Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stymied on Devier J. Lamphear Smith problems

I used my Devier J. Lamphear Smith research problem for my ProGen homework assignment. Specifically, when and where was he born?

Devoted Genea-Musings readers will recall that Devier J. Smith was adopted by Ranslow and Mary (Bell) Smith, according to Ranslow Smith's will from 1875, and that Devier changed his surname from Lamphear to Smith via a Wisconsin Legislature private law in 1866.

To recap, the evidence includes:

* A Family Bible page written by Devier himself in 1889 that states he was born on 7 May 1842 in Jefferson County NY.

* A family paper written by his wife, Abigail (Vaux) Smith in (probably 1895) that states he was born on 7 May 1839 in Jefferson County NY.

* An obituary in the McCook NE Times-Democrat newspaper that says he was born in May 1842 in Wisconsin.

* A transcription of his tombstone in a Red Willow County NE cemetery book that says 1842.

* A newspaper article in the Wano KS Plain Dealer published in 1886 states 1839 that says he was born in Jefferson County NY.

* Federal census records for 1850 (age 11), 1860 (age 21), 1870 (age 30), and 1880 (age 41) that imply 1839 or 1840.

* State census records for 1875 (KS, age 35), 1885 (KS, age 46), and 1885 (NE, age 45) that imply 1839 or 1840.

The informant for the obituary and the tombstone was Devier's son, David D. Smith, who had access to the Family Bible. So there is really one original source record for 1842, and one original source record for 1839, and they are secondary information because of the dates they were written. There are nine derivative sources with secondary information for 1839 or 1840.

The Preponderance of Evidence principle is no longer the standard - the Genealogical Proof Standard requires resolution of all conflicts - and I cannot resolve the conflict at this time with the information I have.

In order to resolve the contradiction, I need more source records. I have two localities to investigate:

1) Jefferson County, New York is where Devier was almost certainly born. I've checked guardianship, letters of administration and estate papers for Lamphears in Jefferson County without a mention of Devier Lamphear.

There is one record that might be available -- a church record may identify Devier's birth parents and birth date. I need to determine if there are any records in the Henderson/Adams/Lorraine townships at that time.

2) Dodge County, Wisconsin is where Devier J. Smith ended up as an adopted son of Ranslow and Mary (Bell) Smith, formerly of Henderson, Jefferson County, New York, who migrated in 1843. All county records were lost in a fire in 1877, including guardianships, probates, deeds, taxes, vital records, etc.

My first thought had been that, since Devier J. Smith married Abigail Vaux in April 1861 in Dodge County (when Devier was either 18 or 21, and Abigail was age 16), that there might be a marriage record for the marriage that might list their ages, or the agreement by both parents for the marriage.

My second thought was that Devier J. Smith might be listed on a tax list when he turned age 21 - either in 1860 or 1863.

My third thought is that there might be an article in the local newspaper for the marriage, and perhaps another when his name change became official in March 1866.

I contacted the Dodge/Jefferson Counties Genealogical Society last week to see if there are records for churches and newspapers in those time frames. Apparently, there are, and they can perform the search for a fee. I'm thinking about it!

Before I request this search, I'm wondering if other researchers have any other ideas to help me solve my dilemma?


Finn said...


You might look at at the 1870 US Census which has a Devier Smith age 30, Abbie age 26, Della age 8, David age 6, and Mary age 4, living in Iowa. The children were born in Wisconsin, Parent in New York. Maybe there is another place to look.

Finn S Hansen

MikeF said...


You should not have had your 2nd thought since you already stated that Dodge County's records before 1877 were destroyed. So no checking when Devier came on the list first time unless you have reason to believe he was living in a neighboring county at the time. And of course the same goes for seeing when his adoptive father first came to Wisconsin to see how that affects the puzzle.

Besides checking for records on the marriage (and the law as to when a man could marry without consent in that state at the time), I would check back in NY to try to flesh out the adoptive family's timeline a little better as to what year they left, and also try to find the Devier's birth family who might have been connected to the adoptive family. Possibly some records of Devier's birth were passed down in a collateral line.


September McCarthy said...

Hi Randy - If you are a member of NEHGS, you might try a soundex search on the last name LAMPHEAR which returned 167 hits in the Register. I didn't look into them all, but one might be of particular interest . . . vol. 76, pg. 264, "Rev. Noah Barrell's Record of Marriages, 1823-1874." It seems that the Rev. was born in New York and died in Wisconsin. While in NY he officiated marriages in Jefferson County, among others. On page 264 he records a marriage on 11 Feb 1827 in Gouverneur, St. Lawrence Co, NY between Mr. Truman Lamphear of Fowler and Miss Prudence Cole of Gouverneur. Two days later, 13 Feb, the next marriage he performed was in Antwerp, Jefferson Co., NY. On page 263, there is another marriage dated 8 Oct 1823 for a Nathaniel Lamphier of Fowler. I know from my own research that it is often necessary to regard reported birthplaces as derivative (secondary) information even when given by the subject. They do not actually remember the event, and in this case of adoption, his parents were not available to consult with when he became old enough to be concerned with this information. Thus his generality of giving a county vs. a specific town. In addition, here in New England, county and town lines where still changing during this period, as well as the fact that what town or even county you are in can be a matter of which side of the street you are on. Hope this helps!

Michael Hait said...

Randy -

One thing I noticed, really a technicality, but you appear to have confused the concepts of original and derivative sources, and primary and secondary information.

Of the sources you list, all of them are original sources, except the cemetery book - a derivative source is a published (or unpublished) abstract or transcription, etc., of a previously existing record. The other records you list are all in their original forms, therefore the original designation.

If the Family Bible was written by Devier himself, then it is primary information. The primary/secondary designation is determined by the identity of the informant - primary information is that provided by a direct participant or witness in the event reported, secondary information is that provided by someone who did not participate or witness the event, but heard it from else. An argument can be made that Devier, though present, did not comprehend his own birth, but this does not affect the primary designation, according to the BCG Standards Manual. It is, however, a crucial point when weighing the reliability of his testimony of his birth as written in the Bible. And the point remains, are you positive that Devier himself wrote the dates in the Bible? Could it be possible that it was written by his son, like the only other two records that report the 1842 birth date?

The census records cannot be determined to be either primary or secondary, because the informant is unknown. It is about as likely to be primary information as secondary, but because the informant is indeed unknown, it is safer to only weigh the information as if it were secondary.

The remaining records do indeed contain secondary information.

It appears that the research problem for which you seek an answer is (in the short run at least) Devier's date of birth.

You should definitely try to locate a marriage record. However, if all county records were destroyed in 1877, an official government record probably does not exist. Your only option is likely newspapers or church records, but these may actually provide more information than a simple marriage record might. Often newspapers will provide the names of parents, though in this case it seems possible that they would be more likely to name the adoptive parents.

The real question once you have any newspaper/church records is - do you feel that you have conducted a "reasonably exhaustive search"? Just judging by this post, I believe that you have. You must now reconcile and evaluate the records that you have to form a comprehensive conclusion.

In my opinion, I would weight the federal and state census records as the most reliable for two reasons - they all roughly agree with each other, and they are the closest in time to the event. The family paper is also relatively reliable because Abigail's information likely came directly from Devier. You do not mention when Devier died, but if it was after 1886, then the Plain Dealer article may also have reported the date provided by Devier.

On the other hand, you only have 3 records that conflict this 1839 date: the Family Bible, the obituary, and the tombstone. The informant for both the obituary and the tombstone, you state, was his son David. So really both of these conflicting records came from one source. Suppose for a moment that, rather than the family Bible having been written by Devier and used as the source for the tombstome and obituary, that David was the source for all three. You now have at least 9 independent sources for an 1839/1840 date of birth, and 3 records from the same source (1 independent source) that reports 1842.

When you look at it this way, it seems pretty clear, based on the information that you have, which date is more reliable.