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.   

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