Black Sheep Isaac Sturgell and Wife Mary- The Brick Wall I Didn’t Know I Had

My mother-in-law Ruby’s maiden name was Sturgell. She was born in Oklahoma, but her family had migrated there from southern Missouri in the early 1900’s. She didn’t know much about her paternal grandparents, as her grandfather, Abijah Houston Sturgell had died in 1905 and her grandmother, Martha Susannah Alberty, died in 1916, a year to the day before Ruby was born.

It didn’t take much research to find Abijah (Byge in the census) and family in Barry County, MO in 1900 and it was an easy jump back to 1870 when Abijah “Sturgill” was enumerated in his father Isaac’s household.  In 1870, Isaac’s wife was Susannah Douthit Alberty, mother of Abijah’s future wife, Martha Susannah.

The Alberty family had settled next door in Newton County, MO and by 1880, Susannah was living alone in Newton County, enumerated as Susan Alburty, a widow. Isaac hasn’t been found in 1880.

I didn’t immediately find Isaac in 1860, but did find Isaac and Mary “Sturgion” in Barry Co., MO in 1850 with baby daughter M.J., born in MO about 1848. In 1850, Isaac reported that both he and Mary were born in Virginia.

Finding a marriage record for Isaac and Mary is an entirely different story, but to keep on track here, Isaac Stergeon and Mary Bandy married in Lawrence Co., OH on 26 September 1844.

Remember, I hadn’t found Isaac and his family in Barry County in 1860. Since that county borders Arkansas, I decided to check the Arkansas census index (back in the old days before computers) and I found Isaac Stigall in Benton Co., AR, which is also on the MO-AR border.

With him were wife Mary, this time born in Ohio (which is actually how I picked up the trail to find their marriage record) with children: Amanda, 10, born MO; Andrew, 6, born TX; Abijah, 5, born MO, Margaret, 2, born AR and George, 4/14, born AR. It was looking like Isaac might have had a bit of wanderlust in him.

I now had a rough picture of the family of Isaac Sturgell (with its variant spellings) and first wife, Mary Bandy, and second wife Susannah Douthit Alberty.

Isaac Sturgell and Mary Bandy married in 1844 in Lawrence Co., OH. Both of their birth years vary quite a bit in the records, but Isaac was likely born about 1823, as he was of age when he married. Mary was probably born about 1826.

The young couple migrated to southern Missouri probably by 1847 or 1848 if M.J. was born in MO and not in OH. Daughter Amanda was born about 1849-1850, probably in Barry Co., MO. However, between 1850 and 1854, they apparently migrated somewhere in TX, but were back in MO by 1855 when Abijah was born. Then between 1855 and the 1860 census, they had removed to Benton Co., AR, where Mary had just given birth to baby George in March of that year.

Isaac married Susannah Douthit Alberty in Newton Co., MO on 30 September 1867. By 1880, Isaac was no longer found and Susan Alburty was widowed in Newton County in the 1880 census. Susan died on 19 Oct 1883 in Newton County.

I had assumed from this picture that Mary, still being of child bearing age, had possibly died giving birth to a child after George or had died of some other cause maybe in the mid 1860’s and Isaac remarried to Susan Alberty. Isaac then passed away between 1870 and 1880. Susan Alberty had a lot of family in Newton County so the fact that she was Susan Alburty in 1880 may only have meant that the census taker was told, either by Susan herself or a neighbor if she wasn’t home, that “Susan Alburty” lives there alone.

The moral of today’s story is again to do your own research and I highly recommend county court house visits. My husband’s aunt Freda was as into the family history as I was and we decided to meet up in Barry County to visit the court house. The county clerk was wonderful. Southwest Missouri is a farming area and the court house was not busy on the day we visited. We were led to the vault that contained the old records and started digging through various index books.

There was a large index to land deeds for the county so I looked for any Sturgell (and variations) up to 1900 since Isaac’s family was the only one by that name in the area. I found one very curious listing for Mary Sturgell also known as Mrs. Mary Cookman, dated 1883. Here The document, which is a quit claim deed, was filed in Peoria, IL and copied to Barry County, Missouri.

It stated that Mrs. Mary Sturgell, also known as Mrs. Mary Cookman, of Peoria, IL was quit claiming her rights to land purchased by Calvin A Prentice described as the W 1/2 of the NW 1/4 fractional quarter section of Section 24 and the SE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 and the NE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 and the SW 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of Section 23, Town 21 Range 25 in Barry County, MO.

This is land which Isaac Sturgell received under the Homestead Act of 1862. Isaac filed his final affadavit for that land on 30 Nov 1876, after he married Susannah Alberty.

Now, the only Mary Sturgell found so far in this story is Mary Bandy Sturgell, who I had assumed died between 1860 and 1867.  If this is the same person as Mrs. Mary Cookman, then Mary didn’t die – she left and/or divorced Isaac Sturgell in that time frame.

Another look through indexed records in the court house brought the discovery of divorce proceedings, so I eagerly began looking for the Sturgell surname and found Isaac. However, there was yet another surprise. The divorce records were for Isaac Sturgell, plaintiff, dated October 1874 and SUSANNAH Sturgell! She divorced him, too!

Isaac Sturgell has never been located in the 1880 census, but he may have been wandering through the Ozarks and missed the census taker.

More on this unexpected turn of events in the next post.




My Great Grandfather Stephen Sabo and the Family Name Change

I’ve mentioned before that both of my grandmothers were still alive when I started working on the family history. My dad’s side of the family is all Slovak. His parents were first generation Americans, born in PA and NJ.   I never knew my paternal grandfather, George Sabo, as he died of tuberculosis when my father, also George and an only child, was ten years old.

I grew up in Passaic, NJ, which was a city that blossomed with the start of the Industrial Revolution.   The Passaic River generated power needed by the factories, which were filled through the years with waves of immigrant groups. The Slovaks began arriving in the 1880’s.  My paternal grandmother was Julia Scerbak. Julia knew a lot about her family history, even maiden names of her grandmothers and about the time when her grandparents died in Slovakia (then the Austrian-Hungarian Empire).

However, she knew little about my grandfather’s family, with the exception of the names of his parents and siblings, who they married and that they came to NJ from Delano, PA and that they were definitely Slovak, not Czech or Russian. She said she didn’t care for most of her in-laws, but did say her mother-in-law, my great grandmother, Mary Kacsenyak, was a very kind woman. Stephen, her father-in-law was, according to her,  mean. Looking at the two photos, her descriptions would seem to fit the looks on their faces.

These are two of the three only surviving photos of Stephen Sabo and his wife, Mary Kacsenyak. In the 1920 census of Passaic, NJ, Stephen, Mary and their youngest child, Stephen Jr., were living at 77 Hope Avenue.

Mary died in Passaic on 5 March 1926 so it is likely that the two photos I have were taken in the 1920’s possibly at 77 Hope Avenue.

Now, the question here would seem to be “Why is this a brick wall?” The answer is that without having the benefit of my grandmother’s knowledge I probably would never have found them, at least not until the state of New Jersey has a computer searchable database of brides and grooms available.

One of the first documents I sent for back in 1979 when I started down this path was my grandparents’ marriage certificate. My grandmother Julia was born in Passaic in 1893. She was baptized at St. Michael Greek Catholic Church, today St. Michael’s Cathedral. Her parents were married in the same church and she and my grandfather were also married there. So, I mailed away for two documents – the church record and the state record of their marriage, which took place on 6 September 1910.

I was quite shocked to receive a reply from the state of New Jersey saying that no marriage record had been found. My grandmother was a very religious woman and I could easily see my grandparents not bothering with a silly little thing like a state license as long as they married in the church. However, my grandmother said that George did, indeed, go to Passaic City Hall and file the paperwork.

I was even more shocked to get a letter from the pastor of St. Michael’s Church the following week, also saying that no marriage record was found. My grandmother was very mentally acute, even in her 80’s, so I had a hard time believing that she was wrong about the date.

In my next conversation with her, I told her that neither the state of NJ nor St. Michael’s had a marriage record for George Sabo and Julia Scerbak on 6 September 1915. Here was the next shocker: She said that is because the family name was Kucharik! I was 27 years old and had never, ever heard that the family name was anything other than Sabo.

When I sent off second requests for the marriage record of George Kucharik and Julia Scerbak on 6 September 1915, I received back envelopes containing the two documents.

My great grandfather did what many immigrants of that era did – he changed the family surname. However, instead of Americanizing the name – Kucharik means “Cook” – he went from a Slovak name to a Hungarian name. Sabo means “Taylor.” My grandmother had no idea why he changed his name.

In 1900, the family was enumerated as Kuharik:

However, in 1910, the name was misspelled as Kukarik:

Next, my grandparents married in 1915 as Kucharik:

But by 1920, I found the family as Sabo.

I have no way of knowing if World War I influenced Stephen’s decision to change the name, as the family was not enumerated as Sabo until 1920 and I have found no other documents before 1920 that contain the surname “Sabo.”

When Mary died in 1926, she died as Mary Sabo, with no mention of the Kucharik surname.

This brick wall would have been left standing for many years if my grandmother hadn’t told me “That’s because the family name was Kucharik.”

A Very Short, But Well Learned Lesson

Many years ago, pretty much before the internet was born, I was working on my husband’s 4x great grandparents, Martin Miller and Catherine Whitmer, who settled in Muhlenberg County, KY about 1812. There are many, many descendants of the Whitmers in Muhlenberg County, including some who worked on the family history for the Bicentennial in 1976.  There was a lot of excellent information on the Millers and the Whitmers in Kentucky, but no one had really done anything about tracing the family back to the east coast. The census indicated that Martin was born in Pennsylvania and Catherine in Maryland. A county history included an article on Valentine Whitmer, a son of John and Catherine Whitmer, who were the parents of Catherine Whitmer Miller. It said he was born in Rockingham County, Virginia in 1788.

It seemed reasonable to conclude that Martin Miller and Catherine Whitmer had probably married somewhere in Virginia, likely between 1805-1810.  I pulled out the old AIS census index for 1810 Virginia and I found Martin Miller enumerated in Botetourt County, VA. I mailed off my letter to the county clerk requesting the cost for a copy of their marriage record.

It so happened that I had a chance to go to the Los Angeles LDS family history center the weekend after I mailed my request to Botetourt County. I was more than thrilled to find Botetourt County Marriages 1770-1853 by Kethley on the shelf in the library:

I eagerly opened it up and looked for the marriage entry and found NOTHING! There was no marriage entry recorded for Martin and Catherine in Botetourt County. That meant I had to try surrounding counties and hope that it turned up.

I forgot about it for the moment and pursued other research leads for the rest of that day. Later in the week, I pulled the mail out of our mailbox and found a very prompt reply from the Botetourt County clerk. I expected to find a “sorry, there is no record” answer.

Along with a cover letter, the following information was enclosed:

Martin Miller and Catherine Whitmer married in Botetourt County, Virginia on 6 January 1808. Valentine Whitmer, her brother, was a witness.

When the marriage records of Botetourt County were compiled by Kethley, somehow, the marriage of Martin and Catherine was overlooked and omitted. If I had first gone to the library and found no marriage noted in the book, I wouldn’t have bothered to have written to the county clerk.

Moral of the story: It is still better to do your own research than to rely on the work of others.

Genealogy Tips & Family History