paternity case! And it's not even my family, LOL
    I suffer from that "chase the bright shiny object"syndrome.

    1. Don't tempt me, Miss Merry! I'm trying to stay on the straight and narrow...

  2. A brave attempt at steering clear of rabbit holes. I have subscriptions to all the newspaper sites. Let me know and I will get the articles for you so you can "Come to the Dark Side, Jacqi" and fall in some rabbit holes.

    1. The "Dark Side," indeed! And I thought you were supposed to be my genealogy guardian *angel*!


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