Online Family Trees: What’s Not to Believe?

Individuals just beginning their genealogical journey are often tempted to believe the information from online family trees.  Unfortunately, a very large majority of online family trees, regardless where they might be found, include significant errors.  Beyond that, most trees provide few, if any, sources that might permit one to determine the veracity or fallacy of the stated information.

Consider, for example, the family trees at Ancestry for Isaac Mitchell who married Phoebe Chambers and died in Monroe County, Indiana, in 1932 at the age of 91.   I researched this individual and his immediate family in September 2017 for a blog item at SmithvilleNowAndThen.wordpress.com.  It was my intention to include Isaac’s vital information (birth, marriage and death date and place) along with that of his wife and, additionally, identify all of the children born to them.  In this last task, I was aided by Phoebe’s obituary that mentioned she was survived by 12 children.

Unfortunately, however, only 11 children were named in  obituary and one of the names, Earl, was not noted in any census records.  My research revealed that Earl was, in fact, Carl, and the missing child in the obit was Edward “Eddie” Mitchell who moved to Ohio as a young man and continued to reside there for the remainder of his life.  That left only one puzzling child, Martha O., who appeared only once in various census records and was born about the same time as her apparent brother, Arthur O. who was omitted from the same census record that included Martha.   Eventually it was determined that Arthur and Martha were one and the same.  He was simply incorrectly identified in the census record.

Once everything had been gathered about Isaac Mitchell, his wife and children, and posted to the blog, I thought it would be interesting to compare my findings with the family trees at Ancestry.  With lots of descendants from 12 children, it seemed likely that there would be many trees on Ancestry that included information about Isaac and Phoebe (Chambers) Mitchell.  In fact, there were 191 in all—76 private trees (not available except by explicit permission of the compiler) and 115 public ones (available to any member of the subscription website).

Only thirty-eight of the 191 trees correctly identified Isaac parents, and of that number 13 were private and 25 were public.  Because these 38 trees likely represented a deeper level of research, I looked at each of the 25 public trees to determine the number that correctly identified all 12 of Isaac’s children.

Two of the 25 trees were discovered to be blank.  Of the remaining 23 trees, only 6 correctly identified the number of children as 12 and correctly identified them by name.  One tree incorrectly noted that Isaac fathered 21 children.

Eight trees included a photo of Isaac and the picture was identical in each.  Additionally, one of the trees included a photo of Isaac’s tombstone but not of Isaac himself.  Although many of the trees had no sources, one tree had 21 records and 24 sources.

What conclusions can be drawn from this exercise?  First and foremost, it is obvious that more often than not online family trees contain a substantial amount of errors and omissions.  Put quite simply, they are not to be trusted.  Use them last, not first.  On the other hand, if one is diligent and checks all the trees rather than stopping with the first few, it is sometimes possible to find untapped information and resources.

NOTE:  The photo above is from Isaac’s obit.  Although it differs from the photo of Isaac in the family trees at Ancestry, it is really apparent the two pictures are of the same individual.

Blog post by Randi Richardson

 

 

William B. Hoadley and the House He Built on Park Street

William B. Hoadley, a native of Monroe County, was born March 29, 1899 to John W. and Dovie (Figg) Hoadley, Jr.   His grandfather, John Hoadley, Sr. a native of England, immigrated to the United States in the 1840s and soon afterward became quite prominent in Ellettsville’s stone industry. 

Although William appeared to have some interest in a legal profession and graduated from the IU Law School, he eventually followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and began a career in the stone business.  A few years later, on May 31, 1923, he married Lucille Hughes, the daughter of Louis and Maude (Orr) Hughes. 

Soon after the marriage the couple began dreaming of a home.  William wanted to design the home himself and felt qualified to do so because he had been exposed to hundreds of house plans in the estimating work he had done at the stone mill.  He wanted a home that reflected the fine features of limestone and his personal success in the industry.   

In 1926 that home was completed on a grand scale at 513 N. Park Street in Bloomington.  Although there were a number of substantial homes belonging to prominent people living in the area, the Hoadley home was by far largest, nearly 10,000 square feet, and of the greatest value.  It had plenty of room for a large family, but William and Lucille had only one son, William Hughes Hoadley, who was born February 3, 1924.  Given the cost of the home and the effort that went into its construction, it is surprising that the family lived there no longer than they did.   

In October 1944, while serving as a soldier in Germany during World War II, young William was killed in action.  Afterward William B. and Lucille moved into the Graham Hotel in downtown Bloomington.  Perhaps the big house held too many memories of the only child that was no longer among them. 

They continued to reside at the Graham for many years.  They were living there in 1951 when Lucille fell victim to cancer and died at the age of 47.  A few years later, in the 1960s, William moved to Los Angeles, California.  He died there on May 30, 1968, and was survived by his second wife, Glee.   

 The house on Park Street eventually became home to Zeta Beta Tau and later to Alpha Sigma Phi.  Today it is part of the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University.

Blog post and photo provided by Randi Richardson

James Noah Parks: A Biographical Sketch and the Dissolution of a Marriage

Divorce is ugly no matter how one looks at it.  And it was especially ugly before the no-fault laws when spouses were pressured to write the nastiest things imaginable about each other in order for their petition to be taken seriously by the court.

Many petitions for divorces filed in Monroe County are buried among civil court cases archived at the Monroe County History Center in Bloomington Indiana.  There is no particular index to them, although some of the earliest ones may be found in an index to all civil court records (1818-1875) available online at http://monroehistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/courtrecordsindex18181875.pdf.

Typically, the divorce petition and related documents can be quite rich providing the researcher with previously unknown information.  This is especially the case when a couple cross files.  It is, however, important to keep in mind that the information may also be embellished or biased.

In February 1884, James Noah Parks sued his wife, Dulsena (Briscoe) Parks for a divorce in Monroe County.

James was born in October 1849 to William and Mary Jane (Woods) Parks, natives of Indiana and Tennessee, respectively.  William appeared in Monroe County in 1850 but disappeared from the picture sometime between 1850 and 1860.  The exact reason for his absence is not known.  Afterward Mary Jane took James and went to live with her parents, Jacob and Matilda Woods, in Bean Blossom Township, Monroe County.

In 1864, when James was nearly 15, Mary Jane married again.  Her second husband was Jacob Daggy.

Although some step-parents are reluctant to take on the responsibility of another man’s child, this did not appear to be the mindset of Jacob Daggy.  In 1870, when James was 20 years old, he was residing with his mother and stepfather in Bean Blossom Twp.  The household also included Mary Jane’s parents and Jacob Daggy’s son, Charles, by a previous marriage.

The following year, on April 13, 1871, James married Dulsena Briscoe in Monroe County, and in 1880 they were still living at home with James’ mother and stepfather and Mary Janes parents.  Apparently their living situation was not altogether unpleasant because they continued to reside together until April 15, 1883, when they went their separate ways.  James alleged that he was a loving and affectionate husband at all times while Dulsena neglected him and tried to damage his reputation by saying he was running around with another woman.  Finally, in February 1884, James filed for divorce.

When the petition was first heard before the court in February it was dismissed.  Wilson decided that the cruel treatment James described “didn’t amount to much.”  The petition was later refiled and a divorce was granted to James on September 21, 1885.

Perhaps James had some clue that Dulsena was not exactly true to her marital vows.  Or maybe Dulsena was just tired of living with her inlaws.  At any rate, three days after her divorce from James she married Frank Moore.

James, on the other hand, did not remarry.  Ever.  He seemed quite content to remain where he was.  In 1900 he was still living with his mother and stepfather.  The following year, however, his mother passed away, and his stepfather died in 1908.  Both were buried in Chambersville Cemetery in Owen County.  Then James went to live with the family of his stepbrother, Charles and was still living there in 1910.

On March 28, 1918, at the age of 63, James died of chronic nephritis.  He died without a will because he had no assets.  He died without an heir because he was never a father.  Today he lies at rest in Chambersville not far from those he loved, from the people that sheltered him his entire life.

Sources:

  1. Monroe County federal population census records: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910.
  2. Monroe County death records online at Ancestry for Noah Parks and Mary Jane Daggy.
  3. Monroe County marriage record indices.
  4. Monroe County Civil Court records, James N. Parks vs. Dulsena Parks, Box 475, Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.
  5. Bloomington (IN) Saturday Courier, February 23, 1884, p. 1.

 

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Smells of Local History

MCHS Photo: 1998.082.0001

The Monroe County courthouse has nice restrooms on the north end of the first floor. This was not true for the earlier courthouse buildings. The first log cabin (1818-1826), the second wooden building (1826-1856), and the third, with its brick wings extending that (1856-1906), lacked these facilities in the fourth, and present, courthouse. Instead, they had a privy, or outhouse. The privy smelled, particularly when it was being cleaned out.

There were other persistent smells and threats to public health around the courthouse, primarily caused by horse manure and urine collecting around the hitch racks on all four sides of the building. The Federation of Women’s Clubs, in 1897, headed up a drive to eliminate the hitch racks, but this wasn’t finally done until well after the advent of automobiles ( See “The Courthouse Hitch Rack and Public Health in the 1890s” from the Monroe County Historian, Aug/Sept, 2012, pp. 5-7)

By 1900 the privy smells must have received sufficient complaints that the judge of the county circuit court ordered the grand jury to investigate and make recommendations. Here is their report:

State of Indiana, Monroe County

To the Monroe Circuit Court

March Term, 1900

We the Grand Jury in obedience to the Court’s instructions concerning the “dry plant” or privey [sic] in the court yard, beg leave to report thereon as follows:

We have made our examination and find that said “dry plant” when the same is burned (?) out causes the atmosphere in the neighborhood of the same to become foul, nauseating and injurious to health. We find that the floor of said privey is permitted to become unclean and filthy. The latter can be easily remedied by the janitor.

We find that the conditions above described constitute a continuing nuisance. We have caused the County Commissioners to be brought before us as witnesses and after consultation with them we feel assured that they will be diligent in their efforts to abate said nuisance within a reasonable time and we feel that until they have further time to abate the same they should not be held criminally liable for maintaining said nuisance, and we therefore do not return an indictment against them.

Respectfully submitted, Jacob Carmichael. Foreman.

Whatever the outcome of this report, the wheels of progress were already underway, leading to the replacement of the old courthouse and smelly privy, with its replacement, complete with modern restrooms.

Blog post by Lee Ehman

 

MONROE COUNTY PEOPLE OF COLOR: 1850

 

In 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Bloomington was estimated at 84,067; in 1850, the total population for all of Monroe County was only 11,357.  Of that number 27, less than 1%, were people of color.  According to the population census, of that number here were 23 blacks and 4 mulattos.  About half of the people of color, 15, were adults age 20 or older:  Nolley, Murria and Sarah Baker; Abner and Mary Cramsen; Andrew and Jane Ferguson; Patience Locket; Linden Meads; Henry McCaw; William and Jenetta/Jinetta McClerkin; Hannah Sheppard; Dililia Walker; and Hark Wilson.

Of the adults, there were 7 men.  Three of the men were farmers (Linden Meads, Henry McCaw and William McClerkin); 1 was a barber (Nolley Baker); and no occupation was noted for 3 men (Abner Cramsen; Andrew Ferguson and Hark Wilson, a resident of the poor farm).

Most of the people of color lived in or near Bloomington in Bloomington and Perry townships (21).  There were also people of color in Indian Creek (1); Bean Blossom (1); Richland (1); and Clear Creek (3).

Surprisingly, nearly a third of the people of color (10) were natives of Indiana all of whom were age 20 and older.  The remainder was born in Kentucky (4); Virginia (3); South Carolina (7); Maryland (1); North Carolina (1); and Africa (1).

Seven of the adults were heads of household:  Nolley Baker; Mary Cramsen; Andrew Ferguson, Patience Locket; Henry McCaw; William McClerkin; and Hanna Sheppard.  Some of the households consisted of a single individual.  Seven of the people of color, regardless of age, were in homes where the head of household was white:  William Bird was in the household of William Crum; Linden Meads was in the household of William Jones; Dililia Walker was in the household of Gideon Walker; Hark Wilson at the Poor Farm; Moses Bush in the household of Benjamin Mather; and Columbus, Duerad and Bonaparte Moss were in the household of Josiah Hovel.

Andrew Ferguson was the oldest person of color in Monroe County in 1850.  He reportedly was born in Virginia 1755-1765, and was a private in the Revolutionary War for four or five years according to his self-report.  Sometime between 1820-1830 he relocated to Indiana.  He applied for a military pension in 1838 from Monroe County which was granted to him in 1839.  In 1851, at the age of 96, he applied for military bounty land.  Because he did not receive a favorable response, he resubmitted his application in 1855 but died before his request was acted upon.  Although he never received any bounty land, he did own property in 1850 valued at $150 and was the only person of color that year to own any real estate.  It is said that he was buried in an unmarked grave at Rose Hill Cemetery.  In 1984 the Daughters of the American Revolution remedied that oversight.

Look for a database of Monroe County people of color 1850-1870 at the Indiana Genealogical Society (IGS) website.  It is available to members only and includes:  name, date of birth, place of birth, place of residence, color and census year for each individual.  Because the database was only recently submitted to the IGS website, it may not be posted until September.

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Sources:

  1. http://www.indianahistory.org/our-collections/reference/early-black-settlements/monroe-county#.WY3fi8mCSZE
  2. 1850 Monroe County, Indiana, federal population census.
  3. Transcription of the military pension application at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~aagriots/SC/Ferguson.htm
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloomington,_Indiana

 

John Foster Touted as a Hero For His Role in Bloomington’s PCB Cleanup

John Foster, an alumni of Bloomington’s University School, is the son of a former IU professor.  Throughout his career he has held many different jobs most of which were unrelated to his pursuit of a degree in art.

Steven Higgs, an IU graduate and long-time, Bloomington-based environmental reporter, considers John to be an environmental hero, so much so that John was the focus of one of the nine chapters in Higgs’ book, Eternal Vigilance:  Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana, published by the IU Press in 1995.

John was just a freshman in 1957 when Westinghouse Electric opened a manufacturing plant on Bloomington’s west side to produce electrical capacitors.  PCBs were used inside the capacitors as an insulating oil.  It was not until 1975 that Bloomington became aware of a PCB problem.  The problem was due to waste from the manufacturing process being disposed of in local landfills and city sewage lines.

According to Higgs, in 1982 John was working for a contractor to remediate a landfill where PCB-contaminated electrical capacitors from Westinghouse had been dumped years before.[1], [2]  When John became aware that what he was being asked to do did not really remove the hazards of the dump, he notified EPA.  They took no action.

A few months later, John’s employer received a new contract for the remedial cleanup of another PCB dump site in Bloomington.   John believed the cleanup was a farce and in 1984 contacted Mayor Tomi Allison with his concerns.  Allison took no action.

When John came across a letter from the State Board of Health stating that no one working at PCB landfills should be there without respirators and full-body covering, he became angry.  This was the beginning of his environmental activism and dedicated opposition to the proposed PCB cleanup agreement.

In 1987, John began leading guided tours of Bloomington’s contaminated sites.  The tours wound up at the farm of Dale and Connie Conard who lived next to one of the contaminated landfills.  Hundreds of deformed pigs were born on the Conard farm.  Some of the dead and deformed pigs were frozen in order to made them publically available at a later time and illustrate the problems associated with PCB contamination.

Throughout the chapter, Higgs outlined the many efforts of John to rid Bloomington of PCBs in a responsible, non-hazardous manner.  Those living in Bloomington since 1957 truly owe John a debt of gratitude.[3], [4]

Blog post written by library volunteer, Randi Richardson.


[1] Legislation in the 1970s prompted a halt to PCB disposal practices of Westinghouse and made them liable for cleanup of polluted areas, and in 1977, Westinghouse halted production of the capacitors using PCBs.  For more information see a case study by Tim Feddersen, 1998, titled “Westinghouse and PCBs in Bloomington, Indiana, available online.

[2] Kate Golden, “Toxic Tourism ( Our Favorite Kind):  Bloomington, Indiana, March 12, 2011, available online at http://wisconsinwatch.org/2011/03/toxic-tourism-our-favorite-kind-bloomington-indiana/.

[3] Steven Higgs, “Killing an Incineration Experiment,” Eternal Vigilance:  Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana (Bloomington IN:  IU Press, 1995), pp. 138-159.   Available at the Research Library, Monroe County History Center.

[4] On January 27, 2006, the Bloomington Herald Times announced that the former Westinghouse/ABB Plant on Curry Pike was scheduled to close by late summer.