Have you ever lost something? Like a book or a shoe, and no matter how long you look for it, you just can’t find it? Then, one day, as if by magic or the Universe clicking into place, it miraculously shows up. You should feel a huge sign of a relief that you finally found your shoe, right?
But, no. Instead there is a sudden flood of questions that start collecting in the brain, making it impossible to think of anything else except the lost shoe, now found.
How did you lose the shoe in the first place?
Did the kids take it? The dog?
(When did you even buy these shoes?! They look like something 1980 threw up.)
Why would you not put it where it was supposed to be – on the boot rack with all the others shoes?
And why – and perhaps most perplexing – WHY did it end up in the freezer?
Genealogy can be a lot like a constant game of misplacing and finding items that you lose in your own home. You know somewhere, under the couch or in a lost census file in the middle of the state library, that you will find your answer, just who knows when.
Searching for my 3rd great-grandmother, Julia Light, has been a bit like trying to find that lost shoe.
(Now, before anyone starts shaking their heads or waving fingers in my direction, no, I’m not saying these lives are as “worthless” as an inanimate object, but in order to truly hunt down information objectively my brain treats a subject, in this case Julia, in a similar mindset as a shoe. Once I have a firm grip on the object, or person, from just an information standpoint, than I start looking at them as more of a historical figure to study, and then as a family member who has a story to be told….but all that can be expanded on in another post.)
When I first started tracing my family tree, I kept finding a lot of holes up one line. That family has had a lot of broken twigs from alcoholism and multiple, nasty divorces, which has made tracing anything an interesting feat. When I finally got back to Julia, I ran into some basic information that was all supposition, except her marriage to Abraham (Abram) Place. Unfortunately, much else was hard to come by, especially since Julia was only found with Abraham in the 1840 and 1850 census records. I had no idea who Julia’s parents were and was having a heck of a time piecing out any information about her. It was like she had only left a footprint – or shoe print – and disappeared.
So, as you do with the shoe you can’t find, you eventually have to give up looking for it for a while. After all, the cats need dinner, cord wood needs stacking, and for some odd reason your chickens think you’re outside only to serve them.
Next thing you know, it’s been over a year and you finally remember about that blasted shoe that you just can’t find. You try looking for it again and BOOM! There it is! Behind the freezer burned gelato from last Yuletide and the left over turkey carcass you keep saying you’ll make into stock.
When I started researching Julia Light again, only a day or two ago, the pieces starting fitting into place, but the more I found, the more curious I became.
Because of when Julia was born, 1820 +/- a year, she won’t be listed in the 1830 census by name. So far I have two possible families that she could be in and will extrapolate on those at a later date. On the same vein, because of the lack of names aside from “head of household” in the 1840’s census, I can only place her in with Abraham Place due to the age bracket checkmarks.
This, for me, is where things get interesting and where my curiosity gets peaked.
In the 1850 census, Julia is listed with Abraham and 7 of their children.
- Abraham/Abram Place – 39 – M – Farmer
- Julia Ann Place – 30 – F – Keeping House
- Abram Jr – 13 – M
- Isaac – 9 – M
- Gennett – 7 – F
- Ann – 6 – F
- Elisabeth – 4 – F
- Rose – 2 – F
- Jacob – 4/12 – M
They are living in Patricktown Plantation, Maine, and are doing the normal farming life that so many others in the town live by. But then, in the 1860 census, there’s only this for a listing:
- Abraham/Abram Place – 48 – M – Farmer
- Abram Place – 23 – Farmer
- Rose – 12
- Jacob – 9
- Lucy – 7
Julia Light seems to just disappear from the picture. All her older children are scattered, which makes sense, but she and her youngest (Maria, born in 1857) have disappeared.
Initially, my instinct would have been to assume she passed away and someone else in the family had the baby with them. Whatever happened went down right around the time of the census for 1860 as I can trace all the other children that had left, but can find nothing regarding baby Maria and Julia.
That is, until the 1880 census mortality schedules, which is where I find the following:
Name of the deceased person: Place, Julia
“Civil condition”: Widowed/Divorced
Mother born: Maine
Father born: M
Month of death: Feb
Cause of death: Consumption
*Entry is crossed off with a note at the bottom: “The eleven deaths reported above occurred in this Enumeration District and the family to which the deceased belonged resided June 1st 1880 in this Enumeration district – Except No’s 9-11-8 & 10 died out of this district – but the families to which they belonged were in the District June 1st 1880. There is no physician in nearby town to this district – None nearer than six- and fifteen miles. I am unable to obtain any statements to the above questions from Physicians – but have given correct statements as near as possible by the best information I have been able to receive. – Anson B. Bowler, Enumerator”
In correction box for deaths occurring out of district, the following is amended to ENTRY #8:
PLACE WHERE DEATH OCCURRED
Town: W. Gardiner
How and why did Julia end up in West Gardiner as a laborer? The combined check box of “Widowed/Divorced” doesn’t help, either.
So I went back to the 1870 census and stared at the only entry that I had for Abraham Place, one where he has a new wife and a trio of step kids. If Julia Place from the 1880 mortality schedule is my Julia Light, than the check in the “Widowed/Divorced” box must mean “divorced.” Next step? I scoured the vital records for the town. Not a word about Julia leaving or a divorce happening.
Just like wondering how the hell the shoe got in the freezer, I’m puzzling like mad over how the hell Julia ended up in West Gardiner, divorced, and there’s zero record of any of it. My curiosity is still on fire, and I’m going to try to trace back every step I can, but for now, I’m going to refill my coffee and keep plugging away at the rest of the vital records. Maybe, just maybe, a loose-penned town clerk will take the reigns soon and drop a hint as to what went down.
That…and I’m going to set my shoe by the woodstove to thaw out.
This blog post is done in part for Amy Johnson Crow’s #52Ancestors challenge. To learn more, visit https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/52-ancestors-in-52-weeks/.