Just when I thought I had things under control, I re-prioritized my genealogy goals and began writing an article about my mother’s ancestors for a genealogy journal. I thought that I had most of the information on three to four generations of descendants. I thought that I had most of the sources for that information. Over the last month, I discovered that neither one of those assumptions are true. In this post, I describe my journey to date.
What have I done to prepare for writing an article? In January of this year, I participated in a month-long webinar about writing. I bought a book, Guide to Genealogical Writing, and have been reading it. I downloaded a template for writing using the Register style. I created an outline of people who I would be writing about. On the outline, I numbered each person as they would appear in the article.
Stratton and Hoff suggest to temporarily stop researching and start writing. So, I have done that. I discover gaps in family stories –gaps not always identified in my RootsMagic tree. Information on my RootsMagic tree on my computer is only partially complete, especially for the later generations. Sources are also incomplete. However, the families are becoming more real as I notice similarities and differences in family experiences. Example – sisters who both buried husbands and at least one child.
I began writing the family stories with the information that I have. As I write, I make a note in red that a source or other information is needed. I try to complete at least one person’s story each day. I follow the “cite as you write” guideline. Sometimes, I stop writing and follow clues to locate a source or other information. As a result, my personal tree is becoming more complete. So, the exercise of writing the family history for a genealogy journal has its benefits.
Previously, I focused on the older generations, typically those who lived and died before the early decades of the 20th century. This article includes four generations from my German ancestors in early 1800s through the latter part of the 20th century. I choose not to include information about any persons who are still living.
What have I learned from this? It takes more time than expected. There will be gaps to fill in. There will be sources to find. Even if my articles are not accepted for publication, I will leave fairly comprehensive and extensively researched histories to share with descendants. For your information, if the articles are not accepted for publication, I will share the information with you through my blog. Yes, I said “articles”. Last year, I started another article about a collateral family on Dad’s side. I put aside that article to tackle other projects. When the current article is done, I plan to take up the second one again.
A man has an affair and leaves his wife for the other woman. He plans to sell the family farm and other property, leaving his wife and children virtually penniless. Wife discovers the scheme and files a restraining order. She eventually divorces the man and receives a substantial settlement. Sound like a story from today’s headlines? Well, this story happened in the 1850s. In honor of Women’s History Month, I tell the story of Elvina Masters Cole, a woman who fought for her rights.
This is a true story gleaned from various records. I discovered the basic information as I researched my brother-in-law’s adoptive family. Another descendant of Elvina’s graciously contributed his extensive research on this matter. Both gave permission to share her story here.
Elvina Masters was born 25 April 1813 in Bowling Green, Warren county, Kentucky, the daughter of Richard Clement Masters and Agnes Cochran. She married Thomas J. Cole on 10 November 1831 at Springfield, Illinois.  Children followed quickly with their oldest son, William, born on 16 October 1832. William would later become embroiled in the family scandal. About 1835, Thomas and Elvina moved to Bureau County, Illinois. In June 1838, Thomas J. Cole was accused of adultery and fathering a child with Pyrena B Ellis. Although Pyrena claimed that he was not the father of her child, Thomas was indicted for adultery.
In March 1849, William married Ellen Emeline Bradshaw, a servant in the Cole household. Ellen was later named in Elvina’s divorce. The year 1850 finds Thomas and Elvina with six children in Berlin, Bureau County, Illinois.  The children were Catherine, age 16; John,age 12; Albert, age 10; Thomas J., age 8; Elizabeth, age 4 and Mary, age 1. The family farm was valued at $5000. Two more children would be born to Thomas and Elvina– Cornelia in 1851 and Enos in July 1857.
On 20th February 1857, Elvina Cole filed for divorce from Thomas J. Cole in Bureau County, Illinois. Her complaint stated that, about November 1848, her husband, Thomas, brought “ into their family as a house servant Ellen Emeline Bradshaw.” After which, Thomas’ “affections became alienated and estranged and at the same time showing a criminal fondness and regard for Ellen. . . “ (Note: Ellen is recorded as Emaline/Emeline in some documents). Recall that William, son of Thomas and Elvina, married Ellen in March 1849 and reportedly lived with his parents during the first months of their marriage. In September 1849, William and Ellen “removed to a small tenement upon the farm of her [Elvina’s] said husband and lived there for about 18 months, when the said William Cole left her and departed from this County.” Thomas moved Ellen back to the family home and moved himself into Ellen’s bedroom.
By March 1856, Elvina had had enough of this arrangement and forced Ellen out of the house. Ellen supposedly moved to her father’s home. Thomas left home for weeks at a time “to find Ellen.“ On February 20, 1857, Elvina filed for a divorce.  (Bureau County case #395). Her complaint stated that “Thomas left home on 5th January 1857 and has not returned. “ William Cole filed for divorce from Ellen on August 12, 1857. 
Before he left, Thomas “tried to sell and dispose of all his property. . . “ including two farms with an estimated worth of $25-30,000 plus “a large amount of stock, grain & money.” Elvina asked for a restraining order to prevent Thomas from selling and disposing of the property “then abscond” with the funds which would leave her and her children “helpless and destitute.”
The outcome? Elvina was granted a divorce on 29 September 1857 by order of default. According to Neal Smith:
The documentation as being in Township 17, North Range 10 East (now known as Berlin Township in Bureau County). In Section 6, the property was the west half of the northwest corner, and the west half of the southwest quarter. In Section 7, the property was the west half of the northwest corner, along with 50 acres on the west side of the east half of the northwest quarter.
Neal Duane Smith, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings,” page 11.
William Cole was granted his divorce from Emeline/Ellen on April 19, 1858, also by default. 
Elvina was deeded the 140+ acre farm on which she was living, worth about $10,000 or more (equivalent about $335, 000 today). She was also to receive alimony payments of $700 yearly (about $21,000 today) with the property to be held as a lien.  If alimony was not paid, Elvina could sell the property or remain and take the profits. In September, 1867, Elvina finally received all rights and title to the farm. She was now a wealthy woman.
Elvina never remarried. She died 16 December 1882 at Ohio township, Bureau County, Illinois, from bronchitis and was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery at Dover, Ilinois. Her grave is unmarked.
March is Women’s History Month. I decided to write about at least one woman in the family tree. I am going to make this a specific goal each year from now on. As I mentioned earlier, I encountered Elvina as I researched my brother- in -law’s adoptive family. Her story impressed me then and it still impresses me. She exerted her rights at a time when women had few rights. I am grateful to my brother- in- law and to Neal Smith for allowing me to share Elvina’s story.
What I learned: the power of collaboration with others.
What helped: previous work done and documented. Neal Smith’s extensive work copying and transcribing handwritten county court records.
What didn’t help: incomplete entries for some items.
To do: still looking for Elvina in the 1860 census. Neal Smith also mentioned that she seems to have disappeared from the records in 1860 although there is an 1862 tax record for her in Bureau County Illinois.
 Neal Duane Smith, transcriber and compiler, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings of Thomas J. Cole (1810 to 1873?), among the first persons of European descent to reside in Bureau County, Illinois, as well as documents relating to the divorces of his three oldest married children“ (PDF digital copy, 2012); privately held by Neil Duane Smith, [address for private use], Davenport, Iowa, 2021.
 H.C. Bradsby, editor, History of Bureau County, Illinois, (Chicago, Illinois: World Publishing Company, 1885); digital images, Hathi trust (https://babel.hathitrust.org : accessed 14 March 2021); pages 274 & 295.
 1850 U.S. Census, Bureau county, Illinois, population schedule, , p. 206B, family 343, Thomas C Cole 40; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & printed 31 December 2019); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication M432_99.
 Bureau County, Illinois, Circuit Court Case 395, Elvina Cole vs. Thomas J. Cole; County Clerk’s Office, Princeton, Illinois. Original handwritten documents photographed, with permission of County Clerk, by Neal Duane Smith, 2012; included affidavits from William T. Cole, Elvina Masters Cole, John L. Cole, Catherine Cole Murphy and William Masters.
 Neal Duane Smith, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings,” pp. 19-26.
 Neal Duane Smith, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings,” pp. 99-117.
 Neal Duane Smith, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings,” page 11.
 Neal Duane Smith, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings,” page 77. Transcription of Bill for Divorce, filed 29 September 1857.
Find a Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : viewed & printed 10 March 2021), memorial page for Elvina Masters Cole, Find A Grave Memorial # 198838221, citing Pioneer Cemetery (Dover, Bureau, Illinois), memorial created by Good Oman, no gravestone photo.
 “U.S., IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918,” digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed & downloaded 10 March 2021), no page numer, Elvina Cole, Dover; citing The National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Illinois, 1862-1866; Series: M764; Roll: 20; Alphabetical list of persons residing in Division No. 11 Collection District no. 5 of the state of Illinois.
Who should I write about for today’s post? This question has bugged me for the last two weeks. Although I am working on several projects, none are ready for a report yet.
This year, I started tracking my blog post topics more closely. I created a spreadsheet with information about each blog post including date, title of post, and person or persons discussed in the post. I made a table with number of posts related to each family by year. The highest number for a given year reflects my primary focus for that year.
What determines my focus for a particular year? I started my blog in April 2017 with goal of sharing information more or less equally about each family line. An August 2017 family reunion trip to Pennsylvania generated more posts about dad’s family. In 2018, I received family pictures and other items from two cousins on mom’s side. Cataloging those pictures and items steered me to Tucker-Maurer family for 2018. My father- in- law’s death in February 2019 guided me towards the Ellerbee family. Johnson-Reed family then became focus for 2020 as I prepared another scrapbook.
As I write each post, I check sources, revise citations and identify gaps to be filled for each person. I pose and try to answer at least one question. Content in my family tree improves. Sometimes, a person contacts me about an ancestor named in an online tree or blog post. These contacts often generate a topic for my blog. DNA matches also yield possible blog topics.
For my blog, what are the benefits of delving deep into a particular family or person? Well, I try to discover the story beyond the basic facts. I seek a better understanding of the person and share that information with others. I feel like I am more intimately involved in their lives.
Writing about a variety of people has been a blessing. I reach a wider audience with the potential of contacts from more than just one branch of the family tree. Often, I choose the person or topic just a few days before I publish. I am writing shorter blogs so there may be more series about a particular person or family.
Right now, I have several projects in the works. I am writing two articles to be considered for publication in genealogical journals. Due to potential copyright issues, I must defer writing more here about either of these. A potential DNA match contacted me about a specific line. Several years ago, I made a note in my files and asked questions similar to what this DNA match is asking. I give what input I can.
Question for today is still- where do I go from here? And I don’t have a good answer. I search for inspiration from various sources such as blog posts written by others. I review my goals for the year but nothing stands out at this moment. I have been here before. A spark of inspiration will come! In the meantime, I continue the process of cleaning up at least one family tree. Stay tuned!