2020 was a year that tested us all in so many ways. Multiple months of quarantine, fighting for PPE and basic supplies like toilet paper and cleaning wipes (forget about finding Purell for months on end), wearing masks (who doesn't already have a favorite one they like to wear?), etc. It was also a huge month for genealogy as events that were normally held in person in far away states or countries were converted into online events - conferences, seminars, webinars galore!
I can safely say that this was the year where I created the most amount of lectures over a year. It felt like I was creating new content every few weeks. While it was challenging at times as I wasn't always onsite at the library, it forced me to get done as much as I could get done through the power of the Internet. I used online collections and even crowdsourced stories, photographs, and documents.
And when I couldn't find that elusive record on American Ancestors, Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, etc., I turned to repositories to look for records not online. It forced me to finally work on one of my brick walls, my 3rd great grandfather Francis Dougherty. I wanted to confirm exactly where and when he died. It was believed that his death details were inscribed on his daughter-in-law Margaret's headstone in Dickinson County, Kansas.
I first enlisted the help of reaching out to a Kansas genealogy Facebook group to ask if someone will go out to the cemetery to get a close-up of the headstone as the photos previously posted on Find a Grave were not very easy to read. I found a wonderful volunteer who went out twice to the cemetery and got great pictures using the light to pick up on the details. And there was Francis' name on the back of Margaret's headstone as expected. It stated that he died on August 22, 1892 and was 93 years old (which calls into question a newspaper article I previously found that stated he was 103 years old the year prior). You can see the pictures on his Find a Grave memorial: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/212318756/francis-dougherty.
I still wanted more proof and in lieu of a vital record (Kansas did not start statewide vital records of deaths until 1911), I needed to turn to other sources. First, I tried reaching out to the local Catholic church as Francis was supposedly buried in the local Catholic cemetery in Elmo. Unfortunately, their records did not go back before 1911. However, the priest I corresponded with did get me in touch with a man that was on the cemetery board and the historical society board. He went out to the grave site and was doing surveys of the plots and he says the grave site was big enough for 3 bodies. It's very likely Francis was buried there along with his daughter-in-law Margaret, and his son Peter. He is going to poke around (literally) in the cemetery plot to see if there are any sunken stones that went below the surface. I'm hoping that Francis' headstone will arise (literally).
I contacted the Register of Deeds and there was no mention of Francis Dougherty purchasing any portion of his son Peter's homestead property. According to the newspaper article, Francis did live in the next township over (in Holland) so it's possible he could be witnessing a deed signed by Peter for the new property. More research to be done here.
I paid a research fee by the Kansas Historical Society to look for an obituary in three different newspapers that were on microfilm. Unfortunately, no death notice was found.
The next step was to contact the probate court to see if there was any probate files for Francis. Unfortunately, there are no indexes before 1926 so this will require an in-person researcher to manually go through microfilm in hopes there is some handwritten index. An expensive task but one that I may initiate when the COVID-19 crisis is over and visitors are allowed in the courthouse. Unfortunately, the case files on FamilySearch also do not have Francis in the estate files index.
So what's next for my search:
- Review the Dickinson County, Kansas tax files coming online on FamilySearch at a future point
- Use plat maps and other records to identify where in Holland township Peter and Francis lived prior to Francis' death. Then request a search of the deeds from the Register of Deeds.
- Review the Boston Pilot newspaper on microfilm to see if any mention of Francis' death. The obituary column notes the deaths from New England, Canada, and out west.
- Continue searching the Prince Edward Island newspapers for a mention of Francis' death
So what have I missed? Where else would you look to confirm a death?
Happy New Year my friends! Here's to breaking down more brick walls.
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