Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to prove parents without direct evidence

What can you do to find missing parents when no record tells who they are?

Linda Dowd Vivian has published "Nathan W. Dowd of Ohio: Whose Child Was He?" in the current (December 2011) issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Aside from his Midwesternness, I have no particular personal interest in Nathan, who was born in Ohio; lived in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska; and died in Florida. But I was curious how she found his parents in a difficult case.

Vivian faced obstacles that would have sent a lesser genealogist to a wailing (brick) wall. Nathan's obituary says that he was born in Athens County, Ohio, on 19 December 1833, but it doesn't name his parents. He died in Florida, but the state has no death certificate. He can't be found in the 1850 census, when he might well have been residing in the parental household. Besides searching all variant names in that census, Vivian read through four likely Midwestern counties with no result, part of the "reasonably exhaustive search" prescribed by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists' standards.

Making full use of the oft-disdained 1840 census, Vivian found four Dowd men in Athens County who could have been Nathan's father. Three of them had boys in the household between the ages of 5 and 10. She identified two of those boys as different men. The third, in the household of William Dowd and Martha Woodard, could have been Nathan.

Can this hypothesis be proved? No probate or death notice named William and Martha's children. In 1852 an Iowa state census showed four probable sons in their household in Wapello County; various sources name four of them -- William E., Alex, David, and Ichabod. Was Nathan the fifth?

In the course of her research, Vivian unearthed nine additional pieces of evidence, all consistent with the idea that William and Martah were his parents, but none decisive by itself:

* In 1856 Nathan married in Wapello County, Iowa; at the time, William and Martha were living in adjacent Henry County. (Nathan's bride also came from Athens County, Ohio.)

* In 1856 Nathan had reportedly been in Iowa five years, as had William.

* Martha had a brother named Nathan B. Woodard.

* In 1860 Nathan's family was living in Kansas Territory with Alexander Dowd, who was the right age to be William and Martha's known son.

* In 1869 (following father William's 1865 death), Nathan bought land from William E.

* In 1869 Nathan and Martha made an agreement concerning the land.

* In 1869 Nathan witnessed an affidavit for Martha.

* In 1870 Nathan lived in the same township as Martha and Alexander.

* In 1880 and 1885 Nathan lived in Wapello County, adjacent to the county where Martha and David were living. Martha died in 1886 and Nathan moved to Nebraska.

From this evidence Vivian concluded that Nathan was indeed William and Martha's son: "Their associations over their lifetimes support this conclusion, and no known evidence contradicts it."

If you've done this kind of work on your family, you too may have an NGSQ article in your future!

Linda Dowd Vivian, "Nathan W. Dowd of Ohio: Whose Child Was He?" National Genealogical Society Quarterly 99 (December 2011):275-80.


N. LaRue said...

Wow! I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but what a story! Sounds great, thanks for sharing the run-down!

Kim said...

This is perfect timing for me.I am actually working on a nearly identical situation for someone in Indiana from early 1800s in which I am seeking the connection between father and son, and your information gives me the encouragement & creativity to continue the good hunt. Thank you.