Category Archives: Methodology

Guardianship File for “An Idler and his Family”

I’ve been researching the family tree now for 40 years and I have to say this is the first and only time I’ve seen a “guardianship” file like this one. It’s 127 pages long.

While working on all the Bucknam posts and updating my facts, I came across guardianship (File #3380) for Ebenezer Bucknam Jr.  in Stoneham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts in 1805. I initially took a look because I thought it was possible he was a son of one of my Ebenezers (the one born in 1762 in Malden, MA to James Bucknam and Mary Goddard), for whom I have no death date.

Not so, but I stumbled upon what I think was a very unusual situation.

Are you familiar with the term “warning out”? Warnings out were issued for many years by various Massachusetts towns to a person/people or family who were not residents and who either couldn’t or wouldn’t support themselves through honest work.

Such people were “warned out” to return to their home town, who would then be responsible for their care. It was the colonial and early American way of avoiding welfare costs that the town would have to cover. I believe that warnings out went out of style after the 18th century.

At first glance at the guardianship file of Ebenezer Bucknam, I wondered what in the world could have happened for a file to be that long, even if Ebenezer was an infant when orphaned.

First, we need to know who Ebenezer Bucknam Jr. was. One Ebenezer Bucknam was born in Stoneham on 29 January 1743/44, the son of Edward and Sarah Bucknam. If this is the correct Ebenezer, then he married Mary Hay on 11 November 1762, in Stoneham, two months shy of his 19th birthday. Mary was born 12 October 1741, the daughter of Peter Hay (1696-1790) and his second wife, Isabel Green. Most males married around age 25, so an 18 year old marrying in that time period in New England is quite unusual.

In any case, Ebenezer Bucknam and wife Mary became the parents of Ebenezer Bucknam Jr., born 7 February 1766, also in Stoneham. By trade, Ebenezer Jr. became a cordwainer, a shoe maker who makes shoes from new leather.

Ebenezer Jr. married Rachel Lovejoy, likely soon after intentions were filed on 16 March 1786 in Stoneham. Rachel died, aged 67, on 8 January 1836, also in Stoneham.

Ebenezer and Rachel had the following children, all born in Stoneham:

1. Sarah, baptized 3 July 1791
2. Lusa (Lucy?), born 19 December 1791
3. William, baptized 9 September 1792
4. William, born 9 August 1798
5. Jesse, born 1 October 1800; died 4 April 1801
6. Rebecca, born 1 October 1801
7. Jesse, born 6 February 1804
8. Rachel, born 7 July 1808

The very first item in Ebenezer’s guardianship packet is a bond for Jabez Lynde, guardian of Ebenezer Bucknam, dated 20 June 1806. The reason for the guardianship is immediately clear:

Ebenezer, “an idler”

The second document, a complaint by the Stoneham town selectman, dated 10 April 1805 (the documents are not in chronological order) shed more light on Ebenezer’s problems:

His excessive drinking and lack of productive work were putting himself and his family in danger of destitution and therefore becoming a welfare charge to the town, who would have to support the family.

Even if warnings out had still been issued in the 1800s, Ebenezer and his family were residents of Stoneham, so could not have been warned out anyway. They were Stoneham’s problem.

Many of the documents in this file are lists of debts and creditors’ claims against Ebenezer Jr. Why would the judge decide appoint a guardian for him rather than sentencing him to jail?

This is just speculation on my part, but the Hay family was very powerful in Stoneham. Peter Hay, Ebenezer’s grandfather, was very wealthy and the family held many town positions through the years. Ebenezer was likely a great embarrassment to his family and it was probably hoped that a guardian could keep him under control and keep the family out of the poorhouse.

The judge issued an order to Ebenezer to appear in court to show cause why he should not have a guardian appointed:

Whereas the Selection of Stoneham aforesaid have represented to me the subscriber Judge of Probate for said County that by excessive drinking and idleness you to spend waste and lessen your estate as thereby to expose yourself and family to want and suffering circumstances and also to endanger the said town of Stoneham to charge and expense for your and their maintenance and support.

Mr. Lynde carried out his responsibilities until 13 January 1809, with Ebenezer’s cash on hand at one point being $191.09 with debts amounting to $882.37. At that point, he asked that Mr. peter Hay Jr. be appointed to take on guardianship of “the spendthrift.” to put these amounts in perspective, $191 is worth about $3900 today, while $882 is the equivalent of about $18,000.

The probate judge approved the appointment of Peter Hay as the new guardian. The lists of income and expenses continued on as Mr. Hay carried out his job. By February 1815, Peter Hay had had enough:

“but now finding it verry disagreable and troublesome to act any longer in Said capacity of guardian to the Said Bucknam”

The judge must have decided that caring for Ebenezer Bucknam was a two-man job, as in 1816, Aaron Stone and Nathaniel Richardson were appointed guardians. They added yet another uncomplimentary term to Ebenezer’s behavior:

“excessive drinking, idleness and debauchery”

After 25 years of guardianship, a petition from Ebenezer himself appears on 11 January 1830, stating that he can care for himself and asks the court to dismiss his guardians:

However, the judge wasn’t having any of that and Ebenezer’s petition was denied in April 1830. Several months later, on 17 August 1830, Stone and Richardson stepped down and Jesse Green was appointed to serve as Ebenezer’s latest guardian.

Ebenezer made another petition to the court on 28 April 1835, again asking to be released from guardianship. This time, Selectmen Peter Hay and Ira Gerry came out in favor of dismissal.

This is the most recent date found in the probate file of Ebenezer Bucknam. He was apparently set free from his guardianship. However, there is no death date entered for him in the Stoneham town records, nor in any other town records in Massachusetts for that matter.

What a sad life he and his family led, having belongings appraised and sold off to pay debts with the same cycle repeating itself year after year after year.





Ervin Thompson of MO, TX, NE and IA: Son of Ephraim & Sarah Curry Thompson

Sometimes, I think it is just serendipity! I’ve recently spent weeks on the Thompson clan and had to search many different ways to try to uncover the children of Ephraim who were born after 1810.

I wasn’t too hopeful of success, but I’ve found all – I think –  but for one son and daughter.

Ervin Thompson, subject of today’s family sketch, was a complete surprise. I had never seen his name anywhere and would have ignored him except for one very important detail.

I tried many different keywords when searching for more information that might relate to my Ephraim Thompson and Sarah Curry.

Look what popped up for one of them:

This is a marriage record for one Ervin Thompson, aged 52 years, to Harriet C(harlotte) (Clark) Vessel, 30 years old, on 26 February 1870 in Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska.

This wouldn’t have mean anything to me EXCEPT that the bride and groom were required to provide the names of their parents and look who Ervin named – Ephraim and Sarah “Currey.”

Ervin Thompson
Source: FamilySearch Memories

Ervin was also born in Missouri and, being 52 years old in 1870, he was born c1818, soon after the family settled in Howard County.

This led me on another not-so-easy chase for information about Ervin. The big websites don’t have all of Ervin’s records linked together, so it meant another couple of days of experimenting with searches.

Ervin Thompson was born c1818, Howard County, Missouri. He died on died 4 May 1884 in Harrison County, Iowa.

If it weren’t for finding his marriage record to Harriet, I never, ever would have found him.

You see, Ervin was long gone from Missouri by 1850. He was enumerated in that census in Travis County, Texas with wife Mahala (Mussett) and their children.

Why was he so hard to find? Well, for starters, he was enumerated as Ivy Thompson and his wife as Wakaby! I think this was one of those record sets not indexed by a native English speaker because I would read his wife’s name as Mahaly.

Mahala Mussett was born c1814 in Ohio and married (1) Michael Costley on 18 January 1927, Washington County, Missouri. She is consistently several years older than Ervin in the few records in which they are found together.

The marriage date for Ervin and Mahala – 1839 in Coryell County – is not accurate as the county wasn’t even formed until 1852. The earliest parent county, Milam, doesn’t seem to have a record for them either.

It is possible that Mahala and Ervin never married, as I found an interesting tidbit about her first husband, Michael Costley:

W. E. Costley was born December 25, 1832 in Austin County, Texas to Michael Costley and Elizabeth Reed.  A second son, James, was b. 1835.   Michael was killed November 16 1837 by W.R.D. Spieght, the first District Clerk of Nacogdoches, Texas who didn’t approve of the fact that Costley was still married to Mahala Mussett, his first wife. A huge battle ensued over the thousands of acres of land that Michael owned and who had a right to it.  After Michael’s death, Elizabeth married two more times.

By 1850, Michael had died and the Thompsons are found in Travis County, Texas with the following children:

  1. Sennit, born c1840, Arkansas
  2. Eliza, born c1842, Arkansas
  3. Tyre, born c1844, Texas
  4. James, born c1846, Texas
  5. Mary, born c1847, Texas
  6. Susan, born c1849, Texas

Sennit, or Sennet, is a name found in the Mussett family. Tyre is also a Mussett name. Notice that they were born in Arkansas.

No marriage record has been found anywhere for Ervin and Mahalia – not in Arkansas, nor Missouri, nor Texas.

The family had moved to Coryell County, Texas by 1860.

Sennit was no longer in the home and I haven’t found him in any other records. He may have had a different first name or he may have died young. He would have only been 20 years old in 1860, so he might have died.

Ervin was 43 years old, so born c1817, Missouri. Mahala was 46 years old, so born c1814, Ohio.

Children, all born in Texas:

  1. Tira (I think this is Tyre), born c1845, noted as crippled
  2. James, born 1846
  3. Mary, born 1847
  4. Susan, born 1851
  5. Thomas, born 1854

Also in the home are two farmhands, who are very important supporting evidence connecting Ervin to Ephraim. James Copeland and C.P. Alexander, both 25 years old and both born in Missouri are more than just boarders. James is the son of Ervin’s sister, Rebecca, and C(ommodore) P(erry) Alexander is the son of Ervin’s sister, Hannah.

We’ve now reached the Civil War time frame. Ephraim Thompson enlisted as a private in the Company for the 2nd Frontier District for Coryell County on 30 January 1864 in Gatesville, Texas and served until 31 May 1864. His age is given as 46 years old.

At some point in the 1860s, Mahala was again abandoned by a husband. I have not been able to find her in the 1870 census, even though she appears on the Coryell County tax rolls until 1873, with her estate listed in 1874. Nor can I find youngest child Thomas Benton Thompson in 1870.

Mahala died on 3 July 1873 and is buried at Copperas Cove Cemetery. Her gravestone clearly identifies her as the wife of Ervin Thompson.

That leaves open the question of whether Ervin and Mahala separated and/or divorced or if he just disappeared one day and never came back home.

By 1870, as we already know, Ervin had married Hattie Vessel, who was 22 years younger than him. They were living in Omaha at the time of the census with three children, who were Harriet’s by a previous marriage to Thomas Vessel:


1. Josephine, born 1858, Georgia
2. John, born 1860, Georgia
3. Cora, born 1862, Georgia

The 1880 census found the Thompsons living in Rockford, Pottawattamie County, Iowa with a second set of Thompson children, all born in Iowa:

  1. Ervin H., born 1871
  2. George M., born 1875
  3. Robert T., born 1877
  4. Myrtle, born 1879

John and Cora, now correctly identified as Vessel children and stepchildren of Ervin, were also still at home.

Ervin Thompson died on 4 May 1884 and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery, Harrison County, Iowa. Harriet survived him by many years, passing away on 19 March 1905. She is buried with Ervin.

What became of all of Ervin’s children?

With Mahala:

  1. Sennit, born c1840, Arkansas; died after 1850; no further record.
  2. Eliza, born c1842, Arkansas; died after 1850; no further record.
  3. Tira (I think this is Tyre M.), born c1845, noted as crippled; died after 1871, when he appears on the tax roll of Coryell County, Texas. No further record.
  4. James Ervin, born 2 November 1846, Texas; died 23 July 1919, Coryell County, Texas; married (1) Sarah Coulston, 26 May 1870, Coryell County, Texas (2) Martha Simpson, 15 August 1872, Coryell County, Texas. They were the parents of seven children.
  5. Mary Jane, born December 1847/48; died 27 March 1913, Tom Green County, Texas; married (1) Preston Chandler, 26 January 1866, Coryell County, Texas (2) Pinkney Eli Beeson, 19 April 1883, Coryell County, Texas and who died 22 January 1896, Tom Green County, Texas. She was the mother of four children, one with Preston Chandler and three with Pink Beeson.
  6. Susan, born 1851, Texas; died after 1880; married Thomas Walters, 21 September 1868, Coryell County, Texas. They were the parents of at least three children.
  7. Thomas Benton, born 25 November 1853, Texas; died 21 June 1918, Tom Green County, Texas; married Lillian Texas Hollingsworth, 1 May 1889, Coryell County, Texas. They were the parents of four sons.

With Harriet:

  1. Ervin Hill, born 14 December 1870, Douglas County, Nebraska; died 25 February 1949, Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie, Iowa; married Aurenia Cornelia Fosdick, 25 January 1905, Harrison County, Iowa. They were the parents of eleven children.
  2. George Milam, born 13 May 1875, Iowa; died 6 January 1963, Harrison County, Iowa; married Samantha Lovinia Berry, 18 September 1906, Pottawattamie County, Iowa. Samantha married (1) Henry Case, 16 September 1890, Harrison County, Iowa. They were the parents of three children.
  3. Robert Travis, born 5 June 1877, Iowa; died 29 September 1966, Harrison County, Iowa; married Clara Ardilla Skelton, 6 December 1899, Harrison County, Iowa. They were the parents of three children.
  4. May Myrtle, born 8 April 1880, Floyd County, Iowa; died 26 July 1952, Pueblo County, Colorado; married (1) Charles E. Richards, 4 February 1896, Pottawattamie County, Iowa (2) James Felix Mizell, 5 April 1919, Pueblo County, Colorado. May had seven children with Charles Richards and two children with James Mizell.

If you are a descendant of Ervin Thompson, I’d love to hear from you to learn more about his life.






Strategies for Sorting Men of the Same Name: How Did I Work Through the Lawrence Thompson Project?

Today brings a final look at the “How did I do it?” steps as I tried to sort out Lawrence Thompson and his namesakes.

I began with just one research question – Was Lawrence Thompson the father of my husband’s 4X great grandfather, Ephraim Thompson?

My question was formed by finding that both Lawrence and Ephraim Thompson lived in Mercer and then Washington Counties, Kentucky in the 1790s. Lawrence appeared to be old enough to possibly be his father and he disappeared from the Kentucky records after the 1810 census.

Here’s one more look at my favorite “go to” resources to solve difficult genealogy problems. (Newspapers should also definitely be in this list if the time period is appropriate):

  1. Vital Records
  2. Census Records
  3. Probate Records
  4. Land Deeds
  5. Military Records
  6. Tax Lists
  7. Court Minutes & Court Orders
  8. Google Search
  9. Families Histories
  10. Naming Patterns
  11. Online Family Trees

My first steps in approaching a research problem depend on three variables – the original clues that led to my research question and, more importantly, the time period and location where I need to research.

Because I was looking for men living in Kentucky in the 1790s, tax lists, land deeds and probate records were my favorite starting points.

My husband has many ancestors who lived in Virginia and North Carolina in the 1700s. Those families moved west into Kentucky and Tennessee. Extensive past research experience in those places exposed me to many early tax lists.

Given the lack of birth and death records and spotty marriage records, I frequently head to tax lists as one of my first stops on the search trail.

In fact, my first encounter with Lawrence Thompson after locating Ephraim in the 1810 census of Washington County, Kentucky was in the tax lists.

When I realized that Lawrence was part of Ephraim’s FAN club, I both googled his name with “Revolutionary War Kentucky” in the search field and also checked the DAR patriot database for his name.

That is how I discovered that my ONE Lawrence was now THREE people – Lawrence of Madison County, Kentucky, Lawrence of Clay County, Indiana AND Lawrence of Sumner County, Tennessee, who was old enough to be the father of either of the Revolutionary War pensioners. Lawrence of Tennessee was born c1712, according to DAR records.

Realizing that I was already spread out into two counties in North Carolina, two counties in Indiana, several in Kentucky and at least one county in Tennessee, I decided to look for possible quick tips on the FamilySearch family tree.

Yes, the tree is riddled with errors, BUT it also has incredibly useful correct information and, with each passing day, more sources are being added to Collaboration and Comment notes.

A family tree for Thomas Thompson and Ann Finney popped up in Orange County, North Carolina, along with information about a 1987 family history written about them.

I couldn’t access the book, due to copyright, but was able to search for marriage records in Orange and Rowan Counties, North Carolina. That led me to the marriage bond identifying Lawrence, son of Thomas, as bondsman for Lawrence, son of John, who married in Rowan County in 1779.

Next, I returned to land deeds for Washington and then Mercer Counties, since Ephraim and some Lawrence lived there at least until 1810.

Other than proving that Lawrence and Ephraim knew each other (two land transactions were recorded between them in 1803 and 1804, no relationship stated), that path yielded no helpful information.

Most of North Carolina records are unlocked on FamilySearch, so I turned my attention to tax, land, probate and court records there. The 1987 Thompson book mentioned the line of Closs Thompson in the subtitle. He turned up in Caswell County, very close to Orange and Rowan Counties. One John Thompson and an Evan Thompson also turned up in those North Carolina records.

Further online searched turned up several mentions of these early men back in Pennsylvania and Virginia, in addition to the information that they had migrated to North Carolina in the early 1750s.

Those searches gave me a nucleus of four Thompson men – Thomas, Lawrence, John and Closs – who were close in age (born in the 1710-1720 time frame).

Further looks at the FamilySearch family tree filled in supposed relationships to these men, some of which I’ve already been able to document, others not yet – naming wives, children and residences.

By the time the “Thompson four” had been identified, the facts, records and clues were multiplying faster than I could keep up with them.

An Excel spreadsheet became my organizational tool. I don’t use Excel this way very often. I knew that one of my axes needed to be years and I chose 1710 to 1850 as the range.

My first inclination was to use men’s names as the second category, but I quickly realized that it would be much easier to check a location column for a detail than it would be to have to search all the Lawrences, all the Thomases, etc. That’s because it became apparent that the same man lived in two or three counties or states and shared the same given name with another family member.

Therefore, my file is set up with county/state across the top and the years down the side.

From that point forward, I tackled each location, collecting Thompson records. I didn’t record ALL that I found because there were other men with given names that didn’t appear in the family units I was finding. For example, there were Nathaniels and Alexanders that I skipped for the time being. Even in the 1700s, it appears there were unrelated Thompson men living in the same locales. I am sure that a few of the records I skipped could end up being part of this family.

There was a lot of jumping around from place to place as clues directed me to other records. I kept a list of each place and the records I wanted to read so I knew when I had to return somewhere to look at the next record set. I also noted the locked records, which will require either a family history center visit or a trip to Salt Lake in the future.

However, for my research question –  to identify the father of Ephraim Thompson – those other scattered Thompsons were irrelevant and no evident connection to my family was found.

I only mentioned a few sources on my suggestion list in passing in this series.Naming patterns didn’t help very much in this project, except that Ephraim was a unique name in this family and it only appears in the line of Lawrence Sr., born c1712.

I also haven’t said much at all about court minutes and orders, which happen to also be a favorite resource of mine.

I have found on multiple occasions that new tidbits were learned in those records. That’s slogging work because even if there is an “index” to them, I know from lots of experience that often the index can be very incomplete.  I read many pages of records in several counties and did find a few clues, especially in Sumner and then Smith Counties, Tennessee.

I also make it a habit to look for county court records, circuit court records and chancery court records, if they exist, because each court had different purposes. I’ve come across burned counties where the will I had hoped to find no longer exists, if there ever even was one, only to find that the heirs were unhappy or needed help dividing an estate. Chancery or circuit courts, depending on the location, is where those cases were heard.

If an executor or administrator was replaced, county court minutes might not only name the new appointee, but sometimes even say why the previous person was being replaced.

I hope my Lawrence Thompson project has given you some insight into approaching a reasonably exhaustive research, required by modern genealogical research standards.

Have I completed my research? No, because of the pandemic. There is more to do.

Have I proven that Lawrence Thompson is the father of Ephraim Thompson? Well, yes and no. My instincts and research results are all pointing to Lawrence Jr., son of Lawrence, born c1712.

However – and this is the most important lesson of all – without this project, if I had accepted Lawrence Thompson in Mercer and Washington Counties as Ephraim’s father, I very likely would have the correct family, but the WRONG man, a man that previously I didn’t know existed.