It’s been a little over a year since I started my own family history journey. I have encountered numerous brick walls in that period, and broken many of them down. I’m still trying to discover something – anything – about my paternal grandfather’s family origins, and I fear that I may never get any further than I am right now.
This week, I was finally able to solve several mysteries, though – all related to my maternal grandfather’s people, the Sailors family – thanks to journals kept by a few prominent Latter Day Saints and biographies written by their descendants!
My great-great grandfather, John Chaney Sailors, was born in 1877 in Clarinda, Page County, Iowa to Reuben Harvey Sailors and his wife Emma. First, we have the mystery of his name – there are several John’s in the family tree, but I couldn’t find anything that explained his middle name. Second, I was always confused with his birthplace. His father is found in an unnamed town in Richardson County, Nebraska in the 1870 US Census. He is found with both parents, his older brother William, and his younger brother Roy in Barada, Richardson County, Nebraska in the 1880 US Census. All of John’s siblings were born in Nebraska, so why had his mother been in Iowa at the time of his birth?
Our family’s story has always included the “fact” that we are part Native American. Supposedly, John Chaney’s mother, Emma, was either quarter- or half-blooded. In an old family tree put together about 30 years ago by John’s youngest daughter, Ora Anna Sailors (my great grand aunt), it is alleged that Emma’s maiden name was Fuel.
I was able to find Emma in the 1880 US Census with her husband and 3 eldest sons, living in Barada, Richardson County, Nebraska. That census shows that Emma was born in Iowa, to parents who were both born in Ohio. Emma died before the 1900 US Census (and the 1890 is unfortunately gone).
I entered Emma into my family tree at Ancestry.com, with a tentative last name of Fuel, and received several hints for her – but they were all very confusing! There were a few census records in Iowa showing an Emily M Fuel, daughter of John William Fuel and his wife Evelyn, and then the trail for this family unit disappears. By 1870, there is an Emma Murdock living in Utah with Orrice C Murdock and his wife Evelyn.
Other users’ family trees on Ancestry led me to believe that both family units might be the right one, but without having the benefit of any marriage records for Emma and Reuben, or death records for Emma, I had no way of knowing for sure. Cue the sound of a giant brick wall being built!
In addition to the mysteries specific to John Chaney Sailors, his mother Emma, and her parentage, I’ve often wondered why “my” branch of the Sailors family kept moving westward, eventually settling in and around Hitchcock County, Nebraska.
For grins and giggles, I decided to do some research on this Murdock fellow to see if there was enough information available online to definitively rule that connection in or out.
A few strategically worded Google searches later, and I was reading excerpts from Orrice Clapp Murdock’s journal and a biographical sketch written by his great-great granddaughter that brought all of the pieces together!
“Orrice C. was 41 years old when he married Evelyn Susan Cooley, widow of John W. Fuel, and mother of 5 children: William I. Fuel, age 22, Sarah Cassandra, age 18, Robert Y., age 13, Emma M., age 11 and Francis Marion, age 8.”
– Excerpt from “Biography of Orrice Clapp Murdock”
written in 1988 by Reva Baker Holt
Conclusion? Both sets of hints about Emma were right! John William Fuel was her father, and Orrice Clapp Murdock was her step-father! Further corroborating my conclusion that I’d finally found Emma’s family is the following passage, excerpted from Orrice’s journal:
“14 Dec. 1875 Emma, my stepdaughter, was married to Ruben Harvey Sailors.”
These sources go on to explain that Evelyn Cooley’s daughter (and Emma’s older sister), Sarah Cassandra Fuel, was married to a man named John Chaney. My great-great grandpa was named after his uncle!
John and Sarah (Fuel) Chaney lived in Page County, Iowa. After visiting the couple, Orrice Murdock and his wife bought a farm near Clarinda, Page County, Iowa in 1875, shortly before Emma and Reuben were married. Orrice and Evelyn often visited their children, and many of the kids reciprocated, so it seems logical that John Chaney Sailors was born while his mother was visiting her mom and step-father.
In the 3 years following the marriage of Emma Fuel and Reuben Harvey Sailors, two of Orrice C. Murdock’s biological children married into the Sailors family – Orrice Francis Murdock married Celestia Caroline Sailors (Reuben’s sister) on Dec. 24, 1876, and Phebe Jane Murdock married James Allan Sailors (Rueben and Caroline’s brother) on Nov. 21, 1878.
All 3 families (Rueben and Emma, Orrice F. and Celestia, and James and Phebe) were living in Richardson County, Nebraska by 1879, and Orrice C. and Evelyn joined them in February of that year. By February 1883, Orrice C. and Evelyn had moved to Hitchcock County, Nebraska to homestead. Later in 1883, Emma’s brothers Robert and Francis Fuel moved to Hitchcock County, and James Sailors and Reuben Harvey Sailors followed in October 1884!
It’s very easy to simply dismiss records that just don’t sound/look right. Had I ignored the hints about the Murdock family and their connection to Emma, I would still be wondering who my 3rd great grandparents were, and what kind of life Emma led before marrying Reuben Harvey Sailors. I may have never understood where my great-great grandpa’s middle name came from, or how his mother happened to be hundreds of miles from home when he was ready to greet the world.
“Leave no stone unturned.” I think that explains it best. Always investigate leads, no matter how unrelated they may appear to the naked eye! You never know if that rabbit hole will eventually lead to the roots of your very own family tree!
This part of my journey has helped me find an appreciation not only for my family’s history, but for the history of the LDS church and its members. The struggles they persevered through, and the sheer volume of information they’ve managed to archive, are awe-inspiring.
In each pair listed below, the italicized individual is my direct ancestor connection to the person/people in question. Each person's name is hyperlinked to their profile on my family tree, and will open in a new tab or browser window.
Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010), Ancestry.com, Year: 1880; Census Place: Barada, Richardson, Nebraska.
Reva Baker, Holt, “BIOGRAPHY OF ORRICE CLAPP MURDOCK”, https://familysearch.org/photos/stories/12920777.
Please feel free to use this article, in its entirety, in any way you see fit, so long as you include the byline in any copies, and properly cite it if used as research material.
To cite this post:
Jennifer Lynn Stingley, "How the Latter Day Saints Helped Me Break Down a Genealogical Brick Wall," Ancestor Archaeology, 15 February 2015 (http://ancestorarchaeology.com/2015/02/15/how-the-latter-day-saints-helped-me-break-down-a-genealogical-brick-wall/ : accessed [23 April 2018]).