She gets the farm

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. [1]   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.[2]  

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. [3] 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.[4]  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. [5] (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. [6]

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. [7]

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. [8] 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’s land, circa 1875.
SOURCE: U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918 [,” digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com  : viewed 13 March 2021), map of Berlin, p. 61; citing Atlas of Bureau Co and the State of Illinois, 1875; Microfilmed by the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Collection Number: G&M_43; Roll Number: 43.

Elvina never remarried. She died 16 December 1882 at Ohio township, Bureau County, Illinois, from bronchitis[9] and was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery at Dover, Ilinois.[10] Her grave is unmarked.

REFLECTION:

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.[11]


SOURCES

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3]  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.

[4] 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.

[5] Neal Duane Smith, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings,” pp. 19-26.

[6] Neal Duane Smith, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings,” pp. 99-117.

[7] Neal Duane Smith, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings,” page 11.

[8] Neal Duane Smith, “Documents preserved in the divorce proceedings,” page 77. Transcription of Bill for Divorce, filed 29 September 1857.

[9] Public Member Photos & Scanned Documents, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/119526247/person/390182674740/media : accessed 13 March 2021); “Masters, Elvina Death,” death certificate, posted 23 December 2012 by “erbowdle” ; citing Bureau County, Illinois, certified copy or abstract of vital records, issued 9 August 1999, certificate no. 98.

[10] 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.

[11] “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.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2021 plus a grateful acknowledgement to Neal Duane Smith for his willingness to share.

“It runs in the family”: Family health history pedigree

Did you inherit grandpa’s nose?  Are your eyes the same color as great-aunt Anna? Your genetic inheritance determines these, and other, physical characteristics. Medical conditions can be inherited as well as the risk of developing certain diseases.  As a genealogist, you collect a lot of information about your ancestors.  We tend to focus on dates and places – birth, marriage, death, occupation, travel. Do you also record information about illnesses?  What do you do with that information?

October is Family History Month.  It is a time for collecting and organizing information about your family. I suggest that you also develop a systematic plan for gathering and recording your family’s health history.  Thanksgiving is National Family History Day, as declared  by the U.S. Surgeon General. [1]

What are some genealogical sources of health information? Well known sources include death certificates and obituaries.  Less well known sources include various census records and county histories.

  1. Death certificates. Usually list cause of death and contributing factors.
  2. Family members. At your next family gathering, ask questions about your ancestors’ medical and health histories.  Someone might remember that your cousin twice removed had kidney stones and that her mother died from the same thing! Label this information as ‘tentative’.  Remember to cite source and date.
  3. Obituaries. Cause of death sometimes listed.  “A lingering illness” suggests illnesses such as cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease/ emphysema, dementia, heart failure, kidney disease, neurologic disease or stroke. Following an accident, people may survive for years with various levels of disability.  “A sudden illness” suggests a more acute condition although the person may have had symptoms for days, weeks or months.
  4. Birth certificates. May list weeks of gestation, which could indicate prematurity. May also report complications of pregnancy suffered by the mother.
  5. County death records. Usually a list of names, dates  and cause of death.  Availability of these records varies widely.  I found some county death records in Texas for the years 1917-1920 when causes of death were overwhelmingly ‘influenza’ and ‘pneumonia’.
  6. Look for information in newspaper social columns.  “Mrs. Mary Adams returned home Tuesday from Oklahoma City where she attended  the funeral of her sister, Susie, who died from pneumonia.”  A brief death notice may follow an earlier story about an accident or that the person had been admitted to the hospital.  Obviously, before our recent privacy laws went into effect!
  7. Published and unpublished family and county histories. Look for details that may lead you to search for other records.  “John James died after falling off a horse. He lingered, speechless, for three days.”   “Marilyn Samuels spent her last years in a tuberculosis sanitarium.”
  8. Reports of a woman’s death soon after giving birth. Sarah Ostrander Richards, my great-great grandmother, probably died from complications associated with childbirth.  Here is the evidence:  “Mr. [Nathaniel] Richards second wife was Miss Sarah Ostrander, born June 20, 1801 and died March 27, 1836. She had one son, Ostrander, born March 20, 1836.” [2]

CENSUS RECORDS show limited health information.

  1. Decennial Census records. Some included space to check if the person was ‘deaf, dumb, or blind’.[3]  (1850 census, column 13; 1860, column 14; 1870, column 18; 1880, columns 16-19; 1885, columns 16-29). If person is ‘inmate’/ patient of hospital or other institution, search for other clues about why person is there.
  2. Census mortality schedules,  data gathered from 1850 through 1885.[4] In general, these schedules listed persons who died within 12 months before the census.  Cause of death was one recorded item.
  3. 1880 census supplemental forms:  Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes (wording as posted on NARA website): [5]   Information limited to the named categories.
    1. Schedule 2: Insane
    2. Schedule 3: Idiots
    3. Schedule 4: Deaf- Mute
    4. Schedule 5: Blind
    5. Schedule 6: Homeless Children
    6. Schedule 7: Prisoners
    7. Schedule 7a: Pauper and Indigent

How do you document your family’s health history?  One method uses the U.S. Surgeon General’s website, My Family Health Portrait.   

Susan_famhealthhx_crop

Other websites that you may find helpful (listed alphabetically by author):

Centers for Disease Control:  Family Health History.   https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/famhistory/

Family Search Blog:  4 steps to starting a health history.  Includes a downloadable Family Health History form.    URL:  https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/4-steps-starting-health-history/

Genetic Alliance: An easy to follow booklet, “Does it run in the family: A guide to family health history.”     URL:  http://www.geneticalliance.org/sites/default/files/GuideToFHH/GuidetoFHH.pdf

Laura Landro, 30 March 2014, New Tools to Track Your Family Health History, Wall Street Journal,     https://www.wsj.com/articles/no-headline-available-1395070890

Donna Prezcha,  Tracing your health history, URL:  https://www.genealogy.com/articles/research/79_donna.html

Why is it important to know my family medical history?   URL:   https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/inheritance/familyhistory

Vibrant Life, 6 Medical History Questions You Should Ask Family,  Article 6, 19 July, unknown year;  http://www.vibrantlife.com/?p=2365

Summary:

In this post, I presented  common and less common sources of family health information.  Add to your to-do list:  Develop method to collect and record family health information.  Add family health information to records. Use multiple sources.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

REFLECTION:

I collect family health information but haven’t routinely documented  the information in a meaningful way. Until I used the Surgeon General’s website, I only vaguely understood the importance of a genetic health history.  ‘Cause of death’ is an item on forms that I use.

What I learned:  nothing new at this time.  However, my learning curve for this information has evolved over the past 5-6 years.

What helped:  Knowing about the Surgeon General’s website. I presented this information to nursing students for many years.

What didn’t help:  nothing really.

TO- DO:  Review family health and medical information collected to date.  Use more diverse sources of information.  Record individual health and medical information on research logs.

SOURCES:

[1] Surgeon General’s Family Health History Initiative website,  URL:  https://www.hhs.gov/programs/prevention-and-wellness/family-health-history/about-family-health-history/index.html

[2] J. B. Stephens, Compiler, History and Directory of Newton and Ransom Townships, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania (Montrose, Pennsylvania: J.B. Stephens, 1912), p. 86; digital images, Pennsylvania State University Libraries Digital Library Collections, (http://collection1.libraries.psu.edu/cdm4 : accessed, viewed, downloaded 2 July 2010; Nathaniel Richards family – 3 wives and their children.

[3] Blank copies of Census forms available from National Archives and Records Administration:  https://www.archives.gov/research/genealogy/charts-forms

[4] See note number 3.

[5] See note number 3.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots, 2018

“It all started with DNA results” –Using relationship charts.

Last month, a cousin asked for help  to answer some questions.   I temporarily set aside the tasks that I had planned as part of the Genealogy Do-Over.   Was I following a BSO (bright shining object)?  It seemed so although I did use  some of my improved research skills.  Each BSO has led me to a different branch of dad’s family—branches that I would probably not have explored, such as the great-granddaughter of one of my great-aunts.  I realized that I was also building my research toolbox, a topic for Month 5 of the Genealogy Do-Over .

It all started with DNA.  I submitted my DNA sample last year and finally convinced my brother to submit his earlier this year.  We used different companies so we are both submitting samples again.  I looked quickly at the DNA relatives and only contacted those whose name I recognized.  Fortunately, a second cousin contacted me as a result of DNA matches and finding my online family tree with a common surname.  We share the same great –grandparents.  She knew very little about our common line, her grandmother’s family, which is also my grandfather’s  family.   I knew little about her grandmother and she answered  questions for me.  Her son also has the genealogy bug.

Both my second cousin and her son have sent in their DNA.  He is very curious about all of those DNA relatives – exactly how are we related to this person?  Figuring out your ‘cousinship’  is easy  when you already  know your common ancestors – use a relationship chart.  Here is one that is commonly used: relationship_chart_1

My DNA-match 2nd cousin knew the names of her grandparents.  Her grandmother was my grandfather’s sister. So, establishing the common ancestor was relatively (pardon the pun!) easy.

Other examples of relationship charts:   

Relationship chart – another format

Relationship chart format #3

What is more difficult is identifying  your possible common ancestor for that third cousin identified as a DNA match to you when you aren’t sure about the names of the other person’s ancestors.   There are at least 16 possibilities (from both your mother and father)!   In essence, you have to look at the relationship chart in a different way.   If this person and I are 3rd cousins, then who might be our common ancestor?

My 2nd cousin and I have an already established a relationship through our great-grandparents.   So, the list narrowed as we only looked at DNA matches who are related to both of us.  Now,  there are only four possibilities as a common ancestor – our common great-great grandparents, James, Meriam, Samuel or Charlotte.

Her son’s curiousity about those DNA matches led to the BSOs that took up much of my time during one two week period.   Another person, who inherited work done by cousin on a related family line, has been extremely helpful.  She used an extensive research toolbox to determine how we are related to one person, identified as a third or fourth cousin DNA match.    Her search strategy included social media as well as the usual census records, obituaries, and gravesites.  I admire her tenacity and thoroughness!

End of story:   Two more cousins have been positively identified through DNA matches.  Our common ancestors have been identified.   All of the information is clipped together and has been entered to genealogy software and research logs.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

Reflection:   I experienced a mix of emotions during those two weeks.   Initial response was frustration because I did not meet my specific objectives.  Instead, I helped a cousin discover how we are related to two DNA matches.  At first, I considered these projects as BSOs since the work was not planned.   However, I chose to tackle those projects instead of keeping with my original plan.   I met another person with marvelous detective skills.  I can learn from her.    Using research logs and making sure that I have complete source citations was helpful.   I worked slower on these projects than I have in the past, due to improved research practices.

What helped:   Research logs that had been done earlier. Starting new research logs.  Checking and re-checking source citations.  Label and file digital media as I found it online.

What didn’t help:   Not being sure that this was a good use of my time.  I had to acknowledge that I chose to work on these projects at this time.  I could have deferred and waited for reports from others.

What I learned:   Collaboration with others is key to discovering the relationships and avoiding duplication of work.   Say ‘no’ to some projects, no matter how interesting  they seem.  However,  these projects can still become learning tools.  I learned a different way of using a relationship chart to determine a possible common ancestor.  This leads me to the concept of a ‘flipped’ relationship chart.   Here is first draft of my idea, for your consideration:  flipped chart draft1Happy searching!