I learned a new word today: the word was gallimaufry, and it means “a confused jumble or medley of things.” That word will accurately describe my investigation into the parentage of Nora!
I have never identified the parentage of Nora Williams, my 2nd Great Grandmother, and whom my Great Grandmother was named after. Over the past few weeks I decided to try and determine it using Census records and both sets of Vermont Vital Records – one from Ancestry, and the other from Family Search. Nora remains the only Great Grandmother of my father’s side that I had not yet identified the parents, and it was time for that to change!
What I knew of Nora L. Williams (as I have her listed) is not much. I originally retrieved her name from my research into the Rich family of Washington County, Vermont; I was able to deduce her name as Nora L. Williams, and that she was born about 1867 in Vermont. Enumerated with them was the child, Nora O., my great-grandmother. But that was all I had to work with.
The first method of researching people living between 1850-1880 and 1900-1930 for me is to search the federal census records for them. Often, these census will provide clues that can point you in the correct direction, and occasionally by my experience, give you your answer to your question.
The only census record I could find of Nora as a child (searching for her by name at Ancestry), is the Warren, Washington, VT 1880 census, where at the age of 12, she is residing as a servant in the household of Nahum and Jane Nichols.
Enumerated within Warren, VT was the family of Chester D. Williams – his family appeared on the same page (247A) with Nora, and he is of the correct age to be a possible parent. Also enumerated in the town, was a Ferrin Williams, age 23, who resided with his wife – Lilla, age 15, and Effie, his sister, age 9. The fact that Ferrin, as young as he and his wife were, had a sibling also residing with them cautioned me that there was more to this story. Here we have a 12 year old child living as a servant instead of with her parents. We also have another child living with what appeared to be an elder sibling, all in the same town. This pointed to something possibly having happened to the parents. The very fact that Nora was living so close to Chester, yet listed as a servant in another house, instantly made me think she was likely related to Chester, but not his child. I determined then that I needed to back up 10 years and search within Warren to see if I could find the identity of the parents of the children. The thing I had going for me, was I now had two children names I could use to help pinpoint the right family (Nora and Ferrin, since Effie would not yet have been born in the 1870 census), IF they were of the same family.
A search of the 1870 census for Warren, Washington, VT quickly led me nowhere. Chester D. was there, listed as C. B. Williams this time. There was no mention of any of the children I found in the 1880 census. There was a Dana and Julia Williams residing with their family, but again, no sign of Ferrin, Lilla, or Nora (Effie would not yet have been born.)
When conducting a census search at Ancestry, I rarely try and perform a broad search of the records (unless just starting out on a person or family), but instead concentrate on specific searches. While this does produce more negative results, it also produces better results, as I can fine tune my search. The census at Ancestry were often indexed by people not familiar with the intricacies of English names and instead took a strict approach at identifying the letters and listing them, even when the combination doesn’t make sense. I’ve found that I often need to construct searches based on first names, or ages of the person, to properly identify them. And when that fails, if I’m quite sure they’re in the community or county I’m searching, then I browse the images one by one, just like in the old days.
In the case of this search, I had already started out at the most specific location and had no match. So I spread my search out further and tried all of Washington County, Vermont instead of limiting myself to just the town of Warren. I already knew by my earlier search that Nora was not listed as Nora Williams (I did conduct a broad search initially, so I searched for her brother Ferrin, which produced the following match:
In the 1870 census, residing in Roxbury, Washington, VT was the family of Eleazer and Jane Williams. Residing with the family in that enumeration were 7 children: Ithiel 17, Olive 14, Ferrin 13, Elmer 7, Elwin 4, Ervin 4, and Betsey 2.
This listing of children immediately stood out to me. Ithiel, is not a common name. In fact, there were only 39 Ithiel’s in the whole 1880 census. Why is that important? Because Nora Williams grandson was named Floyd Ithiel Partridge… In fact there are two Ithiel’s related to me. Also, listed in the family of Eleazer and Jane was a daughter named Olive. While Olive was a more common name, the child of Joel and Nora (Williams) Rich was Nora Olive Rich.
Nothing above is conclusive, but it helps paint a picture, and insures me that I am definitely looking in the right direction. But Nora wasn’t mentioned in Eleazer’s family by name. And as already mentioned, I couldn’t find her in Washington County, VT. A more general search outside of the county, also failed to produce a positive match.
This is often the point where genealogists will get frustrated with their search. Everything keeps ending up at dead ends… then again, everything may not appear as it actually is.
To buttress my belief that the parents passed away sometime during the 1870’s I went back to the 1880 census and searched for the children of Eleazer and Jane:
We already know about Ferrin. We found him living at Warren with Lilla and Effie.
I was unable to find anything concerning Ithiel and Olive by simply searching the 1880 census. Both, however were of age during the 1880 census and could have been living elsewhere, or were enumerated in such a manner as to not make them easily searchable. Olive was likely married and had another surname.
Elmer, who was 7 during the 1870 census can be found residing with the family of Melvin and Clarissa Spalding in Roxbury, age 17.
Erwin and Elwin, twins, both 4 during the 1870 census, can be found residing with the family of George and Edna Williams of Roxbury, age 14.
Betsey E. Williams, age 2 in the 1870 census, cannot be found in the 1880 census under her name.
So, the census have provided me with clues to further my research. Namely, who is Betsey E. Williams, age 2 in the 1870 census, and could she be my Nora Williams?
It’s obvious that just using the census isn’t working out, so it’s time to start using the Vital Record searches available for Vermont ancestors.
Let’s start again with Nora, and see what comes up in a search for her name as Nora Williams. I started my search using the databases at FamilySearch first since theirs covered the years before 1900. Using the Vermont Births and Christenings 1765-1908 database I was able to get 1 match for a Nora Williams.
This time I find a Nora Williams, b. in Roxbury, married to Ben Warner. This marriage produced a child named Paul G. Warner, b. 26 Mar 1887 at Moutown, Washington, VT. Moutown is likely a misprint of Moretown. One should keep in mind when using transcriptions, that they’re not always completely accurate, as is this case.
Is this another dead end? I’m getting the feeling I’m painting a picture of a brick wall in this search!
The next search was in the Vermont Death Records 1871-1965. I searched for Nora Williams first and came up with nothing and then tried Nora Rich which again resulted in zilch.
On to the Vermont marriage records! And on this search I again hit pay dirt. This time I find 2 listings…
Nora B. Williams and Joel O. Rich were listed on the marriage certificate as parents of Nora Olive Rich in her marriage to Fred in 1905. Something stood out in this record though that was different from what I knew about Nora… the middle initial. I had Nora L. Williams as taken from the 1900 census (and a second check confirmed that was the way it was entered on the census image) but it appears she also used Nora B. This could be big, because if we go back to the family of Eleazer and Jane, we find that their youngest child in the 1870 census was a Betsey, age 2! So I reopened that census image to check if by chance they had listed a middle initial, and they had… an E. So we have a Betsey E. Williams born the same year as Nora B. (and L.) Williams. While the B could definitely stand for Betsey, I couldn’t make the E. stand for Nora. So back to the records.
The second match for Nora was for a Norah B. Williams, b. 1865 at Roxbury, VT, who married Benjamin Warner in 1883. As previously mentioned they had the child named Paul G. Warner I had found in the birth records. This Norah B. was listed as the child of Elmer and Jane Williams. Eleazer’s wife was named Jane… But I have no indication if Eleazer himself going by Elmer, or if that was his middle name, so there’s no match proven here. Eleazer and Jane did name one of their sons Elmer – coincidentally… Elmer E.
When I conduct searches I often find that information is given in the records for one person, concerning somebody else in the family. So it’s important to search for their names as well. Finding the name of Elmer and Jane listed as parents in the marriage record made me think that I should try a search for the death records of Joel and Nora’s child Nora.
Since they died after 1900 I went and used Ancestry’s search for Vermont Deaths and Burials 1909-2008. I hit pay-dirt, but not the way I had expected! Instead of finding Nora Williams death certificate, I came across her daughters death certificate…
Nora O. Partridge died on 2 June 1976 at Springfield, Vermont. On her death certificate were listed her parents, Joel Rich and Elnora Williams! Elnora… with an E!!!! I’ve looked at this record several times and I never caught the real name of the mother! Back to Eleazer and Jane… Betsey E. Williams in the 1870 census, same age as Elnora B. Williams in the 1880 census… do you think it’s possible? I do!!!
There’s some loose ends that need to be wrapped up to help support this. The first is to detail something I recently found when conducting a search for the Rich family of Moretown, Vermont. Joel and Nora had one other child listed in the death records as theirs… Paul George Rich, child of Joel and Nora Rich, b. 26 Mar 1887 at Moretown, Washington, Vermont, d. 20 Mar 1940 at Barre, Washington, Vermont. Obviously this Paul G. Rich is the same Paul G. Warner, child of Ben and Norah B. Warner (the dates and birth location match and that’s too much of a coincidence). So if somebody is wondering what ever happened to Paul G. Warner, I think we now know!!!
We also need to identify that the Elmer Williams is in deed Eleazer. A search of the Vermont Marriages at FamilySearch for Elmer Williams produced matches for Eleazer’s son Elmer E. Elmer married twice, the first marriage to Emma Smith listed his parents as Eleazer M. Williams and Jane. The second marriage, however, listed his parents as E. E. Williams and Nancy Silsbury.
Finding multiple names for his parents made me conduct a search for the marriage records for Eleazer. What I found, instead of his record, were the records of many of his children. Their parents were listed as Eleazer (various spellings) and Jane Williams/Sillsbury (various spellings). One, Ichiel (obviously Ithiel), listed his mother as Mary J. Silsby.
As you can tell by this entire post, the family really enjoyed using a combination of different names when documenting each other. It appeared quite common for an individual to go by their middle name, and even a nickname, and have it used on official documents. But for a diligent study, this nomenclature would have created a gallimaufry of their genealogy. But the dates, locations, family relations, and obvious consistencies paint enough of a picture for me to determine, by the information here in provided, that Elnora Betsey Williams was indeed the child of Eleazer and Jane Williams.