Eureka! Edmond J. Gifford’s Father

Once the Internet became a useful source of information, I started to try to help my father find more information about Edmond J’s parents. I became completely hooked on solving the mystery. However, my father had been very thorough. I seldom found anything that he did not already have in his paper files. It was still a mystery when he died in 2004.

I had been posting queries on various genealogy websites for a several years but never received any useful leads. The main problem with my paternal line is that my father was the only son of an only son of an only son. It’s often difficult to know the names of the mothers, unless written records were kept, in a bible, for example. So there were few genealogists that who would be following my Gifford line. Then one day I received an amazing reply from a familiar name among Gifford researchers, and a possible distant cousin. I’ll call him Steve. Steve was intrigued by the puzzle and said that he thought he had found Edmond’s father. This took him only a couple of days because Steve thought outside of the box, literally. Well, almost literally. He thought outside of the square.

Since Edmond claimed to have been born in Utica, New York, in 1830, Steve had checked all the Giffords in Utica in 1830 but found, as I had, no father with an infant son. Then he realized that Utica is near the Oneida county border. So, being an intelligent man, Steve looked outside the Oneida County box into Herkimer County. He found that there were several small towns near the county line that had been home to Giffords in 1830. But only one of these men had a newborn son in 1830. His name was Hicks Gifford, living in the town of Schuyler (not to be confused with the county). Unfortunately, before 1850, the census listed only the name of the head of the household, no one else. So we can’t know the name of this infant.

In the 1840 Coles County, Illinois census, Hicks Gifford appears with his wife, two sons and two or three daughters. One son is about 10 years old, as was Edmond in 1840. In 1837, Hicks had purchased 40 acres of land in what would later become Douglas County. Then, in the 1850 Census which would have listed the names of any children still living at home, Hicks is nowhere to be found. If Hicks died between 1840 and 1850, then his youngest son, who would be twenty in 1850, would be on his own, as Edmond was, at school.

1820 Bethel, Vermont Census

Edmond J’s claims in census records that his parents were born in Vermont and/or Massachusetts can now be explained because Hicks was born in Massachusetts and lived in Vermont for a period of time before moving west to New York. The name “Hicks” as a given name was very unusual. So we can be confident that the Hicks Gifford that appears in this 1820 Bethel, Vermont census is our Hicks and likely the father of Edmond J. Gifford. 

However, Steve went on to tell me that Hicks’ daughter Harriet Corletta Gifford had a son named Edmond. In addition, Harriet lived very near Edmond over the years until her death in 1874, despite his tendency to wander from Indiana to Iowa to Michigan to North Dakota (Well, she didn’t go that far). Furthermore, Hicks’ wife was Nancy Jones, which may tell us what Edmund’s middle initial stood for. For genealogists, this is enough circumstantial evidence to declare Edmond Gifford’s father to be Hicks Gifford.

Wow! I thought the puzzle was solved and that I would soon be able to document this relationship between Hicks and Edmond J. Gifford. However, there is no record of the names of Hicks children on the most popular genealogy websites. I tried to find Edmond’s birth record, to no avail. I have also failed to find Hicks’ death record or any record of his interment. I even searched the history of Coles County for any mention of Hicks as a pioneer in Illinois. Illinois was very much on the frontier in 1840, so the lack of death records is not surprising.

However, moving right along, I can trace Hicks’ ancestry to “William of Sandwich”, who arrived in Massachusetts in the mid 1600’s and is the ancestor of most Giffords in North America. So being a descendant of his is really no big deal. The most authoritative account of William Gifford of Sandwich can be found in the New England Historical & Genealogical Register. It’s an interesting, and brief, account of a man who, as a Quaker among Puritans, seemed to be constantly butting heads with the authorities. 

William of Sandwich gave his sons Christopher and Robert some land in Dartmouth, Massachusetts in 1670. Robert left his land to his son, Stephen, who, in turn, left it to his son, Recompense. Recompense, however, sought adventure and so, in about 1750, he sold the farm and headed west, 15 miles to Tiverton, Rhode Island. Recompense’s first born son, William, was the father of Hicks and so this is our connection to William of Sandwich, assuming that Hicks is the father of Edmond J.

William, Hicks’ father, was born in Tiverton, Rhode Island, in 1754. He served in the Revolutionary War, first in a Rhode Island State Militia with Washington’s army and then by reenlisting three more times. The details of his war experience are so interesting that I have put his account of it in a separate essay. He retreated with Washington’s army after the Battle of White Plains, crossing the Hudson, or North, River, climbing up the Palisades, then marching south through the new state of New Jersey and across the Delaware River near Trenton to the safety of Pennsylvania. Shortly after the “Crossing of the Delaware”, his enlistment ended and he returned to Rhode Island. That alone should have been enough, but after returning to Rhode Island, he continued to serve until the end of the war. His account of the last three enlistments would be comical if they were not so perilous. 

After the war, William married Susannah Brown and their son Hicks married Nancy Jones in 1815 in Providence, Rhode Island. There is no record of her parents, her date of birth or birthplace. However, parents often use a mother’s or grandmother’s maiden name when naming their children. Hicks and Nancy may have named one of their sons “Edmond Jones Gifford” and he in turn may have named one of his sons Edmond Hicks Gifford. Pure speculation, but this would explain the middle initials. By 1820, Hicks and Nancy had travelled to New York on their way to Illinois.

Having hit a brick wall in New England trying to connect Edmond to Hicks, I decided to investigate the land purchase Hicks made in 1837 to see if there was any information there. In 1840, Illinois was sparsely settled. The Indians had left Illinois shortly after the Black Hawk War in 1832. The first thing I had to understand was that Coles County included Douglas County until 1843.  So the land purchased by Hicks was in Coles County at the time of purchase, 1837.

The official description of Hicks’ purchase is SE quarter of the SE quarter of section 13 in township 15 North of range 9 East. The original document is even available. However, this tells me nothing about Hicks’ family. But by this time I had became obsessed with finding this plot of land (I had retired and had lots of time on my hands). To find the 40 acres that Hicks purchased I had to understand land plat maps.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 created a rectangular survey system for the western public lands of the United States. This allowed for the sale of public lands to settlers. The same principle was used to facilitate the “settlement” of Manhattan Island north of Houston Street by creating “the grid”. You can’t own land unless its perimeter can be defined. Where grids had not been created, as in colonial America, ownership of land is defined by “meets and bounds”. Hand drawn plats like the one below show the landscape as it was before the settlers arrived. Sometimes, to help identify the sections, man-made features, both Indian and European, are drawn. 

My husband loves to recount the story of the surveyors crossing the Kansas prairie in a wagon full of large stones and placing them at appropriate intervals to identify the corners of the sections. However, when the surveyors were chased by hostile Indians, they threw out the stones as fast as they could to reduce the weight of the wagon and that is why some sections are, still today, not quite square.

I managed to find some old maps that helped me to locate the land that Hicks purchased. By this time, I have completely lost the purpose of this whole adventure, so don’t worry if you are a little confused as to why we going down this road. I just wanted to see the land today, even if it tells me nothing about Edmond. 

Douglas County

Here is a historical map of the land plats in Douglas County. The Township numbers are along the left hand side and the Range numbers are along the top. A township and a range define a square. Within each of these squares are numbered sections. And then to confuse everyone, there are actual “townships”, like Boudre, that don’t correspond to the numbered townships and ranges. 

The map below is from the first hand drawn maps of Coles County. It shows Township 15N and Range 9E. For section 13 we are fortunate to have the convergence of two rivers to help us locate the section on a modern map. These rivers would have been an important source of water for the settlers.

Section 13

If you go here on Google Earth, you can walk up and down the street to see present day buildings. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty boring stroll. Just a plain house, some farm buildings and fields.

It’s possible that if Hicks ever did get to live on his land and died there, then he may be buried in one of the nearby cemeteries. There are two old cemeteries nearby, Gill and Antioch.  There are websites for both Gill and Antioch but no evidence of any Giffords. In a very detailed History of Coles County, Illinois there is no mention of any Giffords. Hicks apparently did not leave a mark there.

A death record may have provided useful information. If Hicks died on his land before 1843, then the land was still in Coles County. Also, if he stayed in Coles County until his death, then any record would be there. But Coles County did not keep death records before 1878. If Hicks died on his land after 1843, then his death record could only be obtained from Douglas County. Records are available only to authorized family members. But I’m trying to establish that with the death record. The state of Illinois has death records only after 1916. The Illinois Genealogy website is in the process of listing death records, but does not yet have pre-1916 death records for Cole or Douglas Counties. A state-wide search for Gifford shows no Hicks Gifford or even Hicks Giff… To write to a county clerk for a copy of a pre-1916 death record, the record must be on the Illinois Genealogy Website. Now we are going in circles.

It might help to find the names of Hicks’ other children. But these names would not be listed on the pre-1850 census and Hicks does not appear anywhere after 1840. Neither does his wife, Nancy. There are only four Nancy Giffords of her age in the entire country.  Then there is the last recourse: Google it. But Googling “Hicks Gifford” only returns my own queries. Again going in circles.  The Douglas or Coles County Clerk would have the records of all the owners of the land going back to Hicks. Maybe his other son, whose name I do not know, inherited it. Having that name would give me a new direction to go. But by this time I was tired.

So, was Hicks’ son who was born in 1830 near Utica, New York named Edmond J (perhaps for Jones)? If he was, after Hicks’ death Edmond was sent to school in East Lima, Lagrange County, Indiana. This actually makes sense because Hick’s daughter, Harriet, married William H. Walker in 1844 in Lagrange County, Indiana. Edmond may have lived with her after their father’s death. If Hicks was the father of Edmond, then my Gifford line can be traced back to one of the first Giffords in North America, just like almost every other American Gifford. Not only that, but Hicks’ father, another William Gifford, was a descendant of some the earliest Europeans to settle in North America, including passengers on the Mayflower. More on that later. But more importantly, now we have a story of how Edmond J. Gifford arrived in East Lima, Indiana in 1850.

So I tend to agree with Steve that, despite the lack of hard evidence, there is enough circumstantial evidence to conclude that Hicks was the father of Edmond J. Gifford, my great-great-grandfather. Sometimes that’s the best you can do. And besides, there are no other suspects. My father and I have investigated them all. 

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