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The missing generation

The census records seem to tell a straightforward story.

In 1870, Scottish-born Thomas and Margret Finlayson were farming in Baker County, Oregon. Both of the Finlaysons were in their mid-40s. Four girls, apparently their daughters, were enumerated with them in the household: Isabell, age 15; Mary, age 11; Lizzie, age 9; and Allie, age 7.1

Finlayson2

In 1880, Thomas and Margret, by then age 55, were still farming in Baker County. Only Mary of their daughters was still living at home. But recorded in the household, as a grandson, was three-year-old Thomas Finlayson.2

So… no sons in the household in 1870, but a grandson with the Finlayson surname in 1880. It’s a pretty clear case of a missing son who needs to be identified. Got to be an older boy who was out of his parents’ house by 1870, right?

So we go back to the census records and both 9-year-old Lizzie and 11-year-old Mary from 1870 were shown as born in Iowa, and that’s confirmed by the 20-year-old Mary’s birthplace recorded in 1880. Pretty good chance at finding this family in Iowa in 1860.

And, sure enough, there they were. Thomas and Margret “Finleyson,” Scottish-born farmers in their mid-30s. And the children in the household: 12-year-old Margaret; seven-year-old Jesse; five-year-old Isabel; and one-year-old Mary.3

Well, that was easy, wasn’t it? Grandson Thomas must be the son of Jesse, no?

No.4

There are a couple of clues that something isn’t quite right in the census records.

The big red flag is that the name “Jesse” may be spelled in that 1860 census like the male version of the name… but the gender recorded: female.

And even if the gender was incorrectly recorded, there’s another red flag — the birthplaces. The two oldest children in 1860, including Jesse, were shown as having been born in Scotland. The third child, Isabel, in Illinois. And the youngest, Mary, in Iowa. The 1870 census shows two more Iowa-born children, Lizzie and Allie.

And little Thomas on the 1880 census? He was born in Oregon. His father was born in New Hampshire. And his mother was born in Illinois.

So where in the world does the Oregon-born Thomas Finlayson fit into the family tree? And how do we know?

The answer shows up in what may seem like an unexpected place: the Laws of Oregon.

In October 1864, the Oregon Legislature passed a law restricting name changes and requiring that:

Each judge shall annually, in the month of December, make a return to the office of the secretary of state of all changes of names made in the court …, and the same shall be published in a tabular form with the statutes of the following year.5

And, in accordance with that act, in the statute books thereafter, the Legislature duly published the names of persons whose names had been changed during the year. Many were adults, who simply wanted to use a different name. And many were children, most of whom had been adopted. Most of the time, the mandate of the 1864 act was strictly followed, and the information was presented in a table.

But on rare occasions the whole report of the county judge was set out.

As it was in the case of little Thomas Finlayson6:

Finlayson

So he was Thomas and Margret’s grandson, all right. But not the son of a son. The son of a daughter — Illinois-born Isabella — instead.

Bell had married O.H. Clement — a man her father’s age — in January 1871.7 She herself can't be found in census records thereafter. But in 1880 O.H. Clement, a 55-year-old butcher born in New Hampshire, was a boarder in Mary Howard's boarding house in Baker City. His marital status was shown as divorced.8

Here, as in so many cases, it's knowing the law that points the way to the right answers.


SOURCES

  1. 1870 U.S. census, Baker County, Oregon, Baker City, population schedule, p. 26B (stamped), dwelling 98, family 85, Thos Finlayson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 July 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1285; imaged from FHL microfilm 552784.
  2. 1880 U.S. census, Baker County, Oregon, Baker City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 1, p. 10(B)(penned), dwelling 164, family 169, Thomas Finlayson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 July 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1080; imaged from FHL microfilm 1255080.
  3. 1850 U.S. census, Jasper County, Iowa, Independence Twp., population schedule, p. 44-45 (penned), dwelling 314, family 304, Thomas “Finleyson” household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 July 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 325; imaged from FHL microfilm 803325.
  4. Of course. You know me better than that by now.
  5. Act of 24 October 1864, §14, in The Organic and Other General Laws of Oregon: … 1845-1864 (Portland, Oregon : H.L. Pittock, state printer, 1866), 694; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 29 July 2013).
  6. “Names Changed,” Report of A.B. Baker Elmer (corrected!), Judge, Baker County, Oregon, 1 Dec 1879, The Laws of Oregon: and the Resolutions and Memorials of the Eleventh … Legislative Assembly… 1880 (Salem, Oregon: W.H. Odell, State Printer, 1880), 182; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 29 July 2013).
  7. Baker County, Oregon, Marriage License Book 1: 31, Clement-“Finalyson,” 5 Jan 1871; County Clerk’s Office, Baker City, Oregon; digital images, “Oregon, County Marriages, 1851-1975,” FamilySearch < (https://familysearch.org : accessed 29 Jul 2013).
  8. 1880 U.S. census, Baker County, Oregon, Baker City, population schedule, ED 1, p. 3(C)(penned), dwelling 87, family 87, O.H. Clement, boarder, in Mary J. Howard household.
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