Every family has a lot of stories. Some of those stories seem farfetched. But in my experience of researching over the last 40 years, I’ve found that nearly every story has at its core a nugget of truth. Your job is to find it. Here’s the tale of how I did just that.

To start, we have to go back 40 years, before or at the Rundall-Hughes family reunion in Belgrade, Nebraska in 1977. I was fascinated by the relatives, and figuring out how people were connected. I spent a lot of time just listening. (But boy, now I sure wish I had had a tape recorder then.)

Mary Jane Delancey was the mother of Jennie Babe Rundall, who married Frank Amos Hughes, the couple that the whole reunion focused upon. While neither Jennie or Frank were alive in 1977, their kids were. Those kids had grown up hearing about Jennie’s family. And thus one of the first stories I heard was that two of Mary Jane Delancey’s sisters had married some Smith cousins.  Mary Jane’s mother was Elizabeth Smith – and for years that was a big dead end for me. She had died before death certificates, before birth certificates, and before marriage records routinely included parents names. As well, Elizabeth Smith had married James Starr Delancey in 1844, BEFORE the 1850 Census, which was the first to list every white person by name. How could I possibly prove who the parents of Elizabeth were, when both Elizabeth and Smith were so very common?

(My pre-teen self was also sort of shocked – how could anyone even consider marrying a cousin? Yeah, now I know that marrying a relative was not only extremely common before the automobile made travel so much easier, but it could be hard to AVOID marrying a relative. The migration paths a family took from the East coast to the Midwest tended to follow the paths of other people from their old home towns. So you might have moved, but your relatives & extended family moved right along with you.)

The first step was looking at the Smith spouses and the Delancey girls, the sisters of Mary Jane. Rebecca Elizabeth Delancey married Benjamin Franklin Smith and William Harrison Smith married Carrie Amanda Delancey. Silly me, I assumed that they must be brothers, because surely those boys must have been named by parents that were super into politics. No, I’ve since come to find out that literally thousands and thousands of children born between the American Revolution & Civil War are named after famous political figures, a habit that didn’t die, just switched to Civil War generals.

So I started seeking out census records, looking for proof of relationship. In the 1880 census and later, relationships were explicitly stated – wife, step-son, mother, cousin, etc. But you didn’t always know WHICH person the relationship titles were referring to – the husband, or the wife? It was supposed to be the husband as the reference person, but I’ve found lots of times the relationships actually connect to the wife. In the 1850, 1860, & 1870 – relationship are NOT specifically stated – but the enumerators generally did the husband & wife, and then unmarried kids in oldest to youngest order, then any married children & spouses & kids, then any other relatives or unrelated persons. Anytime the ages don’t go just oldest to youngest, there is usually something other than one nuclear family in the household.

The 1850, 1860, 1870, & 1880 census records for Elizabeth Smith Delancey were quite disappointing – no obvious extra people in the household. But there are useful clues if we look deeper. In the 1880 census, Elizabeth, 56, born in Ohio, with her father is said to have been born in Germany, her mother in Pennsylvania. Elizabeth died in 1880, but in 1900 James was living with Carrie & William H Smith in Cedar Rapids, Boone county, Nebraska. Still, none of these details prove a connection between Elizabeth Smith & the two Smith sons-in-law. So let’s look at the property question for a moment. According to census records, James Delancey owned $600 of real estate in 1850 in Manchester township, Morgan county, Ohio; no property in 1860 in Prairie Creek township, Dubuque county, Iowa; and in 1870 James had $6,500 of real estate, and $3,800 of personal property in Boulder township, Linn county, Iowa. The 1880 didn’t include any place to record property value, but they were still in Boulder township. The 1900 doesn’t have any property value, but James’ occupation is “landlord”, which implies he owns land. (The 1890 census was mostly destroyed by fire. That 20 year gap makes genealogy tough. A girl born in 1881 may have gotten married before 1900. If the marriage license doesn’t list parents, you have a much harder time to prove the parents.)

Knowing when & where a family owned real estate lets you look for tax records, land purchase & sale records (you want to ask for the Grantee-Grantor index) and also lets you check to see if your ancestor was the first to claim the land from the US government – a document called a land Patent. It is not uncommon for relative to also patent land close by. If you owned land at your death, it is almost certain to have produced probate records as well. All of these sources can help you uncover relatives. We will come back to this later.

Back to the census. Looking at William H Smith, Carrie’s husband, we find him in 1880 Cedar township, Boone county, Nebraska listed as the son of Ephraim Smith. The very next household has James A Smith, a 68 year old farmer, born in Pennsylvania, whose parents were born in Germany & Pennsylvania. That Germany & Pennsylvania parent birth location is pretty important. James A Smith could be Elizabeth’s sibling.  While there is no obvious connection between the two Smith households, Ephraim is 47, so he COULD be the child of James A Smith.  Looking farther back, in 1850, an Ephraim Smith of the proper age, is living with James A Smith (also the proper age) in Olive township, Morgan county, Ohio. We can find James in 1870 South Fork township, Delaware county, Iowa, with his housekeeper Margaret Cornell, but no Ephraim. We really need the 1860 census, with Ephraim in the same family as James to be sure they are father & son.

But now it is time for a secret – there are more census records available than just the Decennial census taken in years ending in zero. Especially in states with rapidly growing populations, state census enumerations were authorized at other times. Nebraska took one in 1885. In Cedar precinct, Boone county, Nebraska 1885, James Delancey, a widower, had just his youngest daughter, Carrie, living with him, and also his “nephew”, W H Smith. Carrie & WH weren’t married yet, but did the next year. (Which we know because the 1900 census for William & Carrie said they’d been married 14 years.) James A Smith is on the next page of the 1885 census, and still says his parents were born in Germany & Pennsylvania. (Sometimes those birth or parent birth locations change – that is usually a product of WHO is giving the census worker information. In general, trust the information that is given closest to the event – but be aware if your person of interest is not one of the main family members, the answers could be wildly wrong.) Ephraim Smith is in Cedar Rapids, Boone county, Nebraska in 1885.

Back to the census records, and the OTHER Delancey sister – Rebecca Elizabeth – who married B F Smith are together in 1900 in Belgrade, Timber Creek township, Nance county, Nebraska where we find Benjamin F Smith (born May of 1855) and Rebecca, and two children in the family. There is a notation that Rebecca had given birth to 3, although only 2 were alive. In 1885, BF Smith, age 30, has a 23 year old wife “Nancy” and a baby son Arthur, when they were in Timber Creek precinct, Nance county, Nebraska. (While Nancy is not a traditional nickname for Rebecca Elizabeth, the weight of other evidence, including their 1883 marriage record, leads me to conclude that this IS the family we are looking at.) In 1870 Lincoln township, Linn county, Kansas, there is a 15 year old Benjamin in the household of Manasseuh Smith.  In the 1860 Union township, Delaware county, Iowa, we have Manessa Smith, age 38, born Pennsylvania, and he has a 5 year old son Benjamin born Iowa. On that same page are surnames we recognize from back in Ohio – Keith and Delancey. The page before includes Amos G Smith, and a widowed Smith with children. 1850 Jackson township, Morgan county, Ohio is the location of Manasseh Smith.

I’m having problems finding Benjamin in 1880. His father died in 1875, and while his step-mother was living up in Boone county – I couldn’t find Benjamin . So sometimes you go at a problem sideways. Start searching for the full siblings. Sometimes because of bad census handwriting or bad digital transcriptions, the search engines won’t find your person, but might catch the sibling. Don’t forget to expand the age range, when you are searching. If you are looking for a woman, I usually expand the age range to 5 years before and 10 years after the date I think she was born. If you have a particular census year you can’t find someone, and it is shortly before they or their sibling got married, try searching for the spouse with their maiden name. People tend to marry people they live near, so you can scan the census pages near the spouse to look for your missing person. It might not work, but these techniques work fairly often. Benjamin & his two full siblings are still AWOL in 1880.

So to recap:

  • James Delancey & Elizabeth Smith are the parents of Rebecca E Delancey & Carrie Amanda Delancey, as well as Mary Jane Delancey Rundall (my ancestor.)
  • Rebecca & Carrie married Smith “cousins.”
  • William Harrison Smith, the husband of Carrie Amanda Delancey, is the “nephew” of James Delancey.
  • William Harrison Smith is the son of Ephraim Smith.
  • Ephraim Smith was a child in the household of James A Smith in 1850, and lived right next door to Ephraim Smith in 1880.
  • James A Smith lists the same locations for his parents’ birth as Elizabeth Smith.
  • James A Smith was born about 1811, too young to be the father of Elizabeth Smith, born about 1824.
  • James A Smith & Elizabeth Smith Delancey could be siblings, which would make Ephraim Smith most likely Elizabeth’s nephew, and William H Smith the great-nephew of James & Elizabeth Delancey.
  • AND
  • Benjamin F Smith married Rebecca Elizabeth Delancey.
  • An age matched Benjamin Smith is in the household of Manasseh Smith in 1860 & 1870.
  • Manasseh Smith is born in Pennsylvania, about 1821 – again too young to be the father of Elizabeth Smith.

However, while we can make a relatively good case for James A Smith being the brother of Elizabeth Smith, we have nothing solid other than common Ohio beginnings to link Manasseh as another sibling. So we go looking for published county histories. An 1912 book states that the parents of Benjamin F Smith were Manassah Smith & Mary Ann Smith. Mary Ann died when BF was 2, and Manassah remarried. That is all confirmed by census records. While those history books have some errors, again, they often have many nuggets of truth inside.

Now we go have to back in time – before Ancestry & Family Search became the powerhouses they are, there were smaller volunteer-driven projects to digitize and share genealogical resources on the new-fangled World Wide Web. USGenWeb and their state and county projects are still a good resource to check. Rootsweb unfortunately has become less viable, but if you find a reference to a file that was stored on Rootsweb, you can try dropping that in to the Wayback Machine.

Ted and Carole Miller were an amazing couple who transcribed many, many different sources. Unfortunately, I can’t find the Boone county Nebraska Marriage files online anymore, but I did save a copy several years ago of books 1-3. I’m not positive they were transcribed by the Millers, but I suspect so.  In my experience comparing the transcriptions to the originals, they did an excellent job, so I trust the transcription.

Boone County – Marriage book 1, record #113, 2 January 1880, James A Smith FINALLY married Margaret Connell. (She had been his housekeeper for the last 30 years.) And by 1880, counties were requiring parents’ names on the marriage license. So we know that Bernard Smith and Elizabeth Griffith were James A Smith’s parents. James’ son Ephram Smith was one of the witnesses. There are also several marriages for the children of Manasseh Smith, showing again the truth in the biography, and which child listed in the census records belonged to which mother. (I’m still searching for this resource online.)

Now we check back in the area of Ohio we KNOW Elizabeth Smith lived, and her husband’s family lived. There are Census & Tax records in Guernsey county in the name (with variations) of Bernard Smith in 1820, 1826, 1828, 1829, 1830 census, 1830 tax, 1831, and 1832. The digitized tax records stop, so we don’t know if it is that Bernard died, or if the records just were lost or not digitized.  The census records give us probable ages of Bernard Smith & Elizabeth Griffith, and have children of the proper age to be James A, Manasseh, AND Elizabeth Smith. (along with 3 other siblings.) The tax records were alphabetized, which helps with finding, but doesn’t let us learn anything about their residence order and neighbors. But in 1820, Barnet Smith was enumerated right after Widow Hughs and Aren Hughes. That Aaron Hughes is actually an ancestor of Frank Amos Hughes, who ends up married to Jennie Babe Rundall in Belgrade, NE. Remember what I said about the whole group of extended family and neighbors moving together?

On the land that became Noble County in 1851, we have a patent issued to James Anderson Smith of Morgan county, Ohio,  in 1837. Usually the patent is issued several years after the original papers were filed and the money paid. (This is well before the Homestead Act – most of our ancestors BOUGHT their land.) That would mean that James Anderson Smith would have needed to be an adult – aka at least 21 years old.  Men normally were 21 before they got married – so the Guernsey county marriage of James Anderson Smith and Mary Jane Cornel on 14 June 1832 matches with that as well – helping to prove the age on the headstone is accurate.  Both the marriage record and the land patent use the full name of James Anderson Smith – helping us be sure we are talking about the same people.

Knowing that James Anderson Smith got land in Morgan county in 1837, we look for and find him in the 1840 census, in Manchester township, Morgan county, Ohio. Enumerated right after Jas A Smith was Elizabeth Smith, and then David Delancey, who was 20-30 years old at the time. There is a brother of James Starr Delancey named David, who is the right age to be THIS David. That gives one way for James Starr Delancey to have met Elizabeth Smith. I’m fairly sure that Elizabeth Smith, most likely a widow as she was a head of household, is the mother of James A Smith, and the rest of the household members match the ages of the 1820 census kids, and Elizabeth & Manasseh.

Now I’ve found some truth – if both Manasseh & James Anderson Smith are brothers of my Elizabeth Smith, then their son/grandson married Elizabeth’s daughters. The Smith men were cousins to each other, and to their wives – first cousins for Benjamin and first cousins once removed for William. This theory fits the family story and the available facts, so I’m confident it is accurate.

Bernard Smith kids.jpg

But I sure would like to find a will of Bernard or Elizabeth Smith, to prove it. That would also help me figure out the other three kids, known only as tick marks on the census pages.

And thus is born my attempt to untangle the Smiths in Morgan/Noble county. It is a crazy project – over 80 Smith family groups or individual in just Morgan county in 1850, not counting the families that I can prove the wife was a Smith at her birth. But that is why you will be seeing other posts, as I untangle a section at a time. Bookmark this – there will be more posts added and linked here.