Friday, January 11, 2013

Breaking Down One of My Brick Walls

     It started out so simple: trace my husband’s family back as far as possible. I zipped through Marvin and Edwin and Elmer and then slammed into a brick wall of epic proportions. Who was Elmer’s father???
     I searched and searched, I mean, after all, Elmer isn’t all that popular of a name. But it wasn’t until I found his death record after searching for months that I had a name for his father: Nathan.

     “Great! This will be easy!” I thought. Just find Nathan and Hannah and keep on moving back in time.
     And there it sat for the next four or five years. I could not find Nathan ANYWHERE! I found Hannah, a widow, with Elmer and his sisters in 1870:

     I even found Elmer in 1880 when he was working for his aunt and uncle. But no Nathan. I did the math and figured that Nathan and Hannah were married before 1859 and so looked for Nathan as a single man in 1850. No luck. How about as a married man in 1860? Nope. 
     Did the man exist?
     I always look at death certificates with a bit of reserve. I mean, after all, the person who knows the information isn’t really able to provide it. And grieving family members are not in the best shape to supply accurate information. My father had to call me after his mother died to get a proper list of her siblings, as well as her parents’ names. We don’t function at our best when we have suffered a loss.
     Maybe Nathan was not Elmer’s father’s name. Maybe it was something like that, or maybe it was completely different. So I searched and searched for Hannah. She should be in the 1860 U.S. Census with a husband and baby Alice. No luck again.
     How about Alice? Just look for an infant in the 1860 Census. Still nothing.
     And yes, I tried every possible spelling for “Eakman”: Ackman, Eckman, Aikman, Heckman, Oakman, Hackman, Eichman, and on and on. Same for Nathan: Nate, Nathaniel, Jonathan, Dathan, Nathon, and all of the other possibilities.
     So there the tree sat, waiting for someone to move it back in time.
     Finally last summer I got smart and wrote to the Armstrong County Clerk of Courts and found a lovely and friendly lady there who was willing to dig around for me. All I knew was that Nathan Eakman probably died between 1862 and 1870, and that he wasn’t a Civil War soldier. (I had searched the National Park Service Database as well as with no luck.)
     The next day I received a reply. They had found the estate records for Nathan Eakman and she was photocopying them for me in return for some puny sum of money which I gladly paid over.
     The envelope arrived with a cornucopia of information. I received the bill for Nathan’s coffin which you have already seen. I received the clothing bill for his burial suit.

     I am not sure what the final entry is…looks like “Ent Coffin” which makes no sense to me. Also somewhat senseless to my frugal mind is this bill:

     Four dollars and fifty cents for an alpaca coat to bury a man in? Really? That means Nathan’s entire suit – pants, socks, shoes, necktie, and alpaca coat – cost $12.35 or $1,740 in today’s money. And it’s not like Hannah was inheriting a lot of money. 
     The appraisal of Nathan’s estate was pathetic and bordering on the ridiculous. The total value of his possessions, including the value of the crops in the field, was $292.60, or $41,200, and included such gems as one old cooking stove, one axe, and a clock. The most valuable items were Nathan’s horses: a $50 mare and an $80 mare with a colt.
     Pennsylvania law allowed the widow to take $300 prior to any payments. But Nathan’s estate was not even worth the $300 minimum.

     After going through the papers I was convinced that Nathan was a real person, but I was no closer to finding his parents. And I still didn’t know why he didn’t show up in the 1860 US Census. Or the 1850 US Census. And I didn't know his date of death, let alone a cause of death.
     I wrote to Armstrong County again and asked for Nathan’s will. There wasn’t one. Any other paperwork relating to Nathan? No, nothing. How about Hannah? They sent me two bills of sale for land involving a Hannah Eakman, but I am not convinced that this is the wife of Nathan. She didn’t inherit any land from Nathan, so how did she end up with any land to sell?
     My head aching from banging it into that brick wall, I turned my attention to other genealogical pursuits.

Tomorrow: How I Finally Broke Through the Brick Wall.

Or: I created a small hole in the wall and can see through it to a certain extent, but I don't have the whole picture, but progress is progress, so I won’t complain.


  1. thanks for sharing your brick wall! It is nice to find that one person in the clerk's office who is willing to help!

  2. Yes, I was thrilled to find someone so helpful. As she found other records she sent them to me and just billed me when they were all discovered. Nice, nice lady