Update on Isaac Sturgell: A Brick Wall Every Step of the Way

Isaac Sturgell, who was the recent subject of 52 Documents in 52 Weeks, has been a particularly difficult person to trace. The first reason is simple enough – Sturgell is found as Sturgill, Sturgeon, Stodghill and who knows with what other spelling. That’s an easy enough workaround once you realize that’s the case. Isaac is mostly found as Sturgell/Sturgill and Sturgeon.

The second reason is that the man never sat still. He literally walked all through the Ozark Mountains. According to tax records, he was never taxed for personal property amounting to more than a few pigs – no horses at all.

It’s only been through the addition of accessible records that I’ve been able to track him. If he was asked to list every place he’s lived on a job application, he’d need two pages:

c1823 – Born in Virginia, probably Grayson County
1844 – Isaac Sturgeon married (1) Mary Bandy in Lawrence County, Ohio
1850 – Isaac and Mary Sturgeion living in Barry County, Missouri
1860 – Isaac Stigall living in Benton County, Arkansas with family
1867 – Married Susannah Alberty in Newton County, Missouri
1870 – Living in Barry County, Missouri
1875 – 12 June, Divorced in Barry County, Missouri
1876 – 27 April – Married Nancy Fields in Boone County, Arkansas
1876 – 30 November – Applied for land under Homestead Act in Barry County, Missouri
1877 – 1 August – Married Nancy Hensley in Pope County, Arkansas
1880 – MIA for the census (Conway County, Arkansas??? See below.)
1883 – Quit claimed land in Barry County, Missouri
1900 – MIA for the census
1902-onwards – Barry County, Missouri county farm (poor house) where he died on 26 February 1909

A long time ago, I found an Isaac Sturgeon living in Conway County, Arkansas in the 1880 census. I wrote him off because his occupation was “physician.” My Isaac was illiterate and never seemed to have more than two nickels to rub together, if even that.

As his second wife accused him of squandering the small inheritance she had from her first husband, it seemed more likely that he was a con man, given all of his marriages.

However, I’ve come to a different conclusion now. I think that this man is my Isaac for several reasons:

First, this Isaac Sturgeon, although at 62 a bit older than my Isaac and reportedly born in Missouri, is boarding in a household. If the wife gave the information to the census taker, she might have known that Isaac had ties to Missouri and she may have guessed at his age. I’m not sure Isaac knew exactly how old he was – he might have reported the wrong age. Isaac the physician doesn’t own any property of his own, at least not that he’s living on.

Second, he was in Conway County, Arkansas. The last documented fact for my Isaac before the census was his 1877 marriage to Nancy Hensley in Pope County, Arkansas. Take a look at the map:

Red Arrows: Isaac or his sons lived there

The red arrows indicate all the counties where Isaac and/or two of his sons lived. They did a good job of covered northwest Arkansas. Conway County is the county in the bottom right corner with the arrow pointing upward. Bordering Conway on the west is POPE County, which is where he married Nancy Hensley. (By the way, both Nancys – Fields and Hensley – are found living with other family members in the 1880 census, so they left and/or divorced Isaac in short order.)

Next, here is the census entry for Nancy Hensley, who reverted to her previous married name of Tredwell after she left Isaac.

Nancy was a midwife! Perhaps that’s how she met Isaac. If he had any medical knowledge at all, it must have been mountain medicine learned by necessity.

Lastly, if Isaac Sturgeon was a 62 year old physician, I would expect him to appear in one or more censuses back to 1850. The 1880 census is the one and only census appearance for this man, unless he is my Isaac.

As for the 1900 census, newspaper notices account for Isaac living at the county farm as early as 1902. I suspect he was already living there in 1900, but the county farm may well have been omitted from the census enumeration because I have looked page by page for it to no avail.

What do you think? Am I on the right track thinking that Isaac Sturgeon, physician, is really my black sheep Isaac Sturgell?


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