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1940’s Census Blog

Did you know that you can learn a lot of information about the 1940 Census from the 1940 Census Blog? The blog includes posts about famous people found in the census and how to find them, informative posts about the indexing project, and even great contests. You can keep up with news about the 1940 Census Community Project. The blog has an RSS feed that allows you to receive updates in your RSS feed reader, too.

I’ve been working on indexing the 1940 Census a little bit in my free time, and I even managed to find my great-grandparents, my grandfather, and the rest of their family in Lockney, TX—mainly because I knew exactly where the family would be in the 1940 Census. I don’t know where the rest of my family was (for certain, anyway) in 1940. The project needs volunteers willing to transcribe certain information on the census images so that a searchable database can be created to help us all find our relatives in 1940, even if we aren’t sure where they were.

I was really interested to discover the education level attained by my family members, and I was really intrigued to see my great-grandfather was still working for the WPA in 1940 and that my great-uncle Alvin was a shoe shine boy and shop cleaner at a barber shop. No one mentioned that job before to me, so likely the family didn’t consider it significant.

You can learn more about the project and how you can help at the 1940 Census Community Project.

As part of the1940census.com ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for an iPad.

1940 Census

By this time tomorrow, the 1940 Census will have been released. This is exciting news for genealogists who need data from that census to get past brick walls. Personally, I’m hopeful the 1940 Census will help me answer some of the following burning questions I have:

  • Do I have the right Frank Chatman or Chapman as my great-grandfather? I think I found him, but I’m not certain, and a later census with a bit more information could help.
  • What happened to my great-grandmother Gertrude Nettie Perkins? She is missing from the 1930 Census, or at least, I can’t find her, but I know she lived until 1971. The 1930 Census was taken during a time of turmoil in her life when many of her children were adopted into different families. I also want to find all of them.
  • What do my mother’s parents’ families look like in 1940?
  • I’m also intrigued to find out more about my husband’s families on the 1940 Census.

What are you looking forward to learning? By the way, until it’s indexed, you might find this infographic for how to search the census helpful.

My younger daughter is named Margaret for her grandmother, my husband’s mother. We call her Maggie. Her name means “pearl,” and there is a version of the name in almost any European culture you can think of. Right off the top of my head, I can name the French Marguerite, the Italian Margherita, the Spanish Margarita, the Welsh Marared, and the Scottish Marjorie. It is an old name, too, and may even have its origin in Sanskrit. At one time, it was a very popular name: It was the second most popular girls’ name in the early 1900’s. It is less common today, but if you look at the name’s statistics in Wolfram-Alpha, you notice it enjoyed a tiny uptick in popularity in the years prior to my daughter’s birth (around the time of the new millennium), which could explain why my daughter has encountered at least two other Maggies at school when we were sure she would likely be the only one.

What my husband and I didn’t realize when we gave our daughter this name was that it would connect her to a family tradition that dates back at least 300 years, possibly longer. The name is a thread that has run through my husband’s family since at least the early eighteenth century. After I learned this information, my daughter’s name became even more meaningful to me, and I am so glad we chose it.

My husband’s mother, the Margaret we named our daughter for, was likely named for her mother, Margaret Emma Ledbetter (1916-1995). Margaret Emma Ledbetter was the daughter of Clarence Ledbetter (1868-1935) and Rosanna Belle Beasley (1881-1946). The family was from Hickman County, Tennessee. Rosanna Beasley’s paternal grandmother was Margaret Etta Pugh Beasley (1827-1898). Here is a picture of her with her husband, Littleberry Beasley (1817-1895):

Littleberry Beasley and Margaret Etta Pugh

I also found a photograph of her headstone:

Margaret Pugh Beasley

She is buried in Lyles, Hickman County, Tennessee. Her mother was Prudence Jane Nicks (1794-1887). Prudence was born in Guilford County, North Carolina and died in Hickman County, Tennessee. Her paternal grandmother, Margaret Doaks Nicks (1752-1798) is likely the inspiration for her daughter’s name, but Margaret Doaks Nicks’s mother-in-law was Margaret Edwards Nicks (1717-ca. 1756). She is the earliest Margaret I can find, but I have a hunch that if I could trace the line further back, I would find more Margarets. I like the idea of passing this name along. I hope that we will have more Margarets in the family, but this name has (unfortunately) fallen in popularity, and it may be that our Margaret and any descendants she might have might not feel as strongly about passing it on as I might wish.

Susanna Kearsley’s novel The Winter Sea is the story of writer Carolyn McClelland, who relocates to Cruden Bay in Scotland in order to get the feel of the location for the novel she is currently writing about the 1708 Jacobite uprising—one of the lesser known skirmishes of the Jacobite Rebellion. Carrie takes a cottage in the village near Slains Castle and becomes friendly with a local family, Jimmy Keith and his two sons Stuart and Graham.  After her agent suggests she try telling her story from the point of view of a female character, since Carrie can’t seem to find a male character’s voice, Carrie decides on a whim to write one of her ancestors, Sophia Paterson McClelland, into the story. Suddenly she is writing faster than she’s ever written before, and when she discovers that many of the things she’s writing actually happened, even though she hadn’t consulted history books before she wrote, she begins to wonder if she is remembering her ancestor’s life. Meanwhile, both Keith brothers begin to show an interest in more than Carrie’s writing, but Carrie finds herself drawn to the one with eyes like the winter sea and begins modeling her hero, John Moray, after Graham, a history lecturer at the university in Aberdeen.

One of the reasons I liked this book was the genealogy thread that ran through it. Genealogy happens to be one of my own interests, and I can always sympathize with characters who find it interesting, too. Carrie’s discoveries about the lives of her ancestors fascinate her father, who is able to trace the family tree back one more generation due to Carrie’s insights as she writes. I expected to find myself more interested in Carrie’s novel, the part of the book that takes place in the past, because I have an absolute fascination for Scottish history. However, I found myself more drawn to the characters in the present—Jimmy, Graham, Stuart, Carrie’s agent Jane, and even Carrie herself. This book covers a topic that I myself have wondered about: is it even possible that memories can be passed down genetically? It seems far-fetched, but it works well in this novel. It’s a fun idea, anyway, and a nice alternative to some of the other paranormal tropes that have gained traction in recent years.

Kearsley is able to capture the past vividly in the sections of Carrie’s novel intertwined with the present-day story. She has included a historical note, and explained her painstaking attention to historical events as much as possible. I was surprised to discover that few of her characters were invented. It can sometimes be hard to make real historical people do what you want them to do when you’re writing about them, which is why, I think, that some writers of historical fiction prefer to use fictional characters.

The ending of the novel satisfies both the requirements of history and the requirements of historical romance. It’s a solid novel, and I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in Scotland or genealogy.

Cross-posted from Much Madness is Divinest Sense.

Catherine MiddletonIn recent weeks, a news story has been making the rounds of all my favorite Jane Austen blogs (I am a huge Jane Austen fan) about the Duchess of Cambridge’s distant relation to Jane Austen. They are eleventh cousins, six times removed. According to Anastasia Harman, a researcher at Ancestry.com, their connection comes from a distant shared ancestor, Henry Percy, who died in 1455. Of the discovery, Harman says, “Given what Kate has done and what Jane wrote about and how those intertwine so much—to find a connection between them is very exciting.”

Not really. Most people are probably connected to Jane Austen about the same degree as Kate Middleton is, which is to say, hardly at all. Ancestry.com users may know that Ancestry.com has a feature that allows users to compare their data with that shared in the OneWorldTree to see their degree of relationship to certain famous individuals (I can’t figure out what algorithm they use, as I have actually been able to prove distant relationships to Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams, and it never shows me as related to them).

In order to use this Ancestry.com feature, click on the profile of the person you want to see, mouse over “More Options” on the right, and select “Find Famous Relatives.” The feature relies on the accurate reporting of the users who have contributed to OneWorldTree, hence it’s not very accurate and should not substitute for research. For example, the first famous relative listed on my own profile is Stephen Hopkins, Mayflower passenger. He is supposedly my 12th great-grandfather. The only problem is that the claim rests entirely on my supposed descent from his daughter Bethia. He had no such daughter. As one might imagine, Mayflower passengers and their descendants are fairly well documented, so this connection is easily disproved and yet can be found in OneWorldTree—or I should say could. Bethia “Hopkins” seems not exist in the tree anymore, but bizarrely is still used as a placeholder for the connection.

According the OneWorldTree data, I am actually more closely related to Aunt Jane than Kate Middleton, as they say we are fifth cousins, seven times removed. Do I believe it? Not really. Our connection supposedly comes from our mutual descent from William Howard and Mary Eure. I supposedly descend from Charles Howard, their son, while Jane descends from their daughter, Mary Howard. I imagine the connection, at least in my own family, involves some leaps, as I cannot trace the line back nearly as far as the OneWorldTree line seems to go.

My point in bringing all this up is that eleventh cousins, six times removed is not a close relationship. In fact, the Duchess’s in-laws, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, are more closely related to each other at seventh cousins, once removed. I found this interesting blog post that explains how the math works when determining probability of relationship between two individuals. The author closes his post: “The upshot of all this: If you discover that you share a common ancestor with somebody from the 17th century, or even the 18th, it is completely unremarkable. The only thing remarkable about it is that you happened to know the path.”

Essentially, the only story behind Kate Middleton’s connection to Jane Austen is that genealogists were able to trace the connection. That the connection exists is not a story.

For more information about distant relationships and how common these sorts of connections are, you might find these articles interesting:

Photo via The London Evening Standard.

Walter Swier

Laura Helen Schmidt and Walter SwierIn some recent posts, I have discussed my natural great-grandfathers on my father’s side, Frank Chatman (or Chapman) and Omar Alfred Gearhart. After Omar Alfred Gearhart’s death, his family sunk into dire poverty. Some of the children, excluding the older children and the baby Omar Alfred Gearhart, Jr., were put up for adoption. My grandfather was adopted by Walter Swier and his wife Laura Helen Schmidt Swier.

I have written about this adoption before. Essentially Gertrude Perkins Gearhart brought her plight—she had heard state authorities were moving to remove her children from her home—to her pastor, who discussed the matter with his church congregation. The members of the church congregation came forward to adopt the children and enabled most of them, with the exception of my grandfather’s brother Frank, to grow up knowing each other and their natural mother.

At the time of the adoption the Swiers had no sons of their own, but they had three daughters: Helen Marie (born 15 March 1921, about nine months older than my grandfather), Carol Mae (born 12 December 1925), and Naomi Ruth (born 2 October 1928).

Swiers circa 1930

Swiers circa 1930

Later the family would welcome Elizabeth Ann on 4 October 1931 and Dorcas Pauline on 13 March 1933.

 

1940 Swier Children

1940 Swier Children

From everything I’ve learned about Walter Swier and Laura Schmidt Swier, as well as the rest of their family, I am convinced my grandfather was supremely lucky to become a part of their family. They were kind, generous, intelligent people.

Walter Swier was the son of Dutch immigrants Dirk and Aaltje Swier. He was born on 1 May 1894 in Sioux County, Iowa, after his parents had emigrated to America in March, 1893. Dirk’s decision to immigrate followed the advice of his doctor, who advised him to move to a place with a hot, dry climate to alleviate a lung condition. I’m not sure what his lung condition was, but tubercular patients were often advised to move to warmer climates. They eventually settled in Moxee, Washington, near Yakima.

Walter married Laura Helen Schmidt on 15 March 1920. By the 1930 census, the family were living in Cowiche, Washington, where they held huge family gatherings that my dad recalls attending. Walter grew apples, which seems to be one of most typically “Washington” occupations to have.

I cannot find his World War I draft registration card, but the 1930 Census lists him as a World War I veteran. There is a Walter Swier who appears on muster rolls for the US Marine Corps during the war, but I cannot be certain he is my great-grandfather because another Walter Swier born the year after my grandfather in South Dakota does have a World War I draft registration card.

On the occasion of his parents’ 50th anniversary, Walter Swier wrote a tribute to his parents that was read at a family gathering by Walter’s daughter Betty.

Because of adoption and other more mysterious family events, my father has four grandfathers instead of two. Of the four grandfathers, Walter Swier is the only one he knew in his lifetime, as his other grandfathers were either deceased or not a part of his life. My father has very fond memories of Walter Swier. Before he shipped out for service in Vietnam, my father visited his family, including his grandfather Walter, in Washington. It would be the last time he would see his grandfather, who died on 5 July 1974.

William Jones BowlingWhat follows is a transcription of the Confederate pension application filed by my great-great-great-grandfather, William Jones Bowling (pictured) in 1911.  Underlined portions are written in either W. J. Bowling’s hand or that of the clerk in order to fill out the application.
Form A

For Use of Soldiers, Who are in Indigent Circumstances

The State of Texas

County of Donley

I, W. J. Bowling, do hereby make application to the Commissioner of Pensions for a pension to be granted me under the Act passed by the Thirty-first Legislature of the State of Texas, and approved March 26, A. D. 1909, on the following grounds:

I enlisted and served in the military service of the Confederate States during the war between the States of the United States, and that I did not desert the Confederate service, but during said war I was loyal and true to my duty, and never at any time voluntarily abandoned my post of duty in the said service; that I was honorably discharged or surrendered in Camp Douglass [sic] prison in Illinois when war ended.  Liberated about 1st of May 1865 (Give date and cause.) that I have been a bona fide citizen of this State since prior to January 1, A. D. 1880, and have been continuously since a citizen of the State of Texas.  I do further state that I do not hold any national, State, city or county office which pays me in salary or feeds one hundred and fifty dollars per annum, nor have I an income from any other employment or other source whatever which amounts to one hundred and fifty dollars per annum, nor do I receive from any source whatever money or other means of support amounting in value to the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars per annum, nor do I own in my own right, nor does any one hold in trust for my benefit or use, nor does my wife own, nor does any one hold in trust for my wife, estate or property, either real, personal or mixed, either in fee or for life, of the assessed value of over one thousand dollars; nor do I receive any aid or pension from any other State, or from the United States, or from any other source, and that I am not an inmate of the Confederate Home, and I do further state that the answers given to the following questions are true:

  1. What is your age? 71 years
  2. Where were you born? Haywood Co. Tenn.
  3. How long have you resided in Texas? about last of 1875 to present
  4. In what county do you reside? Donley
  5. How long have you resided in said county and what is your postoffice address[?] 3 years[,] Lelia Lake
  6. Have you applied for a pension under the Confederate pension law and been rejected?  If rejected, state when and where[.] never]
  7. What is your occupation, if able to engage in one? Minister of Gospel
  8. In what State was the command in which you served organized? Tenn and Miss
  9. How long did you serve?  Give, if possible, the date of enlistment and discharge[.] 8/1861 to discharge 1865
  10. What was the letter of your company, number or name of battalion, regiment or battery? 1st Ala. Tenn & Miss Regiment & Company K Inftry. surrendered under McCall Island no. 10
  11. If transferred from one command to another, give time of transfer, name of command and time of service[.] Exchanged at Vicksburg in 62 then to Miss [indecipherable]
  12. What branch of service did you enlist in — infantry, cavalry, artillery or navy?
  13. If commissioned direct by the President, what was your rank and line of duty? not comm
  14. If detailed for special service, under the law of conscription, what was the nature of your service and how long did you serve? was volunteer
  15. Have you transferred to others any property of any kind for the purpose of becoming a beneficiary under this law? no

Wherefore your petitioner prays that his application be approved and such other proceedings be had in the premises as required by law.

(Signature of Applicant) W. J. Bowling

Sworn to and subscribed before me, this 25 day of March, A. D. 1911

J. H. O’[name indecipherable]

County Judge Donley County, Texas.

Affidavit of Witnesses

[Note: There must be at least two credible witnesses.]

The State of Texas

County of Donley

Before me J. H. O’[name indecipherable], County Judge of Donley County, State of Texas, on this day personally appeared J. B. Cope, who are [sic] personally known to me to be credible citizens, who, being by me duly sworn, on oath state that they personally know W. J. Bowling the above named applicant for a pension, and that they personally know the said W. J. Bowling has been a bona fide resident citizen of the State of Texas since prior to January 1, A. D. 1880, an that they have no interest in this claim.

(Signature of Witness) J. B. Cope

The Civil War began 150 years ago today. Several of my direct ancestors fought in the Civil War, but I have yet to find a relative fighting on the Union side, even though some of them lived in the North during the conflict.

Shelby McDaniel

My third great-grandfather Shelby McDaniel served in the 9th Texas Field Battery (Lamar Artillery). I actually have a copy of his service record courtesy of my cousin Chris. He was a private under Captain James M. Daniel’s Artillery and was 26 years old on the first muster roll. He went into service on January 18, 1862 at Paris, Texas and was to serve for the duration of the war. The descriptive roll taken on April 8, 1862 describes him as 5 feet 9 inches with a dark complexion, dark eyes, and dark hair. His occupation is listed as mason, his birthplace as South Carolina. At that time his “body [was] sound and health [was] good.” However, by the muster roll in May and June of 1862, he is listed as sick in a hospital in Little Rock, AR. I’m not sure what illness he had, but suspect it was one of the usual war time ailments such as dysentery. It looks like he was released and either was not well yet or became sick again because the muster roll for September and October of 1862 says he is sick in camp from June 1862. He was back in the hospital in Little Rock in November and December of 1862. The remarks say he had been in the general hospital since November 11, 1862. By the March and April, 1863 muster roll, the remarks indicate he was “detailed com. dept., Little Rock, Ark., Oct, 1862 by order Maj. Gen. Holmes.” I believe that his orders changed and perhaps due to his illness, he was transferred to the commissary department (if that is indeed what the abbreviations mean), but I can’t be positive. By the November and December, 1863 muster roll, he had deserted and been dropped from the roll. I can’t say as I blame him much, given he had been sick well over a year.

My descent from Shelby McDaniel:

Shelby McDaniel
+ Mary Shelby McDaniel
++ Elmer Theodore Thurman
+++ Doris LaNell Thurman
++++ Patti Jo Cunningham
+++++ Dana Michelle Swier

William Jones Bowling

William Jones BowlingI shared what I know about another third great-grandfather, William Jones Bowling, in a previous post, but I never published my transcription of his pension application, and given the wider scope of this post, I think I will save publication for later this week. In the post I linked, I noted that William Jones Bowling became a minister as a result of his experiences as a POW during the war.

My descent from William Jones Bowling:

William Jones Bowling
+ Stella Ophelia Bowling
++ Herman Cunningham
+++ Udell Oliver Cunningham
++++ Patti Jo Cunningham
+++++ Dana Michelle Swier

John Thomas Stallings

Another third great-grandfather applied for a pension in 1913 when he was living in Swisher County, Texas. The Stallings and Jennings families were some of the first families to settle in Swisher County in the Texas Panhandle. In his application, John Thomas Stallings states that

I surrendered in front of Petersburg, Virginia on April 23 1865 and was discharged from Federal Military Prison at Point Lookout, Maryland about the first of July 1865 the exact date of which I do not now recall.

It sounds like he was attempting to defend Petersburg at the time that it fell in April, 1865, an event that signaled the end of the war for the Confederacy. This website gives more information about his regiment’s movements during the war.

He was 69 when he made the application and lists his birthplace as Bedford County, Tennessee. He states he had been living in Texas since November 1881. He also says that he was unable to work at the time he applied for the pension. He says his command was organized in Unionville, Tennessee, and it appears he enlisted as soon as the war began in the spring of 1861 and served for the duration of the war with Company F, 23rd Tennessee Infantry. As far as I know, he was quite proud of his service in the Confederate Army; his grave marker mentions his service. A transcription of his marker from at Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulia, Texas, reads:

STALLINGS, John Thomas
23 Dec 1843 – 4 May 1916
CIVIL WAR TN 1ST CPL CO F 23
TN INF CONFEDERATE STATES ARMY

My descent from John Thomas Stallings:

John Thomas Stallings
+ Mary A. Silla Stallings
++ Annie Lola Jennings
+++ Udell Oliver Cunningham
++++ Patti Jo Cunningham
+++++ Dana Michelle Swier

John B. Jennings

John B. Jennings enlisted on June 13, 1862 at Tupelo, Mississippi for Alabama Confederate service, Co. E, 16th Regiment, infantry for 3 years, private, but it is unclear if he is the same John B. Jennings that was my third great-grandfather; the 16th Regiment companies were raised in Franklin and Lawrence Counties. The record gives little information, does not mention where the company fought, and, evidently, he was not wounded. John’s granddaughter, my great-grandmother Annie Lola Jennings “heard that he was in the Civil War.” A family member possesses a small framed photograph; on the back is written “John Jennings, Florence AL, United Confederate Veteran, 19th Reunion, Albert Sidney Johnston.” He’s a rather mysterious figure in general, however, so it doesn’t surprise me that his Confederate records are also shadowy.

My descent from John B. Jennings:

John B. Jennings
+ Veto Curry Jennings
++ Annie Lola Jennings
+++ Udell Oliver Cunningham
++++ Patti Jo Cunningham
+++++ Dana Michelle Swier

Four of my mother’s second great-grandfathers served on the Confederate side in the war. I have not been able to verify service for her other second great-grandfathers Johnson Franklin Cunningham, John L. Willis, or Nathan Taylor Meeks. Johnson Franklin Cunningham may have been a bit on the older side when the war began. He would have been 38. My grandfather tells a story he heard from a relative about this ancestor being in the war, but I can find no service record. He lived in Oglethorpe County, Georgia at the time. John L. Willis may have been too young, having been born in 1849. He lived in Franklin County, Alabama during the war. Nathan Taylor Meeks was born in 1847 and may also have been a bit too young, certainly at the beginning of the war, but I could find no record that he enlisted later. He lived in Tippah County, Mississippi during the war. I have not been able to determine the name of her remaining second great-grandfather, but I do know the family was likely living in Illinois at the time, and it stands to reason that if he was of age to serve, he may have served in the Union.

On my father’s side, four of his second great-grandfathers were of age to serve, but I can find no service records. Conrad L. Gearhart lived in Licking County, Ohio at the time of the war; I’m not sure where Joseph Alfred Willhide lived, but he was in Iowa by 1880 after having been born in Maryland; William Henry Young was living in Sibley County, Minnesota, and Wilson Wages was living in Magoffin County, Kentucky. It stands to reason any or all of them might have fought for the Union, while Wilson Wages could as easily have fought on the side of the Confederacy. However, I could find no records. I do not know who his other four second great-grandfathers are with any certainty.

Whether my ancestors served in the war or not, the war had a profound impact on their lives. Many on my mother’s side would eventually settle in Texas and Oklahoma, most likely because, as my grandfather always puts it, Texas was viewed as a land of opportunity. Some of my father’s family, too, continued west, eventually settling in Washington State. It is less clear whether or not the Civil War impacted them as profoundly as it did my mother’s ancestors.

Richard L. Swier

Our family was shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of my uncle, Richard Swier, on Sunday, March 27. He was 58 years old.

Rick was my father’s younger brother. He was born in Yakima, Washington on September 13, 1952. His death notice mentions three children: Richard L. Swier, Jr., Rhonda Swier, and April Martinez, who was his stepdaughter. He also had twelve grandchildren.

When I was very small, my father was in the Air Force and stationed in San Bernardino, California at the same time as Rick served in the Navy and was stationed at San Diego. He visited us a lot on the weekends. Unfortunately, I don’t remember him. My father was transferred to Germany in 1973, and I never saw Uncle Rick again after that.

Some pictures of Rick:

Clockwise from bottom, Thomas Swier (my father), David "Buck" Swier, Betty Campbell Swier holding Deborah Swier, Walter "Randy" Swier, and Richard "Rick" Swier

Rick in High School

From left to right: Rick, my grandfather David Swier, and Randy Swier

Rick and his children Rick, Jr. and Rhonda

My grandfather David Swier with Rick in his Navy uniform

Rest in peace, Uncle Rick.

 

Frank Chatman

Bridge into Quicksand, Kentucky

Quicksand Bridge

Last week, I began a series on my father’s grandparents, all of whom (I believe) died before I was born, or at least before I had a chance to meet them. This week’s post is likely to be short, as I know next to nothing about my great-grandfather, Frank Chatman. I did not even discover that he was my great-grandfather until a couple of years ago. Thinking I had little chance of learning anything about my paternal grandmother’s family, I ordered her birth record. I knew she was born in Breathitt County, but beyond that, I wasn’t sure of the name of the community or town. The abstract on Ancestry.com through the Kentucky Birth Index was puzzling. I had believed my grandmother’s maiden name was Campbell, but her birth name was Fay Trusty (Fay being her middle name, as I understood it), the same as her mother’s maiden name. I wondered if perhaps she was born out of wedlock and her parents married later. Finding her and her mother on the 1930 census in Middletown, Ohio with the last name Trusty and living in the home of my grandmother’s aunt and uncle seemed to confirm the suspicion. I knew I wouldn’t solve the mystery unless I ordered a copy of my grandmother’s birth record. It was surprisingly easy to obtain. I thought I would need to offer some sort of proof of our family relationship besides just saying she was my grandmother, but no such proof was necessary. I think that’s a little scary, even if it did make things convenient for me. When I received the record, imagine my shock to discover that Osa Campbell was not my grandmother’s father. Rather, her father was a man named Frank Chatman. His occupation was listed as convict, and his home the Kentucky State Penitentiary.

Of course, my first question was What did he do? The second was Did my grandmother know this man was her father? I found out later that the answer to the second question was yes, but not until after her mother and any other family members she could ask about it had passed away. The answer to the first is more complicated. I wrote to a state archivist asking for help, and she seemed to take a genuine interest in the case. She actually sent me a copy of the 1930 census (even though I already had it). This is her reply to my first query:

Our office has received your request for a criminal record involving Frank Chatman (Breathitt County, 1929).  I have searched our records and have found no entry for Frank Chatman in Breathitt County.  If this case could have taken place in another county, please let me know.

I apologize for any inconvenience.

I wrote that I had no idea where the crime took place. Here is her reply:

I have searched our records further (primarily our prison records) and found a couple entries for a Frank Chatman.  One was for a Frank Chatman (Chapman), whose crime occurred in Martin County, and another entry whose crime occurred in Pike County.  Both were for willful murder.  If one of these Frank Chatmans is your great-grandfather, I believe it would be the one from Pike County.  This occurred in 1921, when he was 15 years old, and his sentence was only for 5 years.  I believe the Frank Chatman that you found on the 1930 census was for the Martin County Chatman–he received a life sentence, and he was 42 when his crime occurred.  I have made copies of our prison record that I will send to you, but I will also try to locate the Pike County case–likely will not have a lot of info, though.  If I find it, I will certainly send it to you.

Hope this brings a bit of clarity.

The trouble with accepting either of these men as my great-grandfather is that the first is about the right age, but he shouldn’t have been in prison at the time of my grandmother’s birth—according to the record, he served five years, which means he should have been out of prison before my grandmother was born. Now if his case took some time to come to trial, it could make sense. How did he only get five years for murder? He was fifteen, but one would think his sentence would have been longer even so. The other one that the archivist says was 42 and which I found on the census introduces some confusion. The census says he was 27, which makes him also a fairly good fit for my great-grandfather despite what the archivist said. Both Pike and Martin counties are not far from Breathitt County, and either is a logical place of origin for my great-grandfather.

I think the only way I will find out the truth is to go to Kentucky and do some research in newspapers and libraries both in Breathitt County, where my grandmother was born, and through the prison archives. It seems somehow fitting that the name of the town in which my grandmother was born is Quicksand. The story inspired me to write a book that remains unedited in a file on my computer. I did find a fellow Ancestry.com member with some intriguing information in her family tree. If  I win Who Do You Think You Are? sweepstakes, I know what case I’m going to put my professional genealogist on. I sure wish I was able to pursue this thread now, though.

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