“Unexpected Gold”..or “Why We Research Collateral Lines”…or “Ancestry Trees are Not Necessarily Tools of the Devil”

This week has been a whirlwind of three-hour tours. One of the trips – from Cleveland, OH to Marietta, OH – I didn’t even know I needed to make until a few months ago, yet it yielded one of my most exciting discoveries in awhile. And here I have to say something I never thought I would be saying: an Ancestry user-submitted tree lead to it all.

Last year, after a research trip to Delaware that uncovered a ton of information…which raised two tons of unanswerable questions, I turned to Ancestry – even worse, to a user-submitted tree. This tree came up as a result for a search for John Callahan, an individual that was involved in a deed with my ancestor, Elijah Staats when Elijah was living in Fayette County, PA and John Callahan in DE. I knew from my DE research trip that John Callahan married a person whose first husband was John Staats. Currently, I believe John/Elijah were uncle/nephew, but that family is not yet clear.

The result was interesting because it placed John Callahan’s death, not in Delaware, but in Washington County, OH in 1843. A little more searching revealed some probate papers, which I got copies of by mail from the courthouse. Those probate papers had nothing of any further value in them, but the fact that he died about 25 miles from Elijah’s own place of death was intriguing to say the least. However, it was not a lead that was urgent, and was set on the back burner.

So on a rare sunny day in early Ohio winter, my mom and I headed down to Marietta to check out the genealogy library and see if I could find anything interesting about old John Callahan. I found a history of the Callahan family that began with the same dead end I had discovered – the deed between Elijah and John selling Elijah’s interest in land in New Castle County (this is quite another story unto itself). But it also referenced another deed between Elijah and John Callahan: a deed in which Elijah sold land in Washington County, OH to John just 3 days after he sold him the land in Delaware. Wow! I never would have thought to look in Washington County for any information about Elijah – I had no idea he had been there or had any reason to be there. I had an entirely different theory of his migration from Delaware. Now I had some new leads to follow and a theory to revise.

A search of the deed indexes revealed Elijah had purchased not one, not two, but three tracts of land in Washington County in 1797. One of these was not a purchase, but rather a grant as an Original Proprietor of the Ohio Company. One of these tracts was the land he sold to John Callahan in 1800. One of the other tracts appear to have been split – part of which was sold in 1802. The remainder of that tract, as well as the other, had apparently remained in Elijah’s possession until his death in 1844.

This was odd. From previous research, I knew Elijah was in Fayette County, PA in 1795. Now I learn that he was in Washington County,OH in 1797, and back in Fayette by 1800, yet still owned the land in OH. Then in 1816, he moved from Fayette County, PA to Harrison County, OH – purchasing land there, also. Then again in 1838, he moved from Harrison County to then-Monroe (now Noble) County, OH – purchasing land there…all while still owning (and being taxed on) the land in Washington County!

So I have some new mysteries to unravel there. Even more interesting is the possibility that there may be some original records of the Ohio Company recording the grant of land to Elijah and subsequent records to ensure that the terms were met (the grantee had to actually settle the land, clear it, and build a cabin of certain dimensions, apparently). And to think that an Ancestry tree that listed my gggg grandfather’s aunt’s second husband started me on this path. Also, one of Elijah’s purchases in Washington County may have been from someone else with Delaware connections.

But I’ve saved the best for last: Elijah Staats died in 1844 in Monroe County, OH. As some may know, Ohio did not record deaths until 1867, and church records in that area and time are practically non-existent. Add to that, the fact that that the Monroe County courthouse burned – taking many records with it – including deeds and probate. The only existent Monroe County record involving Elijah’s death was the request for partition proceedings from the Common Pleas records. Don’t get me wrong – there was a ton of info in those, but I had accepted the very real possibility that I had learned about as much as I was going to about the date of Elijah’s death.

WRONG! The Washington County deed search also revealed several deeds between Elijah’s heirs right about the time of his death.

In the deeds between Elijah’s heirs, Margaret Staats (widow) releases her dower rights. In that release, she describes the land as that “…which said Elijah Staats, late of Monroe County, Ohio died seized of on the 27th of September 1844″. It just doesn’t get any better than that. How many older records have you found in your research that flat-out states, “Here’s what you’ve been looking for.”? Not many – at least in my experience, but man does it feel good when it happens!

So there it was. In a deed. In a place that a few months ago, I had no idea my ancestor had even lived. And all because of an Ancestry tree and a relative’s second husband.

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