Sunday, October 6, 2013

William Sullivan is AWOL in 1850

I have spent all day trying to find the William Sullivan Family in 1850.  With no luck.  But some leads.  Let me explain: 

William is my great great-grandfather, married to Susanna Lambert.  I know William and Susan both emigrated from Ireland, probably in the mid-1830’s. 

1-Lynn Anne HANSON (19xx- )
2-Patricia Ethel SULLIVAN (1927-2013)
3-William Augustine SULLIVAN (1877-1957)
4-Michael SULLIVAN (1847-1929)
5-William SULLIVAN (1818-1893)
            Married abt 1843
5-Susanna LAMBERT (1822-1904)

From their obituaries, we learn what they and/or their children remember about their early years. 

As written in his 1893 obituary, William:
  •       landed in Baltimore in 1836
  •            lived in Rochester NY
  •       moved to Canadaigua, Ontario County, NY for 5 years where he married  Susanna Lambert on January 20, 1843
  •      arrived in Milwaukee Wisconsin fall of 1843 [Author’s note: Margaret was  born Nov 1843]
  •      bought 80 acres in Erin, section 23, where he lived for 50 years [Author’s  note: This implies he lived on land starting in 1843]
  •      was appointed County Commissioner in 1844 and served for 2 years
  •      was the first chairman and treasurer of his town
  •      served on the Board of Supervisors for several years
  •           bought land for the county farm in 1845

As written in her 1904 obituary, Susanna
  •          was born in Ireland Jan 1824,
  •          emigrated to Quebec, Canada at age 9 [Author’s note: about 1833]
  •          went to New York City “when she was old enough to leave home” [Author’s note: perhaps about 1840]
  •          met and married William in New York City in 1842
  •          came to Wisconsin that same year
  •          stayed in Milwaukee for a short time
  •          moved to Erin
  •          lived for 50 years on the farm now owned by Michael Powell [Author’s note: They would have sold the farm about 1892]

Do you see some contradictions in stories?  Hoo boy….  Presumably, William’s obituary was written with input from Susanna and almost 10 years earlier when she was just shy of 70 years old.  Susanna’s obituary may well have been written by her children who weren’t around in her early life.  Neither obituary is particularly reliable information as it is written well after the facts we’re looking for.

In 1850, William is about 32, Susanna, about 26. They have 4 children: Margaret (about 7), Mary Ann (about 5), Michael (about 3) and James (about 1).  Government land records list a William Sullivan as purchaser of parcels of land in 1844 and 1849 in section 23 of Erin, Washington County, Wisconsin.

So, it would seem the logical first place to look for the family is in Erin township.  They probably own land, their obituaries both mention they have lived for 50 years on the same farm (which for William’s death date, would have to have been purchased about 1843). Finding historical records of county and township officers would provide confirmation of location as well. 

With this information as background (taken with a grain of salt), I have searched every page of the 1850 Erin Township census rolls (luckily, only about 25 pages in 1850) and printed out pages that contained Sullivan family names.  There are 5 Sullivan families living in Erin Township in 1850.    One family is just a couple.  Another has only 3 children, all boys, all born in New York, including a set of twins. And a third family has parents that are too old, has 6 children whose names and ages don’t match our family.  So, 3 families are eliminated pretty easily.

The last 2 families look like this:

  •          Wm. Sulivan, age 31 Male, Farmer, land valued at $1,000, born in Ireland     
  •          E.  Sulivan, age 28 Female, born in Ireland     
  •          Marthy Sulivan, age 6, female, born in Wis.        
  •          Elen Sulivan, 5, F, Wis.        
  •          Daniel Sulivan, 3, M, Wis.        
  •          John Sulivan, 1, M, Wis.        
  •          Sarah Sulivan, 3/12 [3 months old] F,Wis.        
  •          M. Dunivan [Sullivan?], 50, F, Ireland     
  •          J.   Sulivan, 27, M, Labourer, Ireland     

This family starts with a William, of the correct age, whose wife and children also are about right with the exception of the child named Sarah.  I currently have a best guess birth date for William’s 5th child, a daughter named Catherine, as Feb 1851.  This child would be a almost a year older than that, born in June of 1850. The two adults at the end were undoubtedly living and working on the farm, not at all unusual to find in farm census data.  The biggest problem is the names of the wife and children.  Not one of them matches the names we know are right for this family.  Marthy could be Margaret, but the others aren’t even close.  

Looking for this family in records going forward might help eliminate or prove them as our William Sullivan family.  Also finding the elusive birth records for the children would help confirm their birth location and dates. But for now, I have to consider this family not a match.I’m not too concerned about the ages being off a bit.  Census records are notoriously inaccurate in these. I can imagine all sorts of scenarios where those interviewed might mis-state ages or enumerators mis-hear or mis-write what they hear. 

The last Erin Sullivan family also holds possibilities.  The original page has what appears to be a piece of tape (rectangular strip darkened differently than the page written on). It happens to cross over the Sullivan head of household and his wife, obscuring the text.  To exacerbate the issue, this enumerator didn't gather first names, just wrote the last name for each person.  So we have:

  •          T. (?) Sull**** ?, Male, Farmer, property valued at $2,000, born in Ireland [Age unreadable]
  •          --Sull**** 35 Female, Ireland     
  •          --Sullivan, 10 Male, born in Mass.       
  •          --Sullivan, 8 Female, Mass.        
  •          --Sullivan, 4 M, Wisconsin   
  •          --Sullivan, 2 F, Wisconsin   

Here we have the right number of children, approximately the right age and sex, except for the oldest child.  The mother is also significantly older than we would have expected. And two of the children were born in Massachusetts.  This is not likely our family either.  But the same further checking as above applies here too. 

In addition, looking at surrounding families and plat maps might shed some light on where within the census process our Sullivan’s might have been expected. Census takers went from house to house in geographic order, as much as possible and the census documents this order by using dwelling numbers and family numbers and in cities, names of streets and house numbers. 

For the moment, I have given up on finding William in the census and have made some quick checks for possible online records about early township officers and birth records for the children.  Nothing surfaced at all – no records anywhere.  Ugh! 

It looks like trips to Wisconsin Vital Records and the Wisconsin Historical Society, and probably Hartford's History Center, are in order.  I’m not too good at doing on-site research yet, but it looks like I’m going to learn. 

And it’s possible that this may have to wait till after Christmas.  I’ve given myself one more week to work on this research and then it must be put aside for some sewing and scrapbooking, some cooking and decorating. Christmas is just around the corner if I want to make something personal for gifts.  Yikes!

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