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.