Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Who was Nancy Howard?

Here is a puzzle to mull over:

A relative of mine (actually my great grandfather’s sister) named Amanda Howard was married in 1843 to one Alpheus Gregg, in Montgomery County, Indiana. They had two sons, and, sadly, Amanda died five years later.

In 1850 the Gregg household shows Alpheus with a new wife, Anna (later shown to be Anna Wilson), two Gregg children, and two Howard children, Caroline, age 14, and Robert, age 12.

This might seem evidence enough to establish that the deceased Amanda Howard had been previously married, and that these young Howards were from that earlier marriage.

But a closer look indicates otherwise. Amanda’s age as given on her gravestone shows she was born in 1822, and this is corroborated by the range of ages of her siblings in early census records.
Caroline Howard’s birth year would have been about 1836, when Amanda was 14. Mother and daughter? Possible, but not really likely.

Because of the age question, I looked elsewhere for more information. There is a Guardian’s Docket for Montgomery County, digitized and indexed online thanks to the Crawfordsville Public Library. There I found an entry, dated 24 Sept. 1848, for Caroline E. Howard, “about 13,” and Robert W. Howard, “about 10.” In fact I found three other Howards in the same entry: Augustus F., Tilghman A., and George W. Howard. All are listed as “heirs of Nancy Howard, deceased.” Caroline’s and Robert’s ages correspond to the ages given in the 1850 census for the Gregg household.

In this docket entry, a David Thompson was listed as guardian, and Andrew A. Whitmack was surety.

So now there are more questions: who is Nancy Howard? Who was the father of her heirs/children? What became of the other children? And why is David Thompson acting as guardian?

The discovery of the name Nancy Howard certainly shows the children were not Amanda’s, if further proof were needed. Even if one could postulate that Nancy and Amanda were the same person (they both died in 1848), the oldest of Nancy’s heirs in the guardianship case was born about 1830, definitely too early to be the child of Amanda, born just 8 years earlier.

So was it just a coincidence that two of Nancy Howard’s children ended up in a household with children of the by-then-deceased Amanda Howard?

First I searched for the other children. David Thompson had one in his own household in 1850, another is in the household of Larkin Leak, and Augustus has not yet been tracked down in any indexes, under his given name or any variations I could think of.

Thompson himself seems to have been involved in a number of guardianship cases, and I theorize that he may have acted in a semi-official capacity, either on behalf of the local community, or a church. This is perhaps the reason all but one the children under his guardianship were placed in other homes. So far I have found no personal connection between him and the Howard family. Census records shows him as a farmer, and an 1868 Indiana gazetteer lists a David Thompson as a Montgomery County grain dealer.

So who is Nancy? Who was the Howard she presumably had been married to? Amanda had only one known brother, whose wife was named Jaley; their father’s will, made in 1853, names just this one male, two other daughters, and “the estate of Amanda Gregg’s children.” No mention is made of any other Howard children.

One of my steps was to look for any of Nancy’s children who might have appeared in the 1880 census, in order to discover their parents’ birthplaces.

Caroline seems to have married a George W. Wilson in 1853, but both died before 1870. Robert’s tracks are faint indeed, and confusing because his name is not uncommon.

In the 1880 census for Montgomery County I found a Tilghman Howard, of the right approximate age, born in Indiana. The record states both his parents were born in Ohio. If this is Nancy’s son, it gives a slender clue. But I would like to find another of her children in that census, to help confirm the birthplace. We all know how vague (forgetful, ill-informed) people can be when asked to name the place where their parents were born.

Searches of the online Indiana State Library Index to Marriages to 1850 for the relevant period have revealed three brides named Nancy, married to men with the surname Howard. Following these trails so far has not been very fruitful. And perhaps she was married in Ohio. Or not married at all...

There, dear reader, is where I am at this point. Your comments or suggestions are most welcome.

At the very least I hope this exposition has given you some strategies for your own research.

No comments: