How is the Salem Witch Project coming along? Well, both good and bad. 😄
The good news: As predicted, the first few generations were quite easy to prove to my satisfaction (and hopefully ADEAW‘s). I already had or was able to readily locate all the necessary information.
The bad news: I have run into the mid-19th century record barrier, with an 1890 census frustration thrown in on the side.
The 19th Century or When the Research Starts to Get Real
For those who have not had the pleasure, the 19th century is infamous as the place where genealogy begins to require fortitude. There are several reasons behind this:
The Pre-1850 Census Information Cliff
The 1850 Census. A glorious moment in the history of federal record keeping. It was the first census to give us the names and ages of all members of a household. This doesn’t sound revolutionary, until you consider what came before it: Decade after decade of head-of-household names only, combined with tallies of people (by gender and sadly by race/enslaved status) enumerated into age categories such as Under 5, 5-15, 15-20, 20-30, etc. Depending on the census, you may also get a little detail about the work they engaged in or how many people were deaf, dumb, and blind.
Yes, that is better than nothing. However, when a family tends to use only a handful of first names and they are all neighbors, your ability to track individual families is greatly impaired.
The Civil War
The Civil War was a records double whammy. First, for those with slave ancestry, it is often an insurmountable black hole. Very rarely were slave names recorded and often those are only available if you know the owner’s name. Going back multiple generations is even more difficult.
Second, war is destructive. The Civil War was exceptionally destructive, especially in the South. One of the standard operating procedures of the Union Army was to burn the courthouses of the towns they were in, along with other harsh actions intended to punish and weaken the Confederacy. Chaos is often a weapon of war.
In sum, our ability to readily locate ancestors takes a pretty sharp turn mid-century. But there’s one last big problem:
The 1890 Burned Census
Fire. Again. The historian and genealogist’s nemesis! The 1890 Census was mostly lost to us in 1921 in a conflagration and the later (inexplicable) destruction of the remaining records. There are ways around this, depending on the person and the location, but it is an added burden and often creates mind-numbing frustration.
The twenty year gap between 1880 and 1900 was a period of incredible immigration to and internal migration within the United States. Losing that mid-point marker means some people simply vanish. 😞
Where I’m At Now
Well, I’m untangling a tangled web. The current status:
1.My great-great grandfather Daniel is confirmed. His birth date and death date are good. His marriage is solid. His father’s name is good. His mother’s maiden name required some FAN club work to confirm but is solid. He also married two sisters in turn. You do you, Daniel. You do you.
2. While sorting all this out, I confirmed that my Daniel was most likely not the same Daniel that had fought in the Union Army for Maine (which had made it onto my tree). It was a cousin by the same name and nearly identical age. The only way I cleared this up was by creating a timeline of his life. It didn’t make sense for him to enlist in Maine when he was living in Illinois at the time. It could happen, but it was unlikely.
3. It was also through timelines and more digging that I figured out the Alexander who definitely is a Union soldier wasn’t Daniel’s father Alexander but most likely his brother, Alexander Jr. The Civil War soldier information may seem like a distracted lark when looking for a Salem Witch. But it actually serves a purpose. Civil War soldiers are often well documented and are an excellent source of clues!
Note: It also seems that Alex Jr. ended up marrying Sabra Cinderella Cada (fantastic name)–a second marriage for them both. Her daughter from her first marriage married Alex’s nephew, my great grandfather Frank. Family bushes, people. Not trees. 😉
However, it is this Alex/Alex confusion that has me running in circles a bit. Alexander Sr. is a man of mystery, and possibly was not entirely faithful to his wife Margaret. Family history can be messy! But that lack of clarity is due in part to the loss of the 1890 census preventing me from easily answering questions.
The other challenge
I know with some degree of certainty Alex Sr.’s birth and death dates but I have nothing solid linking him to his supposed father Stephen. And by nothing solid, I mean only online and old printed family trees. This doesn’t cut it.
On one hand, I haven’t seen anything to refute this assumption. On the other hand, I haven’t seen anything to support it either. I assume Alexander did not appear out of the ether (if he did, maybe he was the actual witch…). Regardless, this must be proven sufficiently enough to continue!
So what’s next? Basically, I have to go deep. The new research plan for Alex:
- The Question: Who are Alex Sr’s parents?
- What I know: His birth date of April 1810, probably in Waldo County, ME. Here’s the trick: Maine became an independent state in 1820. Before that it was, to varying degrees, part of Massachusetts. The record search is going to be messy.
- So, first, I want to track back as far as I can, as close as I can get to 1810. Right now I’m at 1840. Only 30 years to go! He lived to be 87, so I’m over half way. 😄
- Then I will hopefully be on the right trail, for the correct person. Fingers crossed!
Stay tuned. The month is running out quickly so I must get back to research!
Timelines and FAN research have been saving graces so far. Have you had luck with these techniques? Have other favorite tricks? Let me know below!
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Header Image and Good/Bad Graphic: ©Michelle Keel, 2021. Header and chart graphics created with Canva.com.
Waldo County, Maine. 1840 U.S. Census, population schedule. Database with images. Ancestry. www.ancestry.com : 2021. Roll: 153; Page: 237; Family History Library Film: 0009709. Extracted images for Littlefield heads of household only.
Foggy Maine Coast. Jonesport, Maine, United States. Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash.com.