Sunday, February 5, 2012

Butler family breakthrough...brick wall begets brick wall

I love when genealogy brick walls tumble down. But it seems that in my research once the wall falls another one is hiding just on the other side. This is the case with William Moulton Butler, Jr. and his parentage. I first delved in to this brick wall here. The gist is that William Moulton Butler, Jr. states in all documentation that his mother is Eliza Johnston Butler and that he was born in 1863. His father, William M. Butler, Sr., was married twice, the first time to Celia Temperance Bliss, the second time to Eliza. Yet, the dates that many books, and subsequent research, give for the birth dates William Sr.'s children do not jive with the story he and Eliza spun in later life. In fact, the last known child he had with Celia and the first "believed" child with Eliza are only three months apart in age. Fishy, to be sure.

I have been researching this line with my cousin Jeff this week after a brief hiatus. We knew that Celia had died young, and we thought that if we could locate her death date we could clear up any question in parentage. I did a Google search for her again and came across a link to The American Reports Containing All Decisions of General Interest Decided in The Courts of Last Resort of the Several States with Notes and References, Vol. 18 by Isaac Grant Thompson. (Whew!) This is a list of decisions from the Supreme Courts in various states to include some from the Illinois Supreme Court. On page 589 begins a discussion of Butler vs. Heustis.

The individuals involved are better known as William M. Butler, Sr. versus his sister, Altieri Huestis. I am not a lawyer, so the discussion of the actual case is a bit over my head, but the gist is that William had put some land in to a trust for Celia's use. She then died and funky phrasing in her will left her intentions for the land questionable. Why William is fighting with his sister over land is beyond me at this point. But this post isn't about William's legal issues. Further in the opinion I find:
Sah-weet, a year for Celia's death. Not only that, but she clearly had a will. Now I had a death year. So I strolled back over to my best friend Google and searched for "Celia T. Butler 1865." Lucky me, a hit comes up at that leads me to Chicago Marriage and Death Index, compiled by Sam Fink. This is a database of marriage and death mentions in local Chicago newspapers, that was added to in late 2011.
And there is Celia. The codes in the third column indicate which newspapers the announcement was listed in. has a great post on this wonderful resource. Celia's death announcement was found in the Chicago Times and the Chicago Tribune. I was not able to find the Chicago Times version, but did locate her death announcement in Tribune on
"In Morris, Ill., Nov. 13th, Mrs. CELIA T. BUTLER, wife of Wm. M. Butler, merchant, of this city."

After a year of looking, I finally found it. But what does this mean to my research? Celia Butler, William's first wife, was still alive when the first three children attributed to his second wife were born. So did they have some type of understanding? "I'll set you up with land if you'll move to the suburbs, live with your family and pretend like I'm not having babies with another woman?" This wouldn't really matter to me if my second great-grandfather were not one of the children in question. Like I said: Brick wall begets brick wall begets brick wall.


Mary Ellen said...

How interesting! It's always a great feeling when you knock down a pesky brick wall, but there's always, ALWAYS another! Just another puzzle to work on...good luck with the rest of this one! :)

zelsersk said...

I always love "discoveries", especially ones that have been tough to come by!

Brandee said...

I just stumbled on your blog while doing some research of my husband's ancestry. He is also a descendant of William M. Butler Jr.

One of the things I love most about family history is when you stumble upon these little mysteries! It's also one of the most frustrating parts.

I can't wait to see how this all unfolds! Hopefully we can get some closure. :)

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

Brandee- I'd love to hear from you and see how your husband is connected to William. I have lots of information I can share. Drop me a line via the email link on my blog!