Friday, September 30, 2022

Wrapping up September


It's the last day of September. So much for my family history research goal for this month. I am still chasing clues and running in circles. Time to recap and lay down a research plan for the next time I wrestle with questions about John Stevens' second wife Eliza Murdock and her family.

The tight loop that has held us captive for the past two weeks was chasing after signs to determine whether we had found Eliza's younger sister Sarah—or stumbled upon her genealogical doppelganger. Just as her brother John's will had indicated, we found a married Sarah Nolan and her family in Indiana briefly for the 1860 census. And then she disappeared, only to resurface twenty years later for the 1880 census in Kansas—I think.

Following that discovery, I had hoped to find some documentation on the children named in that later census to pinpoint their mother's maiden name. Sounds easy enough—until we discovered that long-distance access to death records in either Kansas or Oklahoma, where the family moved next, could be spotty.

I haven't given up on this quest yet. But instead of pursuing end-of-life information in Kansas or Oklahoma on the Nolan children listed in the later census record, why not turn this problem on its head and look for records back where the younger children were born?

That's right: it's time to explore what can be found back in Indiana. According to the FamilySearch wiki, there is much to access. Though the wiki for Tippecanoe County doesn't quite beckon me in—it notes that most church records are held by the local church, and sagely advises, "check a phone directory"—thankfully, there is more than one way to find an answer in the FamilySearch wiki.

It's a good thing I've looked at microfilmed records before from Tippecanoe County—where the Irish immigrant Murdocks settled in Indiana—so I already know they can be accessed again. Sure enough, a separate wiki entry, specifically on Indiana Church Records, confirmed my memory of accessing Diocese of Lafayette records through the FamilySearch organization. In fact, records from all four Indiana dioceses can be accessed through the FamilySearch Library or at a local Family History Center.

Now, my plan will be to take a little field trip to a nearby center where I can explore those Lafayette baptismal records. Goal: find the mother's maiden name for any of the Nolan children listed in Sarah's 1880 household in Kansas. If those listed as born in Indiana—Samuel, Tony, Peter, Sabina, or Sarah—were indeed children of our Sarah Murdock, they likely would have been baptised in Lafayette.  

Of course, there is the great possibility that this was yet another Sarah Nolan, wife of another John, who settled in Indiana from 1862, when Samuel was born there, through baby Sarah's arrival in 1874. If that is the case, I need to know that, too. It's better, in family history research, to discover our mistakes than to perpetuate an error that we merely thought might be a shrewd guess.


Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Trouble With Kansas—
and Oklahoma, too


With six routes to a possible confirmation of a woman's identity, you'd think the answer would be nearly within grasp. But no, thanks to a particular restriction in the state of Oklahoma, I may never find my answer.

I had found a possible answer to my question, "What became of Sarah Murdock Nolan of Lafayette, Indiana?" when I located an 1880 census enumeration in Wichita, Kansas, which included the names and correct locations of birth of the oldest of her children. The only ones missing from that 1880 record were her husband John and two children. Those children we later confirmed had died before the family left Lafayette.

To confirm that those whom we later found in Kansas were actually children of the right Sarah Nolan, the next step seemed easy enough: follow the children through their life's history to obtain their own record of death. If any of those children died after 1900—after 1910 would be preferable—his or her death certificate should include a confirmation of the mother's maiden name. Easy peasy.

Not, apparently, if the child died in either Kansas or Oklahoma.

Yesterday, we explored the possibility that any of Sarah Nolan's children died in Kansas after that magic date heralding the "modern" death certificate. Despite Sarah being mother to at least nine children, that list of possibilities was narrowed down to a weak "maybe" for only one descendant: Samuel. Even at that, I can't determine where Samuel died; I only can see that he possibly was buried in Kansas. Like his mother Sarah, he could have died while visiting family in Oklahoma, then was returned for burial back home in Kansas.

Looking for death records of ancestors in Kansas is not a streamlined matter. Although there is access to some online information on deaths in Sedgwick County where the Nolans once lived—or for anywhere else in the state, for that matter—there are gaps in the series of available dates. Besides, the collection on providing such records is considered a "Legacy Collection" and, as it turns out, doesn't include the information I'd be seeking in Sedgwick County.

No matter. That was the chance to trace only one out of six of Sarah's children dying after the early 1900s. Onward to the rest, who all moved to Oklahoma. And that becomes the crux of the problem: Oklahoma, it turns out, is quite particular about who can seek copies of their residents' death records.

While Oklahoma mandated statewide registration of deaths by 1908, that requirement was not consistently achieved before 1930. Worse, as the FamilySearch wiki notes, "Records before 1940 were placed on file inconsistently." So much for the deaths of all but Sabina Nolan Martin, whose passing occurred in 1945.

But there's more. Should I want to obtain any of those Nolan descendants' death records—assuming they did make it into the state file—the state of Oklahoma imposes restrictions. A 2016 state law considers deaths occurring more than fifty years ago "open records." While that may sound encouraging, the law also requires a genealogist to obtain written permission of a descendant of the deceased to order a copy plus document the relationship between the descendant and the deceased.

All for the simple step of confirming what Sarah Nolan's maiden name might have been.

Granted, there are some Oklahoma death records available online. However, like those we discovered for Kansas, the Oklahoma records on are considered a Legacy Collection—containing, at best, a partial index of records.

Keeping that now impossibly distant research goal still in sight, I realized there may be another way to achieve my purposes. With our last post on this September research goal tomorrow, we'll take a look at that option as well as determine next steps for resolving this research dilemma.  


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Moving Over to Oklahoma


Does it sometimes seem as if the record-keeping powers that be are conspiring to keep us genies from discovering the answers to our family history questions?

Here I am, still grappling with this month's research goal, now finding myself in a wild chase to identify whether the Sarah Nolan I've found in 1880 Wichita, Kansas, is one and the same as the Sarah Murdock Nolan who disappeared from Lafayette, Indiana, after 1860. In the process, I stumbled upon a one-paragraph acknowledgement of the passing of someone by that same name. Only problem: this Sarah Nolan's death was not in Kansas, not even back in Indiana, but in Oklahoma.

Same person? I'll give it to you in a nutshell, but the pathway to personal assurance for this researcher is far from straightforward.

Apparently, one by one, each of Sarah Nolan's children left their home—and, in some cases, business—in Wichita to move to Norman, Oklahoma.

Oldest of Sarah's surviving children—John, one of her children born in Wisconsin—left Kansas originally for Garfield County, Oklahoma, along with his wife Mary and their three children. By the time of the 1930 census, though, John, by now widowed, had moved to Norman.

Younger brother Tony, having met Louisa Sandelback in Norman, along with his bride became the first couple to celebrate their wedding in the new Saint Patrick's Church in Norman on December 27, 1898. By then, Tony had been a resident of Norman "for years."

Tony's younger brother Peter, a lifelong confirmed bachelor, was a holdout in Kansas—as was older brother Samuel—but finally moved in with his sister Sabina and brother-in-law Owen Martin in Norman by the time of the 1930 census, adding one more to the tally of Nolan siblings who moved from Wichita to Oklahoma.

And baby of the family Sarah—nicknamed Sadie—followed her September 1900 wedding in Wichita with a move to the home of her husband, William Synnott, in Norman.

With that, we have a tally of every Nolan sibling  moving to Oklahoma and eventually settling in Norman—except Samuel. But even in Samuel's case, I can't be entirely sure where he died; all I can find is that he was buried in Kansas, not Oklahoma, according to what appears to be his 1924 headstone.

There is a reason for being so particular about where each of these Nolan siblings died. Remember, my goal in tracing these lines of descent is solely to locate a death certificate for one of the children of Sarah Murdock Nolan. I'm looking in particular for that document entry stating mother's maiden name. I still want confirmation that this Sarah Nolan whose similarly-named children showed up in Kansas was one and the same as the Sarah Nolan who left Indiana.

That, as it turns out, is not a goal easily accomplished. You see, there are some limitations to accessing information on deaths in Oklahoma. And if you think the easy work-around is to pursue information on the lone descendant who was buried in Kansas, think again. We'll take a look at the research pitfalls for accessing this information tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Not Quite to the Endgame Yet


If there is an endgame in this quest to connect Sarah Nolan in Wichita with the Irish immigrant Murdock family back in Lafayette, Indiana, I have yet to strategically eliminate the excess playing pieces on this genealogy game board. Here I've traced the suspected Sarah Murdock Nolan from the adopted city of her brothers in Indiana to a new home in Wichita, Kansas. But the trail doesn't end there.

The next step in my strategy to confirm this Sarah's identity was to find the death record of one of her children with mother's maiden name included. Just one. Apparently, that is not to be had—at least, as far as I can see from this point.

I began this secondary maneuver with Sarah's oldest son, James—until realizing his untimely death in 1892 would not achieve our goal.

The next step was to trace the timeline of Sarah's second surviving son, John Nolan. As you can probably guess by now, that tactic is not turning out to be any more successful than my first attempt. And we have three more sons and two daughters yet to go. We've hardly begun to clear the game board.

After all, keep in mind Sarah's oldest son was born in Ohio, the next few children in Wisconsin, before the Nolans moved to Indiana, presumably to live closer to Sarah's siblings.

And then, there was Kansas. At least, that's what I presume was the next move for our Sarah Nolan, sister to the successful Murdock brothers in Lafayette, Indiana. Yet, finding confirmation for such an assumption is still not within our grasp.

Taking a step backward—though not yet in retreat—I looked for any mention of the death of Sarah, herself, in Wichita newspapers. I was rewarded with a single, paragraph-long, entry in The Wichita Daily Eagle on Thursday, June 3, 1897:


Mrs. Sarah Nolan died at Norman, O. T., Tuesday night. Her remains arrived in this city last night at 8:30 over the Santa Fe and were taken to the home of Owen J. Martin, 509 Campbell avenue, West Side. The funeral services will be held at the Pro-cathedral at 9 o'clock Friday morning. Funeral was postponed for the arrival of relatives from St. Louis.

From Saint Louis? What relatives? Suddenly, with this announcement, I'm wondering whether I have the right family at all.  

Newspaper images above from page 6 of  The Wichita Daily Eagle, Thursday, June 3, 1897, as found via GenealogyBank.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Still Seeking Signs


Sometimes, we can find ourselves researching a family whose members we think are related to our line, only to discover we were on the wrong track all along. That's how it's been this month as I try to connect the Murdock sisters back to their parents in Lafayette, Indiana, and then, hopefully, to the generation before that, back in Ireland. No matter what records I've found, I'm still left seeking more signs to clarify family connections.

The youngest of the three Murdock sisters, Sarah, had married a man by the name of John Nolan. As we've seen, John and Sarah moved around the midwest quite a few times, judging from the birth location for each Nolan child, as recorded in census records. Still, it was somewhat of a surprise to me to find Sarah's family—if, indeed, this was the correct one—once again appearing in another state by the time of the 1880 census.

This discovery in Sedgwick County, Kansas, was one I wasn't entirely confident about, as I mentioned last week. That, of course, launched me on yet another search—this time, to find any documentation to confirm I had found the right Sarah Nolan, instead of another Irish immigrant with the same name. By the end of last week, we had tried following the story of Sarah's oldest son, James, but that ended with the discovery of his sad demise at his own hand in 1892, when he was not quite forty.

This week begins the search all over again, this time with the next-oldest remaining son, John Nolan. Referring back to the 1886 city directory where we had found listings for Sarah and her family, it is reassuring to see the note, for those Nolan family members living at 745 South Main Street, that they had arrived in Wichita from Indiana. Likewise, a Kansas state census, taken in 1885, confirmed the Nolan family's arrival from Indiana.

The only drawback: by 1885, there was no sign in Sarah's household of her son John in the census or the city directory. However, by the time of the 1889 edition, there is mention of John Nolan in the Wichita city directory.

Take that back—there was not one mention of John Nolan in that city directory, but two. Though we are provided with the helpful information that, like his Murdock uncles before him, our John worked as a grocer—same as his brother Tony—we still need to proceed cautiously to ensure we don't end up researching the wrong line.

The bottom line is our hope to discover a death record for one of the Nolan children, identifying the maiden name of their mother, Sarah. We'll need at least one of the children to have lived into the beginning of the twentieth century, when states began issuing death certificates with such identifying information as parents' names. Let's see what we can find on Sarah's son John tomorrow. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Step by Step


An enormous goal can sometimes seem too formidable to accomplish. When faced with something huge like that, I like to borrow from commercial mottoes like "Just Do It." That "doing" of a big project means taking the first step. And then another one. And another.

After being flummoxed by the thousands of names in my DNA match list—who were all these people?!—I decided, years ago, to embark on a project to build a tree of all my ancestors' descendants. My goal was never to give an impressive answer for that inevitable genealogy question, "How far back have you gone?" In my case, the goal was simply to figure out where all those DNA cousins fit into my family tree.

It occurred to me, today, to see just how far that step by step process has brought me over the years. After all, I have kept a biweekly count of my progress for years. What if I zoomed back to Step One to see where I started?

Easy enough to do. The first DNA test I requested was for my husband's Y-DNA in March of 2014, followed by my brother's tests later that spring, and eventually my own. To say those lists of matches were overwhelming is quite the way it felt when I began the process.

Right now, my tree stands at 29,772 individual, thoroughly-documented names. Although I began my biweekly count prior to the point of saving those records on my computer—the value of switching from handwritten notes is evident here—the earliest record I can access dates back to December of 2017. Then, that same tree contained documentation for 12,419 relatives. Growth of 17,353 names is not bad for a time span of four years and nine months. Over the long haul, that's working at an average clip of 304 names per month.

It has not been much different for my husband's family tree. Back at the end of 2017, my in-laws' combined tree represented work on 15,322 individuals. Now, that tree has grown to 30,145. That growth of 14,823 people represents an average rate of 260 names added per month.

True, that step by step process may have meant a daily average of eight names added per day (in my husband's case) or ten per day (for my own tree). Some people may not find it advantageous to keep up such a pace. The point, though, is that with steady work, guided by a specific research goal, a family tree eventually takes shape.

What system you choose for attaining promising results may vary from mine. After all, when I was teaching school full time, my research time was limited to semester breaks and summer vacation trips due to calendar restraints. Despite those considerations, the online access to records we now enjoy can overcome even the most restrictive schedules, including those with latitude only for progress in baby steps. It's not the size of the steps, after all, but the fact that the first step gets followed by the second one. And then another. And another. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

You Weren't Imagining It


If you've tried to post a comment on a blog hosted here at Blogger in the past, and afterwards, it never showed up in the comment section, well, I just discovered something: you weren't imagining that.

One of the behind-the-scenes tasks for bloggers is to secure the virtual floodgates from spam attacks. Google's Blogger system does a pretty decent job of barring intrusions, but every now and then, some misdirected person does manage to slip by the spam radar. I'm not sure how profitable it is for those thinking that posting a "comment" selling their wares on a five year old post here would boost traffic to their own site, but you know how it goes. Spam is the digital version of graffiti: if you don't clean it up right away, it spreads.

Though I've been at this blogging project for over a decade, it still seems a challenge to keep up with changes in how to manage the admin system. Today, in chasing down an actual spam warning, I accidentally discovered a change at Blogger which sequestered not only those pesky spam comments, but also comments from bona fide readers. In fact, some of the comments were posted—and sequestered—not just once, but multiple times. Talk about an overzealous bot.

The funny thing is, I've gotten notes from readers in the past, saying, "I tried to post my comment, but it never showed up." Right. And I never could find those comments. Until now.

Yes, in Comment Jail, the holding cell for suspected spammers included multiple posts by well-meaning (and real) people, including some regulars among my readers.

To say I was surprised to find this would be an understatement. I had no idea there even was such a place as this virtual holding cell. All spam-flagged comments used to be kept in one, easily-found place for blog administrators—until this top-secret spam purgatory system snuck in.

Hopefully, that little detour in an otherwise functioning system has worked its little dysfunctional self out by now, and all genuine readers with applicable comments will be free to post them here once more.


Friday, September 23, 2022

Finding the Unexpected


Those who choose to delve into family history are sometimes warned ahead of time about finding "skeletons in the closet." We seldom take those warnings to heart, perhaps even find a perverse curiosity egging us onward. But when we do stumble upon the tragic, we can't say we hadn't been forewarned.

Perhaps I should have known that a man dying young—even back in the late nineteenth century, when medical advances hadn't yet brought the remedies we now take for granted—might not have encountered such an untimely demise simply on account of a weak constitution. I certainly hadn't expected the blunt reporting served up to the public in the local newspaper upon the passing of Sarah Murdock Nolan's oldest son, James.

Included on the headstone for John J. and Sarah Nolan, James' date of death was given as July 13, 1892. Beneath that date was given his precise age at his passing: thirty nine years, two months, and four days.

Like any genealogist would do, I headed to online resources to look up James Nolan's obituary. Remember, I'm still not certain this Nolan family in Wichita, Kansas, was the family by the same name I had been researching in Lafayette, Indiana. I needed an obituary to help confirm James' family constellation, especially regarding his connection to his mother's Murdock siblings.

It turned out that reports of James' death spanned three days in The Wichita Daily Eagle—published, ironically, by M. M. Murdock & Bro. On the first day afterward, July 14, an article spanning nearly a full column length gave the details on the passing of James "Noland." 

Right away, the article provided the address for the home of "Widow Noland" as 745 South Main Street. This was an address which the 1886 Wichita city directory confirmed was also the residence of Peter and Tony Nolan, two others listed as sons in Sarah Nolan's 1880 census entry.

Under the unfortunate headline, "The Razor Route," the subtitle confirmed the likely cause of James Nolan's death: suicide. The article included a detailed report of the aftermath, but for all its length, the report mentioned no family names other than that of the youngest sister, who was the only one at home at the time of her brother's unexpected act.

Problem: that young sister's name was given as Sadie. The 1880 census record I found mentioned no child by the name of Sadie—until we recall that Sadie was once one of many nicknames used for the given name Sarah. And Sarah, in this family, was her mother's namesake and the youngest in the household.

Despite lack of names provided in the report, it was possible to glean a few other details about James and his family. He was "a railroad man," an occupation I had suspected was the reason the family had left Indiana for Kansas. He was also "addicted to drink," which longstanding problem had brought corresponding health issues for which he had been reluctantly seeking treatment. He was not a cooperative patient, however, continuing to drink while taking whatever the "Keeley cure" might have entailed, and suffering from the side effects of the treatment.

An added complication to James Nolan's sad story was that his mother—presumably the widow Sarah Murdock Nolan—had recently left home for "a visit east." The follow-up article in the next day's newspaper provided more detail on that trip. She was "in Indiana visiting."

Not wishing to delay the funeral and burial until their mother's return home, James' brothers in Kansas decided to go ahead with the burial immediately, which occurred on July 15, 1892, from the Nolan residence. Considering funeral protocols of that era, presumably this decision spared their mother from the shock of seeing the condition of her son—and gave her sons additional time to clean the home of any remaining signs of the tragedy claiming James' life.

In researching the many lines related to my family's history, every so often such a story will make its unexpected appearance. Thankfully, those times are rare. Every family—no matter how unremarkable or unobtrusive—has a story to tell. It's just difficult to encounter those of such extreme pain.       

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Not the Details We Were Expecting


It is exciting—at long last—to find ourselves on the brink of the big reveal, examining the evidence we had been seeking, knowing that finally, we can obtain the confirmation of our research hypothesis. In our case this week, though, the elation of finding the record was quickly followed by the deflation of realizing these were not the details we were expecting.

We've been on a long search lately, trying to find a Murdock sibling whose records might divulge the family's origin in Ireland. It seems each sibling leads us farther away from our goal. Even though it was exciting to discover there were two more sisters to follow, along with the several Murdock brothers we had already found, tracing younger sister Sarah Murdock Nolan has not been an easy task.

We are currently searching for Sarah seven hundred miles from the Murdock siblings' adopted American home in Lafayette, Indiana, wondering whether the Sarah Nolan in Wichita, Kansas, is really the Sarah we are looking for. The signs so far seemed promising—names, birth years and locations in the 1880 census agreed with our last sighting of the Nolan family back in 1860.

There is, however, one slight problem: this Sarah was listed as a widow in the 1880 census, so we don't really know if this was Sarah, wife of John, or another Sarah. One approach was to follow the trail of each of the children to see whether any subsequent documentation mentioned their father's name.

I started this new search with James Nolan, the oldest child, which led me to a memorial showing a small, cracked headstone for a man by that name who died young at thirty nine years of age. Included was a note by a volunteer stating that James was "on stone with Sarah and John J. Nolan." That prompted me to search for another memorial at the same cemetery—Calvary Cemetery, Wichita's oldest Catholic cemetery—to confirm those were the names of James' parents.

Sure enough, the information pointed to ages that seemed reasonably older than James' 1853 year of birth. On this other, significantly larger headstone, Sarah Nolan's age was given as sixty five, and John's was listed as fifty eight.

There was, however, one stumbling block with this discovery. While the 1880 census had shown our Sarah as a widow—no sign of a husband's name included in that household—John Nolan's entry on that headstone indicated his year of death was 1882. Where was John in the 1880 census?

I have observed, in researching other families during this time period, that women who were divorced or separated from their husband would sometimes take the socially easier route of just claiming they were widowed. Perhaps this was the case with this Sarah in Wichita. The next question would be: where was John for the last two years of his life? Really, the bigger question would be: was this the same Sarah on the headstone the same as the one I had found in the 1880 census? And would this John and Sarah be one and the same as the couple who lived in Indiana, back in 1860?

Nothing is ever easy. In fact, family history research can be quite messy. In first spotting James, rather than his parents John and Sarah, I searched for some other records to confirm I had the right son. In the process, I stumbled upon a sad explanation which ran its course through three editions of the local newspaper. In talking about those reports tomorrow, we'll see what else can be gleaned about this Nolan family in the process. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

To Play Devil's Advocate


Is it possible to play devil's advocate in genealogy? 

In trying to discover what became of Sarah Murdock and her husband, John Nolan, we're faced with the disappearance of John—in fact, of the entire family from the place where we last found them—by 1880. What we do have, however, is a census entry in a place seven hundred miles from the city where we last saw them, in Lafayette, Indiana. Only problem: no John, no son George, no daughter Mary Ann in 1880—but the addition of several other children previously unaccounted for. Could this be our Nolan household?

Let's play devil's advocate by arguing that this Nolan family in the 1880 census—sans John—is the same as that of John and Sarah, back in Lafayette.

Taking a look at the 1880 census in Wichita, we can trace that Nolan family's movements through the midwest, simply by using the birth locations listed for each of the Nolan children—if, of course, they belong to the right Nolan family.

Here are the names found in the Nolan household in 1880 Kansas, far from the place our Nolan family called home in Lafayette, Indiana. With oldest son James, we realize the family had once settled in Ohio. Son John was born in Wisconsin, but the rest of the family showed their birthplace in Indiana, up through the youngest child, Sarah, born about 1874. Even though the younger children—Samuel, Tony, Peter, Sabina, and Sarah—did not appear in the last census in which we had found our Nolan family (way back in 1860), if this is the right family, this record shows us the family had remained in Indiana for quite a while.

The question is: if this is our Nolan family, when did they arrive in Kansas? Fortunately, we have a way to possibly answer that question. Like many other states which call for an enumeration to be taken halfway between the decade marks of the federal census, Kansas followed suit. Copies of their census record for 1875 can be found online.

The trouble for us is that, no matter which way I searched, I could not find the Nolans in Kansas for the 1875 census. That is not surprising. After all, what mother would want to undertake a seven hundred mile journey to a new home with a newborn in tow?

However, if we jump forward to the 1885 census in Kansas, the birth estimate for baby Sarah edges forward to 1875. Thus, with her place of birth again pinpointed as Indiana, we can call off the chase for any shred of evidence in Kansas, back in 1875. The family must still have resided in Indiana at that point—if we can trust the reporting party to have given correct answers and the enumerator to have written them down correctly.

That detail also provides indirect evidence of father John Nolan's presence in Indiana up to about the same time, give or take about nine months. But if this was indeed the right family in Kansas, where was John in 1880?

We can, of course, go straight to the chase, assuming John Nolan died sometime between 1875 and 1880, and look for cemetery records either in Lafayette or Wichita. However, with some of the Nolan children buried in the Catholic cemetery in Lafayette—but not alongside their father John in the family plot—it seems safe to assume Indiana was not the place of John's passing.

On the other hand, there is conveniently a headstone bearing John Nolan's name in a Catholic cemetery in Wichita. But don't get too excited just yet. Despite what seem like reasonable arguments supporting the contention that this Nolan household in Sedgwick County is indeed that of our Sarah, the Nolan headstone in Wichita presents another sticky detail. We'll consider that problem tomorrow, and see whether there is any information to support or reject our hypothesis that we have found the right Nolan household.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

George and Mary Ann —
Two Missing Pieces of the Nolan Story


Could it be possible that a widow, with seven children in tow, would think it a well-advised move to relocate seven hundred miles away from family in the 1870s? That's the question I have to grapple with as I ponder the disappearance of Sarah, one of the recently-discovered Murdock sisters, after her sighting in the 1860 census in Lafayette, Indiana.

Lafayette had become home for the Murdock siblings after their emigration from their native Ireland. I first learned about the family when Eliza Murdock became second wife to my husband's second great-grandfather, John Stevens. In the few rare times in which Eliza appeared in local newspaper reports, it was usually in the same breath as a mention of one or more of her business-savvy brothers.

It wasn't until the untimely death of Eliza's brother John that I learned there were two other sisters. I'm currently in the process of tracing each of those two siblings and—wouldn't you know it?!—losing track of the younger one almost right away.

Sarah was mentioned in her brother John Murdock's 1874 will as the wife of John Nolan. Unfortunately, the will didn't mention where Sarah was living at the time. As we've already discovered, while there was a John Nolan listed in the 1870 census for the Lafayette area, that man did not appear to be head of the family we're seeking. While I did find a Sarah Nolan in the 1880 census, she was living seven hundred miles away from Lafayette in Sedgwick County, Kansas, in the vicinity of Wichita.

While the 1860 census had listed the Nolan children as James, Mary Ann, John, and George, we've already noticed that missing from the possible 1880 census were Mary Ann and George. True, by then, those two children could have been married or living on their own—but what if something else had happened to them? 

I took that possibility as a prompt to go exploring. After all, not only were Mary Ann and George missing, but their father John was not listed in that possible 1880 household, either. That was my opportunity to explore scenarios, beginning back at Lafayette.

The first name I searched for was George Nolan. Call me a research chicken, but looking for John or Mary can introduce too many false leads. Coupled with a surname like Nolan, the names were too common; I thought searching for George might give me an edge over the other two names.

All I could find in Lafayette was a Find A Grave entry for someone named George Nolan. It was not a promising entry. Unlike the memorials we genealogists like to find on that website—complete with clear photograph of the headstone—this one had no pictures whatsoever. Worse, there was no date of birth given, only the date of death: 22 February 1872. This was not turning out to be a likely match.

Before giving up on Lafayette searches, though, I needed to go through the paces with the other two Nolan names. Though there was a John Nolan listed for the same cemetery, the dates indicated someone younger than Sarah's husband. But when I looked up Mary Ann Nolan at Find A Grave, there was an entry for someone buried in the same cemetery. 

Once again, the memorial contained no photographs, and there was no date of birth. This Mary A. Nolan had died in 1871, just over seven months prior to George's death. Still, without a date of birth or even photographs of the headstones, I thought there was not enough information available to pursue the possibility—until I spotted one familiar detail.

Each of the memorials I viewed listed the location of the burial. Each of the two had been buried in Saint Patrick's addition, section one, lot ten. It sounded very much like this George and Mary belonged in one family's plot. That was a promising indicator, but not quite the detail which convinced me that these two were likely Murdock descendants.

What clinched it for me was that I recalled having seen that burial location before, but I couldn't remember where. Sure that it was for someone else in the extended Murdock family, I went back through my notes, checking every Find A Grave memorial I had added to my research log to see what their plot locations were.

I found my answer when I reached the entries for Sarah Murdock Nolan's oldest sister Ellen. Recall that Ellen was the one who married Thomas "Megarry"—eventually spelled McGarry—and had the successful young son named in John Murdock's will as his uncle's favorite nephew.

As it turned out, Ellen, her husband Thomas, and their son Thomas were all buried in that same family plot: Saint Patrick's addition, section one, lot ten. Of course, I couldn't just stop with that set of helpful records; I had to see if anyone else was listed in the same family plot. Looking further, I also found another entry for someone named Sabina McGarry—another namesake of her maternal grandmother, Sabina Kelly Murdock, the three sisters' mother.

With that exploration of Saint Mary's Cemetery via Find a Grave, I feel confident I resolved the issue of the missing children of John and Sarah Nolan: George and Mary Ann died young while in Lafayette, Indiana, before the rest of the family moved westward to Wichita.

But what about their father? There was no sign of John Nolan in that family plot, back in Lafayette. And, as I had noted yesterday, it would seem an unlikely move for Sarah, as a widow, to choose to move so far away from family in that era of time.

The next step, then, will be to find any sign of Sarah's husband John Nolan in Kansas, any time after the 1874 birth of their possible youngest child in Indiana.

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Missing Census Entry


There we are, chasing after our family's place in history when suddenly they go missing. Decade after decade, that family may have regularly made their appearance in the national census, but this one year, there is no trace.

Unfortunately, that common research scenario is exactly what befell me while I was trying to piece together the story of the Irish Murdock sisters' whereabouts after their arrival in Lafayette, Indiana. Ever since discovering that Eliza Murdock Stevens actually had two other siblings besides her well-known brothers—thanks to her brother John's will—it has been fairly easy to trace older sister Ellen. But younger sister Sarah? That has become my problem.

I've found it a good policy to trace a family through every decade's census record. While much can happen in a span of ten years, this decennial document provides a snapshot of those changes. Even in the one census in which I found Sarah and John Nolan and their family, it was easy to see their oldest child was born in Ohio, while the others arrived when the family called Wisconsin their home. And barely by the time of the 1860 census, they were living in Lafayette.

Yet, in 1870, there was no sign of them. Oh, true, there was a John Nolan showing in the 1870 census, but looking at the names of his wife—clue: she wasn't named Sarah—and the children, it was a snap to decide that wasn't the right family.

In the 1880 census, the only sign I could find for Sarah Nolan and her family was an entry in the enumeration for Sedgwick County, Kansas. True, that's far afield from Lafayette, Indiana—but there were other problems with that discovery.

The most obvious problem was that there was no sign of John, Sarah's husband. Sarah's entry marked her as a widow, but that was during a time period in which many women would have done the same, even though the reason for a husband's absence might be far from that fact. What had become of John? Looking for a death or burial record has not yet provided any explanation. What would a woman with several children be thinking in moving her family so far away from the traditional supports for a widow in that era? The only reasonable answer would be that if he wasn't still alive, John must have died in Kansas, not Indiana.

Looking at the names of the Nolan children in this census record—possibly our first opportunity to learn more about the descendants of this Murdock sister—we once again encounter doubtful entries. All we know from the 1860 census—the only census record we've been able to confirm for this family—is the names of the four children born before 1860. Then, we had listed James, Mary Ann, John, and George.

For this possible 1880 census entry, gone were Mary Ann and George, though there were entries for a James and a John. The only consolation I could find was that the birth locations agreed with what we had previously found: James born in Ohio and John born in Wisconsin. Even their ages agreed with the twenty-year margin from their entry in the 1860 census back in Indiana.

The only other detail tugging at me was the name of one of the five additional children appearing in this Kansas Nolan household: Sabina. Recall that the Murdock sisters had as their mother a woman named Sabina. As Irish-born immigrants, each of those sisters might still adhere to the traditional naming pattern of their homeland. Thus, for each Murdock sister, we'd expect to see a first daughter named Sabina. In this Nolan household in 1880 that was indeed the case.

Of course, we can't let any conclusions hang on just that one observation. There are multiple people claiming the same name, as we've seen in many research situations. We'll need to dig further to clarify whether this Sarah Nolan was one and the same as the Murdock sister named in John Murdock's 1874 will back in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. If that turns out to be the case, then we can follow Sarah's timeline in Kansas to see whether any other records mention her roots or confirm her parents' names.

One thing, though, is sure: it would have been near impossible, without close family help to point the way, to have found such a wandering trail of this still-migrating Nolan family without the aid of online resources. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Behind Every Stone, a Story


Yesterday, a local cemetery association celebrated their 150th anniversary by inviting the community to participate in a "History Hunt." Along with several local lineage societies, our genealogical society members explored headstones dating back to 1861—a time reaching back almost to the state's admission to the Union.

Official presentations commemorated that theme of the long-standing presence of this cemetery in the community, so it was no surprise that I began to realize what a treasure trove of personal stories were represented by the headstones in that small cemetery.

Granted, there are other cemeteries with far more historic, or long-standing memorials. Traveling back east, I've found it quite easy to locate headstones from the 1700s. One of my teenaged delights in New York was to drive to an old whaling village on the tip of Long Island and wander the cemetery in search of burials of people born in the 1600s. Travels to Europe, for instance, can yield dates even farther removed.

No matter how close or far away the cemetery, though, one thought hit me during yesterday's ceremony. Each one of the headstones visible in that small cemetery represented someone's story. Regardless of how long ago the headstone was laid, or how brief or elongated the dash between the dates engraved thereon, each stone stands for a person with a life. Intricate, complicated, full of relationships and bursting with meaning, each little dash between the dates represents the story lived by someone.

Wouldn't it be something to harvest those stories and collect them in a book, someone mused.

Yes. Yes, it would. And what a collection that would be.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Idiosyncrasies of Local Research


While puzzling over my current research project—discovering more about the family of Eliza Murdock Stevens—I recalled some local resources I had accessed well over fifteen to twenty years ago. Some of those were places I visited back then during research trips to Lafayette, Indiana. Others were small, locally-created websites focusing on Tippecanoe County, of which Lafayette serves as county seat. While their holdings were not the stellar digitized document collections we've become accustomed to finding from well-known international corporations, they had exactly the information I needed to push my progress one step closer to family history answers.

The trouble with such local resources is that they are not standardized. They are not carbon copies of the stuff you'd find at the next county, too. You just have to know about them. Sure, Google may help find some sites otherwise hidden from plain view. But fifteen or twenty years ago, it was a matter of finding places, one by one, asking questions, posting queries, searching, searching, searching.

During those early years of Internet genealogy, I learned about the Tippecanoe County Historical Association's Alameda McCollough Research Library and added it on my wish list as a must-see stop for the next time I traveled to that area.

I learned also about the Tippecanoe County page on the USGenWeb project and its hodge-podge of clickable links to multiple Lafayette resources. Over the years, I also became aware of indexing projects put online on the old RootsWeb site by local volunteers—some of them featuring obituaries and death notices on the old RootsWeb site, others transcribing death records.

It has irked me this past week that I couldn't find some obituaries for Murdock family members and their in-laws. Of course, now we have the FamilySearch wiki to consult for information on local resources, or the local pages on Linkpendium. Traveling back to Indiana would be out of the question for me right now, but this week, I did wish I could find one website I remembered had transcribed the details of local obituaries.

As it turned out, I did locate that obituary resource I had remembered from years ago—but the date range was too late for my current research goal. And yet, having learned the ins and outs of what is available for family history researchers in the local area helped me retrace my steps.

Perhaps I will be able to find what I'm looking for by other means now, but this search reminded me of the value of getting to know the specifics of what resources are available at the local level for whatever place our family may have settled. Not everything is accessible from major websites. More than that, not everything is available online. We may still need to be prepared to travel to a local repository—but how will we know where to go if we don't research what's available in that specific city or county? 

Sometimes the best source for such an answer can come from local people. Ask local librarians, local genealogical or historical societies, or archivists of specialized local collections. However you do it, get to know what's available at the place where your family once lived. One-of-a-kind collections may be hiding the best resource you have yet to find, but you'll never discover such a spot until you resign yourself to the unavoidable idiosyncrasies of local research.    

Friday, September 16, 2022

Seeking Sarah's Story


The hope, in consulting collateral lines, is to find details which we couldn't readily discover when researching our own direct family lines. Thus, in the quest to learn more about the second wife of my husband's second great-grandfather John Stevens, the only possible route to more information is through Eliza Murdock's siblings.

Fortunately, as we've discovered, Eliza had a successful younger brother named John. Unfortunately for the family, John died young. However, without spouse or children, John Murdock apparently decided to provide especially for his three sisters in his will.

With Eliza's two sisters now named for us—two sisters whose names, incidentally, I had not known prior to discovering this will—we have begun exploring whether these collateral lines will divulge any family details not previously documented. After all, we need some confirmation of just where in Ireland the Murdocks originated—and how they arrived in Lafayette, Indiana.

Following the line of Eliza's older sister Ellen has, so far, not yielded any details. But we still have younger sister Sarah. We'll begin exploring Sarah's life trajectory today.

The first mention of Sarah, in her brother John's will, identified her husband as John Nolan. Truth be told, whenever I see a research subject's given name listed as John, I groan. Common names like John can be challenging to sort out, especially when coupled with a surname as widespread as Nolan. Not that it's a Kelly or a Murphy we're seeking, but already, I can see we'll face some challenges.

Though I wish John Murdock had listed the residences of each of the sisters he named in his will, it still was possible to locate the Nolan household in the 1860 census. John Nolan is listed on the very next line after the household of his wife's brother, Samuel Murdock. Continuing on the next census page, we can find his wife Sarah plus their children: James, Mary Ann, John, and baby George.

One thing I appreciate about enumerations from mid-nineteenth century onward is the ability to trace where a family has traveled, based on the birth information for each of the children. Looking at John Nolan's household, we can see they did not remain in the same place for long. For this family living in Indiana in 1860, oldest son James was born in Ohio while the other three were born in Wisconsin. Considering baby George was born only four months before the June enumeration, that means the family had only recently arrived in Lafayette.

Keeping in mind the eldest son of John and Sarah was only six years of age, that represented quite a bit of mobility for the Nolan family. Perhaps that is why it is no surprise that I can't find them in Lafayette in the 1870 census. Actually, I can't find them anywhere.

Peeking ahead to the next decade, I find absolutely nothing for John, head of the Nolan family—but I do find a slim possibility for Sarah and the children. Emphasis: slim.

Next week, we'll evaluate whether that 1880 census find could actually be the Nolans we are looking for.   

Thursday, September 15, 2022

"In a Business Way"


Give a promising young man with good business sense a modest sum of money and see what happens. In the case of young Samuel McGarry, beneficiary of his uncle John Murdock's bequest upon his untimely death, his $1,000 inheritance may have become a good investment, indeed.

According to inflation calculators, a gift of $1,000 in 1874 would be the equivalent of receiving nearly $27,000 in today's money. Regardless of what other typical twenty-one-year-old young men might do with such an amount today, Samuel McGarry put his inheritance to good use in a business way.

When we discussed young Samuel yesterday, he was living in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1880, along with his young wife and baby. Samuel's wife, as we discovered, was the former Mary Finnigan who, a decade prior, had been living with her mother and brother John in her step-father's household in the same city.

What became of them next? After all, census records leave a twenty-year gap after that 1880 census—a gap of time in which quite a bit can change in a young family.

If it weren't for the quintessential "some kind soul" of the Find A Grave volunteer variety, perhaps I would never have guessed what happened next to favored nephew Samuel McGarry. Fortunately, that thoughtful volunteer posted an old newspaper clipping on the memorial for Samuel's brother Thomas, who died in Lafayette in 1895.

According to that brief notice, among Thomas' surviving family members was one "S. J. McGarry" of Atlanta, Georgia. 

Really? Could the business-savvy Samuel McGarry have left his family's home—and all the network of business connections forged by his successful uncles in Lafayette—to strike out on his own?

Answer: you bet he did.

Just to double check that I had the right person in Atlanta, I not only found Samuel in the 1900 census—remember I would never have guessed to look for him there otherwise—but also in the city directory for that same year. Note how many McGarry names show up in that directory: not just Samuel and his wife Mary, but two other McGarry men, James F. and John J.

Each of the men are listed by the occupation of boilermaker. All worked for the same company, J. J. Finnigan. By now, that name is starting to sound familiar, so I double-check the others listed in Samuel's household. Sure enough, John J. and James F. were Samuel's sons, as well as a daughter, also named Mary.

Samuel's household in 1900 also listed another member, a man listed as a boarder. His name turns out to be John J. "Finigan." Not just because this John Finigan happens to coincidentally also have been born in Indiana—same as Samuel, his wife Mary, and their two sons—but that name sounds familiar for other reasons.

It is. This lodger, John J. Finigan, had the same name as Mary's brother John Finnigan from the 1870 census—and when we skip forward another decade to the 1910 census, the enumerator clarified that very relationship.

This John J. Finnigan happened to also be a boilermaker, same as his brother-in-law and nephews—and likely also was the namesake of the Atlanta business known then as J. J. Finnigan & Co.

I can't determine just how successful Samuel McGarry was in that business endeavor—his will doesn't reveal much, other than his business interest in the company and some real estate holdings in the city of Atlanta. But the many entries in the local newspaper upon his "untimely death" present a hint of how well known Samuel McGarry was in the area. Called a "pioneer business man," he was considered a "leading citizen of Atlanta" who was "interested in a number of progressive movements."

We can glean from the articles written after Samuel's passing that he had arrived in Atlanta "in the prime of life" in about 1888. While we can infer from his entry in the 1900 census that the McGarry family had stopped first in Alabama, where their daughter Mary was born in 1885, Samuel must have learned of a business opportunity farther to the east and made his move there while his daughter Mary was just a toddler. Whether John J. Finnigan accompanied Samuel's family on that entire route through Alabama, I can't yet tell. One thing, though, is certain: the connection between John, Samuel, and Mary went far beyond what the Atlanta Journal called being "in a business way."

Still, with the forward-facing obituary style at the time of Samuel McGarry's untimely death, we find no mention of those who went before him. Thus, our hope in following Samuel's story nets us nothing more than an interesting diversion. As the oldest son of our Eliza Murdock's sister Ellen, Samuel would have been the most likely to reveal any clues to his mother's origin, and thus his Murdock grandparents' roots. While I'll follow the stories of Samuel's younger siblings—three brothers and four sisters, as we remember from their father's obituary—perhaps it is time to explore whether we can find more answers by researching the other sister mentioned in John Murdock's will. With tomorrow's post, we'll begin our exploration of Sarah Murdock Nolan's story.  



Wednesday, September 14, 2022

About That Nephew Samuel


Oh dear. This is getting complicated. I started out hoping to learn more about John Stevens, my husband's second great-grandfather, by tracing the history of his second wife Eliza Murdock.

Only problem: women living during the latter half of the nineteenth century often weren't highlighted in headlines. So when I discovered Eliza had well-known businessmen in Lafayette, Indiana, as brothers, I started trailing their information to discover just how the Irish Murdock family came to settle in Indiana. But when Eliza's brother John—a single man, at that—left a will upon his untimely death naming his three sisters, what was I to do? Finding information on three nineteenth-century women is no easier than discovering the facts on one woman of that era.

Enter nephew Samuel, named alongside his aunts and mother in John Murdock's will. Perhaps, I thought, his life story might illuminate the immigration details featured in a bragging piece about his better-known other uncle, James Murdock.

And so, here we are, genealogical guinea pigs game to try any avenue of exploration to find the details that feed a well-groomed genealogy. Let's see if nephew Samuel provides any clues to lead us onward on our research trail.

When Samuel first made his appearance, it was in his uncle John Murdock's 1874 will. That document was entered into the Tippecanoe County court record on April 2, 1874. The stipulations set by John Murdock indicated that Samuel had not quite yet reached the age of twenty one years. Indeed, as we'll see in subsequent census records, Samuel was born in August of 1853, making him just months shy of reaching that mark at the time of his uncle's death.

Although Samuel was son of Eliza's sister Ellen and her husband, listed as Thomas "Megarry" in his brother-in-law's will, I have yet to find him in his parents' household. By the time of the 1870 census, Samuel had apparently left his parents' home, but he must have stayed in close proximity.

Why do I surmise such a conclusion? Simply because within the next five to six years, Samuel had found a bride from among the young women living in that same Indiana community.

Samuel's bride, Mary Finnigan, had been living, at least back in 1870, with her older brother John Finnigan and their mother Margaret in the Lafayette household of Mary's step-father, Patrick Lynch. By 1876, Samuel had made his proposal, Mary had said "yes," and the couple celebrated their wedding on October 30 of that year—two and a half years after Samuel's uncle John Murdock's bequest.

By the time of the 1880 census, still in Lafayette, Samuel and Mary had welcomed their first son whom they named John, perhaps in honor of the uncle who had vested so much interest in Samuel's future. But they were not to remain there for long. Although we don't have the 1890 census to explain to us the young McGarry family's next move, we can intuit from the 1900 census their pathway into a future far removed from the city their immigrant parents had adopted as home. We'll explore more of Samuel's story tomorrow.


Image above: The November 14, 1876, return from the Tippecanoe County, Indiana, marriage record of Samuel L. McGarry and Mary A. Finnigan; image courtesy    

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Seeking Sisters


If collateral lines are just the antidote for a brick wall ancestor, finding more collateral lines should mix up an even better elixir, right?

Not necessarily so, I'm finding as I research the newly-discovered lines of two of Eliza Murdock's sisters. Still, I'm grateful for the leads: two previously-unknown Murdock sisters, offered to us complete with each husband's name, with each living near Eliza's home in Lafayette, Indiana. And, added bonus, the name of a "beloved nephew" who was soon to turn twenty one, son of the older sister.

While I now know that Eliza Murdock Stevens had a sister named Sarah who married someone named John Nolan, and another sister Ellen, wife of Thomas Megarry, finding these Murdock siblings in Tippecanoe County records is not as easy as one would think.

The value of tracing these two sisters—both married before 1874, date of their brother John's will—is to potentially see their movement across the decades as well as the American continent. Each was born in Ireland—here, we'll still presume that happened in County Sligo, Ireland, as their brother James once claimed—but married in the United States. Each sister had children in America, as well. To find and compare their census entries, noting place of birth for each of their children, may help infer the movements of the entire Murdock family. May help.

However, when I start at the top of the family list with the older of the two sisters, Ellen, I am dismayed at what I cannot find. Perhaps I should not be so surprised. After all, women of the mid-1800s could be quite invisible. But there is an added dysfunction to this quest: the ever-morphing spelling of Ellen's husband's surname. It may take a couple generations for that spelling to settle itself into a routine appearance.

Thus, to find Ellen, we'll first track what became of her husband. Introduced to us in his brother-in-law's will, Ellen's husband was then called Thomas Megarry. By the time of his death, less than fifteen years after his wife was named in his brother-in-law's will, Thomas appeared under the name McGarry. His Find a Grave memorial does not include any photo of a headstone, but some kind volunteer did post a clipping of his 1889 obituary.

Like any memorial of that time period, the newspaper article lavished accolades upon Thomas McGarry's character, but barely glanced by his family connections: "a widow and eight children, four sons and four daughters." The Find a Grave memorial for Thomas' wife, Ellen—the one we are keenly interested in discovering—includes nothing more than dates and burial location. If there was ever an obituary, it appears I will have to go digging for that, myself.

Fortunately, Thomas and Ellen were the parents of the "beloved nephew" Samuel, also mentioned in John Murdock's will. Before we move on to explore what can be found on the other newly-discovered Murdock sister, we'll take some time tomorrow to see if any details can be gleaned by exploring nephew Samuel's own story. One thing I assure you: combining his uncle John's thousand dollar bequest with the Murdock business sense of his other uncle James, Samuel put those gifts to good use.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Situation With Sligo


Sometimes, it is a wonderful find to discover one's ancestor was featured in those county history books of a previous century. For anyone related to James Murdock of Lafayette, Indiana, it would seem his family's five page spread in Past and Present of Tippecanoe County, Indiana would be more than sufficient to answer any questions about the Murdock family's past. And it is true: James Murdock's route as it is laid out from Ireland to Indiana in this book seems to describe every stop on the immigration route. Finding any way to verify that information, though, is another story.

Take the book's report that the Murdocks emigrated from County Sligo in Ireland. That is not the only place where I found that information. James' own 1908 death certificate mentions that fact, as well.

However, there's a problem with this assertion. When I go to John Grenham's surname map for mid-nineteenth century Ireland and look up the surname Murdock, not a single household shows up in County Sligo featuring that name. There are a few Murdock households for the county to the west—Mayo, supposed home of John Stevens, James' brother-in-law—and some for another county off to the northeast. There is a veritable shower of green dots representing Murdock residents covering the landscape for County Down and the area around Belfast. But not a single marker showing a Murdock family in County Sligo.

Granted, there are other ways to spell the surname Murdock. But looking at any of the variations on the Grenham website doesn't reveal any promising results.

Since the Grenham maps are based on data from Griffith's Valuation, what about going directly to that source? Whether searching for Murdock or Murdoch, the website for Griffith's Valuation gives us no satisfaction.

If you are beginning to lose hope that James Murdock's report gave a correct location for the family's Irish homeland, I am right there with you, scratching my head as well—until, that is, I found this other glimmer of hope.

Of course, hope sometimes comes with multiple caveats. In this case, those caveats include sloppy handwriting or mis-heard report of a given name. Other than that leap of faith that "Sibby"—remember those nicknames for James' mother, Sabina—could be mistakenly written as "Libby," the names of the mother's children on this passenger list line up quite nicely.

Not only the names match, but the ages line up within a year's margin for each of the sons. Only Sabina's year of birth—reported later to have been 1795—does not agree closely with the passenger list.

The added bonus to this list is that the boat these four arrived on during November of 1852—the Dromshair—sailed to New York City from the very place we're holding in question: County Sligo.

There are, of course, problems with this conjecture. Where, for instance, are Sabina Murdock's husband and daughters—to say nothing of their oldest son Samuel? Besides, now that we've discovered the two additional daughters who belong to this household, we can't forget they should be included in such a traveling list, as well.

While first discoveries can be encouraging, it isn't yet time to assume we've found our answer. Let's cross-check this possible passenger listing by researching the story of those two newly-found Murdock daughters to see whether we can learn more about their immigration timeline, as well.


Images: Above, from the Indiana State Board of Health, an excerpt from the 1908 death certificate of James Murdock showing his place of birth reported as County Sligo, Ireland; below that, an excerpt from the passenger list of the Dromshair, arriving from County Sligo in New York City on November 5, 1852, showing the names of four members of a Murdock family; images courtesy     

Sunday, September 11, 2022

About Those Irish Nicknames


Finding a mother's maiden name can be challenging in its own right. When coupled with the shifting usage of nicknames, it's a task which makes me wonder whether all those names I'm finding refer to the same woman.

The Murdock brothers Samuel, James, John, and Thomas in Lafayette, Indiana, have been the key to helping me find Eliza Murdock Stevens' mother. In particular, the most successful of the brothers—millionaire James, whose handsome photograph and biographical sketch appeared in Past and Present of Tippecanoe County, Indiana—became my source for their mother's maiden name, Kelly.

However, discovering that the woman was recorded by three different given names—Sally, Sibba, and Sabina—I needed to quell any doubts for myself.

This is not the first time I've wrestled with this question. Years ago, I wondered the same thing—and had some motivation to get to the root of the nickname problem. But did I? Let's just say that item got shoved to the bottom of the month's research list.

So I decided to take the situation to a good friend of mine: Google. After all, isn't it still true that "Google is your friend"? I asked for "Irish nicknames" and up came this handy document, a ten page chart compiled by Dennis A. Hogan called "Given Name Alternatives for Irish Research." 

Within those ten pages—and this may come as no surprise to you—the entry for Sabina confirmed that, in addition to "Bina," two other nicknames could be Sally and Sibby. Hence, the Murdock entry in the 1860 census for Sally, and the 1870 census entry for a quite different version, Sibba.

So "Sibba" was likely to have actually been "Sibby." If so, imagine that "Sibby" with a sloppily-written capital "S." Could someone have mistaken that for an "L"? I've seen that happen before.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but I'm hoping that a mistaken transcription is the case again, because I found a passenger record which may be of interest to us—if the entry for "Libby" Murdock was really supposed to mean "Sibby" Murdock. We'll see, tomorrow, whether there are any additional documents to bolster or negate that wishful guess.


Saturday, September 10, 2022

The Usefulness of Looking Sideways


When you tell someone that you are working on your family tree, what's the first question you usually get? In my experience, that question often is: "How far have you gone?"

As if the quest to learn more about our roots is solely focused on taking a straight line into our family's distant past, people expect the answer to reflect the far reach of multiple centuries. Admittedly, a well-researched and documented tree reaching to the 1600s or beyond can be impressive—but often because it involves relationship to nobility, not just number of generations covered. 

Those of us who struggle to push beyond the brick walls of immigrants in the 1800s, for instance, may be envious of such public admiration—you've got to admit, dropping a gem like "I'm related to Charlemagne" may be an impressive conversation starter at a dinner party—but there's one detail I've gleaned along the way that has made me change my tune. Instead of looking backward in time, peering into the far reaches of family history, when I get stuck, I look sideways.

Doing an end-run around my brick wall, I call it, but most genealogists know this tactic as working on collateral lines. What we may not be able to find while working on our great-great-great grandparents, for instance, may become details that are easily discoverable if we, instead, start researching their siblings.

Working on collateral lines has helped me answer many genealogical questions in the past. You could say when it comes to researching collateral lines, experience has made me a believer. That's why, in delving further into this month's research question—learning more about the family of John Stevens' second wife Eliza Murdock—the discovery this week of a sibling's will naming two more family members was truly a research gift. Knowing that the deceased man was unmarried and thus childless, it might have seemed hardly worth the effort—but it turned out to be a valuable discovery which otherwise would have been missed entirely.

Granted, with each step bringing us closer to collateral lines, we move another step farther from our direct line. Worse, when we begin such a search, we have no way of knowing whether the effort will be productive. But if the material is easily accessible—in this case, it was—and if we can always keep our eye on our end goal (in other words, not fall down a research rabbit hole), it can be well worth the time to see whether any further information materializes.

It will take me a few more days of constructing a quick family tree and attaching documentation to get my bearings on these two new lines associated with Eliza Murdock. My hope is that I will discover two additional details. One is to learn where and when Eliza's father died so I can obtain documentation on a previous generation in her direct line. The other is to have enough information to trace the Murdock family's immigration trail on their many stops between Ireland and Indiana.

Will I find that, simply by exploring what can be found about these two new sisters, Sarah and Ellen Murdock? Again, there is no guarantee. But I will never know unless I give it a reasonable try.

I base my faith in this process on prior experience. Collateral lines have been a great resource, based on my past forays into such diversions. Perhaps that is why I've never been rigid about "rabbit holes" and other detours. If based on reasonable assumptions and coupled with access to helpful documentation, these are not frivolous deviations from research goals. In fact, discoveries through exploration of collateral lines can augment our understanding of our family's history.


Friday, September 9, 2022

"To My Beloved Sisters"


Those final words embedded in the last will and testament of our ancestors may sometimes be the only way to trace family members and push our research path back another generation. In the case of Eliza Murdock, second wife of John Stevens, it was thanks only to some research on collateral lines that produced the key to the names of the rest of the Murdock family in Lafayette, Indiana.

We've already discovered one of Eliza's brothers, the successful businessman and civic leader James Murdock. Yet, his ample biographical sketch included in the 1909 book, Past and Present of Tippecanoe County, Indiana, seemed to provide information that I've yet to substantiate. Now, not only do I need to learn more about Eliza simply because of my Stevens family research questions, I want to learn more about Eliza's Murdock roots as well.

Eliza's brother James Murdock apparently was not the only one of the Murdock sons to achieve success. Two other Murdock sons entered the grocery business and at least obtained a comfortable living from their efforts. One of them—John—unfortunately died young. But even though his death occurred in 1874, long before the state of Indiana required death certificates, his business success ensured that he had something to leave behind. That's where his last will and testament comes in.

In addition to providing for his just debts to be paid, John Murdock got straight to the business of taking care of family. A single man, only thirty five years of age, for John, that family meant his own siblings. His first order of business in his will was to give three hundred dollars apiece to his "beloved sisters."

Sisters? I had only learned of one Murdock sister: Eliza. Who were these others?

In a single paragraph in the will which I can only describe as a gift, John Murdock not only named the three sisters, but included the names of each of their husbands. Of course I already knew Eliza's husband was John Stevens—or "Stephens" as it so often was written—but I knew nothing of the other two.

Now, not only do I have the names for the other two sisters—Sarah and Ellen—but I know the full names of each spouse. Sarah apparently married John Nolan, and Ellen was wife to someone listed as Thomas Megarry. Even better, John Murdock made special provision in his will for Ellen's son Samuel, adding yet another name to the Murdock family constellation for me to trace.

While each of these family names pushes me farther away from the original line I am interested in—that of John Stevens, immigrant from County Mayo in Ireland—their discovery provides me with yet more ways to potentially learn about the roots of the Murdock family. And, hopefully, about John Stevens' own immigration story, as well.

With that discovery, we'll take some time next week to see whether these two additional names provide any clues as to the Murdock immigration route from Ireland to Indiana. 

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