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30 October 2010

Genealogy: the great adventure follow-up to the lesson

Laura Armstrong Couch
 I am enrolled in the in-depth learning NGS Home Study Course. The reason for taking the graded course is to have another pair of eyes read my research. One of the assignments for Lesson 2 of the NGS Home Study Course is to write and research personal family lore. The Indian chief and my grandmother story has been told many times at Schuler family gatherings. This made a great topic to methodically follow the 5 steps for evaluating tradition.[1]

The response from my grader on this lesson opens up a new path of research. Written at the bottom of the article was the comment to consider my grandmother’s mother as the person who sat on the chief’s lap. Very little information has been discovered at this time regarding Laura Armstrong. Laura was born 22 October 1856 or 1857 in Andover, Allegany County, New York. This is secondary information. She married Eugene Couch on 2 August 1874 in Streator, LaSalle County, Illinois. I have no other information on when or how her family arrived in LaSalle County, Illinois. If she was born in 1856, the Couch and Armstrong families could have traveled together. The Couch family traveled from Rome, Oneida County, New York, by wagon. If Laura’s birth location is correct, did her family join the band as it passed south along the Seneca Road?  


[1] For more information on the steps to record and evaluate family lore contact National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, VA 222204, or 800-473-0060 or www.ngsgenealogy.org. The assignment is from the Home Study Course CD 1, Lesson 2.

29 October 2010

Genealogy: the Great Adventure or separate fact from fiction

“Grandma sat on the Indian chief’s lap,” teased my grandfather. “Stop that, Will!” retorted grandmother. At various family gatherings and over many years, this verbal bantering was witnessed by my aunt, my mother, and me. All families have their own stories. Every person has a unique tale. The genealogist researches the validity of the anecdote. Using five steps as road markers, a genealogist will point the way down the path to the authenticity of a family narrative.  

The first road marker is to consider the source or informant. Families do not purposely mislead other family members. Remember the game of telephone? Every person sits in a circle. Some fact is whispered to the next person in line. By the time the whispered fact returns to the beginning, some of the essentials have been unintentionally altered. In the above example, the players are William John Schuler (1871-1964) my maternal grandfather and Nettie Ethel (Couch) Schuler (1884-1965) my maternal grandmother. The three witnesses are Selma (Kampe) Blackmon, me, Mildred Louise (Schuler) Kampe (1919-2008), my mother, and Eleanor Lena (Schuler) Boldt (1910-1995), my aunt.

In order to determine probability, place the individuals in time, place the individuals in location and thoroughly search the records, these three road markers all combine into demanding research. The genealogist will search for family records, study local history and research church, land, vital, and tax records. In this example, the event would take place in LaSalle County, Illinois. The time would be between 1850 and 1900. The chief’s name would be Shaubena (Shabbona) of the Pottawatomie tribe. As a chief, grandfather and ally to the settlers, the 83 year old man probably welcomed the tired travelers. At the time of his death on 17 July 1859, he lived on the Illinois River.[1]

According to the 1896 obituary for Elisha T. Couch (1820-1896), paternal grandfather of Nettie, the Couch family came to Seneca (Crotty), LaSalle County, Illinois, from New York in January 1857.[2] This places the family and the chief in the same location at approximately the same time. My grandmother, Nettie, was born in Illinois in 1884.[3] This information definitely causes a time conflict. The chief died in 1859 and my grandmother was born in 1884. Carrie S. Couch (1856-1927) daughter of Elisha T. Couch was born just before the family left for Illinois.[4] Carrie, instead of Nettie, could have been the Couch family member held by the chief.

The last road marker is to scrutinize the research findings against the family folklore. Again, using the information available above, I reached the following conclusion. The Couch family and Chief Shaubena lived in LaSalle County, Illinois, at approximately the same time. Nettie Couch was born 25 years after the death of the chief. Carrie Couch would have been born just before the migration. Therefore, Carrie was most likely the Couch family member welcomed by Chief Shaubena.

Any research uncovers more questions. Was grandfather referring to another chief? Not, likely, as the natives moved further west. By the use of “grandma,” did he mean Nettie’s ancestor? Again, not likely as grandfather called Nettie “grandma.”

As seen by my example, traditional stories are fascinating and often colorful. By using these five markers, the family historian can analyze his/her own family lore. The validity of the story can be authenticated and documented. The road markers in my example point to likelihood of another family member being greeted and held by the Indian chief.



[1] Matson, N. Memories of Shaubena. Chicago: D.B. Cooke, 1878. Page 268.
[2] Illinois, Ottawa. Ottawa Daily Republican Times. 17 December 1896.
[3] Illinois, LaSalle County. Birth register number 7525. (1884). Nettie Couch. County clerk’s office. Ottawa.
[4] 1920 U.S. census, LaSalle County, Illinois, Manlius Township, population schedule, town of Crotty. Micropublication T625, roll 378, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration., ED 122, s3A.