Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fillmore County, Minnesota

I was arbitrating the results produced by two indexers of a pre-1900 marriage register from Fillmore County, Minnesota. I wasn't sure where Fillmore County is in the state, so I looked at a map. It is in the southeastern part of Minnesota and shares a border with Iowa.

Although I felt fairly confident that this county was named for President Millard Fillmore, I have learned that I should find out for sure. The visit to the Fillmore County History Center, Museum & Genealogy Library web site and selecting the About option confirmed my assumption. Vice President Fillmore was president from July 9, 1850  to March 4, 1853 having assumed the role upon the death of President Zachary Taylor.

A visit to the Fillmore County official web site revealed that Fillmore County was established on March 5, 1853, a day after President Fillmore left office. The county was created from the southern part of Wabasha County. Wabasha, established in 1849, was one of the first counties created after the Minnesota Territory was created from the Wisconsin Territory in 1848. Wabasha was named for a Sioux Indian chief, Wapasha, who resided in the area.

I learned that the county seat moved twice. The original county seat was in Chatfield near Winona County. On March 2, 1855 the county seat was moved to Carimona. A year later, it was voted to move the county seat to Preston. Since April 1856 to the present time, Preston has remained the county seat. I initially suspected that county seat was moved as each of these counties was established from land that was originally in Fillmore County.

Winona and Houston Counties were created in 1854; yet Chatfield was the county seat until 1855. However, 1855 is the year in which Olmsted County was established. Chatfield is situated on the north branch of the Root River and very closed to the Olmsted County line. Its proximity to the new county may have prompted the move from Chatfield to Carimona.

Unlike Chatfield and Preston, Carimona does not appear to be on a navigatable waterway. Preston is on the south branch of the Root River. This river flows into the Mississippi River and has no rapids between Preston and the Mississippi making it easy to reach Preston by water.

Without more research regarding the political climate, population density, commerce and ease of access of these towns at that time, I cannot specifically state why the county seat was moved to three different locations in such a short span of time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I periodically come across a name of a town or county that makes me wonder who came up with it. Over that last few years, I keep encountering the county in Washington State named Whatcom. Each time I see it, I automatically think dot com and Watcom even though the county existed well before the Internet. Watcom International is a company founded in 1981 by three former employees of the University of Waterloo in Canada.

This past week, I again encountered relatives who lived in Bellingham, Whatcom County, Washington. Curious about how this county got its name, I visited the official web site of the county. Although I was not surprised when I did not find anything about the history of the county, I was disappointed that this web site like so many county web sites does not mention anything of the county's history.

From a visit to Wikipedia, I learned that Whatcom is supposedly derived from a Nooksack word meaning noisy water. Nooksack is a town in Washington in which some of my distant relatives lived in the early part of the 20th Century. That name too peaked my interest. I wondered what a nooksack was. My mind envisioned something like a backpack with lots of pockets and compartments or having nooks and crannies. Now I know that Nooksack was a coastal tribe of native Americans who lived in northwestern Washington.

Scrolling down to see the sources used to support the "facts" on the page, I found a link, Whatcom County History. It turns out that the link took me to the official Whatcom County web site. I guess that I did not look hard enough when I visited.

Whatcom County was established on March 9, 1854 in Washington Territory. So it was one of the earliest counties in the state. However, I came across another source from 1893 that on Page 195 claims the county was established on March 9, 1852.

Although Wikipedia claims that Whatcom is derived from a Nooksack word, the Whatcom County Website says that Whatcom is derived from a Lummi word "what coom," meaning noisy, rumbling water. The Lummi were also a coastal tribe that lived in the area when the Nooksack were there.

I then found another web site, The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, that supported the Wikipedia claim regarding the origin of the name of the county. Only this site claims that Whatcom was the name of the Nooksack chief.

The gold rush in California created a demand for lumber and the rumor that the territory had dense stands of Douglas firs brought Henry Roeder and Russell Peabody to Bellingham Bay. They established a lumber mill on Whatcom Creek. A short distance from the mouth of the creek was a waterfall, hence the reason for the name.

I found an interesting article at the University of Oregon concerning the history of Whatcom County.

Thus, without more research I can only say with certainty the following:

• The name Whatcom is based on a Indian word that means noisy water
• Watcom creek has a waterfall near the mouth
• The gold rush in California contributed to the founding of the county.

Although the Whatcom County web site and the 1893 book on the History of the State of Washington disagree on the date on which the county was established, I believe that the 1893 book is in error.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My sister has been dealing with settling the estate of her son who died suddenly and unexpectedly this year. In her latest email message to me talked about moving the last of Collin's possessions from his home. My sister's message caused me to think about how our mother handled the death of our brother over 40 years ago.

My brother was 21 years old when he died in an automobile crash the night of his bachelor's party. He was not drunk according to the autopsy report. He suffered a heart attack and died of a cerebral hemorrhage when his car entering a freeway plunged off of the on-ramp.

My mother's reaction to the death of her second child was to discard everything that belonged to him. My father discovered this and retrieved some of the items that she discarded. He kept some of them for himself and hid them from her. At that time, I was the only one of their children living away from home. My father gave me a sculpture that my brother had created.

Of some of the items that our father retrieve, he was able to convince our mother to keep a few of our brother's belongings. My brother was an artist. She kept another sculpture and some paintings. After my father passed away, one sister and I sent the paintings to our brother in New Jersey and this sister took the funny square, yellow clay pot.

Shari's message to me about the handling of her son's belongings made me think about the upside-down carrot that my brother made and what will happen to it when I pass on. My children have grown up with this sculpture in their home. I don't recall ever telling my children about this piece and its history. I guess that they don't see the importance of that piece and only view it as another piece of art that is in the house.

I took pictures of that carrot and labelled it as Brother Craig's Carrot Sculpture view 1 et al.

How many things in your home that have a special meaning to you may not have that same connection to your children?

Think about it!

Monday, August 9, 2010

US Census of 1900 and Birth Dates

I have looked at thousands of US census records over the years. After looking at so many images, it is very obvious to me that the only thing you can glean with certainty from the census images from 1850 through 1930 is the place in which the person is residing. The occupation of adult members of the household generally is correct as well.

In the earlier censuses, the census taker often spelled both the given name and the surname phonetically. Thus, from decade to decade you can expect to find the same person, enumerated with a different spelling of one or both parts of his/her name.

Marital status and place of birth, I find are often incorrect followed by the year in which an immigrant entered the United States. But the one data point I found most often to be incorrect is the recorded age of adult females.

One relative for whom I viewed the census images for each of the census years 1850-1880 aged at a slower rate than the ten year interval between each census. This caused me to think of my mother who at some point in her life decided to decrement her age each year. I think I was about the age of 12 when my mother was the same age as I was.

So, it appears that women have lied about their age for years. However, when I viewed the census images of the 1900 US Census I saw errors across the board. The errors are not limited to adult females, but included adult men and children. The census of 1900 was the first census in which the month and year of birth were included. In the earlier censuses and the 1910 through 1930 censuses only the age was provided.

In each census, the enumerator was instructed to record the age of the individual at the last birthday. The instruction was the same for the 1900 census but I found many month/year birth dates to be off by a year. The month recorded in the record matched with the birth month that I found in other records but the year was off by one.

I have been baffled by this and wanted to find out why this occurred as often as it did. I did a Google search. The search results revealed nothing. I am not sure if anyone has asked that question until now.