Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Reaching Back on the Research Trail


Pushing our way back through history, ancestor by ancestor, the research trail becomes different. Gone are the birth and death certificates we relied on for our more modern cousins. Gone, eventually, are the fairly reliable listings of family members in the decennial census enumerations. The farther back we push behind the 1850 United States census—the oldest such enumeration to list every name found in each household—the more elusive family records become.

And here I am, wondering about my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard Ijams. All I've been able to glean on the woman's existence was an approximation of her birth—about 1758—her husband's 1816 will in Fairfield County, Ohio, and a few notes concerning her second marriage to a military man stationed near Saint Louis by the name of John Whistler.

It was actually thanks to a paragraph in a privately printed genealogy on Major John Whistler that I was pointed in the right direction for Elizabeth's origin: going back east beyond Ohio to Maryland.

Among those notes, as we saw yesterday, were the names and location of her likely parents. With that smattering of information, my next task will be to verify and source those details. After all, assertions require documentation, right?

Having found that private genealogy posted on, I looked for any actual books which might contain further information on the proposed parents of Elizabeth Howard—and, of course, any information on Elizabeth's first husband, my mother-in-law's direct ancestor William Ijams.

First on that list of discoveries was a book published in 1933. Compiled by Harry Wright Newman, that era's typically long title was Anne Arundel Gentry: a genealogical history of twenty-two pioneers of Anne Arundel County, Md., and their descendants. Granted, Mr. Newman had published several such genealogies, and I'll have some thoughts on that status tomorrow. But for now, let's look at what he wrote about William and Elizabeth Howard Ijams.

In three brief paragraphs—out of 668 pages in total for this book—here's what I gleaned on William "Iiams" and his wife Elizabeth Howard. First, the names of William's parents: John "Iiams" and Rebecca Jones. Then, also, was the detail of William's birth in Anne Arundel County, and his move with his mother to Frederick County after the 1783 death of his father.

Fortunately, the brief narrative also provides details on William's wife Elizabeth. Thankfully, that includes the names of her parents: Joseph Howard and Rachel Ridgely, both of the same county, Anne Arundel. One additional detail gleaned from the information on Elizabeth's parents was that Joseph Howard must have died early in 1785 or at the end of the previous year.

The concluding paragraph mentioned that the family of William and Elizabeth eventually moved from Maryland to Fairfield County, Ohio, the place where we had already found them. It is unclear whether they had made the move with the ten children named in the book—but besides whatever number of their family joined them during the move, they were also accompanied by two of William's brothers, Isaac and Thomas.

While these dates and details point the way to further research possibilities, there is always one question in the back of my mind: how reliable can these old genealogy books be, anyway? Before deciding to consider such a resource, we need to pause and consider that question.   



  1. I am interested in these answers!

    1. Well, it may be a wild--or at least bumpy--ride, Miss Merry, but glad to have you come along on this research excursion!


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