Proving a Maternal Line:

The Case of Frances B. Whitney

By Connie Lenzen, CG

Originally published in the

National Genealogical Society Quarterly,

Volume 82, Number 1, March 1994, pp. 17–31.

This article received the 1995 "Award for Excellence" from the National Genealogical Society.

Many wives and mothers of the past seem to be women who came from nowhere, women of no family before they wed. Yet, young females of pre-modern America did not commonly live on their own. Wherever they courted and married, most had family — often of a different surname.

Tracing women is a challenge for genealogists. In most American societies, females change their names at marriage, forever leaving their birth names behind. Historically, they often are not mentioned in legal papers such as deeds and probates. Usually, they are not heads of households; and, therefore, are rarely in census indexes. If their parents are not known, an attempt to extend their ancestry for another generation becomes time consuming and complicated. Bits and pieces of evidence must be ferreted out and compiled into indirect proof of parentage.

Frances B. Whitney is typical of many wives on family trees. She first appeared on record as an adult, amid no visible birth family. She left a statement as to her place of birth, but none of the usual research staples - such as family tradition, censuses, or vital records - offer parental names. All resources were combed for the areas in which she was known to have lived — including unindexed town records, court files, tax rolls, and church archives. None gave the name of a parent or relative. Ultimately, her identification was achieved only by studying the men of different surnames listed with her in the few documents she executed.

Beginning With Known Data

The first step in this project was to begin with known data. A family record sheet, written in her own hand, states that Frances B. Whitney was born on 26 October 1836, in West Woodstock, Vermont.[1] However, her birth data is not found among vital records of that state, where mandatory registration did not begin until 1857 and prior registrations are incomplete.[2] Nor do the Woodstock town records contain a registration under the name Frances B. Whitney.[3] However, the 1870 and 1880 Eaton county, Michigan, censuses — the two earliest enumerations that name her — offer age and birthplace data compatible with her record. These censuses also state that her parents were born in Massachusetts,[4] a state which claimed a southern sliver of Vermont prior to 1791.

The earliest records found for Frances in Eaton County, where she first emerged as an adult, are two teaching contracts. On 17 January 1860, she negotiated with Ambrose Preston to tutor students for two months in Roxand Township. Again on 7 May 1860, she signed another Roxand contract, this one with Adam Boyer, to teach primary school in Roxand or Chester township for seventeen weeks [5]. Presuming that Frances completed her last term, then she was in Eaton County in June 1860 and should have been listed amid Eaton residents on the 1860 federal census, whose official date was 1 June. She does not appear, nor is she named in a commercially prepared statewide index to the 1860 enumeration.[6]

A closer analysis of the census data reveals that Roxand and Chester townships were not canvassed until mid-August; but her second contract still should have been in force. Several "unoccupied" houses are noted on the census, but a young "schoolmarm" would not have been given or rented a house alone in a rural area. Commonly, a temporary teacher, if she did not have relatives to live with, would board with a family in the community. In a rural district, often several of the families would offer to "put her up" a few days or weeks each. More likely, when the area was canvassed in mid-August, the family in which she they boarded did not cite her because she was not part of the household in June, while the family with which she actually spent the night of 1 June simply did not recall that she was there at that precise time.

One month following the expiration of the second contract, Frances married Matthew Miller in the presence of Nathan Spencer and John Stringham. The date was 25 October 1860; the place was Bedford Township of Calhoun County, which adjoins Eaton County to the south. (See figure 1.) That record said the bride was "of Bedford." [7]

A reading of the 1860 enumeration of Bedford, taken in June did not unearth Frances. Speculatively, if she terminated her employment early, she could have left Eaton County before the enumerator arrived in her neighborhood and then relocated in Bedford after that township was canvassed. On 5 January 1891, Frances died of dropsy at Charlotte in Eaton County. Both her death registration and her obituary cite her birthplace as Vermont. For parental data, the death certificate states "unknown." The obituary provides an age at death that conforms to the birth year Frances penned on the family record (aged fifty-four, thus born between 5 January 1836 and 5 January 1837); however, the death certificate cites her age as sixty. The obituary also notes that her funeral was held from the Advent Church. [8]

Tracking Offspring

Family records and traditions within descending lines frequently hold important clues to origins of elusive mothers — not so in this family. Frances bore two children by Matthew Miller. Her son John Levi Miller was born prior to the 1870 inauguration of statewide birth registration in Michigan; but his birth place and date are given as Charlotte,30 July 1862, on his death certificate filed when he died 28 April 1937 in Eaton County. [9]

That certificate offered no additional or different detail on his parents. The daughter of Frances, Rosa B. Miller, was born 16 June 1870. Her birth registration stated that her parents lived in Charlotte, that her mother was born in Vermont, and that the mother's middle initial was E [10]rather than the B appearing for Frances on her census records, teaching contracts, and death registration.

Rosa married Joseph Covert[11] and moved to Denver, Colorado, where she died in May 1908 [12]. Her one daughter, Geraldine, married but had no children.[13]

With Geraldine, family lore died in the distaff line. John Levi's offspring recounted two traditions: Frances was a teacher and she belonged to the Adventist Church. Both points were known from the records previously found.

Evaluating The Problem

Dates and localities for the marriage and death of Frances B. Whitney are adequately established. Husband and children are identified. Disagreement exists over the year of her birth and her middle initial. The state of her birth is consistently given, and Frances herself supplies a specific town — although she is not found among vital records there. Worse, she is not named in census records of any Whitney family group in either the place of her marriage or the cited place of birth. Since single young females did not commonly live on their own in the mid 1880s — at least not those respectable enough to qualify for a teaching post — it is logical to assume that she did live with family members. Locating and identifying them was the challenge.

Devising a Strategy

This case was solved by following two classic pieces of advice: one must proceed from the known to the unknown, and one must research all identifiable associates until adequate evidence emerges. Clearly, the first geographical focus of the search had to be Eaton and Calhoun counties — specifically

The known associates were scarce:

Given these meager facts, a five-step strategy was devised first for Michigan:

  1. Locate and study the records of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church from which she was buried — searching not only for Frances but also for other Whitneys and known associates.
  2. Research the schools in Roxand Township at which she taught — and the officials who hired her — to pinpoint the neighborhood in which she would have lived.
  3. Identify and research all Whitneys in the Eaton County area in which she taught.
  4. Research the witnesses to her wedding, to see if they could be related, and pinpoint the area in which these witnesses lived.
  5. Identify and research all Whitneys in the Calhoun County area in which she wed.

The Michigan Phase

Step One: Research Church Records

Charlotte's Seventh-Day Adventist Church granted a request to make a personal search of its records. [14] Its rolls reveal that Frances was one of the congregation's charter members. Her death date is recorded, but no family data is included. No other Whitneys appear in the early records. A compiled history of the local church includes another tidbit: [15] an obituary for Frances appears in the denomination newspaper published at Battle Creek, Michigan, copies of which are preserved at the Adventist Heritage Center at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. When examined, that religious obituary proved to be far more informative, but equally enigmatic:[16]

Miller — Died Jan. 5, 1891, at the home of her son, John L. Miller, in Charlotte, Mich., Frances B. Miller, in the fifty-firth year of her age. The deceased was born in Bridgewater, Vt., in the year 1836. In 1850, she, with her mother, sister, and two brothers, moved to Michigan, settling in Roxand Township, Eaton County. In 1860 she moved to Charlotte, same county, where she has since resided. She, with a brother and sister-in-law, embraced the faith of the Seventh-day Adventists as early as 1852. It was by her earnest call that a tent-meeting was held in Charlotte, by Elders J. N. Loughborough and Moses Hull, in the summer of 1862, which resulted in the establishing of a small church, which has maintained its existence to the present time. She was ever faithful to attend all the meetings as long as she was able to walk to the place of worship. Her testimony was always cheerful and encouraging. She died a peaceful death, with a bright hope of immortality and eternal life in the soon-coming kingdom. A husband, son, and daughter are left to mourn the loss of a true wife and an affectionate mother. Funeral sermon by the writer. Text, Rev. 14:13. [Submitted by] I. D. Van Horn.

The referenced mother, sister, and brothers obviously did not bear the surname Whitney, as no other Whitneys appear on the rolls of the Charlotte Church. Regrettably, the obituary gave no clue to their identities. Although the cited birthplace (Bridgewater, Vermont) is different than that recorded by Frances (Woodstock), the detail is still compatible, as Bridgewater is the township to the west of Woodstock. While the obituary dates the family move in 1850, the family's nonappearance on that year's census of Eaton could be due to timing — they may have been in transit during the enumeration period. Yet that does not explain their seeming omission from the state census of Michigan taken in 1854. [17]

Step Two: Locate Schools and Officials

Frances signed her first teaching contract with a school representative named Ambrose Preston. A search of Eaton County deeds revealed Preston to be a land owner in Section 31 of Roxand Township, [18] and a current "official road map" of Eaton County places the site of Kelley School in that same section. (See Figure 2.) Local census records cite Preston and wife as New York natives, with no family members born in Vermont [19] — suggesting no obvious connection to Frances, other that their brief professional relationship.

Frances executed her second teaching contract with Adam Boyer, who was specifically identified in that document as "Director of Fractional School District #1, Roxand and #4 in Chester." [20] Auxiliary research on Boyer placed his farm in section 34 of Roxand Township — two miles or so east of the Kelley School. [21] (See figure 2.) As with Ambrose Preston, Boyer and wife were born in New York, and their children were born in Michigan. [22] Again, there did not seem to be any connection other than professional.

Annual reports for Roxand Township's early schools still exist at the Michigan State Archives. A search revealed that during 1860 two unnamed female teachers were hired by District Ten, under Preston, for total wages of $30.27. Twenty of the twenty-six school-aged children in the district attended during the five-month school year; and the school district's library contained twenty-seven volumes. [23] The details are interesting, but of little use in tracking family origins and parentage.

Step Three: Research Whitneys of Eaton

A cursory examination of personal records executed by the school officials who employed Frances had placed the schools — and Frances, as well — in southern Roxand Township — nearly twenty miles from Calhoun County where she married. While the 1860 federal census includes no Whitney families in Roxand or Chester townships, two Whitneys do appear in Roxand's earlier records:

Henry Whitney, who was said to be from Monroe County, New York, on 22 April 1837, when he claimed land in sections 11 and 12 of Roxand Township — four to eight miles north of the sites where Frances has been placed. [24] No man of his name appears on the 1850, 1854, or 1860 enumerations of Eaton, however. The only Henry Whitney indexed for Michigan in 1850 was a thirty-two-year-old man in Hanover Township, Jackson County [25] — a county that bordered both Eaton and Calhoun. (See figure 1.)

Lebbeus Whitney, who was said to be of Jackson County also when he patented forty acres in section 14 of Roxand Township in 1843.[26] He was still in Roxand on the enumeration of 1850 – at which time both he and his wife were cited as natives of New York. They had no children. In 1860, the census taker found them back in Jackson County, Rives Township.[27] (See figure 1.)

Extending the search beyond Roxand Township into Eaton County at large revealed several Whitney families enumerated in 1860. None lived near Frances or near the two schools at which she taught. Nor did any of them have a Vermont birthplace. Those who appeared on Eaton's death indexes from 1867 to 1913 [28] and those referenced in the published abstracts of Charlotte's newspapers[29] also could be eliminated. Either they were not of the correct age to have Frances as a daughter or their family histories, their places of birth, or lack of proximity suggested incompatibility as potential parents.

The deed and newspaper search yielded an interesting sidelight and a geographical connection by which Frances might have met her husband. On 4 April 1860, some six months before the wedding, Matthew Miller appeared in Roxand Township, where he purchased family land in section 35 from his brother-in-law, James H. Davis. The site was only a mile or so from the school at which Frances taught between April and September 1860. [30] (See figure 2.) Two days after this sale, Davis was tried for the alleged theft of a watch and money from an aged lady who boarded with him, Margaret Myatt. Matthew also was arrested in connection with the case, was tried, and was acquitted. [31] Davis was convicted and sentenced to three years and two months in the Western Michigan State Prison. [32] Thereafter, Davis's wife, Margaret, and children moved in with her brother Matthew — where they (as well as Mary Miller, mother of Matthew and Margaret) were enumerated in Matthew's home at Charlotte on the 1860 census. [33]

Step Four: Research Wedding Witnesses

Nathan Spencer and John Stringham witnessed the October 1860 marriage of Frances to Matthew in Calhoun County. Not surprisingly, the deed records show these men to be close neighbors to each other. Both their landholdings lay in southeast Bedford Township near Battle Creek — John being in section 33, Nathan in adjacent section 34.[34] Both appear with their families on the 1860 census of Calhoun County, at which time the two families were census neighbors.[35]

Stringham, a forty-five-year-old farmer in 1860, was born in Dutchess County, New York, and was the son of Jacob and Sarah Stringham, according to his death certificate.[36] Neither his place of origin nor the names within his family unit offered an obvious connection to Frances.

Spencer, a thirty-year-old farmer in 1860, was born in Vermont. After his death from consumption on 19 April 1877 in Battle Creek, Michigan, a death certificate was filed; it cites his full name as Nathan Gould Spencer and his parents as Aaron and Betsey Spencer. [37] Like Frances Whitney and Matthew Miller, Nathan appears in both Eaton and Calhoun counties. On 16 April 1853, he married Elizabeth A. Butler, at which time he was said to be "of Roxand." Witnesses were W. A. Spencer and Frances B. Whitney. [38]

This connection between Frances and Nathan Spencer — both born in Vermont, both witnessing the marriage of the other, and both of close age — was repeated as research continued on the Spencers. Nathan and William are first cited in Eaton's 1851 tax list. Both were in section 36 of southern Roxand, [39] fewer than two miles from the school at which Frances taught for five months in 1860. On 4 September 1854, Nathan and his new wife Elizabeth purchased forty acres in the same section — from James H. and Margaret Davis, the future in-laws of Frances. Two years later, 13 February 1856, Nathan and Elizabeth sold part of this land to William A. Spencer[40] then removed to the Battle Creek area of Bedford Township, where there was a strong Seventh-day Adventist movement.

Census and church records yielded information on Nathan that paralleled data for Frances. The state census of Roxand that was taken in 1854, a year after Nathan's marriage, enumerated a household that tempts one to speculate.[41]

Householder Census Data Known Identification Possibly
N. G. Spencer, a married farmer 1 male; 21–45 Nathan Gould  
  1 female; 40-47   Mother?
  2 females; 18-40  

Sister?

Frances?

  1 female 0-4 Adaline, born 1854  

Nathan's obituary, published 1877 in the Adventist newspaper, is also suggestive. It states that he came to Michigan in 1848 and that he was born on 8 January 1830 in Hartland, Vermont — a village in the same county from which Frances hailed.[42]

Step Five: Research Whitneys in Calhoun

Research within the county in which Frances married began with the community pinpointed for her witnesses then broadened to include the entire county — again with disappointing results. The 1860 federal census offers six Whitney entries in Calhoun County. None were in Bedford Township, where Frances married; and none were from Vermont, where Frances was born. Post-1860 death records of Calhoun offered one Whitney family with Vermont origins, in Bedford Township: one N. S. Whitney, son of a Cyrus Whitney, had been born 1810 in Vermont; he migrated to Michigan in 1854, spent eight years in Kalamazoo, then moved to Bedford in 1862.[43] Thus, the maiden Frances would not have been living with him at the time she married in Bedford Township in 1860.

Evaluation of Results

The five-step plan for Michigan research exhausted all known records, with mixed results. Viewed positively, it offered an alternate birthplace for Frances in Vermont — another community whose records could be searched. It revealed that she came to Eaton County, Michigan in 1850 with her mother, sister, and two brothers. Viewed negatively, it failed to yield the names of those relatives, and it turned up no other Whitneys in her neighborhoods to whom she might be connected.

Two reasonable conclusions can be drawn. First, the surname by which her relatives were known in Michigan was obviously something other than Whitney. Second, the Nathan Spencer who came from the same county in Vermont, the Nathan Spencer who witnessed her wedding and invited her to witness his own, the Nathan Spencer whose 1854 household included "extra" family members of age-sex distribution appropriate to be Frances and her mother and sister, and the Nathan Spencer whose male marriage witness was another Spencer of age to be one of Frances's unknown brothers — this Nathan Spencer was surely a relative and probably a brother.

Thus, the evidence warrants a shift in focus. The search should now move to Vermont, and the surname Spencer should be of prime consideration.

The Vermont Phase

West Woodstock, where Frances said she was born, is a village about one mile southwest of Woodstock, the county seat of Windsor County. As late as 1884, a county gazetteer attributed to West Woodstock just one store, a sawmill, a schoolhouse, and twenty dwellings. [44] To its east stood Hartland, the village in which Nathan Gould Spencer was said to have been born. To the west of West Woodstock lay Bridgewater, the point of origins cited for Frances by the pastor who buried her in 1891. Here, in southern Vermont, local records jelled with the accretion of Michigan evidence to provide proof of parentage and identity.

Vermont was a state in which the collecting of early vital records was left to the discretion of individual families and town clerks.[45] Thus, the registrations for West Woodstock are incomplete; and those that do exist are actually recorded in nearby Woodstock. A page-by-page, line-by-line search of the latter town's records revealed few early birth registrations and none for a Frances B. Whitney or for a Nathan Gould Spencer or a William Spencer born in the appropriate years.

The neighboring town of Bridgewater had been cited as the birthplace of Frances in the obituary penned by her Michigan pastor. When the vital records search was extended to Bridgewater, neither Frances B. Whitney nor the appropriate Spencers appeared. Nor were they found in extant vital records of Hartland, the town of Nathan's birth.

Step Two: Research Census Records

Two Frances Whitneys were tallied in Windsor County in the crucial year 1850; both lived in Hartland Township and both were aged twelve. In that year, Frances B. (Whitney) Miller would have been thirteen. Given the frequency with which census ages err, the twelve-year-olds cannot be eliminated on the basis of age. However, household data echo none of the details known about the Frances who associated with the Spencers. The first Frances Whitney of 1850 Hartland appears in the Wilson Britton family — individuals of no known association with the Michigan settlers. The second Frances of Hartland, only a page away from the first, was the child of one Alfred Whitney and wife Eveline, whose other children — Hellen, Elisabeth, Adelaide, and Hiram — were five to ten years old. [46] No Spencer appear in conjunction with either family.

The Woodstock census of 1850 actually couples the surnames Whitney and Spencer in one household. Instead of providing a clear solution, however, the details are at once deficient and contradictory, yet supportive. In brief, the four individuals enumerated together on 23 August 1850 are identified as: [47]

Whitney, Betsey, aged 58, born New Hampshire

Spencer, William, aged 26, born Vermont

_____, Harriet E., aged 18, born Vermont

_____, Frances, aged 13, born Vermont

Several considerations can be drawn from an analysis of this household:

A final clue appears on the mortality schedule of the 1850 Woodstock census. Among the inhabitants said to have died within the twelve months preceding 1 June was one Levi Whitney, aged sixty-five years, a New Hampshire native who died there in Woodstock in December 1849. [49] No relations were named. However, Frances gave the name John Levi to her one son.

Step Three: Research Court Records

Windsor County's probate records, Hartford District, include an estate file for Levi Whitney. Its records confirm that, at his death on 20 December 1849, he left a widow Betsey Whitney and a minor daughter Frances, who was still under the age of fourteen years. A provision was made for a tombstone to be placed upon the grave of his first wife — indicating that Betsey was his second spouse. William Spencer was a creditor of his estate. The full list of his heirs cited them in the following sequence: Hepsibah Whitney of Hartland; Pluma Curtis, wife of Joel Curtis of Woodstock; Amos Whitney of Woodstock; Mary Caswell, wife of Ralph Caswell, of Springfield, Massachusetts; Edwin Whitney and Frances Whitney, both of Woodstock; and Adelaide Whitney of Bridgewater (daughter of his deceased son, Nathan Whitney).[50] Pluma and Joel Curtis, incidentally, appear on the 1850 census as the next-door neighbors of Betsey Whitney, William Spencer, and Frances E. "Spencer."

Clearly, a case can be made: Betsey [ -- ? -- ] first wed before 1824 to Aaron Spencer, by whom she had three children: William (born about 1824); Nathan Gould (born 8 January 1830); and Harriet E. (born about 1832). She then took, as her second husband, an older man named Levi Whitney, by whom she bore Frances B/E Whitney on 26 October 1836. Vital records of the various towns that comprise Windsor County do not yield a registration of either marriage; nor does an Aaron Spencer appear on the 1820 or 1830 censuses of the county. Hartland's town minutes do confirm the existence there of an Aaron Spencer, militiaman, on the rolls of 4 June 1816 and 28 June 1818 but not thereafter. [51]

Step Four: Identify Betsey's Birth Family

The middle name that Betsey gave to her second son, Gould, was a clue adequate to proving her maiden identity. A search of Windsor County records under the surnames Gould and Spencer yielded the following:

19 June 1816. Hartland. Division of estate left by the late Ebenezer Gould. Named heirs included Betsey Gould, whose share was described as "beginning at the SW corner of John Gould's share, South 86 degrees East 80 rods to a stake and stones[,[ thence North 32 1/2 degrees East 8 rods to stake and stones[,] thence North 88 degrees west to said road [Turnpike Road], thence on said road to place of beginning. Two acres 2 roods, 28 rods". [52]

11 February 1819. Aaron and Betsey Spencer of Hartland sell to Rodalphus Whitney of Woodstock "a piece of land in Hartland . . . being part of the farm [of] Ebenezer Gould late of said Hartland. . . Beginning at a stake and stones standing on the East side of the Windsor to Woodstock Turnpike Road which is the northwest corner of John Goulds share[,] thence south 86 degrees East on said Johns share 80 rods to Joseph Bryants land[,] thence North 32 1/2 degrees East on said Bryants land 8 rods to the SE corner of Lydia Goulds share[,] thence Westerly on said Lydias share." [53]

After this sale, Aaron and Betsey Spencer left Windsor County. The 1820 federal census of Vermont includes two Aaron Spencers — the first in Springfield, Windsor county, whose data is incompatible; and the second in Roxbury, Orange County. Enumerated adjacent to the Roxbury Spencers is Darius Hatch, who married Betsey Spencer's sister, according to Ebenezer Gould's estate file. Aaron of Roxbury appears to be a newlywed — no children yet born. His age is tallied in the 18-26 bracket; the female in his household is cited as 26–45 (born 1779–94), [54] entirely compatible with that of Betsey Whitney of Woodstock, for whom the 1850 census implied the birth year 1792.

Aaron and Betsey remained in Roxbury for more than another decade — even though no birth registrations appear there for their children.[55] Data recorded for them on the 1830 U.S. census attribute the expected two male children to their household — one born 1820–1825 [assuredly William], the other born 1825–30 [likewise, Nathan]. [56] The land, which Aaron bought at Roxbury on 25 July 1819, was sold by him on 2 June 1830 and 17 March 1834. [57]

The last Roxbury sale was prompted by the family's return to Hartland, apparently to be closer to Betsey's aging mother. On 1 April 1833, Aaron executed, with Anna Gould, a lease for her eighteen-acre farm lot, lying in South Hartland on the turnpike road leading from Windsor to Woodstock. By the terms of the lease, Aaron was to provide Anna with "one-third of every kind of produce which shall be raised on said premises."[58] In two curious documents executed that fall — perhaps debt related — Aaron (on 2 September) assigned the lease to Zerah Lull of Woodstock for $5.00, then (on 14 November) he reclaimed it for double that sum. [59] The final Roxbury deed of March 1834 marks the last known existence of Aaron Spencer. Within two years, his widow — left with three children to support, but no landholdings —would take a second husband who was considerably older but, apparently, of more substantial means.

Betsey (née Gould) (Spencer) Whitney appears four times more in Windsor County records, all of which support the identity that has been pieced together for her. On 24 December 1839, Anna Gould applied for a Revolutionary War widow's pension, naming Betsey Whitney among her offspring.[60] Again, after Anna's death on 20 July 1844, the division of her widow's dower cited Betsey Whitney as an heir. [61] On 12 March 1849, Levi and Betsey Whitney deeded to one Lorenzo Wood a small parcel of land, said to have been "set off to Betsey Whitney as heir of Ebenezer Gould's Estate, late of Hartland, decd." [62] Finally, on 25 September 1850,Betsey Whitney sold to Nathan Lamb, administrator of Levi's estate, her dower right to the seventy-acre farm that she occupied with Levi in the southwest corner of Woodstock.[63]

Postscript

Betsey Whitney removed to Michigan with her two sons and two daughters, as the obituary of Frances related. She and her daughter Herrit (Harriet) appear on the 1860 federal census of Ionia County, Michigan — in the township of Sebewa, contiguous to Eaton County's Roxand Township on the northwest. (See figure 1.) Both females were residents of the household of Betsey's oldest son William. Frances was not included. [64] Betsey died in Ionia on 16 June 1868, aged seventy-seven years and six months, and lies buried in the east section of Sebewa Cemetery. [65] Harriet Spencer's fate is unknown. An unclaimed letter awaited her in the Charlotte, Michigan, post office on 27 December 1865. [66] She is not enumerated with any sibling in 1870, and a death listing has not been found for her in Ionia, Eaton, or Calhoun counties.

Many wives and mothers of the past seem to be women who came from nowhere, women of no family before they wed. Yet, young females of pre-modern America did not commonly live on their own. Wherever they courted and married, most had family — often of a different surname. The challenge is to find that name. Frances B. Whitney changed her name at marriage, but she did not cut the strings that tied her to her birth. Tracking her to her kin was, in the end, a matter of picking up the loose ends that had always been there within her records and following them where ever those strings led.


End Notes

[1]Miller Family Register, handwritten record of Matthew Miller family in possession of Ralph Laverty of Niles, Michigan; viewed by author on 28 June 1989.

[2] Scott A. Bartley and Alice Eichholz, "Vermont," Ancestry's Redbook: American State, County & Town Sources, rev. ed., Alice Eichholz, ed. (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1992), 746. Extant registrations maintained by the state are accessible through Salt Lake City's Family History Library as microcopy 27,729, filmed from the General Index to Vital Records, Office of Secretary of State, Montpelier, Vermont.

[3]Woodstock Vital Records, 1792-1896, FHL microcopy 29,129; and Woodstock Town Proceedings, 1773-1904, from Vermont Public Records Division, Montpelier, filmed as FHL microcopy 889,316.

[4]1870 U.S. Census, population schedule, Eaton Co., Mich., Charlotte, Carmel Township, p. 117, family 119, dwelling 118 (3 June 1870), provides the following: Miller, Matthew, 41, cooper, $2,000/$300, b. Ireland, U.S. citizen, father and mother of foreign birth Francis, 33, keeping house, b. Vermont John, 6, in school, b. Mich. West, 45, cooper, b. N.Y., U.S. citizen Mary, 60, at home, b. Ireland, father and mother of foreign birth The 1880 U.S. Census, population schedule, ward 1, enum. dist. 72, p. 5, family 57, dwelling 61 [n.d.] provides the following: Miller, Matthew, 53 [keeps] hotel, b. Ireland, father and mother b. Ireland Frances B., wife, 43, housekeeping, b. Vt., mother and father b. Mass. John L., son, 17, at school, b. Mich., father b. Ireland, mother b. Vt. Rose B., daughter, 10, at school, b. Mich., father b. Ireland, mother b. Vt.

[5] "Agreement between Ambrose Preston, Director School Dist #10, Roxand Twp. and F.B. Whitney [signed: Frances B. Whitney], a qualified teacher of Roxand Twp., 17 Jan. 1860," and "Contract between District [represented by Adam Boyer, Director of Fractional School District #1, Roxand, and #4 in Chester], and Teacher [signed: Frances B. Whitney], 7 May 1860." Original contracts in possession author.

[6] Ronald Vern Jackson, Michigan 1860 Federal Census Index (North Salt Lake: Accelerated Indexing System, 1988).

[7] Calhoun Co., Mich., Marriages, vol. 1, 1834-1871: 290.

[8] Eaton Co. Deaths, Liber 2: 418, no. 110, FHL microcopy 966,599; Charlotte Tribune, 7 January 1891, p. 1. col. 5.

[9] Death Certificate 123 1526, John L. Miller, Mich. Dept. of Public Health, Lansing.

[10] Eaton Co. Births, Liber 1: 118, no. 1743, FHL microcopy 966,583.

[11] Eaton Co. Marriages, Liber 6: 99, FHL microcopy 966,597. According to this record, on 3 August 1892, at Charlotte, Rosa B. Miller, aged 22, of Charlotte (b. Mich., parents: Matthew Miller and Francis [sic] Whitney), married J. O. Covert, aged 24, of Vermontville, Mich. (b. Ohio, parents: Oliver P. Covert and Sarah J. Mote).

[12] Fairmont Cemetery, Sexton's Records, 1891-1952, Denver, Colo., FHL microcopy 206,921; the deceased is identified as Rosa B. Covert, aged 35, buried 16 May 1908.

[13] Obituary, Geraldine Stanton, Denver Post, 12 September 1947, p. 25.

[14] The writer personally conducted this research in June 1989.

[15] Brian E. Strayer, "Advent Waymarks in Charlotte and Eaton Rapids," 5 parts (typescript, 1988; available through Adventist Heritage Center, Berrien Springs, Mich.), 2:10.

[16] Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Battle Creek, Mich., 10 February 1891; italics are added to the quotation for emphasis.

[17] 1854 Mich. State Census, Eaton Co., Roxand Twp., FHL microcopy 915,300, item 3.

[18] 1853 Eaton Co., Assessment Roll, Roxand Twp., unnumbered page, FHL microcopy 915,954.

[19] 1860 U.S. Census, pop. sch., Eaton Co., Mich., Roxand Twp., p. 210, dwelling 1687, family 1657.

[20] See n. 5.

[21] 1853 Eaton Co., Assessment Roll, Roxand Twp., unnumbered page.

[22] 1860 U.S. Census, population schedule, Eaton Co., Mich., Roxand Twp., p. 212, family 1671, dwelling 1701.

[23] Annual Report of the School Inspectors of the Township of Roxand, County of Eaton, to the County Clerk for the Year 1860, Record Group 65-36-A, Container 7, Mich. State Archives, Lansing.

[24] E. Gray and Ethel W. Williams, comps., First Land Owners of Eaton County, Michigan (Kalamazoo: privately printed, 1967), 18.

[25] 1850 U.S. Census, population schedule, Jackson Co., Mich., Hanover Twp., p. 487 (handwritten) 244 (stamped), dwelling 317, family 317.

[26] Williams, First Land Owners of Eaton, 18.

[27] 1850 U.S. Census, population schedule, Eaton Co., Mich., Roxand Twp., p. 314, family 1154, dwelling 1137; and 1860 U.S. Census, population schedule, Jackson Co., Mich., Rives Twp., p. 622, family 812, dwelling 910.

[28] Research report of Joyce Marple Liepins, Charlotte, Mich., to Connie Lenzen, 25 January 1990.

[29] Joyce Marple Liepins, comp. Eaton County, Michigan, Newspapers, vol. 1: 1845-1867 (Charlotte, Mich.: Privately printed, 1984); and vol. 2: 1868-1870 (1986).

[30] Eaton Co. Deeds, Liber 24: 396, FHL microcopy 965,849.

[31] Charlotte, Eaton County Republican, 6 April 1860.

[32] Western Michigan Prisoners Record, vol. 23: 74, Mich. State Archives. The record provides the following data on Davis: aged 34 years; b. New York; white race, dark complexioned; 5'8" tall; three scars on right leg, scar on left leg, and scar on left wrist; term of sentence; 3 years, 2 months; crime: grand larceny; date of incarceration: 6 April 1860, from Eaton Co.; time expires: 6 June 1863.

[33] 1860 U.S. Census, population schedule, Eaton Co., Mich., Charlotte P.O., p. 117, dwelling 118, family 119. In brief, the occupants of Matthew's dwelling were Matthew Miller (37, b. Ireland); Mary Miller (55, b. Ireland); Margaret Davis (36, b. Canada) Mary J. Davis (9, b. Mich.); Emma C. Davis (7, b. Mich); and Medy M. (1, b. Mich).

[34] Calhoun Co. Deeds, vols. 63: 63, and 64: 342, FHL microcopy 1003958.

[35] 1860 U.S. Census, population schedule, Calhoun Co., Mich., Bedford Twp., p. 311, dwelling 801, family 768 (Spencer) and dwelling 802, family 769 (Stringham). In brief, the family members were Spencer: Nathan (30, farmer, b. Vt.); Elizabeth (25, b. N.Y.); Adeline (6, b. Mich.); Adenanum (5, b.Mich.) Culver (4, b. Mich); Truman (1, b. Mich). Stringham: John (43, farmer, b. N.Y.); Deborah (46, b. N.Y.); Charles (17, b. Mich.); George (15, b.Mich.); Julia (12, b. Mich.); Frank (9, b. Mich.); Walter (4, b. Mich.)

[36] Calhoun Co. Deaths, 1867-82: 183, no. 54, FHL microcopy 1,009,292, provides the following data on John Stringham: married; aged 60 years, 11 months, 8 days; died at Bedford of dropsy of kidneys; born Duchess (sic) County, N.Y.; parents: Jacob Stringham and Sarah.

[37] Calhoun Co. Deaths, 1867-82: 200, FHL microcopy 1,009,292, provides the following data on Nathan Gould Spencer: married; aged 47 years, 4 months, 8 days; died at Battle Creek of consumption; shoemaker; parents: Aaron & Betsy Spencer.

[38] Eaton Co. Marriages, Liber 1: 226, states that Nathan G. Spencer of Roxand married Elizabeth A. Butler of Riley in Clinton Co., on 16 April 1853, before A. O. Jenne, Minister of the Gospel (of Roxand), and witnesses W. A. Spencer and Frances B. Whitney.

[39] Eaton Co. Assessment Rolls, 1849-1855, FHL microcopy 915,953, from originals at Mich. State Archives, Lansing. The 1855 roll charges N. J. [sic] and William Spencer with 40 acres each in section 36.

[40] Eaton Co. Deeds, Liber 15: 290; 19: 17; and 21: 257, FHL microcopy 956,846.

[41] 1854 Mich. State Census, Eaton Co., Roxand Twp., RG 65-4/A, Mich. State Archives, Lansing.

[42] Review and Herald. 10 May 1877.

[43] Calhoun Co. Deaths, 1867-1882: 198, no. 45, FHL microcopy 1,009,292, provides the following data on Norman K. [sic] Whitney: widowed; aged 66 years; b. Vermont; father: Cyrus Whitney. See also Washington Gardner, History of Calhoun County, 2 vols. (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1943) 2: 941, 975

[44] Hamilton Child, comp. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Windsor County, Vt., for 1883-84 (Syracuse, N.Y.: Hamilton Child, 1884).

[45] Alice Eicholz, Collecting Vermont Ancestors (Montpelier: Privately printed, 1986), 21.

[46] 1850 U.S. Census, population schedule, Windsor Co., Vt., Hartland Twp., p. 277, dwelling 3, family 3; and p. 278, dwelling 26, family 29.

[47] 1850 U.S. Census, population schedule, Windsor Co., Vt., Woodstock Twp., p. 77, dwelling 410, family 410.

[48] 1850 U.S. Census, population schedule, Eaton Co., Mich., Oneida Twp., p. 77, dwelling 1062, family 1077.

[49] Carrie Hollister, "Mortality Schedules of Vermont," no. 3, "Census of 1850" (typescript, Montpelier: Lafayette Chap., National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1948), 411, FHL microcopy 27,746.

[50] Windsor Co. Probate Records, Hartford Dist., 20: 255, FHL microcopy 29,169.

[51] Hartland Town Records, vol. 3: 263-64, FHL microcopy 28,345.

[52] Hartland Deeds, 8: 158, FHL microcopy 28,350.

[53] Hartland Deeds, 9 (1818-1821): 144, FHL microcopy 28,350.

[54] 1820 U.S. Census, Orange Co., Vt., Roxbury Twp., p. 221, FHL microcopy 28,1248.

[55] Roxbury Town and Vital Records, 1796-1851, FHL microcopy 28,721.

[56] 1830 U.S. Census, Washington Co., Vt., Roxbury, p. 281, FHL microcopy 27,449.

[57] Roxbury Deeds, 3: 375 and 4: 417, FHL microcopy 28,723; Roxbury Deeds, 5: 161, FHL microcopy 28,724.

[58] Hartland Deeds, 12: 36, FHL microcopy 28,352.

[59] Ibid, pp. 37, 49.

[60] Revolutionary War Widow's Pension W23118 (Anna Gould, widow of Ebenezer Gould), microcopy M804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900, reel 1101, National Archives.

[61] Hartland Deeds, 15: 30-31, FHL microcopy 28,353.

[62] Ibid, 152.

[63] Woodstock Land Records, 16: 207, 219, FHL microcopy 889,309.

[64] 1860 U.S. Census, population schedule, Ionia Co., Mich., Sebewa Twp., page 487 (34), dwelling 291, family 268.

[65] Ionia Co., Mich., Death Registers, A: 16, item 306, FHL microcopy 960,505. See also "Sebewa Cemetery, Ionia Co., Mich., Cemetery Records" (MS., Flat River Historical Museum, Greenville, Mich.), FHL microcopy 1,293,989, item 22.

[66] Liepins, Eaton Co., Michigan, Newspapers, vol 1., 1845-1867 (Charlotte: Privately printed, 1984), 242.


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Connie Lenzen, CG

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