Accidental Discovery

I know, I know, I’m supposed to have a research plan; I just can’t ever seem to make one or follow one. I get side-tracked easily for that very reason. Sometimes, though, that actually works in my favor. Like yesterday, for example. I’m working on a couple Pioneer Certificates for Missouri and Illinois. That means I need to go back and document information I had already done for the DAR. I was in for a little surprise when I started tracking down what I needed. In the interim years since I last documented this line, certain things are no longer on my computer. Like an important obituary I need. Lucky for me, I have a resource now that I didn’t have back then: Newspapers.com. Moments later I had the needed obituary.

I got a whole lot more than that. For some reason, this time, I added the middle initial for this person in the search box, and goodies appeared that haven’t in past searches. It was lots of fun and, of course, very distracting. Sure I got the obituary right off, but I didn’t want to lose these results. I set about reading them all to see what I might learn. Near the end of the results these two obituaries lined up like little presents from the genealogy gods.1

Doran, Agnes obit Maryville Daily Forum 15 Apr 1937 Drum, Mary Obit Maryville Daily Forum 28 Jan 1936 pg 1

I had already learned Clark was the middle name of John Smith; it was nice to have it confirmed by these obituaries for two of his daughters, Agnes Doran and Mary Drum. I knew he had moved with his family to Conception, Nodaway, Missouri from Reading, Berks, Pennsylvania, but I didn’t know why. I’ve done a modicum of research on John Clark Smith–I have his Will and know where his remains are, and learned a little about his second wife. That’s about it. He represents a mental black hole for me: John Smith who came to America from Ireland during the Potato Famine. Yeah, I’m not touching that. I have too much fun with other lines in my family.

Even still, this was too tantalizing to pass up, so I turned to the Google machine and asked it to tell me about the Reading Colony in Conception. Strangely I chose to purposely use the misspelling from the Doran obituary, Redding, just to see what might appear. I’m very glad I did, or I wouldn’t have found this delicious history paper (PDF) written about this very topic. From what I can tell it is an extract from the Master’s Thesis written by Father Joachim Schrieber, O.S.B. in which he outlines in great detail a history of what Catholics got up to in Reading, PA, the conflict between the German Catholics and the newly arrived Irish Catholics at St. Peter’s Church in Reading, the solution to begin a new colony out West to resolve the conflicts, and the very complex land dispute in Missouri that resulted beginning in 1855.

History isn’t my strong suit. I know just enough to appreciate it and keep things in some kind of context, so to read about a specific place and time with this level of depth was a treat. It is not often we get to have such a clear illustration of what prompted an ancestor to migrate from one place to another…to learn what the push and the pull were that motivated someone to pull up stakes and move to another part of the country.

I did learn that my ancestor was not among the original group of people who left Reading for Nodaway County. There were only about a dozen adults and a few children who completed the journey. Most of the first wave of colonists got as far as St. Joseph and decided to stay there. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t part of the effort, though. A plan was hatched to buy land out West…government land being sold at very reasonable prices. There was a subscriber list to help finance the venture. I now want to see that subscriber list to see if my John was on it.

In 1860 John, his second wife Elizabeth, his son from a previous marriage and daughter with Elizabeth were living in the working class neighborhood of Spruce Ward in Reading.2

Smith, John 1860 Census cropped

He was fairly well off compared to his neighbors, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect that he might have given money at some point to support the creation of the colony even though he didn’t move there until after 1864, the year his daughter Anna was born. A deed search is in order here since he left a nice amount of land to his widow when he died in 1875. Now I really want to know when the family moved to Missouri.

There were more than conflicts with the German Catholics that made life in Reading unappealing. Labor problems and unemployment were rife, especially where the railroads were concerned. Even though there was a strong Catholic presence in Reading, they were not always welcomed. Religious intolerance played role in pushing these parishioners westward.  The struggle to purchase the land played itself out against a backdrop of the battle for Missouri to keep it a free state rather than a slave state. In the end the colonists prevailed and carved out a slice of freedom from the fertile northern Missouri landscape. To which my ancestor John Clark Smith was drawn.

UPDATE 2/4/15

I was studying the history paper more and made a connection I didn’t see before.

Seventeen of the fifty-eight original members of the expedition persevered on their plan of establishing a colony. They parted from their companions at St. Joseph at 10:00 am on Friday morning, April 16, 1858; the colonists consisted of the following:

William Brady, John McCarthy and his wife and two boys, four and one respectively, Philip Growney and his wife, Jeremiah Sullivan and his wife and their three children, Michael Fagan and his wife Margaret; John Growney and the two brothers, Thomas and Edward Reilly. (pg 23)

Philip Growney and Thomas Reilly are two of the witness on John Clark Smith’s Will.3

Smith, John Clark Will cropped

So at the very least they knew each other.

1The Maryville Daily Forum Doran: 15 Apr 1937 pg 1; Drum: 28 Jan 1936 pg 1.

21860 U.S. Census, Pennsylvania, Berks, Reading, Spruce Ward, pg 998, ln 36.

3Nodaway County, Missouri Probate Records, Will Book C pg 147

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