Today, as I reflected on Independence Day, I remembered hearing claims that my father's side of the family was related to Roger Sherman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Through years of genealogy research, I have learned to take family stories with a grain of salt. They are worth investigating, but often unreliable. I had never checked into this particular claim, so I decided to see what information I could find.
Researchers have traced our Sherman lineage back to William Sherman, who was born in England and settled in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts in the 1630s. Due to Roger Sherman's status as a Founding Father, I was able to locate his paternal lineage online. I quickly determined that we share no common ancestors, at least as far back as either lineage has been traced. Now, it's possible that the two lines converge at some point in England, but I doubt that the connection would have been remembered after several generations in the New World. After all, how many of us know our third or fourth cousins?
Y-DNA testing could provided a definitive answer to whether the two Sherman lines share a common ancestor at any point. I checked the Sherman DNA Project site, which compares Y chromosome data from various Sherman lineages, but unfortunately it doesn't look like any descendants of William Sherman have been tested. I'll keep checking as new DNA sequences are submitted, but for now it looks like the old family story has been debunked.
A few months ago I wrote a series of blog posts about my great-great-great grandfather, Ambrose Bowen Epperson, expanding on his autobiographical story "The Stolen Boy". One portion of the story described how Ambrose and his family traveled from Iowa to Kansas in the spring of 1855. He specifically mentioned passing through Kansas City and camping at Indian Creek. "Crossing the surging Missouri River at a little two horse town called Kansas City, he drove on out to Indian Creek, went into camp twelve miles southwest of Westport. While in camp he had the pleasure for the first time since 1831 of seeing his oldest sister. In a few days, they struck camp and were on the road again."
This weekend, we were in the Kansas City area for a family vacation. When I realized that we were only a few miles from the site of this campground (now part of Flat Rock Creek Park in Lenexa, Kansas), I had to visit! As we drove toward the park, I was struck by how much travel has changed in the last 150 years. My ancestors bumped over rough trails in a horse-drawn wagon. The twelve mile journey from Westport to Indian Creek campground would have taken most of a day. I wonder if they had a map to follow or if they just relied on directions from strangers. In contrast, our vehicle rolled smoothly over the grid of paved streets, able to cover 12 miles in a matter of minutes. While my husband drove, I watched my cell phone as GPS satellites tracked our movement along the route that Google had plotted for us.
As we pulled into the parking lot next to a public swimming pool, it was hard to imagine that this spot had once been a campground for pioneers. My first stop was a historical marker (see photo above) at the edge of the creek, which confirmed that the site was once known as Indian Creek Campground. We crossed the creek on a small footbridge.
Standing in the grassy area on the other side of the creek, it was a little easier to picture my ancestors camping there. My daughter made a beeline for the playground and I let my imagination wander. Did Ambrose's children run and play here too? My great-great grandfather, WIlliam, was ten at the time. Did he climb that massive oak tree in its younger days?
I walked down the bank to the creek. It was smaller than I had imagined, but very picturesque. I stood for awhile on one of the flat rocks that gave the area its name. The creek alone seemed unchanged by time. I thought of how my ancestors probably drank water from this creek, unknowingly risking their lives. Many early travelers died from cholera, contracted from contaminated drinking water in campgrounds like this. That was only one of many dangers faced by my ancestors as they made their way to their new home in Kansas. I marveled -- as I often have before -- at their hardiness and courage.
I was a little disappointed that the site had changed so much from its days as a campground. In 1846, Edwin Bryant camped there and noted its beauty. "The margin of the small stream is fringed with a grove of timber, and from the gentle slope, where our wagons are drawn up, the verdant prairie, brilliant with flowers of every dye, stretches far away on all sides, diversified in its surface by every conceivable variety of undulation" (1). Thankfully such prairie vistas are still common in Kansas, if you just drive a little further west. After a few days in the big city, I was longing for those scenes again. And so like Ambrose and his family before us, we crossed the creek and were soon traveling over the prairie towards home.
1. Bryant, Edwin What I Saw In California (Google Books version) retrieved from books.google.com
Following up on last week's post about my grandfather's military service during WWI, I wanted to share a few other items I have found that shed light on his time in the Army.
On Fold3.com, a subscription site specializing in military records, I found my grandfather mentioned in a cablegram dated Feb 12, 1919. The cablegram had been sent from General Headquarters A. E. F. and listed the status of various soldiers for whom they had received inquiries. Thankfully, my grandfather was listed in the "well and with organizations specified" category. His entry reads "Reference letter January 11, 1919, Private Benjamin P Pace 1,026,434 Company F 309 Motor Repair Unit Q M C on duty at Motor Overhaul Park No. 2, Dijon". It would be interesting to know who initiated the inquiry about my grandfather. Was it family at home who were concerned about him? Or was it an internal army matter? Regardless, the entry is interesting because it gives a location where my grandfather was stationed in France. With this clue, I set out to learn more about the Dijon motor overhaul park.
Motor overhaul parks were one of three types of service centers in France operated by the newly created Motor Transport Corps. Service parks were mobile units that performed minor repairs, while motor overhaul parks were permanent or semi-permanent and capable of handling major repairs. Reconstruction parks were responsible for rebuilding or salvaging severely damaged vehicles. The motor overhaul park at Dijon was one of four located in France during WWI. A Google search uncovered an aerial photograph of the facility. The number of vehicles visible is impressive.
Newspapers proved to be a great source of information about my grandfather's unit. One particularly helpful article, which announced the homecoming of an Anthony, Kansas soldier, provided many details about the unit's activities during the war. I have created a map (below) to show relevant locations. According to the article, Repair Unit 304 (the first unit my grandfather was assigned to) was sent overseas in September 1918. They first went to Liverpool and then spent two weeks in England. They next sailed from Southhampton to La Havre, France. When they arrived in France, the unit was transferred to the Motor Transport Corps (this is apparently when they were called the 309th Motor Repair Unit). They travelled by train to Dijon and spent a few weeks in that area. They were eventually transferred to Langres and stayed there until the armistice, which occurred on 11 November 1918. The article does not mention the activities of the unit after the war officially ended, although they remained in France for eight more months. From the cablegram described above, it seems that they may have returned to Dijon for part of that time.
Other articles described the return of the part of 309th Motor Repair Unit to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. The 300 men in the unit sailed from Brest, France on July 14, 1919 and arrived in Norfolk, Virginia on 24 July. From there, the soldiers were sent to the camp nearest their home. Presumably my grandfather was one of those who arrived by train at Fort Sam Houston in the early hours of August 3. About two hundred people were waiting for them and the 309th Auxilliary Society had prepared a large meal with 100 watermelons. For some reason, they were not allowed to serve it to the soldiers, so a dance and feast was planned for the next evening instead. I wonder if anyone was there to meet my grandfather. It seems doubtful, since his family lived in west Texas. Most likely he boarded another train for home, where he was no doubt given a joyful welcome.
Organization of the Services of Supply, American Expeditionary Forces (Google Books)
Since it is Veterans Day, I wanted to share this photo of my maternal grandfather, Benjamin Perry Pace, taken during his service in World War I. My memories are of a grandfather who was bald and in his 80s, so it is amazing to see this dashing young man with a very full head of hair! I grew up hearing that Grandad Pace, as we called him, had spent time in France during WWI. I was afraid I would never know more than that about his service, because almost all the service records from that era were destroyed in a fire. So I was very excited when I came across the Texas, World War I Records database on FamilySearch. To my delight, it contained my grandfather's WWI service card, which detailed his training and service. I learned that he received about two months of training at Texas Agricultural & Mechanical College (Texas A&M), which had offered its services to the U.S. government. He was then assigned to QMC Repair Shop 304 which was stationed at Fort Sam Houston. I was a little confused by the note on the back side of the card which said "2/18 Rep Unit 309 to disch". However, after looking at other cards of men from QMC Repair Shop 304, I believe the date should have been 2 Sep 1918. This was just before Grandad was sent overseas, so it is probably the unit that he was assigned to before they left. Grandad Pace served overseas from 17 Sept 1918 to 26 July 1919, a little over nine months. While overseas he received two promotions, to Private First Class and then to Sergeant. He was honorably discharged on 6 Aug 1919, soon after his return to the U.S. I am thankful for my grandfather and all who have served our country!
"Texas, World War I Records, 1917-1920," database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV18-FJJL : 3 April 2015), Benjamin Perry Pace, 13 Apr 1918; citing Military Service, College Station, Brazos, Texas, United States, Texas Military Forces Museum, Austin.
A few months ago, I received a series of texts that saddened me. The first was photo of my great-grandparents' house about to be demolished by a looming piece of heavy equipment. Next came a video of the actual demolition. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it.
I never knew my great-grandparents, and the house had been vacant as long as I can remember. But still, the old house was special to me. For one thing, my parents got married there. Plus, it was located just down the road from my childhood home, so I saw it almost every day when I was young. It was a handsome old house, somehow managing to age gracefully even though neglected. In the spring, a huge wisteria vine covered the house in lavender blooms.
The photograph I have chosen to share was taken when the house was in its prime. I won’t show that last photo. That’s not how I want to remember it. What saddens me most is that despite growing up within sight of the house, I never got to go inside it. During my childhood, we never entered the house despite its close proximity to ours. Eventually the floor deteriorated to the point that it wasn’t really safe to go inside. When a cousin inherited the house and made plans to renovate it, my hopes of seeing the interior of the house were revived. But the house was too dilapidated and he was forced to abandon the project. He eventually sold the property and the new owners decided to tear the house down. I knew it was coming, but it was still a shock. When I went back home this summer, I tried to avoid looking at the strangely empty spot where it once stood. I wish I had insisted on going inside the house at some point, but I didn’t. And now it’s gone.
I regularly check several genealogy websites for new online records. One of my favorite sites is FamilySearch.org, the genealogy web site of the LDS church, which provides an ever-increasing number of online records at no charge. A list of their online collections can be found by clicking “Search” in the menu bar (from any page on the site) and then clicking “Browse all published collections” at the lower right of the page. The list of “Historical Record Collections” can be narrowed using the options in the left sidebar (see screenshot below). Recently added or updated collections in the list are marked with an asterisk. I simply use my browser’s “Find” function to quickly identify these marked collections.
I assumed that the “Historical Record Collections” list covered all of the digitized records on the site. But recently, while browsing through the FamilySearch Catalog (also found under the Search menu), I came across some digitized records that didn’t seem to be included in the list. Of course, my eyes lit up at the prospect of new records to explore! I wanted to find a way to efficiently locate these items, so I started looking at the Catalog search settings. I discovered that the “Search These Family History Centers” box has an option for “Online” (shown in screenshot below). This setting can be used in combination with any search (place, keyword, etc.) and will limit the search results to online items (e. g. digitized books) or collections with at least one digital item. Once you select an item, you may have to scroll through the Film Notes to find which of the records in the collection have been digitized (these will have a camera icon in the far right column). One disclaimer: some digitized records and books do have access restrictions. The ones I have come across can be viewed by going to a Family History Center or, in some cases, a partner library.
My favorite way to use this new trick is to pair it with the Place search. This lets me quickly find the online records available for a particular place. (Hint: Be sure to check all levels of the geographic hierarchy. Different records can often be found at the state, county and township levels. Take advantage of the handy “Places within…” link found just above the results list). Of course you will also want to check the FamilySearch Catalog for records that have not yet been digitized. Genealogists should never ignore these traditional sources. That said, there is nothing quite like the instant gratification provided by online records. I have already found records for several relatives, as well as for a client's ancestor. I'm looking forward to many more discoveries!
I love this photograph of my great-great-grandmother Mahala Rebecca (Hampton) Pace. Her gentle smile and kind eyes make me wish I could sit and talk with her.
Mahala was born on 6 Jan 1843 in Fannin County, Texas. At that time, Texas was actually an independent republic! She married David Wright Pace on 21 Aug 1860 in Collin County, Texas. They had thirteen children, all of whom survived to adulthood -- a rarity in those days. Mahala passed away on 1 May 1916 at Era, Cooke County, Texas at the age of 73.
Recently, I asked my Facebook followers to send me their questions about DNA testing. One person wanted to know how AncestryDNA determines ethnicity percentages. In particular, she was interested in what regions of the genome Ancestry uses to draw these conclusions.
First, it is important to understand that Ancestry is not actually sequencing a client’s entire genome. The vast majority of DNA would not be informative, because it is the same in all people. Instead, Ancestry determines the client’s DNA sequence only at specific positions that are known to vary among different ethnic groups. These differences, which are scattered all over the genome, are called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs – pronounced “snips”). Determining an individual’s sequence at a variety of SNPs is called “genotyping”.
Ancestry uses SNPs that were originally identified by comparing genomes from individuals of European, East Asian (Han Chinese and Japanese), and West African (Yoruba) ancestry. Since Ancestry wants to be able recognize other ethnicities too, they had to develop a reference panel of people from a variety of known ethnic backgrounds. To do this, they genotyped people whose ancestors all came from the same geographic region and thus were likely to descend from a single ethnic group. They also incorporated data from the public Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP), which genotyped individuals from about 50 different populations around the world. When the SNP data from this reference panel was plotted on a graph, it formed clusters corresponding to 26 distinct geographic regions. Ancestry uses these 26 regions to define a client’s ethnicity.
When a client’s DNA is genotyped, the data is compared to the reference panel at 300,000 SNPs (the sites for which the HGDP and Ancestry’s technique both provide information). The most informative SNPs are then subjected to some high-powered statistical analysis. Basically, they calculate the predicted SNP results for all possible proportions of ethnicity and compare those predictions to the client’s actual SNP results to determine which ethnicity combination has the highest probability of producing the client’s results. The “winning” combination is reported to the client as their Ethnicity Estimate.
Obviously the results of this type of analysis are only as good as the reference panel. Ancestry has already upgraded the reference panel once (they are currently using the V2 panel) and additional improvements are in the works.
The quality of results may also vary depending on the ethnicity of the subject. Because of the SNPs that were chosen, the Ancestry ethnicity test works best for people of European ancestry. However, even some regions within Europe are difficult to distinguish due to migration and population mixing. For example, the regions defined as Great Britain and Europe West show a lot of overlap. Ancestry provides a brief history of each of the geographic regions, highlighting population movements that are likely to have affected the genetic makeup of its inhabitants.
In my personal experience, the geographical regions identified by the Ancestry Ethnicity Estimate match up fairly well with what would have been predicted based on standard genealogy. It is important to check the error bars on each region, since they are often quite large. For example, on one test that showed 6% Great Britain, the actual range is 0-21%. As Ancestry upgrades their reference panel and algorithms, these results are likely to improve.
If you are interested in reading about Ancestry’s Ethnicity Estimate in even more detail, check out the white paper describing their method.
If you have other questions about DNA testing for genealogy purposes, comment below or submit questions through the Contact form on this site. You can also send me a message through the KinSeeker Genealogy Services Facebook page. I will try to answer any questions in a future post.
I just completed a series of blogs about “The Stolen Boy”, an autobiographical story written by my great-great-great grandfather Ambrose Bowen Epperson. In the first post, I discussed a tract of land in Jackson County, Indiana that was patented by Ambrose’s father, John Epperson. The date on the patent (shown below) was 17 Dec 1821 – a year later than Ambrose claimed that his family moved to Indiana – and I mentioned that I would have to check the tract books to learn the actual date of purchase. These were books that each land office used to record transactions involving government land. After a purchase or claim was made, paperwork was sent to the General Land Office in Washington, D. C., where a patent was issued if all requirements were met.
According to the patent, John Epperson purchased his land from the land office in Jeffersonville, Indiana. At the time I wrote my post, I didn’t think that records from this office were available online. However, as I was browsing through the online databases at FamilySearch recently, I discovered that the tract books for many land offices, including Jeffersonville, are available in the collection “United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1800-c. 1955”. The contents have not been indexed, but the books can be browsed. A Wiki page provides helpful tips for using the collection.
To locate a tract book entry, you need to know the state, the land office and the legal description of the property. The entries are usually grouped by Range, then Township and then Section, but even one range may be scattered across multiple, non-consecutive volumes. Thankfully, FamilySearch provides a Coverage Table that lists the contents of each volume, making it easier to browse for the desired entry.
To find the tract book entry for John Epperson’s land, I began by browsing the images in the collection. This brought up a list of 27 states with digitized tract books, from which I chose Indiana. The available volumes were listed in numerical order, with the name of the land office in parentheses. There was a volume promisingly labeled Index A-Z (Jeffersonville), but it did not seem to include all entries and I decided to move on to the actual tract books. Most of the Indiana land offices had more than 20 volumes, so the search would have been very frustrating without the Coverage Table.
John Epperson’s patent (from the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records site) gave me the legal description of his property – the west half of the northwest quarter of section 27 in Township 7N, Range 6E. I used the Coverage Table to narrow down which volumes to check. This table is arranged by state, then by land office and then volume, with a description of the contents for each volume. Most Jeffersonville tract books contained several townships within a single range, so the easiest way to identify my volumes of interest was to scroll down the list looking for range 6E. I then checked the townships in that volume to see if 7N was included. Using this method, I found three volumes that might contain John Epperson’s entry. Browsing through the potential volumes was still a little confusing. For example, part way through the images for the first book (volume 6), there was a second volume 6 book cover and the entries suddenly changed to range 5E. Volume 7 seemed to pick up where the first volume 6 left off, but when I finally got to township 7N, only one section was listed before the entries moved on to range 7E! Luckily, at the top of that page, in tiny script, was a note saying that the rest of the sections from township 7N, range 6E were in Volume CC, beginning at folio 707 (volume CC was on my list, but I had not checked it yet). The note was very helpful in finding the correct township within volume CC, since the folio number was essentially the page number, printed in the upper right corner of each two-page spread.
After locating the correct township, I paged through the sections (which were in numerical order) until I found section 27. There is often more than one entry per page, sometimes for different sections, so be sure to check all entries when you get close to the section you are looking for. I located John Epperson’s entry (see below) at the top of image 185 in Book CC (Jeffersonville). The entry confirmed that John purchased 80 acres at the minimum price of $1.25 per acre, making the total cost of the land $100. Most importantly, it gave an entry date of 12 Oct 1820. This substantiates Ambrose’s claim that the Epperson family moved to Jackson County, Indiana in 1820. From browsing through the entries, it seems that a delay of a year or more between the entry date and the patent date was common at the time.
"United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1800-c. 1955." Jeffersonville, Indiana Land Office, Volume CC, image 185 FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 14 June 2016. Bureau of Land Improvement. Records Improvement, Bureau of Land Management, Washington D.C.
I had previously found another patent issued to John Epperson for land in section 21 of township 7N, range 6E. The date on this patent was 4 Oct 1824, more than a year after John died. Since the township and range were the same as John's first land entry, this entry (shown below) was located only a few pages away. I learned that the land was actually purchased 9 Apr 1822, about a year BEFORE John’s death. This brings up an important point – land patent dates should not be used as evidence that the patentee was alive at the time!
"United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1800-c. 1955." Jeffersonville, Indiana Land Office, Volume CC, image 174 FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 14 June 2016. Bureau of Land Improvement. Records Improvement, Bureau of Land Management, Washington D.C.
If I want to learn even more about these land purchases, I could request the case files from the National Archives. The price is a little steep at $50 per case file, but some files reportedly contain genealogical information. I would be particularly interested to find out if the case file for John’s 1822 land entry contains any information about his death.
If you have ancestors who purchased or claimed government land, you might want to check out this collection. You could learn the actual dates of their land transactions and how much they paid for the property. Having the actual entry date will also be helpful if you ever want to request the case file for that land entry. If you make any interesting discoveries in this collection, let me know by commenting below.
“The Stolen Boy” is a fascinating story that has been handed down through my family. The main character’s name is never revealed, but there are several details in the story that prove it describes the life of my 3X great-grandfather, Ambrose Bowen Epperson. I am almost certain that Ambrose is also the author of the story, although the evidence for that conclusion is a bit more circumstantial. I will be devoting a series of blog posts to a historical and genealogical analysis of the story. The text of the story will be shared exactly as I received it, including all misspellings and grammatical errors, although I have corrected a few errors that were obviously introduced when the story was typed.
When spring opened, they went to work on a rented farm, commencing anew again, renting from place to place ukntil the spring of 1865 when he moved to Jackson County Missouri, still dissatisfied. So in the spring of 1868, he took a notion to move to one of the southern states. He only found it worse in respect to agriculture and was very much dissatisfied. So in February , 1872, he made his way to Kansas again and on the 16th day of March, 1872, he laid his claim in Sumner County on the land that he now lives on and thinks it is good enough for the Stolen boy to live on the balance of his days.
February 18, 1881
After being forced to abandon their Missouri farm in the early days of the Civil War, Ambrose and family traveled to the Baldwin City, Kansas area. With no money to buy more land, they had to rent a succession of farms. The family also suffered a sad loss during this time. Although the story doesn’t mention it, Ambrose and Nancy’s oldest daughter Phoebe reportedly died about 1863 at the age of 17 (1). I have searched transcriptions of cemeteries from Baldwin City and the surrounding area, but have not been able to locate her grave.
The Civil War ended in April 1865. That spring, Ambrose packed up his family once again and moved to Jackson County, Missouri. Consistent with this, I could not find any of the Eppersons in the 1865 Kansas State Census. Enumeration of the township that includes Baldwin City didn’t start until Jun 22 (2). Presumably the Eppersons had already moved to Missouri by that time.
Jackson County, Missouri is the site of Kansas City and Westport. The story does not give a reason why Ambrose chose to relocate there. My guess is that he wanted to be near his sister, Permelia (Epperson) Laws. (Her husband had been killed during the war under rather mysterious circumstances — but that’s a story for another time.) I have not found any documentation of the family’s time in Jackson County.
“One of the southern states”
In the spring of 1868, Ambrose moved again — this time to “one of the southern states”. The 1870 census shows the family living in Round Prairie Township, Benton County, Arkansas (P.O. Double Springs). (3) Benton County is the northwestern-most county in Arkansas, with Missouri to the north and Oklahoma to the west. However, at the time Ambrose lived there, the region to the west was still Indian Territory. Double Springs, later renamed Bloomfield, was located very close to the western border of the county.
In the census, Ambrose’s occupation is listed as “Grocer Ret”. I think “Ret” must be short for retail. His real estate was valued at $250 and his personal estate at $200. I was a little surprised by Ambrose’s occupation, because the story mentions his dissatisfaction with agriculture there. Ambrose’s oldest son, my great-great-grandfather William Epperson, is listed as a farmer in the same township though. So, at least part of the family was involved in agriculture.
As I was searching for information on Benton County, I came across an online index to early Benton County deeds provided by the Northwest Arkansas Genealogical Society. I found a deed with “Epperson, Amb.” as the grantee, filed on 19 Nov 1870. Another deed with “Epperson, Ambros B.” as the grantor was filed on 18 Dec 1871. I will need to get copies of the deeds to learn what property Ambrose was buying and selling.
On 15 Jun 1871, Ambrose was appointed postmaster (4) of the newly established post office in Cherokee City, just a short distance northwest of Double Springs (Bloomfield). He didn’t remain in that position long, however. A new postmaster was appointed on 10 Jan 1872. This fits with the timeline in the story, which says that Ambrose moved back to Kansas in February of 1872.
Back to Kansas
Ambrose says that he “laid his claim in Sumner County” on 16 March 1872. I found a land patent dated 15 February 1875 for 159 and 90/100 acres in Section 5 of Township 31 South, Range 2 East (5). I had always assumed that Ambrose made his claim under the Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed settlers to receive 160 acres of land if they lived on it for five years and paid a small filing fee. Looking at the document more closely, however, I noticed that Ambrose received his patent only three years after he said he laid his claim. I read the land patent more closely and realized that it was made under the provisions of the Act of Congress of 24 April 1820 AND the act of 15 July 1870. In addition, “Osage Trust Lands” was written in the upper left corner, above the certificate number. By further research I learned that the land Ambrose claimed had been part of the Diminished Osage Reserve, a 30-mile wide strip of land spanning most of the southern border of Kansas. When the Osage ceded this land to the U.S. government in 1870 and moved to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), the land was excluded from the Homestead Act, but was made available to settlers for $1.25 per acre (with the proceeds to be paid yearly, with five percent interest, to the Osage tribe.) (6) Ambrose would have paid about $200 for his tract of land.
The 1875 Kansas State Census shows A. B. Epperson living in Palestine Township, Sumner County, Kansas with real estate worth $260 (7). Perhaps the value of land had increased since he purchased his claim. The census also confirms that the family moved to Kansas from Arkansas.
The nearest town to Ambrose’s farm was Belle Plaine, Kansas. Fortunately, issues of the Belle Plaine News from 1879-1926 have been digitized and are available at Newspapers.com. Small town newspapers are full of newsy items that help shed light on the lives and personalities of area residents. For example, I have found that Ambrose must have been something of an entrepreneur. At various times through the years, he was selling a patent churn, the Banner washing machine (8), and several different books (9,10). At the age of 69, he started a business painting carriages, wagons and houses (11). These stories remind me of the business ventures my father and grandfather started. Although neither of them ever met Ambrose, I can’t help but think that they inherited some of his personality traits.
The final clue to the identity of the story’s author is the signature “Old Abe”. There are several reasons I believe that this was a nickname for Ambrose. First, if you look at Ambrose’s full name – Ambrose Bowen Epperson – his initials would be ABE. Also, in the 1880 census, Ambrose’s name was incorrectly listed as Abraham Epperson (12). Maybe he was known by the name Abe and the census taker assumed it stood for Abraham. Finally, I found several items in the Belle Plaine News that were submitted by Old Abe (13,14,15). Most of these were news about Palestine Township (where Ambrose lived), and they often contained references to “old man Epperson”. Since I am convinced that Ambrose was Old Abe, I had to chuckle when I found a “letter to the editor” from A. B. Epperson correcting a mistake in Old Abe’s Palestine Historical Notes. “Old Abe will excuse me for the above correction,” he wrote (firmly tongue-in-cheek, I’m sure) (16). For several years, Old Abe seemed to be on hiatus. Then in the late 1880s he made a return appearance, writing a couple of letters to the newspaper from Optima in No Man’s Land (17,18). I’m sure it is no coincidence that Ambrose and some of his family members had recently moved to Optima (19) (see below).
In the last line of the story, Ambrose states that he expects to remain on his Sumner County farm for the rest of his life. That didn’t happen, although he stayed there longer than he ever had anywhere else. In 1884, he traded his farm for a “threshing outfit and corn sheller” and moved into Belle Plaine (20). I believe he acquired this equipment for his son Alfred, since later news stories mention Alfred running his threshing machine.
In 1888, Ambrose followed his sons to “No Man’s Land” in what is now the Oklahoma panhandle. The area, also known as the Neutral Strip, was not part of any state or territory at the time. In 1890, No Man’s Land became Beaver County as part of Oklahoma Territory.
Map of No Man's Land (Oklahoma) - circa 1885 from Wikimedia Commons
Thanks to the Belle Plaine News, we know that Ambrose and his wife Nancy travelled back to Belle Plaine in March of 1890 (21). Shortly after that, the newspaper reported that Ambrose had two cancers removed from his face (22). This stay in Belle Plaine might explain why I have not found Ambrose and Nancy in the 1890 Oklahoma Territorial Census, even though I found their son William and his family in newly established Beaver County (23). In January 1891, a newspaper item mentioned that Ambrose and Nancy left for Kingfisher (Oklahoma Territory) with their son Alfred (24). It’s not clear if they had been in Belle Plaine the entire time since their arrival the previous March or not. One of their sons, John B. Epperson, had been living in Kingfisher County since at least 1890 (25), so perhaps they were joining him. William Epperson also moved to Kingfisher County in the early 1890s, although I do not know the exact date (26).
Edna Epperson Brinkman’s book on the Epperson family says Ambrose passed away on 18 Sep 1891 in Kansas (27), but I have not been able to confirm this information. There is no record of his burial in the Belle Plaine Cemetery. Unfortunately, the Belle Plaine News issues from September 1891, which might have contained news of Ambrose’s death, are missing from the online archive. I had a brief flicker of hope when I realized that the newspaper printed a “Thirty Years Ago” column and the 1921 papers were online. The columns were not printed every week though, and I found no mention of Ambrose’s death. I did find a brief notice reporting the death of Nancy Epperson at her home in Columbia, Kingfisher, Oklahoma Territory on 15 January 1893 (28). This conflicts with the information in Brinkman’s book, which said Nancy died 16 Jan 1892 in Kansas (29). This discrepancy also makes me question the accuracy of the information about Ambrose’s death. One of my long-standing genealogy goals is to locate Ambrose and Nancy’s burial places, so I will keep searching.
Blogging about “The Stolen Boy” has been a great experience for me. My efforts to corroborate and expand on the events mentioned in the story motivated me to analyze evidence and research historical events much more thoroughly than I might have otherwise. As a result, I acquired a much better understanding of Ambrose’s life and made a few new discoveries along the way. I hope you have enjoyed the journey too!
(1) Burchfield Family Tree
(2) Ancestry.com Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas; 1865 Kansas Territory Census; Roll: ks1865_3; Line: 1; Palmyra Township
(3) Ancestry.com Year: 1870; Census Place: Round Prairie, Benton, Arkansas; Roll: M593_47; Page: 349A; Image: 301938; Family History Library Film: 545546
(4) Ancestry.com. U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971 [database on- line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. (5)https://www.glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=KS3690__.039 &docClass=STA&sid=xd2mh5ro.aef
(7) Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas; 1875 Kansas Territory Census; Roll: ks1875_19; Line: 6
(8) Belle Plaine News 27 Mar 1880, p. 5 (Newspapers.com)
(9) Belle Plaine News 23 May 1885, p. 4 (Newspapers.com)
(10) Belle Plaine News 28 Aug 1886, p. 3 (Newspapers.com)
(11) Belle Plaine News 4 Jun 1887, p. 3 (Newspapers.com)
(12) Ancestry.com Year: 1880; Census Place: Palestine, Sumner, Kansas; Roll: 398; Family History Film: 1254398; Page: 127D; Enumeration District: 196; Image: 0260
(13) Belle Plaine News 3 Jan 1880, p. 15 (Newspapers.com)
(14) Belle Plaine News 21 Feb 1880, p. 12 (Newspapers.com)
(15) Belle Plaine News 13 Mar 1880, p. 15 (Newspapers.com)
(16) Belle Plaine News 28 Feb 1880, p. 11 (Newspapers.com)
(17) Belle Plaine News 28 Jul 1888, p. 2 (Newspapers.com)
(18) Belle Plaine News 12 Jan 1889 p. 2 (Newspapers.com)
(19) Belle Plaine News 18 Feb 1888, p. 3 (Newspapers.com)
(20) Belle Plaine News 26 Jan 1884, p. 4 (Newspapers.com)
(21) Belle Plaine News 22 Mar 1890, p. 3 (Newspapers.com)
(22) Belle Plaine News 10 May 1890 p. 3 (Newspapers.com)
(24) Belle Plaine News 9 Jan 1891 p. 1 (Newspapers.com)
(25) Ancestry.com. Oklahoma, Territorial Census, 1890 and 1907 [database on-line]; Kingfisher County, image 78
(26) William N. Epperson, Civil War Pension Application
(27) Ancestry.com. The story of David Epperson & his family of Albemarle County, Virginia : with supplementary notes on the Epperson family [database on-line] image 199
(28) Belle Plaine News 19 Jan 1891 p. 1 (Newspapers.com)
(29) Ancestry.com. The story of David Epperson & his family of Albemarle County, Virginia : with supplementary notes on the Epperson family [database on-line] image 208
Teresa is the the owner of KinSeeker Genealogy Services. She has a Ph.D. in Biology and a lifelong fascination with genealogy. She been researching her own family history for over 20 years and loves helping others "find their stories."
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