Using Ancestry: A New Ira, by Michael John Neill

Each of us has our own brick wall ancestor or family. Mine is Ira William Sargent, who, along with his wife and two children, was apparently dropped off by aliens in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, in 1880. Regular readers will remember Ira from previous articles.

Occasionally I type Ira’s name in the search box at Ancestry to see if a new potential match appears in any recently released databases. I keep track of all the “false” leads–those Iras who, for one reason or another are “not mine.” This tracking is important and includes where I located the “Ira” and why I think he is not mine. The spreadsheet of Iras continues to grow over time and is an integral part of my research process.

A few months ago, a “new” Ira surfaced in the Iowa State Census database at Ancestry. I immediately checked it out and viewed the complete record image.

Based upon the family structure, this Ira was not one I had already located and eliminated. However, that does not mean he is automatically “mine.”

First Steps
The first step was to see how close these details matched what was known about the Ira for whom I was looking. My Ira was born ca. 1843 in either Canada or the state of New York. Based upon later census information, he came to the midwestern United States by the early 1870s and most likely lived in Iowa, Missouri, or Illinois from that time on. Those are the only details I have. (Itinerant day laborers are not known for leaving a vast quantity of records.)

The age and place of birth for this Ira is consistent with mine. The consistency proves nothing, but indicates that further work on this new Ira is needed.

If the 1856 Iowa census was correct, Ira and most of the other children in the Landon household should be enumerated somewhere in the United States in 1850, probably in Illinois or in Iowa. Given that I have searched the 1850 and 1860 census extensively for any reasonable rendering of Ira Sargent, I thought it odd I had not already located this family.

I easily found Asa Landon living in Illinois in 1850 with what appeared to be the same family from the 1856 Iowa state census.

1850 Owen, Winnebago County, Illinois Census

  • Asa Landon, aged 41, male, farmer, $400 real estate, born Canada
  • Mary Landon, aged 39, female, born Canada
  • Emma Landon, aged 10, female, born Canada
  • Lucretia Landon, aged 8, female, born Canada
  • Ira Landon, aged 6, male, born New York
  • Martha Landon, aged 4, female, born Illinois
  • Minerva Landon, aged 2, female, born Illinois
  • Edwin Landon, aged 3/12, male, born Illinois
  • Nelson Witesall, aged 25, male, born Canada

The ages and first names are relatively consistent with the 1856 Iowa state census enumeration. In 1850 all the children have the last name Landon. This explains why I had never located this family.

A Marriage Record
The Illinois State Marriage index contained a reference that hinted at the likely family structure and explained the variant last names for some of the children.

There was an index entry indicating a Mrs. Mary Sargent married Asa Landon on 6 January 1849 in Winnebago County, Illinois. This date of marriage is consistent with the census enumerations for the family and the last names of the children as given in 1856.

I still have problems, though. I need to track down the Ira Sargent from the 1856 census enumeration in order to determine whether or not he is “mine.” I also need to find the name of Mary’s prior husband (Sargent) in order to conclude if records on him (or on his family) provide any information on his children.

The 1860 Census
The Landon family was located in Missouri in the 1860 census. There are a few inconsistencies with this information, but it appears to be the correct family.

1860 Census, Benton Township, Christian County, Missouri

  • Asa Landon, aged 62, male, farmer, New York
  • Luxesy, aged 18, female, born New York
  • Martha, aged 16, female, born Canada?
  • Ira[nn?], aged 14, female, born Illinois
  • [Mariana?], aged 12, female, born Illinois
  • Edwin [T?], aged 9, male, born Illinois
  • Roxey, aged 7, female, born Illinois

Asa appears to have aged twenty years since the 1850 census. However, the age in either enumeration could easily be incorrect. If Asa’s age in 1856 is actually fifty-eight then the 1860 census age of sixty-two is not that inconsistent.

The rest of the household presents a slight challenge. Except for Emma the names of the children are relatively the same as they were in 1850. Emma’s absence is easily explained. In 1860, Emma would have been twenty years old and could easily have been married and in her own household or working outside the home and enumerated elsewhere. The ages of the children are pretty much a ten-year progression until you look at the names and the gender. That is when Ira and Martha create a problem.

My premise is that the census taker, when using his field notes to write up his clean copy of the census, made a mistake in the enumeration. The sixteen-year-old should be Ira and the fourteen-year-old should be Martha. The gender of Ira is incorrect as well. I’m not entirely certain whether this is the case, but it seems reasonable and easier to explain that than the appearance of “new” children in 1860. The key is that I transcribe the census exactly as it appears and include my commentary in my notes.

There is still more work to do on this family. Research needs to be conducted in Winnebago County, Illinois, in an attempt to learn more about Mary Sargent Landon’s first husband. However, there are a few lessons remembered or learned:

  • Remarriage of the mother can “hide” children and they can be difficult to find when the new husband’s name is not known.
  • Census enumerations for families should be relatively consistent, 100 percent consistency is rare.
  • Variations on first names are common.
  • Always be on the lookout for newly released databases or sources.

In an upcoming column, we’ll see how WorldConnect was used to assist in locating this family and how I may have found Mary’s Sargent husband.

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Michael John Neill is a genealogical writer and speaker who has been researching his or his children’s genealogy for more than twenty years. A math instructor in his “other life,” Michael taught at the former Genealogical Institute of Mid-America and has served on the FGS Board. He also lectures on a variety of genealogical topics and gives seminars across the country. He maintains a personal website at:

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6 thoughts on “Using Ancestry: A New Ira, by Michael John Neill

  1. Pingback: Using Ancestry: A New Ira, by Michael John Neill · All In One Printer News, Reviews, and Deals

  2. When you also factor in the all-too-obvious fact that census records, although invaluable to all researchers, can be faked…or ages lied about…or any facts on them whatsoever changed to suit whomever ‘gave’ the interviewer the facts of information…then we have that ‘usual confusion’. Nonetheless, I have gotten some of my best ‘leads’ via census records, yet found mistakes routinely. I like being able to ‘walk through the neighborhood’ best of all and have discovered wonderful tidbits of family origin…

    Beth (bishop/williams/ Martin Oh, yes…Salem 1692. right straight back to Edward Bishop/Sarah Wildes

  3. Interesting article – William and Mary are popular christian names. I have a William Sarjeant c1770-1837 who married a Mary, they had a Mary Sarjeant & a William Sarjeant c1815-1834 – also a Susan who married a William and they had a Mary and a William – this last one born UK died Iowa and his son also a William born Pennsylvania died 1948. 5 of his siblings were born in Iowa between 1874 – 1885.

  4. I concur. Ira is only a MALE name, as far as I know. That the name ends in A is counterintuitive, to be sure, but perhaps the enumerator was unfamiliar with the name. And although many have considered information on the census to be primary sources, the only thing that meets my criteria as primary is that of residence. Even so, names in the census have been attributed to a residence belonging to others.

    Happy Dae.

  5. I wouldn’t presume to have anywhere near the knowledge that you do on this topic. I’m sure you already know the Sargent family from Coles County, IL. Their farm is there and a number of gravesites also. I walk my dogs in the area daily because it is quiet with no traffic.

  6. Ira was also a female name — I know because I have one in Virginia born in the 1870s. She’s the only Ira in the family and evidently not named for a male relative. A quick check of the 1870 census shows male Iras outnumbering female Iras 20-1. I frequently find census errors on names with questionable gender. Just reinforces my belief that some census taking was sloppily done, or not first hand, or had details filled in later. In this case, this census taker may have known a female Ira and made an assumption about this Ira Landon’s gender after the fact.

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