County Histories

Have you heard the term, ‘Mug Book’? Have you used a ‘mug book’? When I first started my genealogy journey, I used a lot of what some call ‘mug books’ before I ever heard the term. The blog post, Ancestor Biographies Breathe Life into Family History, contains an explanation of this term.

As I’m updating my research of my Thompson cousins, I recently ran across a Note referencing a biography for W. T. Thompson from one of those mug books.

On the back of the photocopy, I fortunately wrote down enough information to search WorldCat and then build a valid citation.

Even though World Cat did not indicate that there was a digitized version of this book, I did some digging and found it on Ancestry. That means that I can do a search of the book for the THOMPSON surname and locate every instance of the name.

As I use this biography, I need to remember that the information contained in it may not be correct. However, it does provide a lot of hints to help me locate other records to support or disprove the information in the biography.

  • Birth date and place of William Thompson
  • Parents of William Thompson and where they were from
  • Migration dates and places for the family
  • Marriage of William Thompson
  • Birth date of Polly Ann Evans
  • Parents of Polly Ann Evans
  • Migration of the parents of Polly Ann Evans
  • Land Purchase from government
  • Land description
  • Names of children with spouses
  • Places where children were living at time biography was written

Thus, this one biography forms the backbone for building the family. It provides hints for locating census records, land records, marriage records, etc.

W. T. Thompson, a prosperous farmer and stock-grower of Richland township, may be found on section 36, following his peaceful pursuits successfully, and enjoying the confidence and esteem of his neighbors. He was born in Ohio County, KY., Dec. 29, 1820, and is a son of John and Sarah (Iglehart) Thompson, the former a native of Kentucky and the latter of Maryland. At quite an early day the family removed form Kentucky to Indiana, and lived there till 1844, when they came to Wapello County, Iowa, and were thus numbered among the pioneers of this county. Here they lived until 1857, when they moved to Adams County, Iowa, where the father died soon after, the mother surviving him until February, 1877.

The subject of this sketch was reared on a farm, and on the 30th day of October, 1842, in Warrick County, Ind., was united in marriage to Miss Polly Ann Evans. Mrs. Thompson was born July 25, 1821, and is the daughter of James and Sarah (Garret) Evans. Her father was a farmer and moved with his family from Indiana to this State, where he remained a short time and then returned to Indiana, where himself and wife subsequently died. In 1847 Mr. Thompson came from Indiana to Wapello County, making the journey with team. On his arrival he bought 120 acres of land of the Government, which comprises his present farm. Of tis eighty acres are under cultivation and he owns thirty-eight acres of wood and pasture land on section 17, Dahlonega township. The home farm is well improved; on it is a tasteful and substantial dwelling, good barn and a fine orchard.

Mr. And Mrs. Thompson are the parents of nine children: Sarah J. Who married N. W. Bliles, is now a widow, living in Kansas; John E. Married Miss Mary Dunn, and lived in Adams County, Iowa; he was a member of the 29th Iowa Infantry, and served until the close of the war; William F. Married Miss Loisa Falkner, and is living in Wapello County; Martha is the wife of c. C. Ingersoll, and lives in Republic County, Kan.; Julia is deceased; Ellen is the wife of J. F. Gowdy, living in Cass County, Iowa; Polly Ann, Mrs. Albert D. Rickett, is living in Keokuk County, Iowa; Belle is the wife of Lewis N. Gowdy, of this county; Arsena is living at home with her parents. Politically Mr. Thompson is a Republican.

Because this and similar biographies have proven very beneficial in my genealogy journey, I will continue to utilize these county histories.

Linda Stufflebean compiled lists of county histories that are available online on her blog, Empty Branches of the Family Tree. Check out her list of County Histories.

Harding Puzzle Piece

Have you ever thought that your efforts researching your family history were similar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle? When I started my genealogy research, I was working with the family stories and documents that my grandmothers provided. Gathering that information and piecing it together was like putting together the border of a puzzle.

As I began to gather information from other sources, it was like turning pieces colored side up. As I evaluated that information, I was able to begin putting the pieces together into family groups. Sometimes, I found that it takes negative evidence, or pieces that just don’t seem to fit, to help put that family together.

When trying to figure out who Julia Harding Hutchinson’s mother was the clues from ‘negative evidence’ were very helpful. The 1887 will for Eliza Harding was one of those pieces of evidence.


Will of Eliza Harding, Deceased
In the name of God amen.
I Eliza Harding of the Township of Mt Vernon in
Black Hawk County State of Iowa being of sound mind
and memory to make publish and declare this my
last will & testament in manner following, viz
First, I give and bequeath to my son A. H. Ponsford
the farm in said Mt Vernon Township now occupied by
me and known as the homestead and containing eighty
acres to be held used and enjoyed b him to & for his
sole and exclusive use and benefit forever subject
however to be payment of the charges hereinafter men-
tioned and which are t be & remain a charge on said
land until the same are removed by full payment & sat
Second I give and bequeath to my daughter Hattie
C. Harding the sum of two hundred dollars to be paid to
her by my said son A. H. Ponsford within four years after
my decease and I do further direct that my said
daughter shall have the right to retain her home on
the first above mentioned home farmso long as she shall
desire a home or until she shall have acquired a house
of her own or shall have married.
Third, I give & Bequeath to my daughter Minnie T. Harding
the sum of Two hundred dollars to be paid to her by the
said A. H. Ponsford in manner and form as is provided
in the last foregoing provision and I do also direct
that she shall have the right of keeping and maintain
ing a home on said home farm so long as she may
desire or shall need such home.
Fourth – I give and bequeath to my won Walter
Ponsford the sum of twenty five dollars to be paid
to him by the said A. H. Ponsford in manner & form so
as is provided in the last foregoing provision

Fifth I give and bequeath to my son Joseph
Ponsford the sum of Twenty Five Dollars to be paid
to him by the sad A. H. Ponsford in manner & form
as is provided in the last forgoing provision

Sixth – I direct that the personal property of
which I may be possessed at the time of my decease
shall be held & received by my children and shall

page 251
be by their divided & distributed among them as they
may decree best
Seventh – I give and bequeath to my daughter
Rachel Stickney of Cedar Falls Iowa the sum of
twenty dollars to be paid to her by the said A. H. Ponsford
in manner as is mentioned in the two last foregoing
provisions (the 4th & 5th)
Eighth – I give and bequeath to my daughter
Sarah the sum of five dollars to be paid to her
in the manner & form as provided in the last
foregoing provision.
Ninth – I name nominate & appoint my said
son A. H. Ponsford executor of this my last will &
Testament hereby revoking any all former or other
wills by me made. In witness whereof I have
hereunto set my hand this 18th day of April AD 1887
Eliza Harding

We whose names are hereunto subscribed as witnesses
do hereby certify that the foregoing instrument consist
ing of three pages was on the day of the date thereof
signed and declared by the said Eliza Harding to be
her last will & Testament in the presence of us who
at her request and in her presence & in the presence
of each other have hereunto subscribed our names
as witnesses.
William Evverts
S H. Packard

State of Iowa
Black Hawk County
I A. J. Edwards Clerk of the
District Court of the State of Iow in and for said Black hawk
County do hereby certify that the foregoing Will of Eliza Harding
deceased was on the 26th day of September 1887 duly proved
and admitted to probate and record in said District
Court in accordance with law.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set
my hand and affixed the seal of said Court at my
office in Waterloo in said County on this 26th day of
September AD 1887
A J Edwards
Clerk District Court Black Hawk Co Iowa

Iowa, Wills and Probate Records, 1758-1997, Eliza Harding, 18 April 1887; database with images, Ancestry ( : viewed online 14 September 2021). Original Source: Iowa, County, District and Probate Courts.

Eliza’s will appears to name her children:

  • A. H. Ponsford
  • Hattie Harding
  • Minnie Harding
  • Walter Ponsford
  • Joseph Ponsford
  • Rachel Stickney
  • Sarah

While this will appears to list the children of Eliza Harding, my ancestor, Julia Harding, is visibly absent from this will. Also missing from this will are the siblings of Julia identified in other records: Caroline, Abel, Thomas, Abigail, Isabella and William Henry. In 1887, Julia and her siblings were married and scattered between Bremer County, Iowa, and Richardson county Nebraska.

While this will would suggest that these are two separate Harding families, the 1860 census record for the Wm G Harding household in Mount Vernon Township, Black Hawk County, Iowa is one puzzle piece tying the families together. The Wm G Harding household in 1860 included the following people:

  • Wm G Harding, age 54 and born in New Brunswick
  • Elizabeth Harding, age 38 and born in Scotland
  • Thomas Harding, age 21 and born in New Brunswick
  • Joseph Ponsford, age 19 and born in New Brunswick
  • Rachel Ponsford, age 16 and born in New Brunswick
  • Henry Harding, age 14 and born in New Brunswick
  • Walter Ponsford, age 13 and born in New Brunswick
  • Alexander H Ponsford, age 10 and born in New Brunswick
  • Hattie Harding, age 3 and born in Wisconsin
1860 U.S. Census, Black Hawk County, Iowa, population schedule, Mt. Vernon Township, Black Hawk County, Iowa, page 118 Image 7 of 10, household 54, Wm G. Harding; digital image, ( : viewed online September 2016); NARA microfilm publication M653

This 1860 census record appears to combine most of Eliza’s children and some of Julia’s siblings in the household of Wm G Harding. Using a birth place of New Brunswick as a clue, the Harding family was found on the 1851 census living in Westfeld, Kings County, New Brunswick.

  • William G Harding – male – widowed – age 47 – native – farmer
  • Caroline Harding – f – single – age 20 – native
  • Abel Harding – M – single – age 18 – native
  • Thomas Harding – M – single – age 16 – native
  • Abigail Harding – F – single – age 14 – native
  • Julia Harding – F – single – age 11 – native
  • Isabella Harding – F – single – age 9 – native
  • Henry Harding – male – single – age 5 – native
1851 Canadian Census, Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada, Canadian census, Westfield, Kings County, New Brunswich, 1851, William Harding; digital image, ( : viewed online November 2017); Nova Scotia Archives and Record Management

This 1851 census record lists Julia and her siblings in the household of William G. Harding. Eliza Harding is not listed on this record. Nor are any of the Ponsford children. Also absent from this record is a potential mother for the Harding children.

These two pieces of negative evidence, Eliza’s will which does not mention Julia and the 1851 New Brunswick census which does list Julia but does not list Eliza, are the basis for my current conclusion that Eliza is not the mother of Julia Harding.

However, I need additional evidence.

  • Marriage record for William G. Harding and Eliza
  • Census record for Eliza and her Ponsford children in 1850 or 1851
  • Eliza’s marriage record to a Ponsford
  • Death and/or burial records for William Harding’s first wife
  • Death an/or burial records for the father of the Ponsford children

Unfortunately, my puzzle will not be complete until I locate these hidden pieces of the puzzle.

Crossing Paths

As you are researching your ancestors do you ever find a family living in the same county as ancestors or cousins from a totally different branch of your tree? That’s been my experience recently.

I’ve been researching three generations of descendants of James Barr Ralston recently. As I’ve been working my way thru his children and their families, I have encountered quite a few of them with ties to Black Hawk County, Iowa. Black Hawk County, Iowa is where my ancestor, Julia Harding was married to Albert Hutchinson. My Ralston line is on my dad’s dad’s side of my tree. My Hutchinson/Harding branch is on my dad’s mom’s side of the tree. These two lines do not connect in my tree until my grandparents marry in Dodge City, Kansas.

Curious as to who all was in Black Hawk county at some time, I decided to create a ‘Who Was There’ report. Since this report takes a while to generate, I created a ‘Marked Group’ for anyone with a fact place containing Black Hawk, Iowa.

With the marked group created, I can now generate a ‘Who Was There’ report limited to the people in this marked group.

Not only does this create a nice report of everyone with a fact placing them in Black Hawk County Iowa between 1850 and 1940, but it keeps the color coding. The color coding is a visual clue to the fact that different branches of my tree were in Black Hawk County.

This report confirms what I was seeing while researching the descendants of James Barr Ralston. The color coding makes it easy to spot the various family lines.

NOTE: The above report may not contain everyone who should be on it. I recently discovered that if I don’t have a birth and death date for an individual, then they will not be included on this report.

Iowa First Cav

Have you ever tracked an ancestor’s military service thru the various battles? I have to admit this is something that I have not done.

As I was working with the pension file for my ancestor, Noah W. Briles, I became curious about his unit’s service, particularly in Texas. Noah enlisted in Company I of the 1st Regiment of the Iowa Cavalry in June of 1861 for three years. When his time expired, he re-enlisted as a veteran volunteer on 1 January 1864. Noah was mustered out at Austin, Texas on 15 Feb 1866.

Since a document from the War Department indicates that Noah Briles took ill and was hospitalized on 17 Aug 1863 in Clarendon, Arkansas, I am trying to figure out where the unit was at that time along with how they ended up in Texas.

The Wikipedia article on the Iowa First Cavalry provides a synopsis of the military action of the unit. In August of 1862, the unit was in Arkansas.

On Aug. 18, 1862, the army crossed the White River at Clarendon, Ark., and on the 27th was fought the Battle of Bayou Meto, in which the regiment took a prominent part, driving the enemy across the bayou and making a dashing charge to save the only bridge across that deep and miry stream from destruction. In this charge the regiment lost 1 killed and 36 wounded, 1 mortally. The regiment then took the advance of the cavalry in the move on Little Rock.

Wikipedia –

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article leaves out most of 1863. Even though small text is used on their page, the National Parks page for the 1st Regiment, Iowa Calvary contains more detail

Expedition from Huntsville to Buffalo River January 9-12, 1863. At Lake Springs till April, 1863. Operations against Marmaduke in Southeastern Missouri April 17-May 3. Jackson, Mo., April 27. Castor River, near Bloomfield, April 29. Bloomfield April 30. Chalk Bluffs, St. Francis River, April 30-May 1. At Lake Springs till July. Expedition against Little Rock, Ark., July 1-September 10. Expedition from Greensborough to Helena, Ark., July (Detachment). Brownsville, Ark., August 25. Near Bayou Metoe August 26. Reed’s Bridge or Bayou Metoe August 27. Austin August 31. Ashley’s Mills September 7. Bayou Fourche and capture of Little Rock September 10. Elizabethtown October 1. Vance’s Store October 2. Expedition to Arkadelphia November 26-December 1. Reconnoissance from Little Rock December 5-13. Princeton December 6. Expedition to Camden December 15. Steele’s Expedition to Shreveport, La., March 23-May 3, 1864.

National Park Service. 1st Regiment Iowa Cavalry –

Thus, the unit was in the vicinity of Little Rock, Arkansas when Noah Briles became ill. Recovering from his illness, Noah Briles was again with his unit when they were moved to Alexandria, Louisianna and then to Texas.

Moved to Alexandria, La., June 15-22; thence to Hemstead, Tex., August 8-26. Moved to Austin, Tex., October 20-November 4, and duty there till February, 1866. Mustered out February 15, 1866. Moved to Iowa February 19-March 12, and discharged March 16, 1866.

National Park Service. 1st Regiment Iowa Cavalr –

Instead of being mustered out at the end of the war, the First Iowa Calvary joined other units at Alexandria, Louisiana to create the 2nd Cavalry Division.

Ultimately, the Iowans left Arkansas on February 12, 1865,
for Tennessee, where the troops anticipated operations against
Nathan Bedford Forrest’s mounted guerrillas. Just as they found
themselves in a position to acquire the national reputation that
they knew they deserved, the war ended. Unfortunately, the end
of the war did not mean the end of service for the First Iowa Cavalry.
Instead of being mustered home, the Hawkeye horsemen
were ordered to join the Twelfth and Fifth Illinois, Second Wisconsin,
and Seventh Indiana cavalries at Alexandria, Louisiana,
to create the Second Cavalry Division, Department of Texas, Division of the Gulf.
The weary regiment was not finally mustered
out of service until February 1866.

Crosson, David. The Martinet and the Mob. State Historical Society of Iowa. 1989.

While in Texas, the commanding officer of the 2nd Cavalry Division was Major General George Armstrong Custer. While serving under Major General Custer, the Iowa troops felt that they were mistreated. After the 1st Iowa Cavalry was mustered out, the Iowa State House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning General Custer.

the committee concluded that the First Iowa Cavalry had “received from the hands
of Major-General Custer . .. such ill treatment as no other Iowa
soldiers have ever been called upon to endure; that such treatment
or punishment was dishonorable to the General inflicting
it, degrading to the name of American soldier, unworthy of the
cause in which they were engaged, and in direct and flagrant
violation of the laws, of Congress and the rules and articles of

For decades afterwards, the collective memory of the former
regiment remained embittered by the nightmare of service
under Custer in Texas, and the veterans toiled diligently to
expunge their record of this particularly unpleasant episode.

Crosson, David. The Martinet and the Mob. State Historical Society of Iowa. 1989.

It was only by trying to learn more about my great-great grandfather’s service that I uncovered this information about the 1st Iowa Cavalry and General Custer. Unfortunately, I don’t have any letters, diaries or other documents to help understand Noah Briles’ role in this conflict between members of the 1st Iowa Cavalry and General George Armstrong Custer.

Two Julias

Have you ever looked at your genealogy and wondered, ‘How did I get that?’

That happened to me recently as I was researching the descendants of William Taylor Thompson of Wapello County, Iowa. William had a daughter, Julia. I had found a Wapello County, Iowa marriage record for Julia S Thompson to Edward Bates in 1868. Thus, I was following shaky leaf hints for Julia Thompson Bates.

In the process, I found the Find a Grave memorial for Julia A. Thompson Bates – who died in 1922. But wait, I have Julia Thompson dying before 1887.

So, where did I get the death information? And, is it correct? If so, does this mean I’ve mixed up two different Julia Thompsons?

I got the death date from the biography of W. T. Thompson in the Portrait and Biographical Album of Wapello County, Iowa. That biography lists the nine children of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson. This list of children includes ‘Julia is deceased’. Since the book was published in 1887, I concluded that Julia died before 1887. What also is telling from the biography is what it didn’t say about Julia. The name of the spouse is listed for the other daughters – but not for Julia.

After reviewing the biography in relation to the marriage record and Find a Grave record, I concluded that there were TWO Julia Thompsons of approximately the same age living in Wapello County at the same time.

Assuming I did mix-up two Julia Thompsons, I looked for a second Julia Thompson in the 1860 census for Wapello County, Iowa. I found a Juliann Thompson. age 8, in the household of Samuel and Eliza Thompson.

In other words, I likely had mixed up two different people!

Thus, I unlinked Julia Thompson, wife of Edward Bates, from the family of William and Polly (Evans) Thompson. I then added a daughter Julia to the family of William and Polly (Evans) Thompson with a death date prior to 1887. I also added an Identity fact linking the two Julia Thompsons. I use this fact when I have two individuals of the same name that could be the same person – but also might not be.


Confused Williams

Have you ever been tempted to pull someone else’s family history research into your tree? I know I have. Back in the days of PAF, another RICKETTS researcher shared a gedcom with me. Knowing he was a serious worker and that the file was full of information that could help me on my RICKETTS line, I imported his gedcom file into my file. So, when someone would ask me about a RICKETTS, I would have to confess that I had copied the info into my file and really didn’t know much about that particular individual.

Over time, I was able to figure out how to selectively weed that RICKETTS data so that I only had families I had researched. From this first hand experience, I know how erroneous information can creep into a tree. I do use other trees – for hints and to check my research.

I am currently researching my THOMPSON line. My ancestor, William Taylor Thompson, was born and married in Indiana. After his marriage, he moved to Wapello County, Iowa where he died. Hoping to see what other researchers had on William Taylor Thompson and to see if I have any THOMPSON DNA matches, I did a search of the public member trees on Ancestry. That’s when I discovered that the various trees are not in agreement on William’s death date.


My records indicate that William died in 1898. Thus, I was curious as to whether I had the wrong date. Thus, I looked at a tree to see where the 1892 death date might have come from.


I didn’t check every tree with an 1892 death date, but I’m guessing that most have other Ancestry Family Trees as the source. My next step was to try and figure out a source for the 1892 date. I did a search of Find a Grave for a William Thompson who died in 1892 in Iowa. That search resulted in a William Thompson who is buried in Ottumwa Cemetery, Wapello County, Iowa.


My research indicates that my ancestor, William Taylor Thompson, lived and likely died in Wapello County, Iowa. However, the census records that show a Sarah Thompson (my great-great grandmother) as a daughter of William Thompson indicate that William was born in Kentucky — and not Ireland.

Based on that same census research, I am aware of TWO men named William Thompson of approximately the same age living in Wapello County, Iowa. So I did another search of Find a Grave for a William Thompson who died in 1898 in Iowa. (NOTE: 1898 is the year of death I have for William Taylor Thompson.) That search generated another William Thompson buried in Ottumwa Cemetery, Wapello County, Iowa.


Based on these two Find a Grave records, it is easy to see how they could get mixed up. This leads to a bigger question, “Do I have the incorrect year of death?” Since I have documented a lot of events in the life of William Taylor Thompson, I think I have the correct date. However, I’m still on the lookout for additional records to support my conclusion that Sarah Thompson Briles is the daughter of William Taylor Thompson who died in 1898 in Wapello County, Iowa. This is why I don’t believe I’ll ever be ‘finished’ with my genealogy.