Decent Enough to Die in a Timely Manner: William H. Skinner (52 Ancestors #15)

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If there is a genealogical corollary to Murphy’s Law, it might be that the ancestor you’re looking for died one year before that state started keeping death records. (Raise your hand if that’s happened to you!) It happens so often, that I’d like to give a special “Thank you” to my 3rd-great-grandfather William H. Skinner for dying at the right time.

William was a farmer in Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio. He was born in 1809 in either Ohio or Pennsylvania (depending on which record you want to believe). He died in Reading Township 3 May 1850.

Ohio didn’t start keeping civil death records until 1867, so why am I thankful that William died in May 1850? It’s because of a wonderful “other” part of the federal census called a mortality schedule. In the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses, there was another schedule taken at the same time that was record the deaths of those who had died in the previous 12 months. The 1850 was “officially” taken on  1 June, so the mortality schedule was supposed to include those who died between 1 June 1849 and 31 May 1850. William squeaked in by dying on 3 May.

William Skinner, 1850 mortality schedule, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio.

William Skinner, 1850 mortality schedule, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio.

The mortality schedule tells us that he was a farmer, age 40, born in Ohio, and died in May of “liver complaint,” which he had for 11 days. (Just think — if he had lived for another month, we likely wouldn’t know what he died from. Though come to think of it, “liver complaint” is a rather catch-all term…  But at least we know it was medical and not like he was run over by a runaway horse or something. With this family, I’ll take what I can get.)

William’s widow Matilda and seven of their children (including my great-great-grandfather George and 11-month-old Marion) were enumerated in Reading Township later that summer.

William is buried in Hopewell Baptist Church Cemetery in Reading Township.


  • William Skinner, 1850 mortality schedule, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio, page 925.
  • William Skinner tombstone, Hopewell Baptist Cemetery, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio. Visited the cemetery several years ago. At that time, William’s tombstone was broken and lying on the ground. It has since been restored, as seen in the photo on FindAGrave.
  • Matilda Skinner household, 1850 federal census (population schedule), page 353a, household 456, family 456.
  • Stephen Skinner Family Bible, The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments, (Philadelphia: National Publishing Co., no date). Owned in 1983 by Bertha Stalbaum, Valparaiso, Indiana; present location unknown. Photocopy at the Ohio Genealogical Society, Bellville, Ohio.

Of Genealogy and UFOs. (It’s Not What You Think)

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Harold Henderson has me thinking again. If you’re not familiar with Harold and his blog “Midwestern Microhistory,” I highly suggest you add it to your “must read” list. He is always digging up neat resources and giving his views on a variety of genealogy and history-related topics.

His post “Cleanup in Aisles 1-1,000” got me thinking about a couple of things. First, there was the reminder that I really do need to do something with the piles and files that have overtaken my office. I like his 10-minutes-at-a-time approach, though it is going to take me lots of “10 minutes” to make meaningful progress. But it’s his last sentence that really got me thinking:

“If it’s not worth writing up, it’s not worth researching in the first place.”

I wanted to agree. It seems like such a good rallying cry, especially to someone like me who encourages others to write down their stories and their research. But after mulling it over, grabbing another cup of coffee, and mulling it over some more, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t agree.


A current UFO.

Part of my beading tray with a current UFO.

In the craft world, a UFO is an UnFinished Object. (Believe me, it’s a concept I’m well acquainted with!) It’s that scarf that you never finished knitting or the bracelet you never finished beading. It’s the necklace that you still need to put the clasp on.

UFOs are annoying. They take up space. They taunt us with their unfinished-ness.

And I don’t regret any of mine.

This little bit of beading shown in the picture is one of my current UFOs. (Yes, I have more than one. I told you it’s a concept I’m well-acquainted with!) Honestly, it’s probably going to stay a UFO. I’m not happy with the tension I used, nor am I particularly pleased with how the brown and gold beads look together.

Genealogical UFOs and Their Value

Research that you haven’t written is a genealogical UFO. You’ve done a lot of work with that research, but you haven’t completed the final step: writing it down.

Even though I’m not going to complete that brown and gold bracelet, I learned a lot while working on it. I learned that I need to keep my tension a bit tighter while doing that particular stitch. I learned that I don’t like those two beads together. I learned that if I do this again, I need a way to attach a clasp that isn’t going to be all lopsided. I also relaxed while I was working on it, which was probably good for my health.

It’s the same with the research that I’ve done but haven’t written. I learned a lot while doing it. I learned about different records and resources and how they fit together. I learned how to read documents and what certain words and phrases meant. And I relaxed while I was working on it, which was also probably good for my health :)

Some of my genealogical UFOs also led to other research. Some of that, I have written about. (One even turned into my senior honors thesis in college.)

Let’s Be Clear

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t write about our research. I think everyone should! Write about it how ever you want to — an article, a blog, a book, a series of photos on Flickr or Instagram, a PowerPoint, an iMovie. (You get the idea.) I firmly and passionately believe that turning your research into something more than your notes is the best way to preserve it for future generations.

I’m just not willing to say that research that you don’t write isn’t worth starting. There’s too much to be gained by those genealogical UFOs.

52 Ancestors Challenge: Week 14 Recap

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52ancestors-week14Week 14 — we’re now in the 2nd quarter of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Congratulations!

I’m a bit late in posting this. This week’s recap, although posted on Thursday, April 10, kept the “normal” cutoff of Tuesday, April 8. So, if you posted on Wednesday and don’t see your post, don’t worry, it will be on next week’s recap. (Which I hope will be on time!)

Cheryl Biermann Hartley shares her story of how she discovered that she descends from Martin Luther. (“Yes, THAT Martin Luther.”) What I like about her post is how reading a particular book became a ritual when visiting her grandparents’ house. Myra Vanderpool Gormley shared a beautiful memory of wearing roses on Mother’s Day. Need inspiration for your next post? Patricia Rohn found inspiration in Game of Thrones.

My contribution was about my 3rd-great grandfather John Johnson. Yes, really.

John Johnson. Yes, really. (52 Ancestors #14)

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canada-flagJohn Johnson. Yes, my 3rd-great grandfather’s name was John Johnson.

A few facts about John:

  • Born circa 1794 in Upper Canada
  • Arrived in Buffalo, New York in 1817
  • Declared his declaration to be naturalized in Morgan County, Ohio in June 1837
  • Naturalized in Morgan County, Ohio in October 1840
  • Lived in Bloom Township, Morgan County, Ohio in 1850
  • Died 16 February 1851 and is buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery in Bristol Township, Morgan County

I wonder if John appreciated how common his name was. His children were Juliett, Uthama, Enoch, Elizabeth, Ezra, Eber, Eliza, John, Margaret, Jeremiah, and Sarah Ann. (Frankly, I’m thankful that I descend from Eber. It’s easier to research Eber Johnson than John or Sarah!)


  • Genealogical Extracts from Naturalization Records of Morgan County, Ohio, (n.p.: Morgan County Genealogical Society, 1981), p. 23.
  • John Johnson household, 1850 federal census (population), Bloom Township, Morgan County, Ohio, page 102B.
  • John Johnson tombstone, Mt. Zion Cemetery, Bristol Township, Morgan County, Ohio.

52 Ancestors Challenge: Week 13 Recap

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52ancestors-week13Week 13! You know what this means…  We’re 1/4 of the way there!!

I’m almost afraid to ask, but which does it feel like to you: “We’re 1/4 done already?!” or “We’re only 1/4 done?” :)

Passage to the Past has the incredible story of Charles Billings, “the Mayor of Framingham.” Wally Huskonen describes how he’s related to his wife (hint: it’s more than just being spouses). Dave Lucey highlighted not only his War of 1812 ancestor, Rodolphus Stanhope, but also the Preserve the Pensions project, which is working to digitize those valuable pension files.

My contribution this week was how I pieced together a theory of why James R. Steele, my 3rd-great-grandfather, left Washington, DC for Ohio.

Without further ado, here are this week’s posts:

Fleeing the War? James R. Steele, 1827-1902 (52 Ancestors #13)

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We usually can’t know with certainty what our ancestors’ motivations were for some of their actions. The best we can do is examine the facts and come up with a theory that fits. That is what I have with James R. Steele, my 3rd-great grandfather.

James was born in 1827 in Maryland or the District of Columbia, depending on which census you read. He married Mary E. Belt on 19 July 1849. They lived in Washington, DC in 1850 and 1860. It was in DC that their first five children were born, including my great-great grandmother Ella Steele. James was a carpenter.

By 1862, the family had moved from Washington to Ohio and by 1870 were living in Lawrence Township, Washington County, Ohio. What would make a journeyman carpenter pack up his family and move away from an urban area where he almost certainly had business contacts and settle in a small town two states away?

In a word: War.

If you lived in Washington, DC in 1860, there is no way you could avoid knowing what was happening. Talk of secession and war had been circulating for months. Lincoln’s election fueled the flames of rhetoric. South Carolina seceded 20 December; five more states seceded in January 1861. Rhetoric and politics turned to action on 12 April 1861 with the firing upon of Fort Sumter.

When Virginia seceded in April 1861, the District of Columbia was in a rather precarious position. Suddenly, the capital of the United States was bordered by a state that had just seceded. To make matters worse, although Maryland remained part of the Union, its southern sympathies were strong.

We will likely never know for sure why James and his family moved from Washington, DC to Ohio. But it isn’t hard to imagine that he saw the situation and decided that the risk of Washington becoming a battleground was too great.

Washington, D.C., 1862. Park of artillery (Excelsior Brigade) at Washington Arsenal. Photo by Mathew Brady. Downloaded from the Library of Congress; no known restrictions on publication.

Washington, D.C., 1862. Park of artillery (Excelsior Brigade) at Washington Arsenal. Photo by Mathew Brady. Downloaded from the Library of Congress; no known restrictions on publication.

James apparently stayed out of the Civil War. There is no listing for him in the 1890 veterans schedule in Ohio or Virginia (where he and Mary moved by 1900). There is no mention of service in his obituary. No listing for him or Mary has been found in the Civil War pension index. (Admittedly, he could have served without later applying for a pension.) But this also makes sense if he left DC to try to keep his family safe. If you’re trying to flee the war, you probably wouldn’t enlist in it.

Another avenue to pursue is James’ religion. He and Mary were married by a Rev. Mr. Evans. If that is Rev. French S. Evans, he appears to be associated with the Methodist Episcopal Church. James is buried in Timber Ridge Primitive Baptist Cemetery in Frederick County, Virginia. But even if James was a pacifist, I don’t believe that would have required him to leave Washington, DC.

James R. Steele died in Whitacre, Frederick County, Virginia on 4 April 1902.


  • James Steele household, 1850 Federal census (population schedule), 4th Ward, Washington City, District of Columbia, p. 304a, household 1104, family 1141.
  • James Steele household, 1860 Federal census (population schedule), Washington, District of Columbia, page 204 (written), household 1346, family 1408.
  • James R. Steele household, 1870 Federal census (population schedule), Lawrence Township, Washington County, Ohio, page 44 (written), household 316, family 318. [Note: Son Harvey, age 8, is the first child listed as being born in Ohio. This would place the family's move between 1860 and 1862.]
  • Jas. R. Steele FindAGrave memorial. Photo of his tombstone is on
  • National Genealogical Society, “The National Intelligencer, 1800-1850″ online database. [Cites marriage of James R. Steele and Mary E. Belt married 19 July 1849; 21 July 1849 issue.]

Of Bowling and Visiting Family

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bowl-signI come from a family of serious bowlers. Mom, Dad, my aunt, and uncle had a team that bowled on Sunday nights for years. Dad bowled in several leagues. (In fact, he asked that Mom try to have me on a night that wouldn’t conflict with one of his bowling nights. I’m not sure if I complied with that request!) My cousins were also serious bowlers, some of whom competed in traveling leagues during their teenage years.

My cousin Kevin was going to bowl in a weekend tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. This was a decent drive from our hometown of Columbus, Ohio, but definitely “do-able.” Our grandma, the dear, sweet lady that she was, got very excited when she heard that my aunt, uncle, and cousin were going to Louisville.

“Oh! While you’re down there, you can visit your brother Ronnie!” she told my uncle Alfred.

Nice idea, except that my uncle Ronnie lived in Fort Myers, Florida.

Grandma was a dear, sweet lady, but she was a bit geographically challenged. When someone in the family is traveling to Kentucky, we still joke that they should go down and visit uncle Ronnie.

Why Don’t I Do This More Often?

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A few weeks ago, I mused about recording family stories and how we need to just do it. Thegenealogygirl took the message to heart and flew to Spokane, Washington just to interview her grandma and other family members. In her “Trip Report in Brief,” she poses the question, “Why don’t I do this more often?”

Mom at the Mackinaw Bridge, 1958

Mom at the Mackinaw Bridge, 1958. We’ve been going to that area for vacation for years.

Indeed, why don’t any of us do it more often?

Sometimes a blogger participating in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks will ask me if it’s ok to skip a week or they will apologize for a post being “so short.” (I’ve been guilty of that one!) My response is always the same: Write what you can. Anything you write is more than what you had before.

It’s the same with our stories. Any story you capture — however you capture it — is more than what you had before.

52 Ancestors Challenge: Week 12 Recap

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52ancestors-week12Week 12 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge. March Madness — it’s not just for basketball anymore!

Juli at Life in the Past Lane shared an awesome photo of her great-grandfather. Dave wondered about his ancestor’s sister who stayed behind in Ireland. Deborah asked if she was related to Albert Einstein — and came up with a couple of interesting answers.

My contribution was about my 4th-great-grandmother Elizabeth Peden Ramsey who was not a hidden woman.

Breaking the Mold of the Hidden Woman: Elizabeth Peden Ramsey (52 Ancestors #12)

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The female half of the tree is harder to research. In most western cultures, a woman’s surname changes with each marriage, so you don’t always know what name to look for. She is often omitted from records because of her less-than-equal legal standing. Even a man’s will might leave a bequest “to my beloved wife” without actually listing her by name. Elizabeth Peden Ramsey, my 4th-great-grandmother, broke out of the mold of the hidden woman.

Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Peden and wife of John Ramsey, left significantly more records than many woman of her time. In 1807, she began the purchase of the southeast 1/4 of section 28, township 18, range 17 (in present-day Thorn Township, Perry County, Ohio).[1] In doing so, she became the first woman to purchase land in present-day Perry County from the federal government.[2] What’s really neat about this — her husband was still living when she began the purchase.

When John died c1810, it was Elizabeth who was named as the administratrix of his estate.[3] She was also named the guardian of their two minor daughters Mary and Sarah.[4] It’s important to remember that the role a guardian was to protect the legal interests of the minors; it wasn’t to raise the minor. Although in this case, Elizabeth was doing that as well. What legal interests did Mary and Sarah have? Their portion of their father’s estate, including his land. They may also have been heirs to their grandfather’s estate, as there is a notation in John’s estate about money being paid to their sister Elizabeth receiving a bequest from it.

Elizabeth Ramsey appointed guardian of Mary and Sarah Ramsey. Case 1114, Fairfield County Probate Court, Lancaster, Ohio.

Elizabeth Ramsey appointed guardian of Mary and Sarah Ramsey. Case 1114, Fairfield County Probate Court, Lancaster, Ohio.

In another unusual move, Elizabeth actually left her own estate when she died in late 1832.[5] I still need to comb through the rest of her land records in Perry County, but apparently she died with enough property (or enough debts) to warrant opening an estate to settle it.

For all of the difficulties in tracing women, it is refreshing to have an ancestor who broke the mold.

[1] Land Grand Records, Chillicothe, Ohio Land Office. Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.
[2] L. Richard Kocher, A Listing of Entrymen on Lands in Perry Co, Ohio, Columbus: Woolkoch, 1993. [This book lists the original purchasers of land in present-day Perry County. The listing was read for female first name. Elizabeth Ramsey's entry in 1807 is the earliest with a female first name.]
[3] John Ramsey estate, case 65, Fairfield County, Ohio Probate Court, Lancaster, Ohio. [Note: Thorn and Hopewell Townships, where John and Elizabeth lived and owned land, was part of Fairfield County in 1810.]
[4] Mary and Sarah Ramsey guardianship, case 1114, Fairfield County Probate Court, Lancaster, Ohio.
[5] Minute Book F, Perry County Probate Court, New Lexington, Ohio, page 66. [Robert Fullerton and James H. Ramsey were appointed administrators of her estate in the November term, 1832.]