Monday, April 1, 2013

Breaking Down the Mary Smith Brickwall (or is she a Bell?)

With a name like Mary Smith, there are often brick walls.  In this case, I was searching for descendants of Mary J. Smith (1838-????), daughter of Ranslow and Mary (Bell) Smith, and a sister to my great-great-grandfather, Devier J. Lamphear Smith.  She appeared in the 1850 U.S. Census in Dodge County, Wisconsin as "Mary J. Smith," age 12, born in New York.  She did not appear with the Ranslow Smith family in the 1960 U.S. Census or later census records, which means it is possible that she either died or married before 1860.

I was curious if she had any descendants, for my own family history reasons.  If so, then the family may have records that pertain to my Devier J. Lamphear Smith - who was adopted.  

I recalled that she was mentioned in the will of Devier's adoptive father (see The Last Will and Testament of Ranslow Smith (1805-1875)):

"Second.  I hereby give, devise and bequeath to Mary Jane Bell, the wife of Lucius Sanborn now in the state of Iowa, the sum of three hundred dollars out of my estate, what shall be left after my decease, and in Case of her decease before me, the said sum to be paid to her heirs."

So I have a name, and a spouse's name, and last night I easily found records in Howard County, Iowa that enabled me to enter family data for the Lucius and Mary Sanborn family with 11 children, and I could add more generations.  The records found in a two hour search included:

*  1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, and 1910 U.S. Census records on  this identified at least 11 children with approximate birth years.
*  "Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934" on FamilySearch for some of the children.
*  Find A Grave memorials for many of the Sanborns in this family in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Lime Springs, Howard County, Iowa.  There were birth and death dates for these persons, but no photos or stories, which leads me to believe that these memorials were created from cemetery records and not gravestone information.
*  Ancestry Member Trees with given names, middle names, birth dates/places, marriage dates/places, death dates/places, spouses names, etc. for almost all of the 11 children of Lucius and Mary Sanborn.  This leads me to believe that the owners of some of these trees are descendants of Lucius and Mary Sanborn, and have access to family papers with the name, date and place information.

In all of the Member Trees with a spouse's name for Lucius Sanborn's wife, Mary is identified as Mary Jane Bell.  Hmmm, not Smith?

So how do I know that my Mary J. Smith in the 1850 U.S. Census is the Mary Jane Sanborn, married to Lucius Sanborn?  After all, there might be other Lucius Sanborn's who married a Mary and resided in Iowa in the late 1800s.  One really good clue is that she named one of her children Lewis Ranslow Sanford (from one of the Ancestry Member Trees).  The middle name is her father's given name, and is fairly unique as a given name.

I entered the data for Lucius, Mary, their 11 children, and the spouses of the children, but not any later generations (yet), into my RootsMagic database, along with the source citations for the data discovered in my search.

My next thought was:  Perhaps she was adopted by Ranslow and Mary (Bell) Smith.  It's certainly possible, but Ranslow Smith does not name her as an adoptive daughter in his will; apparently, he had not yet adopted her before she married Lucius Sanborn in 1857.  But he did name her in his will as "Mary Jane Bell" which implies that was her name before her marriage.  So this may have been an "informal adoption" where the child is given to a family after birth and is treated as a family member.

So who were the parents of Mary Jane Bell?  Ranslow's wife was Mary Bell, the daughter of James and Cornelia (Bresee) Bell.  James Bell died in November 1838 in Henderson, Jefferson County, New York, leaving a family of 9 children born between 1800 and 1817.  After James Bell's death in 1838, his heirs sold property in Henderson, and the deed named the seven living heirs, including Ranslow and Polly (Bell) Smith.  Six of the living children were married, and Cornelia Bell was the only single woman (born in 1807) named.

As with many informal adoptions, there are many possible scenarios as to the parents of Mary Jane Bell (1838-1911).  They include a child born out of wedlock to an unmarried daughter, or a child born to an unmarried son, or one born to a married son by someone not his wife, or one born to a married Bell couple and one of the parents died soon after, and others.  What we do know is that Mary Jane Bell was born in 1838, resided with the Ranslow Smith family in 1850 in Wisconsin, and married Lucius Sanborn in 1857 and had a family of 11 children.

My next thought was:  I wonder if the executor of Ranslow Smith's will (Devier J. Lamphear Smith) found his sister, Mary Jane Bell Sanborn, and gave her the $300 bequeathed to her in Ranslow Smith's will.  The Andrew County [Missouri] probate records for Ranslow does not say.

Why am I posting this?  Frankly, I hope to be contacted by a descendant of Mary Jane (Bell) Sanborn, in hopes that they have more information about my Devier J. Lamphear Smith, the adopted son of Ranslow and Mary (Bell) Smith.  If a reader is a descendant of Mary Jane (Bell) Sanborn, please contact me at

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Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver

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