Thursday, May 6, 2021

Counting Williams


If the cemetery records from the Stevenson-Ruffner cemetery in Ohio's Fairfield County affirm that William Ijams died in February of 1815, why is his last will and testament signed in December of the same year?

I'm curious about the explanation for this puzzle, since that very William Ijams may be father of Sarah Howard Ijams, my mother-in-law's third great-grandmother. My research goal this month is to confirm the identity of that Sarah's parents.

As tiny as Fairfield County's population might have been at that time, we have to allow for the possibility that it contained more than one man by the name of William Ijams. Granted, census records for Fairfield County claimed eleven thousand residents in 1810, growing to sixteen thousand by 1820, so it might be possible, in the midst of all those folks, for more than one man to claim that very name.

Of course, we'd also have to take into account that census records, back in those early years, named only the head of household. If there were more than one William in any given Ijams household, we'd have no way to tell, back then. The 1810 census compilation accessible at only lists one such name.

However, we are not to be stopped with that one setback. There have always been taxes, and fortunately for us, Fairfield County kept their records carefully—at least, long enough for them to be digitized and shared online, two hundred years later. A number of records at, both handwritten entries and typewritten indices, show one man by the name of William Ijams before 1815, but no more. 

What we can glean from that record set, though, is the fact that there may, indeed, have been one other relative—if not two—living in the same vicinity. The other Ijams men named on the Fairfield County tax rolls were Isaac and Thomas. But at no time could I find a second William Ijams.

So what could be the explanation for the will signed after the testator theoretically died? Here is what we see from the transcribed entry for William Ijams' will:

...In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and fixed my seal this 27th day of December in the year of our Lord Eighteen hundred + fifteen.         Wm Ijams

Before we come to a decision on this puzzle, it would serve us well to look closely at the details given in this William's will. That, of course, will require us to follow up by tracing the family members mentioned and search for additional corroboration. Nothing is ever easy, as we've long ago realized in genealogical research. But it is certainly worth the time and effort to examine the evidence we've just found, rather than let this anomaly cause us to dismiss the entire record out of hand.



  1. Hi Jacqui, I know that this seems impossible, but it did happen to me. My father's headstone came back with the wrong date and middle name. Fortunately, I was in the state when it was installed and was able to correct it, but I think to your situation, maybe such a mistake might not have been so easily corrected back then, especially if family members moved away.
    I wouldn't have believed this myself until it happened to me.

    1. Oh, how unfortunate, Winnie! At least you were able to have it corrected. I certainly believe such an error could be possible. I keep in mind "two such instances" I've written about before, on this same dilemma.

      Still, it's unfortunate that William Ijams' headstone is partially sunken, as I'm curious whether someone just misread the date, given the handwriting style of that era--another point to discuss next week.


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