Thursday, March 30, 2023

Looking for Comfort


In our quest to better determine the full identity of Elizabeth Howard, wife of William Ijams, we need some powerful tools to help us press back to the era in which she lived, the mid-1700s through the date of her death in 1826. Top of the list for those tools is the mitochondrial DNA test, called mtDNA for short. Finding an exact match on that mtDNA test means that both the matching "cousin" and our test-taker share a most recent common ancestor who was mother to daughters who had daughters who had daughters...

In Elizabeth's case, though she had many sons, there were only two women who called her mother: my mother-in-law's direct ancestor, Sarah Howard Ijams, and Sarah's sister Comfort. While Sarah did have two daughters before her untimely death, adding Comfort's female descendants to my search would help.

There is, however, a problem with using Comfort Ijams: there are sparse resources for learning more about her life. Thanks to a volunteer's notes on Find A Grave, I learned that Comfort and her husband, Edward Stevenson, had at least one son and one daughter. But the very year in which she died—1850—was the first year in which American census records began listing all the names in a family, not just the head of household. Wherever those daughters might have been named in that census, it would not have been within the household of Comfort and Edward Stevenson.

Thankfully, some kind subscriber had uploaded an (unfortunately) unidentified resource which abstracted material from The Western Christian Advocate. From the abstract, I could see that Comfort and her husband Edward Stevenson were parents of eight children, all but one of whom were daughters.

Unfortunately, not one of those daughters was named in that publication. And I want to find every one of them. After all, those may be the very ancestors from whom my husband's mtDNA matches descend.

Since it seemed that the entry shared on Ancestry was an abstract, I was off to look for the original source. First step was to learn more about The Western Christian Advocate. Thanks to some tips from Google, I learned that it was a weekly publication of the Methodist Church in the United States, established in Cincinnati in 1834. Better yet, I discovered that some editions have been digitized and can now be found online. However, like many periodicals, archived versions may have limited date ranges available.

Fortunately for me, the issue I wanted—dated August 14, 1850, according to the abstract posted by the Ancestry subscriber—could be found within the collection available at Genealogy Bank. Searching for Comfort's married name, Stevenson, I found the original entry from which the abstract was drawn. Yes, the original still only had the phrase "seven daughters and one son," but I now know there were at least four daughters still living—presumably in Ohio, where the family settled—at the time of Comfort's 1850 death.

For now, the search process will be to reverse-engineer the discovery of those four daughters. Hopefully, their father left a will before his 1844 passing. If not, perhaps county marriage records will point out the nuptial arrangements for the Stevenson daughters. What is clear, though, is that flowery and kind-hearted obituaries of that era will do little to assist me in finding the names of those the dearly departed left behind.

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