Sunday, August 2, 2015

The DNA That Taunts Me

Sometimes—usually just after I've returned from a genealogy conference—the pursuit of family secrets encoded in DNA seems a likely course of action for family history research.

Then there are other times when I'm not so sure. The repetition of trawling through stacks of data, trying to make surname listings support centiMorgan readouts, can be wearying. Truth be told, on my dark and dismal side, I sometimes feel that outrage of wondering whether it is all some great hoax perpetuated on the gullible paying public.

The last two weeks have been sweet enough to turn me from my sour grapes attitude about lack of DNA-matching progress. Although the two family trees involved in the weeks' serendipity both fall on my husband's side of the family, the result has been a super-charging of research progress.

On our Flowers tree, one match which appeared in June has been confirmed to be related to my husband in no less that three different ways. Remember, that Flowers family tree comes from Perry County, Ohio—where everyone is related to everyone else, at least once—so it wasn't much of a surprise.

Confirming that relationship—the closest of the three ways put the match at the level of third cousin—also led to another confirmation. With this confirmed match on Family Tree DNA, I used the "In Common With" button to see who else among my husband's matches also connected with this Flowers line relative. One other person did—thus instigating another volley of emails with that matching person, leading to a confirmed relationship at the level of fourth cousin.

Comparing notes with these two new acquaintances prompted me to push the lines out further on the Snider branch of this Flowers tree, where these two most recent matches occurred. This Snider—originally Schneider—line came, predictably, from Germany and settled in Perry County by 1820.

Of course, having one's genealogical research isolated to one small geographic area can help speed progress. In the last two weeks, I added ninety entries to the Flowers tree, bringing the total number of people in that tree to 1,355. Most all of the recent additions were prompted by notes exchanged with these two new DNA matches, but confirming those notes with documents going back into the 1820s reminds me of yet another project I had set aside when I first had to stop work on that Jackson and Ijams D.A.R. project: my intent to pursue designation as First Families of Ohio.

Oh, well, another project to add to my To-Do Wish List.

DNA led me to another boost in research numbers. This time, it was on our Stevens line, where the tree now stands at a count of 882 people. While that is only a modest increase of five entries since the last time, I actually have an entire branch of the family constructed and waiting in the wings to add to the database. But I'm not yet ready to actually add those names.

Why the hesitation? Because out of the 501 DNA matches in my husband's account, I now have two more at the second to fourth cousin level whom I've contacted. They turn out to be on the Kelly side—possibly related to a sister of my husband's second great grandmother, Catherine Kelly of Lafayette, Indiana—but I can't locate any documentation to prove the connection. Two half-brothers—thus sharing their paternal link to a Kelly line reaching back to Lafayette—have the right Kelly in their family tree, but we can't locate any documentation confirming that their person is indeed our person. After all, her name was Ann Kelly—a name likely claimed by many others besides our common ancestor. So, until I can locate some form of documentation to confirm that this is the right Ann Kelly, all those potential relatives will have to be kept waiting in the wings.

Another item I'm waiting on, for DNA testing on my husband's side of the record, is the return of a distant Tully cousin's results. I'm hoping that, within the next two weeks, we'll have confirmation of connection to an older brother in the Tully family which traveled together from County Tipperary in Ireland to the small town of Paris in Ontario, back at the beginning of the Irish famine. Though everything from circumstantial evidence to hearsay from relatives points to a connection, it will be nice to see the relationship confirmed through DNA testing. Then, too, it will help isolate other matches connected to that Tully line—if there are any others in our current lineup of DNA matches—and speed the process in determining just how we are connected.

While my side of the family hasn't stumbled upon any exciting DNA match possibilities lately, I'm still running on the energy of a hoped-for discovery of the nexus shared with my two mystery cousins. The Davis tree has jumped an extra 334 names, to arrive at a total count of 4,843. While I'm still stalled at those burned courthouses in post-Civil War Kentucky and Missouri, with nine more DNA matches added to total 894 matches for this tree, I have a vested interest in constructing the descending lines for my many colonial ancestors.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Those Others Among Whom We Circulate

One name, among those officers under whom John Jay Jackson served during and following the War of 1812, has provided me more resources than that of the others. That name was Charles Pentland.

Though he wasn't a captain to whom John Jackson reported, Charles Pentland's name was the one appearing on Jackson's near-destroyed discharge papers—in particular, the one to which the note was affixed in his pension file,
Hold this discharge up to the light and the genuine Signature of S. C. Pentland will be seen.

Pentland, serving as ensign in the 4th Rifles at about the time John Jackson enlisted in the army in 1814, was a Pennsylvania-born military man who rose in the ranks to first lieutenant at about the time John Jackson was eventually discharged from his post near Saint Louis in 1818.

Though he was present in the same company in which Jackson served for, likely, most of his service in the rifle regiment, that is not the main reason for my focus on him, today. Pentland's value—at least to our exploration of a fuller picture of the context in which Jackson served—was in his diligent journaling of the various military expeditions in which he was involved.

In tracing the whereabouts of Pentland—and thus, likely, of my husband's fourth great grandfather—his was the name most likely to come up in searches for the names of all Jackson's military leaders. More than Morris, more than "Birdsell," more than "Duffy" and more than McGonigle, with the exception of Captain Magee, the name I encountered the most in my searches was that of Pentland.

There is good reason for this. In all the far-ranging expeditions in which Pentland was involved—from Pittsburgh to Saint Louis to the outer reaches of the Missouri and associated rivers, in territory later to become the states of Nebraska and the Dakotas—he kept a journal.

His observations were perpetuated by means of copybooks, many of which in annotated form have found their way into the collections of various university archives. March of the Pittsburgh Blues Copybook now is a part of the holdings at the University of Pittsburgh, where it provides an excerpt from the Pentland journals detailing the length and destination of the unit's daily marches, brief accounts of battles and number of casualties incurred in the year beginning September 10, 1812.

Another resource extracted a brief schedule from Pentland's journal of that same year, giving an overview of the year's activities during the war. 

Of course, that was before John Jackson's enlistment in the 4th Regiment of Riflemen, so it doesn't provide information pertinent to his own history. But it does give an idea of the daily routine Jackson was about to enter, as his service likely involved the same types of establishment or repair of forts along the tributaries of the upper Mississippi River.

Immediately after his discharge, Jackson's regiment continued that type of work in its assignment to establish a string of army fortifications along the Missouri River in such forays as the Yellowstone Expedition. Among other contemporaneous records, the orderly books of the Rifle Regiment provide excerpts of the events in the construction of Cantonment Missouri, the first of the projected outposts.

Likewise, the names of Jackson's former superiors Pentland and Magee once again began appearing in tandem in reports of expeditions contained in the journals of other military men. Often, I would find entries on their names inserted as footnotes in transcriptions of those journals. Those footnotes, in turn, invariably were lifted from Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army.

Though again not directly involving John Jackson, these descriptions of the territory covered and the forts established during the expeditions were likely similar to the assignments in which Jackson engaged during his own tour of duty.

Two additional names often cropped up in addition to those of Magee and Pentland in such reports: that of Stephen Harriman Long and Stephen Watts Kearny. The Kearny journal has since been published, as well as reports of Long's expedition, in various excerpts.

In the fourth quarterly of the 1919 Nebraska History and Record of Pioneer Days, an article on "Three Military Heroes of Nebraska" explained the mission of one such expedition:
On the second of July, 1820, an exploring party started from Cantonment discover a route across country between that post and Fort Snelling.... The expedition proper comprised Captain Matthew J. Magee and First Lieutenant Charles Pentland of the Rifle Regiment....

The author of the article, Albert Watkins, explained that Captain Stephen Kearny accompanied the expedition but was not a part of it, noting
Probably because Captain Kearny kept a journal of the expedition, it has often been said that he led it.

The author also went on to surmise on the real goal of such army expeditions:
The fact that the route approximately paralleled the subsequent lines of railroads from Omaha to Saint Paul at no great distance from them, and that the captain pronounced the region through which it ran as incapable "of supporting more than a thinly scattered population," impeached his judgment, putting him in the same class with Major Long, who proved himself a false prophet in the same way and year.

Though Major Long had once dismissed the area of his exploration as the "Great Desert," and the originating Yellowstone Expedition—at least in a biographical sketch on its commander, Henry Atkinson—was intended by the government to be a warning to British traders and Indians in the upper Missouri country, records generated by these and related expeditions serve as the few windows allowing us to look upon the military service of our ancestors during those early American decades for which military documentation was not as readily available.

Above: Map of North America detailing the approximate area of the 1803-1804 Louisiana Purchase west of the Mississippi River, prepared for the American edition of Pinkerton's Atlas, published in Philadelphia in 1818 by Thomas Dobson & Company; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.   

Friday, July 31, 2015

Keeping Things Orderly

In sending for the full personnel file of my father-in-law's service during World War II, our family was treated to a detailed summary of every battle in the Pacific theater in which his unit engaged.

Not so for my husband's fourth great grandfather, who served in the 4th Regiment of the U.S. Riflemen during and after the War of 1812. Though it has been a fascinating excursion through our family's own micro-history to read John Jay Jackson's pension papers—now freely accessible online, thanks to a digitization project between the National Archives and a crowdsourced collection of corporate sponsors, nonprofit organizations, generous individual donors and volunteer transcribers—the record lacks those details of military operations to which we've become accustomed.

No small wonder. Apparently, at the start of our country's independence, what military forces we had at the time were likely hampered by widespread illiteracy. Whatever military training the officers of the nascent country might have had needed to be infused throughout the ranks of those whose fervor for freedom had possibly made up for their lack of military discipline.

Sensing that need, a system of paperwork flow had to be instituted. Among other reports, one such device was implemented during the years of the Continental Army, and formalized at the time of hostilities leading up to the War of Independence, by order of General George Washington,
It is order’d, and directed, that not only every regiment, but every Company, do keep an Orderly-book, to which frequent recourse is to be had, it being expected that all standing orders be rigidly obeyed, until alter’d or countermanded.
With that practice instituted in the American military by 1776, its continuance during the War of 1812 has yielded at least a basic record of military maneuvers for our study focusing on the regiment in which John Jackson served.

Though reporting on the record-keeping trait as established during that earlier war, a helpful document composed by John K. Robertson and Bob McDonald and posted online, "A Brief Profile of Orderly Books," provides an overview of this source of military history, which the authors call
the most basic document to be kept...that recording of all orders affecting a given command.
Fast forward, for our purposes in examining the whereabouts of John Jackson during and subsequent to the War of 1812, to our study of the various captains under whom he served. In addition to what I've been able to glean from Francis Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, the orderly books of the various expeditions have helped to reconstruct the narrative of the operations involving Jackson's captains.

In addition—and probably extending from that trait of military discipline in recording all in the Orderly Books—those who led the exploratory expeditions westward, after the War of 1812, also kept journals of their daily progress. Tomorrow, as we review the biographical details of one of Jackson's superiors, Charles Pentland, we'll benefit from the keeping of such records, which provide details as minute as travel conditions and as broad as scope of mission.

Above: 1855 oil on canvas by John Frederick Kensett, "Upper Mississippi," courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Captain Magee and the Pittsburgh Blues

The more I read about the War of 1812, the more I realize how little I know about that episode in our nation's history.

I am not alone. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article reporting on a local bicentennial commemoration had commented on the "handful of spectators" attending the outdoor ceremony, calling the War of 1812 "the nation's forgotten conflict."

Because you and I have an inordinate interest in genealogy, we may have seen that recent bicentennial mark in a different light. That same year inspired the launching of the crowdsourced effort to make the war's pension papers freely available to the public through an ambitious project to digitize and index that entire National Archives collection. The Federation of Genealogical Societies partnered with lead sponsors to raise funds for the "Preserve the Pensions" project—an still-ongoing effort, as thirty five percent of the holdings are not yet digitized, with an estimated fifty percent of the cost yet to raise. Regardless, because so much of the collection is now accessible—for free at this website—the genealogy community has been more focused on researching this time period.

Fortunately, among the pension papers already searchable online is the folder of War of 1812 veteran John Jay Jackson, my husband's fourth great grandfather. If you've been clicking through the hyperlinks on my recent posts, you've been able to view the material in his packet.

It was there that I realized many of the captains he served under were listed in his file. In an attempt to learn more about his assignments, I've launched on an exploration of resources detailing the responsibilities—and, hopefully, battles—of each captain.

We've already taken a look at what could be found about the captain under which John Jackson enlisted yesterday. With today's post, I'll begin a review of what can be found about the next captain mentioned in the official acknowledgement of receipt of Jackson's application for pension: Captain Magee.

If it weren't for the handy Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, I wouldn't have found anything about Captain Magee. For one thing, there was no first name provided. When my search revealed no resources, I worried that "Magee" could have been a poorly-spelled attempt at a name like "McGee"—or worse, perhaps something like "McGehee."

As it turns out, the officer in question was Matthew J. Magee from Pennsylvania. As had the captain we reviewed yesterday—John Morris of Indiana—Captain Magee first served with his state's militia, and entered the war at the earliest point in 1812.

That Captain Magee hailed from Pennsylvania turned out to be a significant detail. Apparently, at the time, the question of war was not a popular proposition, politically—with few exceptions. One of those notable exceptions was the support offered the President by the governor and representatives from the state of Pennsylvania. Thus, Captain Magee and his regiment were listed as volunteers as early as August for a war not declared by Congress until June 18, 1812.

The group the Captain was assigned to lead was known as the Pittsburgh Blues—among the first of the Pennsylvania units to respond to the governor's call for troops. Originally a company of the state militia formed in 1807, once war was declared by the United States, members of the Blues became federal troops. Serving, at one point, under General William Henry Harrison—later to become a United States President—the Blues' campaigns took them primarily to various outposts in Ohio, then known as the Old Northwest.

Captain Magee's duties, however, took him elsewhere. By March 17, 1814, he was assigned as captain of the 4th Regiment of Riflemen—the very company which John Jackson was soon to join.

Once again, just as I had seen in attempting to research the history of Captain Morris' campaigns, I was unable to locate listings of which battles involved Captain Magee—and thus, Sergeant Jackson. However, as in my foray into the history of Captain Morris, the extraneous material I located on Captain Magee—and, along with him, another of Jackson's superiors, Charles Pentland—provided a sense of just what the terrain was like in the last outpost where we later found John Jackson.

Though a project organized just after John Jackson was discharged from service, both Magee and Pentland were involved in what was called the Long Expedition. Occurring in 1819 and 1820, the Long Expedition was the first federally-funded exploratory expedition accompanied by professional artists. Their journey up the Missouri River was captured on more than four hundred drawings and paintings.

Also pertinent to our understanding of the surroundings in which John Jackson was last assigned—and through which his future bride apparently traveled to meet up with him at Fort Bellefontaine in Missouri Territory—is the fact that Charles Pentland kept an extensive journal of his assignments and expeditions, including that of the Long Expedition.

Because of the material there that helps provide context for that era and location—remember, I'm still questioning the circumstances surrounding this wilderness tryst between John Jackson and Sarah Howard Ijams of Ohio—we'll take another detour tomorrow to explore what we can glean from the Pentland journals and other contemporaneous reports of such military expeditions.

Above: "Encampment of the Travelers on the Missouri," aquatint published circa 1839 by Johann Carl Bodmer, printmaker and illustrator who accompanied the expedition of German explorer, Maximilian, Prince of Wied; courtesy Wikipedia, via website; in the public domain.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Joining the Regiment

Tracing the history of John Jay Jackson's involvement with the United States Army's 4th Regiment of Riflemen during the War of 1812 can be challenging. First of all, there are no less than three different dates of enlistment stated in the Jackson pension papers: May 31, June 4, and August 31—all during the year of 1814.

One constant among all those varying details was that he enlisted in Erie, Pennsylvania, under the command of Captain John Morris. In hopes of finding more about John Jackson's service—his pension file lacking much detail on the campaigns in which he was involved—I decided to take a look at what could be found about each of the five captains named in the Jackson papers, the first of whom was John Morris.

Before launching into a report of what I discovered about John Jackson's first captain, it was helpful to glean some information on the company in which he served. Consistent to all his assignments was his connection with what was called the 4th Regiment of the U.S. Riflemen. While keeping my eye open for mentions of his regiment was helpful, I found that even learning about the establishment and organization of that regiment helped inform about John Jackson's whereabouts during and after the War of 1812.

When the regiment was first activated in 1808, there was only one such unit in the United States Army. Only upon an act of Congress in February, 1814, establishing three additional regiments of riflemen was each then designated by number. John Jackson was assigned to the 4th Regiment.

Complicating matters in my search for John Jackson's whereabouts during the war was the discovery that the regiment never fought together as one unit. Companies or detachments from the regiment were often allocated to other commands, thus partially explaining the list of captains under which John Jackson served. However, that also complicated the ability to determine whether he was present at any of the specific battles I was able to link with the various commanders.

As for determining Jackson's whereabouts from records concerning the captain under which he enlisted, I wasn't able to find much. The few mentions I found led to tangential information describing the times and conditions under which he likely served. However, these, too, helped inform a more complete understanding of the setting at the end of Jackson's service—that unclear time when, incredibly, he met and married Sarah Howard Ijams at an outpost of Missouri Territory sometime around 1818.

The most factual biographical sketch I could find on Captain John Morris was his entry in Francis B. Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Issued by the Government Printing Office in 1903, the book contained two volumes of Army history from the date of its organization in 1789 to the year of publication.

While the John Morris entry was factual, it was also brief. It showed him to be from Indiana, having served as captain of that state's volunteers since 1812. Then, with the addition of the three extra regiments of riflemen in 1814, he was designated that year as captain of the 4th Regiment on March 17. The only other note about his service was that he was honorably discharged on June 15 of the subsequent year.

It was a Google search that led me to additional details on Captain Morris' life—and an overview of conditions just before the time of John Jackson's own enlistment. At the beginning of the conflict, in the vicinity of his post near Fort Wayne in what was then Indiana Territory, Captain Morris became one of the survivors of what was called the Pigeon Roost Massacre.

A footnote to the narrative about the massacre in Lossing's Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812 provides a description of life in Indiana Territory during that time:
The manner in which I used to work was as follows: on all occasions I carried my rifle, tomahawk, and butcher knife, with a loaded pistol in my belt. When I went to plow, I laid my gun on the plowed ground, and stuck up a stick by it for a mark, so that I could get it quick in case it was wanted.  I had two good dogs. I took one into the house, leaving the other out. The one outside was expected to give the alarm, which would cause the one inside to bark, by which I would be awakened, having my arms always loaded. I kept my horses in a stable close to the house, having a port-hole so that I could shoot to the stable-door. During two years I never went from home with a certainty of returning, not knowing the minute I might receive a ball from an unknown hand...

On the evening of September 3, 1812, a "scalping party"—possibly in league with the British as a diverting tactic in conjunction with a plan to attack Fort Wayne—descended upon a small settlement known as Pigeon Roost, killing three men, five women and sixteen children. Two men escaped the scene under cover of night, along with two surviving children in their care, and made it to safety at the home of another settler six miles away.

If you have been wondering why I've taken this sudden detour into the minutiae of Indiana history—and suspect the only possible reason for this rabbit trail—you are correct in assuming it involves Captain John Morris. Sadly, among those killed in the massacre were the captain's wife, mother, and only child. Although the accounts of this event don't explain the circumstances for his presence, they indicate Captain Morris had been there at one of the homes, had helped in its defense, and had, along with the owner of the home, aided in the escape of the two surviving children from that home.

While that vignette in Indiana history occurred before the Captain ever became the enlistment officer under whom John Jackson entered the service of the U.S. Army, it does serve to illustrate the conditions in which John Jackson found himself, once the war was over, when the 4th Regiment—along with the 2nd and 3rd—had been disbanded and re-organized into the original Regiment of Riflemen and then re-assigned to service along the Mississippi at Fort Bellefontaine.

An interesting footnote to that period of military history is my discovery that the original Regiment of Riflemen now has its own re-enactment group, complete with website describing its traditional duties at the time of its formation. While, unlike lineage societies, one does not need to be a direct descendant of those who served in the original regiments to be part of the re-enactment group, it would be interesting to see if anyone has researched his role enough to portray his own ancestor.

Besides the information provided in their website that I've already mentioned, the site also includes some additional details that may shed some light on the unexpected (at least to me) presence of women in these military settings. Along with some other details we'll glean from our tour of the biographical sketches of the other captains under which John Jackson served, this may provide possible reasons for the presence of Sarah Howard Ijams and her mother at Fort Bellefontaine after the close of the war.

Above: Sketch of Fort Wayne in 1812, from Benson J. Lossing's The Pictorial Field-book of the War of 1812 published 1868; in the public domain.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Who's Who of Jackson's Military History

Sometimes, the only way to find those elusive answers to questions about mystery ancestors is to let your fingers do the walking.

That's right: let your mind wander. Surf the Internet. Follow the trails that eventually lead you to stuff. But only after you absorb enough background information to brief you on the topic.

So that's what I ended up doing, stuck on John Jay Jackson, the New-York-born volunteer who enlisted in Pennsylvania for service in the War of 1812—and ended up being discharged from a fort in the Territory of Missouri to marry a gal from Maryland who was living in Ohio.

Got that?

You'd think we were talking about the jet set here. But no: this is a time frame dating almost exactly two hundred years ago.

My question is: how did all these folks get around? How did they meet? How did they get to know each other enough to decide to marry? I want to know the back story.

Of course, available resources are conspiring against me. John J. Jackson's pension papers are mum on the topic. It didn't help that his first wife—the wife I'm wondering about because she constitutes my husband's direct line and connection to yet another Revolutionary War Patriot—died within about ten years of their wedding day. It also didn't help that John's second wife also predeceased him. That those facts leave me with two reasons why the Jackson pension papers would have remained silent about family doesn't do much to brighten my research mood.

Since normal modes of research aren't turning up key revelations I'm seeking, I'm trying another tack: look for historical notes on the captains mentioned in the Jackson pension papers. After all, there is no shortage of name-dropping opportunities there. There are four captains mentioned in the official paperwork recounting his tour of duty: Duffy, Birdsell, Magee and McGonigle. Also mentioned was brevet brigadier general Thomas Adams Smith. In addition, the pension paperwork shows me that John J. Jackson enlisted in Pennsylvania under Captain John Morris. And that his discharge papers from Fort Bellefontaine were signed by "Charles Pentland, Adj. Rifle Regt."

Googling all those names, admittedly, didn't produce quite the wealth of results I had hoped for. Partly, that was because of incorrect spellings. "Birdsell" turned out to be Birdsall, for instance—and I won't even begin to explain (today, at least) what "Duffy" turned out to be. Lack of first names, either by outright omission or camouflaged by those irritatingly uninformative double initials, served to further frustrate the search.

What I did stumble upon, though, were some interesting facts about some of those gentlemen officers. Charles Pentland, for instance, was mentioned in several footnotes in books of the later 1800s, in which it was revealed that he religiously kept a journal—a record from which were drawn reports in a number of other volumes, all documenting the types of transportation difficulties faced by John Jackson's own company as they served along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and the types of living conditions then expected in that region.

I also may have partly uncovered the reason why John Jackson went through so many captains: they either were discharged just prior to John Jackson, or were transferred to other posts. In one case, a captain was murdered.

We'll take a brief look at the service of each of these men and how it might have intersected with the tour of duty of our John Jackson—providing one way to get a sense his whereabouts during and after the War of 1812. In addition, we'll glean a few reports from the contemporaries of these men, illustrating the customs and expectations of the times in these remote areas around the Missouri Territory where Jackson served. As it turned out, there was a lot to learn, just from familiarizing myself with the biographies of the captains under which John Jackson served.

Because I couldn't help myself and kept searching until I found some interesting resources, I have too much to cover in one day's post, so we'll take each man's story, one day at a time, beginning with John Jackson's beginning: Captain John Morris.

While none of these officers were related to our Sergeant Jackson, of course, it may seem a waste of time to take such a detour—but you know me: a glutton for The Bright Shiny. These rabbit trails lend themselves well to my genealogical exploratory style. If nothing else, they help me get up to speed on the times and customs of an era of our history and region of our country with which I'm not as well informed.

Above: "River Bluffs, 1320 miles above Saint Louis," oil on canvas by American traveler, author and artist George Catlin, circa 1846; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Blinded By Mindsets

I've lately caught myself making research assumptions based on details of experiences I'm accustomed to having now. There is apparently a part of my brain that automatically fills in the blanks on the cultural and historical aspects of my ancestors' lives that I don't know—handily inserting details that might be commonplace now, but not necessarily then.

Take this current mission to find documentation on the marriage of  War of 1812 veteran John Jay Jackson and his intended, Ohio resident Sarah Howard Ijams. In my mind, I assume that they naturally exchanged their wedding vows after he completed his tour of duty. That weddings always take place in the location indicated by the bride and her family. That wives would never be out at the battle front—or even near it, sequestered within the confines of the fort—during times of war.

Since I wasn't making headway, relying on my presumptions, it was time to revise the protocol. Well, actually, this didn't occur in quite so rational a fashion. What I did do was attempt a detour around my brick wall detail by zeroing in on those several captains mentioned in John Jackson's pension papers. My thinking was: if I could learn a bit about the facts surrounding each captain's own tour of duty, then perhaps I could cobble together an idea of what assignments John Jackson might have taken part in, too. An added bonus might be a more precise timeline of service and an itinerary of where his almost-five-year tour of duty led him.

My thinking might have been stellar, but it encountered hindrances.

For one thing, not every captain's name came up in searches, no matter how clever I tried to be with search terms. Still, I found enough to make the effort worthwhile.

Another problem was that what was written about the captain might have been far removed from the segment which intersected with Jackson's own service. The price I paid for that, however, more than made up for that research handicap.

What I began to glean from my research wanderings was a fuller sense of what the times were like. More importantly, it revealed what was customary, in the realm of military service—and, actually, life in general—during the times in which this ancestor once served, out on the then-frontier fringes of western America.

But the end result was that this foray into books and reports of that time period opened my eyes to customs and options much different than those I handed myself by my limiting assumptions. The realm of possibilities for how Sarah came to meet John—and even further back than that, how Sarah's widowed mother came to meet her own second husband before their marriage at that Missouri Territory fort at Bellefontaine—has broadened considerably.

Above: "Fur Traders Descending the Missouri," 1845 oil on canvas by Saint Louis portrait artist, George Caleb Bingham; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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