Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My Top Ten Genealogy Mysteries

My top ten genealogical mysteries

Every genealogist has “mysteries”—aka as “brick walls,” but I prefer “mysteries” since they are really just puzzles that need to be solved, rather than brick walls I keep beating my head against! So I thought I might make a list of my top ten. Perhaps that will help clarify what I need to work on next. So here goes:

(1)   Whatever happened to John Hastings? My third-great-grandfather appears in the 1850 census of Marion co. IN, and then disappears. The family story (not from my direct family, but from a much older distant cousin with whom I corresponded some years ago) is that his wife, Mary Ann (Wheeler) Hastings, died in 1852, and that John left and was never heard from again. This cousin said she always had the sense that he had abandoned his family, but she wondered if perhaps he had gone in search of land or some better opportunity, and then something happened to him and his family was never notified. In any event, in the 1860 census his younger children were “farmed out” to relatives. A couple of them lived with their oldest brother, my great-great-grandfather Oliver Perry Hastings; a couple more lived with their uncle Harvey Wheeler. So obviously John was “gone” by that time (maybe dead, maybe disappeared). What ever became of John Hastings?

(2)   What was John L. Johnson’s war record? My great-great-grandfather fought for the Confederate army. A resident of Franklin and/or Crawford co. AR, he never returned from the war. Family tradition is that he died in Texas, “on the Red River,” as he was returning from Arkansas after the war. Some years ago a descendant of his brother William T. Barry Johnson told me that his grandfather possessed an old cannon ball or shell of some kind that had resulted in his brother losing his foot as he was returning home from the war. I have tried for years to find John L. Johnson’s civil war service record, but without success. I’ve looked at service records for various other men who were his neighbors in Arkansas, trying to get clues as to what unit he might have served in. My assumption is that it would be a unit that served on the Western front, since he allegedly died in Texas, and there were some Northwest Arkansas units that did serve in Texas. But I’ve not been able to find any with a John Johnson who seems to be my ancestor. Where did he serve, and how did he die?

(3)   Who was August Anderson’s father? My great-grandfather, born Per Gustaf Anderson in Nykil, Östergötland, Sweden, was an out-of-wedlock child. The family story is that his mother and her family were tenant farmers, and his biological father was the “son of the landowner”—one of those stories that may or may not have some basis in fact! As he grew, he was the “spittin’ image” of his biological father, and when he was 10 the paternal grandparents paid the maternal grandparents to take him to America and eliminate the embarrassment. I’ve inspected the Swedish parish records, thinking there might be some clue as to his parentage—especially since it seemed to be “known” in the community. But I’ve found nothing. Who was his father?

(4)   When did August Anderson come to America, and where did he land? The story about him being brought by his grandparents seems to be confirmed by the fact that the boy and his grandparents are listed in the Swedish parish records as leaving for North America in 1870, but I’ve not found any records indicating their arrival in America. My great-aunt said there was a connection to Pennsylvania before they settled in Nebraska; does that just mean perhaps they landed in Philadelphia rather than New York? I really want to find their immigration records.

(5)   Who was Frances (Elliott) Johnson’s father? My great-great-grandmother was Frances Jane Elliott who married John L. Johnson. The records suggest that her mother was Elizabeth Elliott, and family tradition says that Elizabeth’s maiden name was Booker. But who was Elizabeth’s husband? She seems to have been unmarried (presumably widowed) fairly early, as she is a landowner in Franklin co. AR and appears in the 1840 census under her own name. Who was Mr. Elliott, and what became of him?

(6)   When and where did Peter Likins and Mary Alfont marry? My great-great-grandparents were married about 1848, according to the 1900 census. But where, and precisely when? I think it is quite likely that they were married in Madison co. IN, and unfortunately one of those courthouse fires destroyed the marriage records from that period. Can I ever find confirmation of that, and perhaps some indication of the actual date?

(7)   What became of cousin Bobby? My grandmother’s first cousin, Robert George “Bobby” Jones, moved, according to my grandmother, from Indiana to Florida, where he became a gem cutter. I have found a Bob Jones in the 1935 state census of Dade co. who is listed as a jeweler, and then another listing in the 1940 census. He is single in both listings. But then the trail goes cold. What became of him? Did he ever marry and have children?

(8)   Where did Jason Wheeler come from? My 3rd-great-grandfather, Jason Wheeler, was born in 1765. He seems to have raised his family in Herkimer co. and Chenango co. NY, and then settled in Marion co. IN, where he died. But where was he born? I suspect that he came from Vermont, where there seem to be a lot of Wheelers; but I haven’t found anything that definitively ties him to Vermont. Is that, in fact, where he was born? If not, where?

(9)   What became of Joseph Street? My third-great-grandfather Joseph Street was born in VA ca 1782, and then followed a common westward trek to North Carolina, Tennessee, and finally Arkansas. His wife, Margaret (Carmichael) Street, and one of their sons, Thomas Street, are buried in Madison co. AR. An old genealogy of the Street family suggests that Joseph emigrated to Oregon and died there, but I have found no record of him after the early 1850s in Madison county. Did he really go to Oregon? When and where did he die?

(10) What happened to the other Hastings children? In the family of my 3rd-great-grandparents, John and Mary Ann (Wheeler) Hastings, in 1850 there are nine children. I’ve worked hard at tracing them, but there are still some holes. There is a “Wesley Hastings” listed, though the census says this was a girl; and a boy William Hastings, and a girl Almira Hastings. None of these have I found after 1850. Then there is James H. Hastings; I have followed him a good ways, and I know he married Amanda Meyer in Polk co. OR in 1872. But in the 1900 census, he is not living in the household with Amanda and their children, yet she is still listed as “married.” The 1910 census shows the same thing. Then in 1920 and 1930, Amanda is listed as “widowed.” No sight of James after 1880. What became of him?

That’s my top ten mysteries! Maybe by this time next year at least one of them will be solved.


  1. I'm looking for Jason Wheeler, too. I think his wife may have been Patience Tracy, and I think she may have been born in Vermont and not Virginia. The 1850 census is pretty hard to read, and they clearly have her name indexed incorrectly, too. There were Wheelers in Vermont and in New York, but I haven't found any groupings that are on both sides of the border-yet. There were surely Tracy families in Vermont at the appropriate time. I think we're just a source or two away from being able to put something together, but the problem is-what sources have our information? Happy hunting!

  2. Yes, I've thought that Patience's maiden name might well be Tracy, or perhaps Harvey, both names given to one of her sons. And I agree to a Vermont connection. From which of their children do you descend? Why don't you contact me directly and and let's talk!

  3. I think that John Hastings went to Shelby county, Illinois, and is there in the 1855 census, with a household size of 6. John Wesley Hastings marries Charity Phillips there in 1855, and is still there in 1860, 1865 & 1870. Francis Marion Hastings & wife are there in 1870, along with 2 Davis relatives. Presumably John Hastings died after the 1855 state Census, and that is why the younger kids are farmed out in 1870

    1. janet dot harder at gmail dot com

    2. Also, it appears that Jason Hastings who married Drucinda/Lucinda Badgley, and has the m-i-law & b-i-law with them in 1870, ended up in Ray county MO in 1880. The newspaper accounts are a bit fuzzy on names, but it looks like Jason, son William, and brother in law Alex Badgley got arrested for robbing an "omnibus" aka stagecoach in 1881. The charges were dropped against the older men, and then William was acquitted. A few years later, one of Jesse James' men confessed to the robbery.