Place Studies…or “Yah Gotta Know the Territory!”

James-SarahYour ancestors lived in and were a part of a community. They may have purchased land, attended school, voted, celebrated life events, gone to war, owned a local business, advertised in the local paper, attended church, or broke the law! And there could be a record of any one of those everyday occurrences in a life. Clues, possible records await, but as the Music Man said, “yah gotta know the territory.”

Family historians often hunt for the most obvious of life event records – birth, marriage, death – but with some knowledge of the place, the life of your ancestors could become far more complete, even colorful! A study of place, within the timeframe of your ancestor(s) life there will very likely yield new discoveries about them.

Last month I wrote about Eva Gillan and her siblings, who in the 1870-80’s attended Illinois Wesleyan College in Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. Eva’s parents, James and Sarah McClure Gillan, were Irish immigrants from County Antrim, arriving in Philadelphia about 1846, where they stayed about 2 years. According to James’ obit in 1907, the family migrated to Tazewell County, Illinois, “traveling by steamboat down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to Pekin [Illinois].”
What no wagon train?! No, the Gillan family traveled from Philadelphia to Pekin, Illinois by waterways (this tidbit found in a county history). This is a researchable moment…was this a common mode of travel in the 1850’s? What records exist of the steamboats and river travel of the time? Maybe passenger records exist. How much would it have cost? How long did it take?

After a few years in Tazewell County, James and Sarah moved to the next county, McLean (1865). James bought a large farm of 600 acres. At that time, McLean County was a prosperous place with a sizable population, flourishing businesses and train service. In 1850, Illinois Wesleyan College was established in Bloomington, Illinois.

From my research, I found that James help establish a school in his area, gave land for a cemetery, served as a county supervisor and Justice of the Peace in McLean County. He and Sarah were literate and educated people who sent at least 5 of their 10 children through school and on to college at Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State at Normal….daughters too!

How did I find out the Gillan children went to Illinois Wesleyan…or that James was so active in his community? Hints in daughter, Eva’s obit about her going to Wesleyan and Illinois State. So I contacted both schools and was able to get transcripts and other details on siblings who attended. Schools have archives and I’ve found helpful historians and librarians at schools who are glad to help. The archivist at Wesleyan also sent me a copy of book about the history of not only Wesleyan, but the development of McLean County.

Getting to know McLean County involved contacting the area libraries, courthouses, exploring county history books and genealogy journals and newspapers in the area. The local courthouse, too, yielded land records, estate and death records. I was able to find Gillan relatives and descendants of James or his siblings still living in the area, leading to a fruitful exchange of family research and adding cousins too. There was even a story of James’ horses running off with his buggy in the local press!

James Gillan (wife, Sarah died 1880) lived in Martin township, McLean County from 1865 till his death in 1907. It was a time of great changes in that county and “knowing more about the territory” certainly led to finding more about their lives and who they were too.

Going to College…back in the day…even girls!

Eva Gillan, 1885

Eva Gillan, 1885

In 1870 America, there were only 500 public high schools with enrollment of about 50,000 students (U.S. population was almost 40 million in 1870 as per census data). At that time, enrollment had opened to accept females, mostly to be trained as teachers. Reading, writing and arithmetic curriculums were also expanding to train working class youth in skilled trades to meet the needs of a country fast changing in the second phase of the Industrial Revolution.  more

While secondary schools were growing in many states, many did not have courses that prepared students for college, thus students could not pass entrance exams. Many colleges in that era, offered “preparatory schools,” to fill the gap, but also to expand their college student enrollments. Families of means sent their children to such college based academies, particularly when those schools were close to home.

Eva Gillan, at age 16, was in the Junior class, 1879-1880, of the Preparatory School of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. In the junior year, the curriculum included arithmetic, English grammar, geography, Latin, algebra, English analysis, U.S. History, elocution, English composition, physiology, and criticism.

Two of Eva’s brother’s, David and James also attended Illinois Wesleyan University. James was a freshman in the Preparatory courses during the same period Eva attended. James continued his studies and was later listed in census records as “professor of education,” then a few years later on the Board of Education in Omaha, Nebraska. David Gillan, graduated in 1881. In the Illinois Wesleyan University Alumni Roll, published in 1929, David is shown as having achieved a B.A., and M.A. [1]  David H. Gillan, served as a Methodist Minister in southern California for twenty-five year; he also established a date farm there.

The Academic and Teachers Course, as the preparatory school at Illinois Wesleyan University was called, gave the following description of the course in the university’s 1879 catalog:
“This course is arranged with reference to a thorough preparation for college; also to qualify young men and women for teaching in common and graded schools, and further, to furnish the basis of a business education to those whose time will not allow them to complete a full college course.” [2]

Eva Gillan and two of her sisters, Mary J and Addie Gillan, attended Illinois State University, 1880-1882. In records available for those years, Eva completed course work in reading, spelling, arithmetic, geography, diction, writing, history, drawing, theory and practice (probably related to teaching). [3]

James and Jane McClure Gillan, parents of Eva, Mary, Addie, James M. And David H. Gillan were strong advocates for education for both males and females, as evidenced by sending daughters to college as well as sons. James and Sarah were immigrants from County Antrim, Ireland, both educated and literate. James was instrumental in the establishment of schools in McLean County, Illinois.

Years later, Eva Gillan Samuel, enrolled her three children in the preparatory school, Academy (1907) of Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas. She found the high schools in Kansas then did not prepare her children for further education as her father as discovered back in 1879. From the Baker University Catalogue of 1906-1907, in explaining the existence of an academy at Baker University, ‘many localities do not provide academic opportunities for students which prepare them for college course work;” further the statement cites lack of libraries, literary societies, lecture courses and elementary knowledge of grammar, arithmetic, physiology, US history, government and geography required to pass entrance exams for college. The Academy at Baker University had four courses of study: Classical, Philosophical, Scientific, and Literature and Art. Graduation from the Academy ensured acceptance into the Collegiate Department without further examination.’[4]


[1] Illinois Wesleyan University Alumni Roll, published in “Illinois Wesleyan University Bulletin,” Series XXVII, no. 2, June, 1929; Illinois Wesleyan University Library Archives and Special Collections; copy provided to Bonnie Samuel, June 2015.
[2] Annual Catalogue of the Illinois Wesleyan University, 1880-81, Bloomington, Illinois, Bulletin Printing and Publishing Co., 1881, Illinois Wesleyan University Library Archives and Special Collections; copy provided to Bonnie Samuel, June 2015.
[3] Letter from Gardner VanDyke, Registrar, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, 9 Feb 1971 to Bonnie Samuel, Des Moines, Iowa; citing records found in archives for the attendance of Eva Gillan.
[4] Kay Brandt, Reference Librarian, Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas (BRADT@HARVEY.BAKERU.EDU, 12 March 1997) to Bonnie Samuel, Albuquerque, New Mexico; providing copy of partial 1906-07 Baker University Catalog describing the Academy, pp. 76-81; an email with info on the Academy and findings of enrollment of Raymond, Ferne and Beula Samuel.

Let’s Talk about YOUR Genealogy

1870 United States Federal Census-1Here’s a great opportunity for those in Central Iowa (Ames) to get some expert help with those “brick walls” in their own family research.

The Story County Genealogy Society has teamed up with the Ames Public Library to sponsor two workshops this summer, free of charge, at the library. Genealogists will be available to help you find that elusive ancestor, help develop a system to organize your research materials or learn about resources and the research process. Computers will be available to use or you may bring your own. No pre-registration necessary.

Bring your research queries and join us at the Ames Public Library:
Wednesday, June 17, 10am to noon, PEO Room
Wednesday, July 15, 7:00 to 8:30 PM, FTB Auditorium

We do suggest that you write out your question, listing names, dates and places that you know as well as specifically what you want to discover. If you have related documents, please bring copies.

Genealogy Education in Ames, Iowa

For those of you who live in Central Iowa, or have been looking for a reason to come to Central Iowa….here’s your opportunity. “Genealogy Plus,” a collaborative effort of the Story County Genealogy Society and the Ames Public Library, presents monthly programs and workshops on family research at the Ames, Iowa Public Library.

The next Genealogy Plus session will be next Wednesday, May 20th, 10 am to noon, in the Ames Public Library auditorium. No registration needed, just come and enjoy. No charge either!

Iowa Genealogy Society President to Speak
at Genealogy Plus May 20th 

Topic: Pre-1850 Genealogy Resources in America

The Ames Public Library and Story CouTheresaLiewernty Genealogy Society have teamed up to sponsor an ongoing series of monthly genealogy classes, “Genealogy Plus,” held at the library. We are pleased to have as our May speaker, Teresa Liewer, President of the Iowa Genealogy Society.

Theresa Liewer is a volunteer with the Iowa Genealogical Society where she teaches various classes as well as serving on the board.  She began researching her family over 40 years ago and is continually amazed at what is left to find.  Theresa moderates the Irish and English/Welsh/Scottish Special Interest Groups at IGS. She is a graduate of Creighton University and Iowa State University and in her professional career, was a manager of tax services for a national public accounting firm as well as a corporate accountant for several businesses in Des Moines.  She retired last fall and is determined to get her research papers organized – someday.

Teresa Liewer will talk about “Pre-1850 Genealogy Resources” on May 20th, 10 am – noon, at the Ames Public Library in the Farwell T. Brown Auditorium. The “Genealogy Plus” program is free of charge and open to the public.

Jane wrote her will…but was it legal?

Jane F. Roper Samuel, my 3rd Great Grandmother, wrote her will in 1862….long before it was legal to do so in Kentucky and many other states in the United States.

From Famous Kentucky Women :
As early as 1800, women pushed for a better legal position, but Kentucky was backward in regard to women’s rights. Since Kentucky had not seceded from the Union, after the Civil War it did not have the favorable constitutional revisions that women in the Confederate states had.

In Kentucky, a married woman had no property rights. She couldn’t make a will. If she did own property, all of it became her husband’s. She could not make contracts, sue, or be sued. If she took a job, her husband had the right to collect her wages. He had sole guardianship over their children, even if she left him and even over an unborn child. The husband could separate the children from their mother if he wished and, in case of his death, could will their guardianship to some other male.

In 1894, decades behind most other states, Kentucky passed a married women’s property law, as well as laws that allowed women to make wills, serve on the board of directors, and keep their own wages.

Jane wrote her will 11 March 1862. It was recorded with the Clerk of Court’s office in Rockcastle County, Kentucky. As was the norm in those times, the will was handwritten into the official record, Will Book D, pages 336-337 by D.C. Colyer, Clerk of Court. Jane signed the document and it was witnessed by two people.

Did Jane know she was breaking the law? How about the Clerk of Court who recorded the will into official record? It is possible, she and husband, Herndon were no longer married. Although no divorce record has been found, records do show that Jane and Herndon had not co-habited for many years.

Jane Roper Samuel, died 6 November 1862 at the home of her daughter, Martha Samuel Thompson. She was 69 years old. Jane’s will bequeaths to all of her children and one granddaughter, to whom she leaves her side saddle.

Jane F. Roper Samuel’s Will
Written 11 March 1862
Rockcastle County, Kentucky

In the name of God, Amen, I Jane Samuels [sic] being weak in body, but sound in mind make this my last will and testament (viz).

I will to my son, Z. L. Samuels 1 bed stead and furniture, To my daughter Betsy H. Potts 1 frame, and part of my bed clothes, and to her daughter, Gertrude T. Potts my side saddle. I will to my son, John C. Samuels my feather bed and some bed clothes. I will to my daughter, Martha Thompson’s children, $5.00 or the worth of it in something else. All the remainder of everything else that I have I will to my daughter, Rebecca J. McClary. To my son David A. Samuels, I will $1.00.

Given under my hand this 11th of March 1862. Signed, Jane Samuels

Att: A McClary, Susan McClary

(Recorded with Clerk of Court, D.C. Colyer, Will Book D, pp. 336-337, Courthouse, Mt. Vernon, Kentucky)


Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Ancestor Jane F. Roper Samuel, 1793-1862

Parents: John Roper and Mother unknown

Spouse: Herndon Samuel, 1788-1872

Surnames: Samuel, Roper

Relationship to Bonnie Samuel: 3rd Great Grandmother

Getting to know Archibald….

statepaperspubli01unitiala_0003 Archibald Samuel, born about 1749, is my 4th Great Grandfather. And he is my “brick wall.” I really know a lot, really a lot about Archibald and his life from about 1780’s to his death in 1832 in Caswell County, North Carolina. Archibald was a prominent part of the establishment of Caswell County in 1777, a property owner, obviously of means, a lawyer, County Commissioner, husband, father – all these life details found in deeds, books and various old documents. Even with much documented proof of his activities…I still don’t know where he was born, parents or how he is related to the other people of Samuel surname in the county!

The search for ancestors often yields only the outline of their lives…birth, marriage, death, maybe occupation or military records. When we happen on evidence of the person they were, their interests, beliefs, interactions, maybe sense of humor, it is rewarding indeed.

And so it was with Archibald Samuel when I discovered his purchase of a set of books. In When the Past Refused to Die, History of Caswell County, North Carolina, 1777-1977 by William S. Powell, I found the following:  “In 1819, seven sets of the ‘State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency‘ were purchased in Caswell County. Only fourteen subscribers throughout the state bought this twelve-volume set. Those who added this useful source book to their libraries were John Daniel, James Daniel, Fred W. Pleasants, Archibald Samuel, James Sanders, Joseph Sanders and Charles Wilson.” (p. 408)

Archibald Samuel had, of course, lived through the American Revolution and is said to have served in the Army too. He lived in an geographic area known to have seen battles, most of the men of the area were patriots, served as Officers in the military and were loyal to the cause. He was also involved in the legal processes, business and development of his county. It can be assumed that Archibald Samuel was well read and as a patriot himself and probably an admirer of George Washington, he delighted in purchasing, owning and reading this 12 volume set of books. Possibly he had a library in his home in Milton, North Carolina.

I wondered if the book set, State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency, might still exist today, shelved in libraries today. Yes! Found it on “Open Library” and is available for reading in a variety of formats. WorldCat has it catalogued and it is available for inter-library loan.

Archibald bought his set of these volumes in 1819 and likely they were the second edition printed and published in 1817 “under the patronage of Congress, including confidential documents, now first published.” (1817 edition published by T.B. Watt and Sons, Boston). I can picture Archibald Samuel, sitting by his fireside with candles burning, reading his books. Wonder if he made notes in the margins….

I Remember Santa…

Santa Claus

Santa Claus

I used to believe in Santa. In fact, even after I caught on to who was in that beautiful red velvet suit, I played along. I’d heard rumors about Santa being a ruse, of course, at school. Then it hit me and I recognized Santa…Daddy!

My Dad was Santa to many children for many, many years. My grandmother, an accomplished seamstress, made the Santa suit, hat, gloves and it was beautiful. Every year, Daddy, got in costume, complete with pillow, wig, beard and rosy cheeks and out he went to charity events and other gatherings most particularly for the poorer children of our small Iowa community. He, Santa that is, was part of the annual Christmas parade in town. He often arrived in a sleigh, sans reindeer, but certainly with tinkling bells and a merry old grin too.

Throughout his life, Ray J. Samuel, was active in organizations helping children and others in need. He headed annual fund drives for March of Dimes, served on a committee to provide education for special needs children, supported a camp for crippled children and more. In the sense of bringing happiness to others, he was indeed Santa!