Sometimes in researching family history, I end up with more questions than answers.
The more I learn about my great-great-great grandfather, Henry Martin Harris (1811-1876), the more questions come up. It seems like every time I find a scrap of information, it sends me off looking for more scraps.
Last week I put up his entry from the 1860 Census (see I Need Your Help!) Most of the guesses I got about what the scribble in the occupation column might refer to were either “house mover” or some slight variation. What in the world did a house mover do in 1860 Indiana?
Henry and his brother Jesse built the first house in Hagerstown, Indiana, probably in the late 1820s or very early 1830s. Their father, Jonas, had helped lay out the town, which was officially platted in 1832. What was that house like? Who lived in it? Where was it?
Henry married Mary Kinsey on May 4, 1832. Henry came from a Quaker family; Mary from a German Baptist Brethren (or “Dunkard”) one. How did they meet? Why did they both marry outside their religious traditions? How did that impact their relationship?
Mary’s father, Abraham Kinsey, was essentially a real estate developer in Hagerstown. He bought and sold properties often. Around 1830 he built one of the largest, most beautiful houses in Hagerstown, a three-story Georgian-style home that surely mimicked the ones he had grown up around in Virginia. But he only owned it for a few years. Was this house for him? Was it for Mary and Henry to live in one day? Why did he sell it so quickly?
In the spring of 1834, Henry’s sister and brother-in-law both died of milk sickness. This prompted Henry’s parents, along with Henry, Mary and their young son Cornelius, to move to South Bend, Indiana. What was moving like in the 1830s? How many wagons did they have to pack? Did they take multiple trips?
Once in South Bend, Henry’s father Jonas built a mill on the St. Joseph River (see Grounded). Henry purchased land in nearby Mishawaka. He bought some of it at a sheriff’s sale. Was this just an investment or did he live there? Was he settling in for the long term, or did he expect to return to Hagerstown at some point? Did they miss their family and friends they left behind?
Jonas and Hannah Harris, Henry’s parents, died a few months apart in 1843. Untangling the financial affairs took several years. Eventually the mill was sold, the proceeds disbursed. Some of Jonas and Hannah’s children stayed in the South Bend area, but Henry headed back to Hagerstown. What pulled him back to Hagerstown? How hard was the move back?
In March of 1849, Henry paid three dollars for a plot in the Hagerstown burial ground. What prompted him to buy a burial plot at 38 years old? What made him commit to Hagerstown as the place his body would rest forever?
A tiny piece of evidence exists to suggest that Henry may have joined the gold rush of 1849. There’s no doubt a group went from Wayne County. But it’s not clear who Henry went with, how he travelled or even if he went at all. If he did, was he successful? How did it shape him? How did his family back home in Indiana feel while he was in California? How long did he stay? Why did he come back?
By 1850, Henry was settled again in Hagerstown. In the 1850 Census, his occupation is listed as blacksmith. More interestingly, the value of his real estate is $1,100. On the 1860 Census, his real estate is worth $400. What happened? Did he move? Did the value of his property go down that much? Was it because of the Panic of 1857?
Mary died in January 1857. Why did she die? How did it affect the family?
Henry married a distant cousin, Elizabeth Beeson, on November 15, 1857. Why did they marry so quickly after Mary’s death? How did the family feel about this? How did the children feel?
In 1858, Henry’s oldest son Cornelius was admitted into the Indiana Hospital for the Insane; by 1860, his second oldest son, Lewis K. Harris was living as a boarder in nearby Richmond. What caused this scattering of Henry’s family? How did it affect him?
When President Lincoln called for troops to fight the South in the spring of 1861, Henry’s son Lewis signed up. Lewis fought in the Civil War from one of the first battles to one of the last (see Pawn Stars). Did he write letters to his dad? Did his dad follow the news of his regiment in the newspapers? Was Henry proud of Lewis?
Henry died in 1876. How did he spend his final years? How did he die? What did he leave behind?
Many of these questions can be answered with research. Looking deeply into land records, probate records and even newspaper reports might give me more insight. But some of these questions will probably never be answered. Some things will remain in the dark.
I love pursuing the answers. The slowly appearing shape of a life that comes together as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place is fascinating.
It’s what makes genealogy fun.