Thursday, September 29, 2011

Led astray by the census! Or, being sensible about public records.

My Sherwoods have been a fascinating -- and exasperating -- puzzle. I wrote some about this last time, but there have been new developments, and they might shed light on some of your genealogical problems.
My ancestor, Thomas E. Sherwood -- what IS that middle name? -- seems to have been born in Kentucky between 1790 and 1800, and is in Bartholomew County, Indiana, by 1828, when he is involved in a land sale with Azalad Maskal, a relative of his wife’s previous husband.  Got that?
Elizabeth Evans Maskal Sherwood had three children (including my great-grandmother, Nancy Jane) then died, about 1835. Thomas married again very shortly, to a woman whose name was recorded as Jane Fisher. They had two children and Thomas died three years later.
Some of  Thomas’s children were still young enough to be in the family household as late as 1850, and since that year’s census is the first to name everyone in the household, with age and birthplace, it seemed like a good place to follow up on this group.
I could find just one Sherwood household in the county.  It was headed, the enumerator wrote, by James Sherwood, male, white, age 40, b VA.  Three youngsters were listed, two of whose names I recognized.  The third was a girl, Susan, age 18, also b VA. All had ditto marks for the Sherwood surname.
So who was this James?  He seemed about the right age to be a brother of the deceased Thomas. And even if Thomas lived and died in Kentucky he could have been from Virginia, especially since that state’s counties extended to include Kentucky until 1792.
To me, it appeared from this census record that Thomas’s second wife, Jane, had also died and a Sherwood relative had stepped in, bringing a child with him.  
Then … I found evidence that Jane Sherwood had not died, as she is shown in court records as late as 1857 acting as guardian for Susan FISHER and the two youngest Sherwood children.  
This made me revisit the 1850 census and take a hard look at “James”, the 40-year-old male. It soon became obvious that despite the well-defined handwriting -- no mistake in interpretation -- this was JANE, and Susan [Sherwood] was Susan Fisher.  The enumerator must have asked one of the children, or a neighbor, and misunderstood the reply.  I’ve seen mistakes in census records before, but none like this!
The lesson here is: look at ALL records with a skeptic’s eye.  Seek out additional sources. Go back again and again to that puzzling entry and study it carefully. 
Of course now that I know Jane was guardian of a Fisher child, I am ready to seek a record of her earlier marriage, to the child’s father, and of course, her own birth name.

1 comment:

Poze said...

Nice blog post