10 December 2012

Tuesday's Tip - Local Histories/ Vanity Biographies

Local histories can  take many forms and many of them can be excellent resources for genealogists.  But this blog is about is a special category of local history. Published primarily from the later 1870s through the first decade or so of the 1900s, these  books often called themselves histories. But any history that they might deliver tended to arrive in the form of short vanity biographies submitted by local citizens. You can find them in virtually every state under a wide variety of titles such as Men of Mark, or Commemorative Biographical Record, etc. The truth is that these books were first and foremost a clever way for publishers to create and sell books. They were almost always sold by subscription, and, with the exception of a few very prominent locals who often lent their name to the title page, it tended to be only those local citizens who subscribed that were allowed to submit the brief brief biographies to be included in the books.

Reading through these biographies can quickly bring to mind the introduction of  one of Garrison Keillor's   introductions to one of his tales of the fictional town of Lake Wobegon - "where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average." In these books, you will find no scoundrels.  All of the citizens in these biographies are prominent, hard-working, highly regarded citizens who have contributed to the well-being of their communities. This, along with the fact that the bios were nearly always taken directly from the information submitted by the subject of the biography or by his family, means that they cannot always be taken as strict truth.  Truth stretches easily here.  Still, if we recognize this potential,  these can be lovely little packages of information. Consider, for example, what we learn in this biography of Robert R. Pinkerton, found in the Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Wisconsin Counties, J. H. Beers & Co., Chicago, 1895:

It will be necessary to verify much of the info below, but a wonderful starting point has been found. Some of the possible follow-up research suggested by these finds is in blue text.
  • Robert R. Pinkerton is the son of Samuel Pinkerton. Check the census and local records for entries on Samuel Peacock
  • Robert was born 17 January 1842 in Ireland. 
  • He immigrated to America at age 5 - about 1847. This told me to check Records for Passengers Who Arrived at the Port of New York During the Irish Famine, documenting the period 1/12/1846 - 12/31/1851 online at NARA.

  • Five years passed between Robert's immigration to America and his moving to Wisconsin - This alerts me to search the 1850 U.S. census. Follow-up can be made in the local records when the family is found.

  • Robert had a brother named John who lived with or near him in Waupaca, Wisconsin.

  • Robert married Zelia Jewett in 1872. Look for marriage record.

  • Zelia Jewett's parents lived in southern Wisconsin. Find Zelia's family on the U.S. or Wisconsin State census reports.

  • Zelia died in 1874, after having one son, Walter Pinkerton. Look for cemetery record and probate records, if any.

  • In 1895, Walter was in college in Monmouth, Illinois. This record led to the discovery of his going on to medical school after college and his becoming an M.D.

  • Robert married 2nd to Maggie Cochran. Look for marriage record.

  • Maggie was born in New York and her family traveled to Wisconsin with the Pinkertons. We know have a pretty good idea of where Robert spent his first five years in America.  Find both families on the census in New York and in Waupaca County. 

  • We have the names of Maggie's parents and siblings. Can be used to find the family on the 1850 and later census and to find them in newspapers, marriage and other local records.

  • We have the names of the three children born to Robert and Maggie, Rosa, Jennie, and Arthur, along with the fact that daughter Rosa died at age 7.  Search census records, cemetery records, marriage records.

  • Maggie Cochran Pinkerton died in 1889. Cemetery and possibly probate records

  • Robert R. Pinkerton was a farmer who also speculated a bit in real estate and occasionally loaned money at interest.  Land Records, Court Records

  • Politically, he was a Republican
    Good hunting!

05 December 2012

Thankful Thursday - Serendiptiy, Ya Gotta Love It

Finding Nathan Porter

Serendipity: The happy accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. 

I am something of a stickler for documentation in my genealogical research - even if I have personal knowledge of a fact or an event, where possible, I prefer to have supporting evidence. And my Porter family research had been going very well - documentation was turning up left and right - right up to the point that I ran into Nathan Porter.

In accordance with every beginning genealogy class I ever saw, I started with myself and worked backward:

My most recent Porter ancestor was my grandmother, Annie Porter, who died prior to my birth, so I have no personal knowledge of her.  In my search for her history, I had started with details provided by my father years earlier and had gained additional stories from older cousins who knew her. What I started with from family records was that Annie Porter was born Nancy Ann Porter in Jackson County, Florida, on 10 August 1887, married John F. Butler on 3 January 1903 in the same county, and died on 18 March 1943, in Orange County, Florida.

I quickly added documentary evidence of my connection to Annie from Dad's birth and death certificates and found additional details from the record of my grandmother's marriage to John Butler. Her own death certificate found the names of her parents, and their marriage record gave me her mother's maiden name.  A thorough study of census records and Jackson County marriage books, and court, land, tax, probate records and voter rolls proved that Annie's father, William Turner Porter, was the son of Jacob Turner Porter.  And there I was stuck for a while.

During my Jackson County research, I had found what I considered a likely father for Jacob T. Porter. Federal land records showed a Nathan Porter buying land in 1827 in the same area where Jacob T. Porter began appearing several years later. And Jackson County voting records for three Territory Council elections in the early 1830s showed Nathan Porter and Jacob T. Porter voting in the same Jackson County precinct. However, no record indicated a connection between the men.

But I did find clues. Jacob had served in the 2nd Seminole War and late in his life, he had applied for a federal pension based on that service. In his application for the pension, he stated that he had been born in Johnston County, North Carolina. His reported age in that application, and in various census reports indicated that he had been born about 1809 or 1810. A census search of Johnston County for families named Porter on the 1810 U.S. census of Johnston County found only one household - and it was headed by Nathan Porter and had an infant of the right age to be Jacob T. Porter.

My feeling that Nathan "may be Jacob's father,"had started shifting to "probably Jacob's father"...but did I mention that I am a stickler for documentation? Digging deeper into Nathan Porter of Johnston County, North Carolina turned up a property deed that referred to Nathan as being "of Southampton County, Virginia".  Other land records named Nathan Porter's wife as Elizabeth, and one of his sons as Ridley B. Porter. Jacob Turner Porter had named one of his sons James Ridley Porter. Ridley not being a common name like John or Bob, I now knew that I was almost certainly onto a connection. So, on to Southampton County, Virginia!

In the Southampton County records I quickly found Nathan Porter's marriage to Elizabeth Turner, and was more or less convinced that I had found Jacob's parents. After all:

  •  Jacob Turner Porter shows up in early Florida records in close proximity to Nathan Porter. 
  • Jacob T. was born about 1809 in Johnston County, North Carolina, and the only Porter household in Johnston County in 1810 was headed by Nathan Porter.
  • Jacob's middle name was Turner, and Nathan's wife was Elizabeth Turner.
I was personally convinced, but despite extensive research, I still had not found any record that actually confirmed it. I accepted that I might never find it, and I laid the Porter research aside and went on to other family lines.

About a year later, I turned back to the Southampton County, Virginia records to dig a little deeper into the Turner family of Jacob T. Porter's mother. During my initial research in Southampton County, Virginia, I had identified her parents, Jacob Turner and Ann Blunt and her grandparents, James Turner and Ann Jarrell. But I wanted a rounder picture of the family.

While reviewing the indexes to Southampton County's land and court records for what I hoped was my Turner family, I came across the name Jarrell Turner referenced to was an 1845 lawsuit.  Knowing that Jacob T. Porter's maternal great grandparents were James Turner and Ann Jarrell, I decided to check it out. I had little hope of it leading to anything useful - by 1845, the Porters had been in Florida for at least 17 years. As it turned out, I was wrong.

Jarrell Turner was the much younger half-brother of Elizabeth Turner who married Nathan Porter. Jarrell had managed to acquire a significant estate, but died without ever having married or had any children. His heirs were his brothers and sisters, including Elizabeth Turner Porter. The lawsuit was the result of some of the heirs trying to force the rest of the heirs to sell off the property and divide the estate. Preliminary to hearing the suit, the Judge required that all heirs be notified of the date and time at which the case would be heard.  By the time of the lawsuit, Elizabeth Turner Porter had died, so her children became heirs to her share of her brother's estate - and that lovely little court record named each and every one of Elizabeth's children, including my great-great grandfather, Jacob Turner Porter.

And there it is- while looking for something  totally different, I had stumbled upon the long sought for record that proved conclusively that Nathan Porter of Florida was also the Nathan Porter of Johnston County, North Carolina and of Southampton County, Virginia, and he was my g-g-g grandfather. Serendipity, you just have to love it.